Building a Link Development Calendar

April 2, 2012
By Michelle Lowery in Internet Marketing Conferences

LinkLove BostonAnd now, the session you’ve all been waiting for! Okay, I may be a little biased. But the truth is, without a link development calendar, it doesn’t matter what techniques you want to try, or what methods you want to use. Trying to build links without a plan is like trying to throw darts at a dartboard while blindfolded—you may hit it a few times, but most of the time, you’ll miss the mark. Our own Rhea Drysdale is about to show you not only how to put a link development calendar in place, but how to do more with less, which is a tactic Outspoken Media knows a little something about.

During Duncan’s introduction of Rhea, he mentions her SEO trademark fight. Yeah, Rhea!

Rhea starts out talking about the perception of what Outspoken Media does: ORM, social media, branding, small business marketing, blogging, SEO, and that we’re women. She doesn’t feel comfortable with that characterization.

She puts up a pie chart that shows OSM’s services are comprised of 50% link building. She’s here to adjust OSM’s reputation a little.

We do more with less. We’re six team, members, we focus on process not tools, and we have a natural, low-risk approach to link development.

We focus much more on strategic content marketing, but you have to get to know a business before you can embark on content marketing. Link dev is 1st base, while content marketing is going all the way to 3rd base. (Yup, that’s our Rhea!)

Are we really ready to get to 3rd base?

Our current link dev process is basically asking for links. We pound the pavement. We look at metrics like pagerank, domain authority, to get good quality links.

How do we break the cycle? Rhea says to stop treating SEO like fast food! What is it that separates you from other companies? For OSM, it’s that we’re small and intimate.

Rhea found a moment of inspiration in the movie “You’ve Got Mail.” We see a clip from the movie: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability to make about six decisions just to buy a cup of coffee. So people who don’t know who they are or what to do can not only get a cup of coffee, but a sense of self.”

What does that mean? It means we need to make our clients feel good, and if we’re in an agency, we need to feel good. Content marketing is a buzz word right now, but is it new? Not really. The question is how do we customize it for our clients?

We want to be consultants, not a vendor.

We had a client we were really excited about. They were big, the leader in their space. So we came up with a good link dev strategy. We wanted to do infographics. But they had no blog. There were other political reasons we couldn’t do what we wanted to with them.

Then we wanted to do contests. Their legal department didn’t want us to do contests. They had to be sweepstakes. That wasn’t going to get us links. We told them that, but they just didn’t get it.

Strategic partnerships wouldn’t work either. We had to fall back on guest blogging. But because they’re so well known, everyone wanted money. So we had to post as personae. Anonymously asking for placement of content isn’t always as successful as pitching as the client.

What we didn’t anticipate:

  • Pitching as personae wasn’t as successful.
  • Team morale went down.
  • There were a lot of client delays.

We got them into the top five right before Black Friday, which was great. But that other SEO agency was posting sub-standard posts with too many links, so they got penalized.

Something had to change. We started looking at calendars.

We expected to be able to do all this work, but the client had different expectations.

Clients have different calendars—leadership calendar, budget restrictions, development calendar, department-level calendars, and political rodablocks.

As an agency, we have internal resources, budget restrictions, methods, development timeframes, and seasons to contend with (holidays kill outreach!)

Have you ever tried to pitch for links during the holiday season? It’s terrible. Everyone’s busy shopping and eating, or they’re on vacation.

So we revamped our process:

  • proposal
  • intake
  • research and discovery
  • strategy approval

Think in OODA loops: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

The most important part of your process is communicating with your team, and with your client. You have to have the content that will support getting links, and the ability to place it.

You also need to document your strategy in the event of turnover.

It’s also super important to set expectations not only with your clients, but within your team. Rely on their expertise, but also make sure they’re informed. We began taking on smaller clients to give the team a greater sense of satisfaction when they saw results, and to build their confidence.

Part of the way we manage our processes is by holding monthly budget and strategy meetings. We check on our results every month to stay on track. We also have a standing meeting every day at 9am. We all stand because there’s pressure to leave because no one wants to remain standing for too long. We all say what we need from each other, lay out our plans for the day, and that also helps us to stay on track.

We try to keep our meetings very action-oriented. We do the same with client meetings. We send them reports to read—we don’t read the reports to them. But we do check in with them later to address questions and concerns.

Now, to creating a calendar. It doesn’t sound that sexy, but it is.

Factors to Consider:

  • contract length – if it’s month-to-month, one-year, whatever, you can spec out your work properly
  • web site – redirects, design, etc.
  • resources
  • industry-specific
  • seasonal – holidays, back-to-school, etc.

One of our clients is a personal injury lawyer, so seasons also apply to him. When the weather gets nice, more people ride motorcycles, so we can focus content on motorcycle accidents, safety, helmet wear, etc.

Rhea shares some calendar resources: Google, Mozilla, iCal, Outlook,, etc. Some of them have holiday calendars built in, and other resources.

We also look at lists of commemorative months/dates. Maybe it’s National Key Lime Pie Day, or Cupcake Month. You can focus content on those as well as awareness days for certain diseases, conditions, and more.

Rhea mentions this post which lists hundreds of link-building methods. We took that list, and put it into a spreadsheet where we also assigned timeframes, dependencies, and link value. If you want it, you can e-mail Rhea after the presentation. It will help you come up with strategies and calendars for your content, work with designers, fine tune your dates, and ensure results within your specified timeframe.

And that’s that! Lots of actionable information. And a free spreadsheet to help you get started? You’d better get on that!

Be sure to catch all of our LinkLove Boston liveblogging coverage right here on the Outspoken Media blog!

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