To beat the competition you need to outsmart it. That means earning the links that they simply can’t copy. I’m talking about natural links, links from sites that don’t accept guest posts, and links that traditional outreach simply can’t earn.

Here are some strategies you might not have used before.

1. Hire an Established Blogger

Some SEOs seem to think that it’s impossible to earn natural links in a way that’s consistent and reliable. This is simply untrue. Look at any niche and you will find high profile bloggers who are earning links left and right, and many of them haven’t written a guest post in years.

Want to know how Social Media Examiner grew an email list of more than 124,000 people? The founder, Michael Stelzner, simply asked several people who were already influential in the space to start writing monthly posts for his blog.

While there were certainly plenty of other strategic decisions he made, this is almost certainly the one that set his blog apart. Even the “bribe to subscribe,” a Facebook marketing video, was created by an influential blogger who wasn’t a Social Media Examiner native.

Forbes and many other sites providing high quality content have also realized the power of this tactic.

It seems like such a basic and obvious concept. Corporations have known since the dawn of time that acquisitions are one of the most powerful ways to grow. Media companies have long known that hiring established writers, actors, and directors is instrumental to success. But for some reason, SEOs and content marketers have, in large part, either failed to realize the value of this tactic, or failed to realize that it was within their budget.

The word “established” is flexible here, of course. The point is, if you hire an established blogger, you also get to hire their audience, and links will naturally follow.

If the blogger is willing, you may even be able to purchase their entire blog, carry it over to your site, and redirect the domain to a folder on your site. Needless to say, the SEO value of doing this is indispensible. Since this is also completely legitimate as a traditional growth strategy, it can’t be construed as a spammy SEO technique.

2. Customize Somebody’s Widget

If you’ve been following the direction SEO is headed, the word “widget” should start some alarm bells ringing. Matt Cutts has recommended no-following links on widgets, and there are plenty of SEOs who lost rankings after Google penalized their enormous backlink profile of widget links.

This is not what I’m asking you to do. Instead, I’m asking you to use your design skills to customize a widget for just one webmaster.

The reason that Google is opposed to widget links is not because there is something evil about widgets. It’s because links are often placed into widgets without the webmaster’s knowledge. When the webmaster embeds a boilerplate widget on their site, they might not be aware of the link, so the link isn’t considered to be editorial.

So the whole point of this exercise is simple, to earn an editorial link.

You have to be careful here. According to Google’s terms of service, exchanging goods and services for a link is considered buying a link, which makes it a link scheme. This is not kosher, and it can put your site at risk.

I would advise against placing a link directly in the widget, and I would not recommend outright asking for a link in exchange for the widget. Instead, I would recommend using this as an opportunity to kick off a business relationship that will result in links.

3. Ask an Influencer to Guest Post on Your Blog

As link builders, we tend to think of guest posting as a way to point links directly back to our site. But if you look at the top blogs in almost any industry, you will usually find at least one that accepts quite a few guest posts, even if they don’t use that exact terminology.

This is the scaled-down version of point #1. If an influential person guest posts on your blog, links will naturally follow. Their audience will follow them wherever they go, and this will naturally produce links, user behavior metrics, traffic, and reputation that can turn into additional links. Even mentioning the fact that this influential person has posted on your blog will make outreach easier, assuming you don’t take it to the level of bragging.

As with point #1, there is absolutely no shame in paying these influencers to write the guest post. Keep in mind that their time is valuable. It’s not very likely that you’ll be able to convince them that guest posting on your site is going to benefit them with traffic and exposure. You might be able to appeal to their better nature, and if you can offer value to them in some other way, this can also work. But if it comes down to money, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Media companies have been paying writers for ages. Quite frankly, it’s the ethical thing to do.

Also keep in mind that these people don’t actually need to be bloggers. There are quite a few other alternatives:

  • YouTube “stars”
  • Graphic designers
  • Photographers
  • Comic book artists
  • Software designers
  • Popular tweeters and other social media personalities
  • People who have built up a popular reputation on internet forums

While you might need to pay, don’t assume that they are going to be outside of your budget. A fair number of these online influencers don’t make quite as much money as you would expect, especially if they are monetizing with ads (or not at all).

