This is a story by Josh Pitzalis, co-founder of Chirr App
Chirr App is a tool that helps you write Twitter threads. Our approach to SEO has been to build something great and hope people link to us because the tool does its job well. The approach has worked so far, but now I’d like to get more actively involved.
I set myself the goal of building 100 backlinks this quarter.
I read a few books and did a few link-building courses, and here is the plan I put together.
Listing out all our pages
We can only optimize a page for one search query at a time. Laying out all our pages showed us how few pages we can build backlinks to. If we want to rank for more queries, we’re going to need more pages.
I should emphasize that more pages don’t necessarily mean writing content. For example, our recent ‘prompts’ feature is a collection of suggestions for things you can tweet about. You can click on a suggestion and it will load the prompt up in our editor. This new feature has a page anyone can visit and use.
After we built the feature, I wrote a thorough article explaining how the feature works. Now I feel the article was a complete waste of time. Optimizing two pages for the same query just means competing against myself. I could have made the feature page a little more self-explanatory, and it would be 10x more link-worthy than an article about the feature will ever be.
Grabbing all the low-competition links
My current understanding is that there are three ways to build links.
- Add – We can add links to our website to directories, organizations, social platforms, do-follow forums, or blog comments (these are rare).
- Ask – We can reach out to people and ask for a backlink.
- Pay – I’m not talking about buying risky links. We can pay a PR agency to promote our story, set up an affiliate program, or sponsor projects and influencers.
Adding our link to websites is the most straightforward approach, but it’s also the least competitive because anyone can do it.
Low competition links are good news because we’re competing. Some of the existing backlinks to the top 10 results for our target queries will be websites we can just add ourselves to.
We’re not making enough money to buy links sustainably. That just leaves asking for them.
Pitching win-win scenarios
From what I’ve pieced together, there are six main ways we can ask for a link:
- Reviews and testimonials – We can ask someone to review our product.
- Link insertions – There are a few permutations on this one, but they all involve finding content with lots of backlinks and then asking people to add our website to the mix. We can find relevant resource pages and ask to add us, or we make something useful and ask someone to replace or complement the existing backlink. We don’t have to write articles. We could also create an infographic, calculator, or another simple tool.
- Getting Press – We could run a PR campaign, but usually, this means using websites like HARO, where journalists pitch stories and ask for experts to use us as a source. Getting featured usually results in a backlink.
- Guest blogging/podcast interviews: Offering to write or speak on someone else’s website.
- Broken link building: Find dead links to our or competing websites and reach out with a working link.
- Unlinked mentions: Find people who have mentioned us online and ask them to make the comment clickable.
What I’ve tried so far
I began with broken link building and link insertion.
I’d love to ask people for a product review, and it would be cool to be an expert source for a journalist, but I don’t know how to do that yet, so I’m going to put those two aside for now.
I’m a slow writer, so there’s no way I can produce enough content to get 100 backlinks in 3 months by writing guest posts. I’d like to do podcast interviews, but then I realized I have nothing interesting to talk about yet. If this 100 backlink project works out then, it might be a story worth telling.
To find unlinked mentions of our app, I set up a google alert and discovered that we don’t get many of those.
That just leaves broken link building and link insertions, so I put my first outreach letter together.
Hey, a Twitter thread tool 🧵
I’m looking for articles that link back to character counter apps, and I found your post on X.
I’m working on a character counter that’s purposefully built for Twitter. Not only does it count characters, but it also lets you split a piece of content up into a Twitter thread, preview what it will look like, and publish it to Twitter.
Since you write about using Twitter for business, I thought you might be interested.
Let me know if you want to check it out, and I can send you the link.
For prospects, I put together a list of articles that talked about Twitter and linked to character counter apps. My rationale was that if these people are using character counter apps to measure their tweets for writing threads, then they’re going to love Chirr App.
