Update 9th January, 2019
The guide is killing it!
It consistently ranks in Top 10 results with the big names like Wikitravel and Lonelyplanet.
—— Original Case Study ——
Building links in a travel niche is not a piece of cake.
In this case study, I am going to show you how I did it for an Airbnb-like website which targets Iran accommodation market – InnIran.
Well before I took my client I came across David McSweeney’s article at Ahrefs. He wrote about buying links (which is against Google’s rules) and even did a short study, where he discovered travel niche to be the most notorious for link buying.
In other words, if you want to promote something on your website and you are in the travel niche, chances are – you will get asked to pay for a dofollow link.
It sucks and I really hate it (that’s why I always report these people to Google; yes, you can do that 😈 ), but that’s the reality.
As a white hat SEO expert and link builder at LinksHero, I never bought a link in my life and there was no freaking way I would make an exception for the travel niche.
I wasn’t going to buy links, but I needed them…what’s next?
The Ultimate Guide
I took a lot of time researching the types of content that work really well.
The reality is that the 80-20 rule applies all the time, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
When it comes to content, there is a number of options, but I love these two (and I love the 2nd option more):
- Beginner 101 Guide
- The Ultimate Guide
Ultimate guides, when done right (and we do them right), can do these amazing things:
- Make you an authority;
- Generate a crazy amount of organic traffic;
- Get you backlinks like there is no tomorrow;
In my books of spells, this is the best combination and this is exactly what I decided to use for my lovely “Iranian client”.
Artem’s Sneaky Ultimate Guide Approach
After a quick Googling session, I discovered a bunch of Iran travel guides.
The top-3 are hard to crack in no time.
Here is why:
Big massive brands…
Why did Artem bother to begin with?
Why to target this keyword on the first place?
The thing is (and I learned that from Mr Jeff Bezos) I think long-term and put customer in the center of my (and my client’s) universe.
Here is my logic.
My client’s business makes money by renting out accommodation in Iran.
Iran is a fairly different country and you are very likely to require so information before actually going there.
And, what’s more important, the travel guide is one step away from booking accommodation – that’s when I want to “catch” people.
Putting it all together – targeting these keywords makes a ton of sense in the long-run.
I know, I am a genius…but that’s the easy part.
I can’t get into top-3, but maybe I can get into top-4?
Here is the current #4:
Let’s look at her on Ahrefs too:
Mmmm…25 referring domains and a fairly strong DR.
This is still not easy.
Let’s dig deeper, shall we?
Oookay…16 referring domains that are also “dofollow”.
Sounds like we can do it.
Of course, it’s not just the quantity game, but that’s important to know.
Let’s look at the page directly:
Wow, 902 shares at the time of writing – not too shabby, Becki (she is the site owner)! 😉
Let’s look at the meta though…let’s Ctrl+U this in Chrome:
Why do I care about Meta?
I need the published and updated dates.
For Google, “freshness” is a ranking factor and sometimes changing a date helps to make a great leap in rankings.
As with Becki, I see that she published her article in 2014 and she updated it in late December 2017.
While she did update that thing, she never optimized it for 2018. And this is when the Sneaky Artem’s Ultimate Guide 2018 strategy comes into play.
This is when I thought:
We are going to make a freshly updated Iran Travel guide for 2018 and that’s how we get in top-4 on Google for “iran travel guide” search term.
I know…I am sooo smart. 😛
The next thing was convincing my client we need that and they triple-checked with me the year thing, because we published the article in 2017 and it said 2018 and so on… 🙂
Sharpen the Axe Before Cutting the Tree
This is a variation of the quote by Abraham Lincoln (which he apparently never said himself; as Vladimir Lenin said – don’t trust everything you see on the internet).
The point is – you need to put a lot of effort into creating something extremely valuable before building any links.
That boils down to “excruciating detail”.
Here is what I did with our travel guide:
- Step #1: Article Mapping
- Step #2: Additional Research
- Step #3: Add a Unique Touch
- Step #4: Write the Article
- Step #5: Publish the Thing
Scroll down for the detailed overview of these steps! (my link building approach is also right below) 😉
Step #1: Article Mapping
I pulled together all other travel guides and basically stole their ideas.
Again, why reinvent the wheel?
On top of that I had Picasso’s approval:
Good artists copy; great artists steal.
I then arranged all the topics in a logical order (e.g. visa info comes before things to check out and clothing recommendations.
Step #2: Additional Research
I used additional tools to see what people are asking about, as well as something all the previous guides could miss.
Here are my top 4:
- Keywords Everywhere Chrome Extension
- Google search suggestions at the bottom of the 1st results page
Step #3: Add a Unique Touch
This is super important.
This is something that is going to bring you ahead of your competitors and help you with building links in future (it helps with pitching during the outreach).
I am talking about something unique only your content has.
In case with our guide…my client actually reached out to Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked airport passport control people about latest details on visa requirements.
That’s a pretty unique touch, if you were to ask me.