4. Set Up a Forum

There’s always somebody who’s going to be tempted to laugh when I mention forums, but the fact remains that more people frequently visit forums more often than blogs. Many people are tempted to recommend social networks instead, but the reality of the situation is that social networks usually come in three breeds:

  • They are for friends and family, like Facebook
  • They are primarily a broadcast medium, like Twitter
  • They are a place to post links to viral content, like Reddit or Pinterest

These can be great places to pick up referral traffic, but when it comes to topically oriented discussions, the fact remains that most of these are still happening on forums, or on places that look a lot like forums. A few similar platforms include:

  • Google+ communities
  • Quora
  • Some Facebook groups

These tend to be a better source of high quality referral traffic.

But if you really want to build up a loyal audience and attract some serious links, setting up a forum on your own site is a powerful way to do it.

Modern forum software like Vanilla (paid) and Moot (free) have gotten pretty advanced, and often look more like modern social networks than the message boards you typically think of when the word “forum” is mentioned.

Of course, a forum will typically fall flat on its face unless you already have a fairly large audience. Forums should be thought of as an extension of the comment section on your blog, and perhaps of your presence on other forums and social networks.

I mention forums because, if you look at the top sites on the web, a great deal of them are communities as opposed to content. Facebook and Twitter will forever have more links than Gawker and Mashable. Communities are inherently worth linking to. If you give your community a place to spend time, they will only become more loyal, and the links will flow naturally.

5. Build a Quote List

If hiring a blogger, or asking them to write a guest post, doesn’t end up working out for you, this option just might be your solution.

The idea is simple. You know those “list posts” that consist of dozens or hundreds of short suggestions? These are often some of the most successful posts on the web. Well, here’s a way to make them even more valuable.

Instead of brainstorming dozens of list elements yourself, ask influencers for their input.

Asking them to write up a guest post is often too much work, but there are plenty of influencers out there who are more than willing to answer brief questions from their audience.

For this type of post, all you need to do is contact as many influencers as you can, and ask all of them the same, simple, open-ended question. Then just compile their answers into a massive list and publish it. Once you’re done, get back in touch with the influencers and let them know that you’ve published their answer on your list. A healthy portion of them will be happy to link to it, or at least Tweet about it.

There’s not much more to say about this subject because it’s so simple. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t call it easy. It takes a lot of time to email all of these influencers, wait for responses, do follow ups, compile a list, email them back, and so on. In fact, it will probably take more man-hours than writing this kind of list post yourself.

The links and exposure are more than worth it.

6. Interview an Influencer

If a guest post is too much to ask, but you’re brave enough to go for something a little bigger than a brief answer to a brief question, an interview can be a great way to earn links and exposure.

It’s not nearly as difficult to get interviews with people as you might suspect. While New York Times Bestselling authors might be a bit of a stretch, there are plenty of moderately influential people who will be happy to take an interview.

I’ve found that book authors are some of the best people to interview. Amazon can be a great place to find these authors. You don’t have to dig much deeper than the bestsellers before you start finding authors who would be happy to take an interview. The fact that all they need to do is talk on the phone for fifteen minutes or so makes the barrier to entry pretty low.

Once the interview is finished, you can turn it into a podcast, transcribe it on your site, or both. Interviews bring value and freshness to your content in a way that most other mediums can’t.

If the influencer is comfortable with it, a recorded Skype chat could even help you reach a YouTube audience that might otherwise be out of reach.

Since the influencer is really only promoting their own book or product by linking to the interview, it’s not generally very difficult to persuade them afterward.

7. Publish a Cheap (or Free) eBook

Amazon is not nearly as saturated as Google, and it already has the domain authority to rank for terms that you may never be able to. When you publish an eBook on Amazon, if there isn’t too much competition for the phrase, it should be fairly easy to get the page to rank in Google without too many links.

These books can be a great way to expand your reach in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. By getting your URL and brand name in front of your readers, the eBook can generate traffic that will ultimately lead to natural links.

You can list your book for as low as $0.99 through Amazon’s native interface, but if you use SmashWords you can actually price it for free if you want to. This has the potential to dramatically increase your exposure by attracting more positive reviews.

Conclusion

To beat the competition, you need to earn the links that they can’t. This requires creativity, talent, and a unique approach.

If you learned something here, we’d love it if you passed this along. Thanks so much for reading, and leave us a comment if you’ve got something to contribute.