I sent the email to eight people. I didn’t automate anything I wrote each email out in Gmail because I wanted to review each website and make sure it made sense to send them the email.
I didn’t add a link because I haven’t used the email account for ages, and I didn’t want the messages to go straight to spam.
To my surprise, 2 of the eight people responded. 25% response rate! Beginners luck, I’m sure 🍀
Here is what I sent them back:
Here’s a link to the app https://getchirrapp.com. I would love to know what you think, and I am here to answer any questions you have.
If you ever want to mention it in a blog post, let me know. I’m happy to write a custom introduction for it.
I’m sad to say, no backlinks yet 😞.
Reaching out to people feels unnatural, but anything new does.
I decided to ramp the outreach up a notch and used Mailshake to send 57 emails to people who wrote about Twitter tools. I searched for articles about Twitter tools in Ahrefs content explorer and then used Hunter to get their emails.
I manually vetted each one of the 57 websites. I didn’t want to send people running chicken farms emails about their twitter tools article, so I checked each website and made sure each of the bolded fields in the original outreach email was relevant to their website.
18 of the emails bounced, 11 people read them, 2 people responded. 3.5% response rate, that’s more like it.
I tried another campaign. This time, I sent it to people who had resource pages that listed different Twitter tools.
I sent 15 emails, 10 people opened them, 2 people responded — 13%, much better.
One of the people who responded offered to add Chirr App to the page. I responded with a custom intro for the product. No backlink so far.
So, I sent out 80 emails, heard back from 6, and got 0 backlinks. That’s a 7.5% response rate.
Moving forward, I’m going to assume nobody speaks English and that everyone is running my email through Google translate. That way I’m just focusing on the substance of what I’m saying and who I’m saying it to.
Asking people for a backlink feels so icky
I’m essentially asking a stranger to do me a solid for absolutely no reason.
I know that if I send more emails, someone is bound to link back to our app at some point. Maybe my pitch needs to be more aggressive. But who the fu*k wants to be that guy? I’ve received those emails asking to add bullsh*t to my blog, and I rightfully ignore them. This is a legitimate, thriving industry. There has to be a better way.
Google’s official stance on the matter is:
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.
The problem is that we’re already doing that. We’ve put a lot of quality time into building the product, and I spent a chunk of effort on the last two blog posts, but nobody is reading them, never mind linking to them.
I’m following your guidelines, Google, but something still isn’t working.
Maybe I just need to focus on outreach instead? Isn’t that what I’m already doing?
I decided to reach out to people who have built links before to understand how real people do this stuff. I don’t know many people in the SEO industry, so I signed up on a platform called Growth Mentor and found two experts to speak to.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was blown away by the quality of conversations I ended up having.
The first person I spoke to was Lynn Patchett, who runs a professional SEO Service for Hotels in Greece.
My takeaway from our conversation was that building 100 links is an incredibly sh*t focus. It helps to think of link building as a house party. Would it be more remarkable if 100 random strangers showed up to our house party or if we could get Beyonce to show up? I don’t even listen to Beyonce’s music, and I know which house party I’d go to.
Lynn’s point was that a handful of quality links from reputable websites would do way more for our rankings than a crowd of backlinks will.
There is no outreach script to get Beyonce to come to our house party. We are at the center of our unique nexus of relationships. We might not be able to swing a Beyonce, but our hustle is down to who we know, what we have to offer, and which dots we can connect. Kind of like any other business deal or maneuver I’d make in life.
This was all helpful to hear because it made the whole process more relatable and reminded me that building actual connections is what link building is supposed to be about.
Next, I spoke to Emilia, the head of marketing over at Userpilot. She brought the point home by explaining how 100 backlinks could also be dangerous. If any of these random websites get caught up in dirty link schemes, our website will get penalized too.
Pitching collaborations instead
Emilia’s advice was to focus on a win-win partnership. Honest collaborations with other people who serve the same audience as we do. This was such a relief to hear because it was the first win-win proposition I’d come across.