Step #4: Write the Article
Personally I like writing…less and less.
That’s why I outsource writing.
One thing that I finally learned a week ago (after 5 years of suffering) is that you need to hire native speakers.
Yes, they charge more (not a lot more actually) than non-natives, but their writing is just a lot better.
Anyway, my client did exactly that – outsourced that ultimate guide to a native speaker.
Hmmm…even though it didn’t have a personality (indeed, what kind of personality can one demand from a ghost…writer?), it still came out very useful and full of very specific details which I pre-planned in Step #1 & #2 (that’s why planning is unavoidable).
Step #5: Publish the Thing
Once you are ready, you need to allocate a good amount of time for publishing your content AND making sure it looks good.
I can’t overemphasize how appearance is a very big deal for both, user engagement and link building.
People, once they end up on your page, skim through it and quickly assess how good that page is.
Of course, they look at content and “catch” those keywords they are most interested in, but…they also look at how interesting your article is.
What I mean by “interesting”?
A wall of text is extremely boring, but spend a bit time on “beautifying” that wall and you will end up with something a lot more eye-catching.
When I work through my article (and you can see it with this one), I use bold highlighting, bullet points, colors (where appropriate), special design for quotes etc.
It’s like adding color to your child’s black & white coloring pages… 😉
Okay, these were the 5 steps I used to create that ultimate travel guide and now is the time for…link-building.
How to Build Links Like There Is No Tomorrow…On a Budget
There are many ways to secure links, but recall the 80-20 once again.
In other words, there are only 1-3 strategies that work in 80% of all cases.
What are they?
In this case there are 2:
- Resources Pages
- Competitor Backlinks
Let’s start with competitor backlinks.
#1: How I Stole Competitor Backlinks
We need Ahrefs for this once again.
The process is really simple.
- Step #0: Plug in your competitors URL into Ahrefs Explorer and open up Backlinks analysis.
- Step #1: Click on Backlinks
- Step #2: Click on “One Link per Domain”.
- Step #3: Choose “Dofollow”
- Step #4: And finally sort all the result by DR.
Here is a quick illustration.
Once I did that, I exported all the results and pasted them into a spreadsheet I have in order to keep everything organized.
I would first check the relevance of all the sites and then actually find the contact details of what’s left.
Chrome extensions like Hunter and VoilaNorbert can help you with extracting email addresses, but they have limited free credits.
Given that link building is a game of numbers I recommend you either, pay for the subscription or higher a VA to do the job for you.
Now is the time to test the best.
I think I had 20 prospects ready to get some nice emails from me regarding our awesome Iran Travel Guide.
This is the 1st batch I used to test my message, which included the main reason they should update their links pointing to our competitors and substitute them for what we offer (remember that I told you to add a unique touch to your content?
This is when it becomes very important).
Even if I didn’t have a crazy budget constraint, I would still do the test outreach for ~20 prospects in order to test the message.
That’s it for competitors…next part is Resources.
#2: How I Built Resource Pages Backlinks
Even though I mostly relied on the competitor backlink profiles (simply because we could get more links per hour), I still had to check whether the resources pages strategy would work.
Resource pages are those pages that include lists of relevant sites.
If you produce something valuable (like our Iran travel guide) and evergreen (like our Iran travel guide 😉 ), then you may deserve the place on a relevant website’s resource page.
Luckily these pages are not hard to find.
All you need is a bunch of advanced Google search operators.
For example, I used these to find some of the easiest link prospects:
- Iran travel inurl:links.htm
- Iran travel inurl:links.html
Basically these tell Google to show me everything to do with “Iran travel” that has “links.htm/html” in the URL. The output is a bunch of resources pages:
Next step is exactly the same as with the competitor’s part above – check for relevance and find contact details.
Time to Send Some Emails
Finally, you get to send some emails.
I recommend keeping everything organized in a spreadsheet, as you want to know when you found the contact, when you sent the email, their reply and so on.
I am not going to go into my email sequence, but there are many free sequences out there (all it takes is a quick Google search).
By the way, you must do follow-ups.
It’s amazing but people refuse to reply to your 1st email…and even 2nd email goes unnoticed. I hope I made it clear for you. 😎
How Did the Guide Do?
You probably want to know whether all that work paid off and whether the guide started to rank.
The guide was published on the 22nd of November and I am writing this case study on the 28th of December.
Here is the current situation with the guide:
As you can see, it’s already in Top-50 results in the US, UK, Germany, France and Italy.
To the moment I reached out to 59 link prospects and was able to secure 3 links (1 to the root domain and 2 to the guide itself), which is around 5% conversion rate and that is pretty good.
What do I think is going to happen next?
I believe the guide will go higher in search results, but it wouldn’t make it to top-4 without further link building, because the differences in DR and UR for my client and competitors is still big.
I wanted to share this travel site link building case study not as a success story, but as a work in progress story.
I hope I succeeded, but do ask me questions and contribute in the comments below.
Best in Link Building,
Artem the LinksHero 😎