Creating a website is daunting. Marketing that website is just as daunting. Where do you start? Which marketing channels do you use? What’s going to work?

The best answer I can give you is this: take it one step at a time.

Link building is just one of those marketing channels, but it’s an effective one. Unfortunately, it’s also intimidating for some people. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be afraid of links or the process of building them—you just need to invest some time and creativity.

With that in mind, I’m going to walk you through building your first link.

How to Build your First Link

Research your Niche

Before you even consider building your first link, you need to study your industry. Learn who the key players are—the most popular content creators, the big idea people, the top commenters, etc. Take some time to understand what people are talking about and which kind of content is getting attention, then apply your own expertise.

You’re already knowledgeable about your industry, but you need to get to know the online community that surrounds it or you’ll be shooting with a blindfold on.

Poke around and leave some comments. Have a conversation on social media.

All of this builds up to one thing—figuring out what the audience for this industry wants. There’s often a big difference between what you initially think an audience wants and what it actually wants, so pay close attention.

When you feel like you’re comfortable, it’s time to find a target site for your first link.

Find a Site

I always say that link building is a two-step process: 1. Find a site, 2. Get a link. There’s obviously a bit more to it than that, but that process starts here.

Since you’ve already been exploring your industry’s online community, you’re ready to find a target site.

When you’re deciding on a site, apply the smell test—does the site look spammy? Is it updated regularly? Is there an easy way to contact the webmaster or blog owner? Does it post and link to relevant content (someone posting a link to roofing from a cat blog would be suspect, for example)? Are people commenting and otherwise engaging?

If you answer all of those questions and like what you find, then you’ve just selected a target site.

And you know what? Shoot for the moon. Go for a site you really like. A site you’ve been involved with or can see yourself being involved with.

While you’re shooting for the moon, aim a little lower as well—pick a few sites at a time. Just because a blog doesn’t have a huge readership when you post there doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. Don’t be afraid to aim high and don’t be afraid to work with the little guy. Do what makes sense.

If you’re struggling to find a site:

 * Find industry blog rolls or resource pages
 * Google ‘”write for us” cat food’ or whatever your industry is
 * Poke around on social media
 * Analyze your competitor’s links with Open Site Explorer and figure out where their links come from
 * Ask industry peers what their favorite sites are

Those are just a few suggestions, but finding your first target site should be relatively easy.

Above everything else, keep in mind that there’s a real human being behind any site you choose—sites don’t give links, people do.

Create Value

If you want a site owner to give you a link, you’re going to have to provide something of value to them and their audience.

Let’s take a step back first. Before you create value for another site, make sure your site is up to snuff. I’m sure it already is, but just in case—make sure you have good content and that your site is easy to navigate. If everything’s in place, you’re ready to put the work in and get a link.

 * You can create a blog post, make a video, make a piece of audio, put together a series of gifs, make a collection of images or do anything else under the sun—just make sure it has value for that site’s audience. What do they      want to see, read or click on and how does that relate to you?

 * No matter what you do, try to tell a story somehow. There’s a ton of content on the internet and sometimes it’s hard to produce something “all new.” If you inject yourself and your own experiences into your content,  however, it’s going to stand out.

 * Make sure your personality comes through. Find your voice. People don’t want to consume stale, cloned copy—they want to relate to another human being and that human being’s ideas.

 * Use your own skillset—if you’re a writer, by all means create a blog post. Make it something you’re proud of. If you’re not a writer, then use one of your other skills to create value. Make a map or a flash game or make a funny  video. It’s up to you.

If you can’t find a way to create relevant, valuable content for another site in exchange for a link, then you need to think of your site itself as a valuable resource.

If you simply want a resource link, you need to think of how your site is actually a resource. Do you offer information that other websites don’t have? Does your site feature a certain tool? Does your site itself feature a huge index of valuable industry resources?

If one of that target site’s users clicked your link, would it make sense for them?

If you can’t create value and your site doesn’t have any value, you might need to work on that and come back to building links when you’ve fixed that problem.

If you’ve figured out how to give your target site some value then you’re ready to progress—and most of the hard work is over.

The Link

So, where do you put your link? That seems like an important thing to talk about.

If you have content, such as a blog post or an infographic, you can put a link back to your site in your author bio. It can be a branded link (just the name of your site or domain) or feature anchor text (such as ‘Florida cat care’), and that’s between you and the target site’s owner. Just remember that when you build more links, you’ll need to vary your anchor text.

If you’re using written content, you can use an in-content link. Those links are arguably the most “valuable” as far as passing link juice is concerned, but they’re not the only type of valuable link. An in-content link has to make total sense. If you can put yourself in a reader’s shoes and say “I’d definitely click that link and enjoy where it takes me,” then it’s probably safe.

If you have to force it at all then don’t do it.

Put the link where the link makes sense. Don’t try to trick anyone.

Outreach

Once you’ve figured out some kind of valuable content you can produce or determined which aspects of your site make it a resource, it’s time to finally talk to some people.

Tons of people have written about best outreach practice. Here are a few I like:

* Throw Away Your Form Letters (or Five Principles to Better Outreach Link Building) by Michael King

* 22 Tips for a Better Outreach Response by Joanne Price

* 4 Simple Steps to Better Link Building Outreach by Tatiana Torres

* Link Building Outreach – My Approach by Dustin Verburg

If you don’t have time to read through those articles, that’s fine. Make sure you personalize your outreach emails:

 * Include the webmaster/editor’s name
 * Introduce yourself
 * Come off like a real person
 * Don’t be shady
 * Remember that this person doesn’t owe you anything
 * Let them know you’ve actually browsed their site
 * Treat the person on the other end of the email like a human being

Some webmasters and blog owners get spammed by people who don’t want to add value. You need to set yourself apart.

You can try an introductory email without your link pitch or you can get right to it. You can reach out on social media. Do whatever feels right, but be personable. If you come off as a real human being and don’t get caught by any spam filters then you’re on the right track.

The Link is Built

Once the site owner has accepted your content or resource link, then congratulations—you’ve built your first link!

Try giving the site owner even more value by posting that content or their site on your social media accounts. If you gave them content, link to that content on your next target site. There’s no reason to be stingy.

If at all possible, keep the relationship you’ve built with that first target site going—it doesn’t always happen, but it’s a wonderful thing when it does.

There’s nothing like the feeling of building your first link. Congratulations!

Recap:

1. Research your niche—find the key players, understand the community, understand what the audience wants

2. Find a target site—employ the “smell test,” don’t be afraid to shoot for the moon or go with the little guy, keep the human behind the site in mind and think relevancy

3. Create value for your target site, whether your site itself is a resource or you’re producing some kind of content

4. Determine where to place your link, determine your anchor text

5. Be personal with your outreach, come off as a real person

6. Repeat

Link building is time consuming work, but it’s not an intimidating task if you go about it realistically. Make sure any links you build are relevant and make sense for human beings.

Above all else—don’t get discouraged. Not every person you email is going to write back and not every site will want your content or think you’re a resource. Rejection happens to everyone, but when the time comes and you build your first link, you’ll feel the kind of satisfaction that only comes once.

Jon Ball

About Jon Ball

Jon Ball is VP of Business Development for Page One Power. Jon specializes in highly effective link building strategies, which he uses for clients all over the world. He’s also an avid photographer. Every Friday, Jon answers popular link building questions for FAQ Friday.