For example, if your audience wants to learn how to use Twitter to promote their business, then I would love to show them how to use threads to get noticed. I could write a guest post that will explain why Twitter is important, who it’s not a good fit for, and how people can reuse their existing blog content to write great Twitter threads. I’ll show them how they can use Chirr App to set everything up with a few months of evergreen content scheduled and ready to go. Then I’ll cover emerging best practices around writing threads and gotchas to watch out for.
If your audience wants to learn how to promote their business on Twitter, our users will likely be interested in learning how to solve the problem your product solves. If this sounds interesting, my contact details are at the end of this post, and we can figure it out.
The idea here is to work with people who serve a similar audience and offer each other’s audience a practical walkthrough of fixing the problem our products solve.
I dismissed guest posting at first because of how much time it would take. Emilia made an excellent case for how the whole link insertion approach takes just as long. After finding the leads, vetting them, and responding to all the emails, we’re not saving much time. I spent a week sending out 80 emails and got 0 backlinks. I could have spent that time writing something useful for a friend’s blog, and we’d have one more backlink than we currently do.
She also pointed out that a collaboration, once built, doesn’t go away. If the partnership makes sense, you can work together again in a different context.
The only objection I’ve heard so far is that link exchanges can cause Google penalties.
Google needs people to build links so they can’t disavow the process, but they also need to reserve the right to clamp down on an approach if it gets out of hand. In other words, Google is watching who you link to. Their official stance on the matter is:
“Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.” is not ok.
But what is “excessive” and what does “exclusively” mean? The wording here is tricky, but Google’s webmaster guidelines do offer some clarification:
“A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
✅ I’m comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with us. I’m publishing this publicly.
✅ This helps my users. I’m introducing them to other valuable products in the space that help them solve relevant problems.
✅ I would do this if search engines didn’t exist. We’re talking about a win-win scenario where we both get a chance to be super relevant to a group of interested people.
This approach is worthwhile even if it doesn’t result in a backlink.
So moving forward, I will focus on working with people who serve similar people to create relevant, helpful content for their users.
Building a content team
I am a slow writer. It almost took me a month to write the last blog post for Chirr App.
I’d be lucky if I get ten backlinks a year at that rate.
I’m also not the best wordsmith.
It makes a lot more sense to work with actual writers instead.
I do not mean pawn anything off here.
- I still do the research
- Pick the topics
- Structure the outline
- Write the brief
- Review it with my collaborators and get feedback
- Handle editing
- Then publish, promote and update.
I’m just removing the weakest bit so that I can produce something useful every week rather than every month.
Even if I hit one article a week, I will still only get ten backlinks by the end of the quarter. And I’m OK with that. The point is to make sure they’re coming from the most reputable, established, and relevant projects and publications I can connect to.
I will also do my best to ask for product reviews if I can, become an expert source for journalists, and find as many safe ADD link opportunities as possible. I’ll still keep a running count of how many backlinks I manage to hustle by the end of it, but now the goal is to get 5-10 reputable links. Think Beyonce.
Keeping track of everything
I started by tracking everything on 2 Google sheets.
1. One sheet tracks outreach and responses.
2. The other tracks partnerships and the total number of backlinks.
I then switched to KatLinks to manage ADD link opportunities from step 2.
To sum it all up
My 100 backlink isn’t about building 100 backlinks at all. It’s about making genuine connections with other exciting projects in similar problem spaces.
The way I’m going to do this is by
1️⃣ Listing out all the pages we want to build links to
2️⃣ Grabbing all the easy low-competition links first
3️⃣ Pitching win-win scenarios
4️⃣ Building a content team
5️⃣ Keeping track of everything
I’ve glossed over many boring details, so please contact me if you have specific questions.
On the other hand, if you have experience building links and see any red flags or have suggestions, please let me know. I’d appreciate any feedback or pointers.