Link Assets – How To Generate Backlinks On Autopilot

Last updated: October 26, 2021

Building backlinks is something that many SEOs struggle with. When I speak to people they often know the basic premise behind guest posting and how to build backlinks for their site but when it comes to actually doing so it all falls apart.

This can come down to many different reasons, it can be the strategy they’re using, their lack of standard operating procedures to pass onto staff, or even their lack of time to handle the responses they’re receiving.

But either way it’s something a lot of SEOs can’t get to grips with.

What if I told you that it doesn’t have to be that way? And that you can generate links on autopilot (to an extent).

I’m not going to tell you to build good content and links will come, because there’s plenty of fantastic content on the web that has never even had a single person read it let alone a backlink from another website.

But I am going to tell you the types of content that have real potential to attract links naturally and overtime help to build the authority of your website.

We call these pieces of content link assets.

A link asset is a piece of content for your website where the primary purpose is to gain backlinks from other websites. Often this content can have a secondary purpose such as fullfling a user search query, being a useful tool for your users or just a good piece of content overall but when we build link assets our main goal is to gain links to these pages.

Learn To Find Link Assets You Can Copy In Your Niche

With my over the shoulder video showing you how I found these examples using just Ahrefs.

There’s a few reasons that link assets can really add another layer to your link building efforts. 

The types of links that link assets pick up can really help to vary your link profile, often when you’re doing link building for your website you will choose websites that fall within a certain metric range, certain niches and even a certain price point.

When a piece of content is naturally acquiring links you don’t choose these links and often will end up with a much more diverse range of links than if you were doing the link building yourself.

One of my clients recently employed one of the tactics we will talk about in this article and picked up a nice link for a major US publication, the type of publication that you can’t just get a link in exchange for money from. But they also get tons of links from less authoritative, but often hyper relevant sites that they would never consider buying a link from.

Another huge benefit of link assets is that a lot of the links that you will acquire will be free, this is because often they’re useful for your relevant niche and people are more willing to share these pieces of content without the expectation of you paying them to do so. It helps to lower their defensive barrier when asking for a link to a cool tool or piece of content which will actually help people versus your Best CBD Oil page.

The reason I also put very discounted is that whenever we create link assets they typically take investment to build, so we still actively try to promote these pieces of content via outreach and while we can sometimes get the link for free, some websites will only take payment but due to the nature of the link asset they will do so for a discounted price.

But don’t worry I know I said that you can generate links on autopilot when I talk with other SEOs, some don’t actively do outreach themselves and still generate links to their link assets but since we have the capabilities to do so, we do.

Improved Brand Recognition & Loyalty

This is a bit of a fringe benefit but a good amount of these link assets are actually assets for the readers of your site. When link assets are done well sometimes a site can become a recommended resource for the niche and can gain brand recognition over time.


Note: Just because the links are free doesn’t mean they’re actually free. Often a link asset will cost in other ways, whether time, development or resources. You also have to consider that you’re never going to have a 100% success rate. Some you will invest in heavily and you’ll get no links from and others will be the most basic ideas and will just take off and get more links than the ones you heavily invested in.

This is an interesting question and to be honest yes I think in non-competitive niches that you might be able to do so. I’m just not sure that it would be the most efficient way to do so. 

A good friend of mine Daniel Cuttridge had an affiliate site which he went on to flip in the pet niche. He would be the first to tell you that link building isn’t his forte but for this site he built a link asset which gained links and helped to build the authority of the affiliate site overall. 

But the niche he was in, was by no means very competitive, Daniel is great at keyword research and niche selection. 

I can’t see you ranking in a competitive space like CBD, casino or finance for commercial intent keywords using only link assets. 

But I really don’t think we have to deal in absolutes. It’s like when SEOs ask what’s better links or content? 

How about doing both? You don’t have to choose just one.

But anyway, let’s dive in and look at a few different types of link assets which have been utilised successfully already. While it’s great to be a pioneer, I like to look at what has worked in the past and modify from there.

 

Note: Each asset might not work for a particular niche, but I’m confident there’s at least one that can be used for whatever niche you’re currently working in. 

So as you go through the article keep an open mind and try to apply this to your current projects and ask yourself is there a variation of this that might work for you.

Calculators

Useful calculators can be a great way to attract links, they often match the users intent exactly as the highest performing calculators have been a variation of a common question. 

 

A few examples of questions which might suit a calculator are: 

  • How much will I take home after tax if I earn $x?
  • How many calories should I eat to maintain my weight?
  • If I bet $x how much will I win with X odds?
  • How big of a fish tank do I need for X fish?
  • How much concrete do I need for X shape with Y dimensions? 
 


Note: Each link asset’s heading is a hyperlink so you can go check out the assets yourself.

I love this Mortgage Calculator by NerdWallet. It’s visually appealing, it matches the user’s intent and it’s a common query in the mortgage niche. 

It gets a ton of traffic to the website.

Plus it generates links and lots of them. 

From sites that you would love to have in your backlink profile like forbes.com, yahoo.com, cnbc.com, usatoday.com, entrepreneur.com and many more. 

Another thing I love is that they’ve taken  it a step further and used a subfolder URL structure to capture localised keyword variations such as Texas mortgage calculator. 

 

This calculator estimates your body fat percentage based on the US Navy Formula. This makes a complex formula quick and easy to use for a layperson. 

Thanks to its convenience it’s managed to accrue 312 referring domains, including the likes of healthline.com, navy.mil, lifehacker.com.au and many more. These are high powered, high quality domains that most people would love to have in their backlink profile. 

I doubt that they paid for any of these links, if they were paying they would have spent a lot of money to do so. This calculator is relatively simple and I doubt it costs that much to have a developer to build. 

Their referring domain growth isn’t really shown accurately due to their recent URL structure changes. 

But if we look at their original URL we can see that they achieved solid referring domain growth over time.

To improve upon this tool, they could probably benefit by gamifying the tool, making it more visually appealing and multistep like Convertica do with their lead generation form.

Data Visualization

Data visualisation has become a huge way of presenting data, even to the point where the New York Times has a dedicated department focusing on just this. There’s even a subreddit (which is great for inspiration) /r/dataisbeautiful which has 16.2 million subscribers.

These visualisations drive serious engagement and traffic. They can be a great way to display data in an easily digestible way. 

Note: For a visualisation to become a link asset which generates links over time you need to consider whether the data is evergreen and can be continually updated or whether it’s something that is seasonal that you can re-promote each year. If you’re reacting to a current story it can be a great way to secure some links but it’s unlikely that the links will continue to come in. 

 

I’m not sure whether this is the perfect category for this link asset but I really liked this one so wanted to include it. Signs, which, as the name suggests, is an ecommerce store for signs. 

They had 156 Americans draw the logo of 10 iconic American brands from memory to compare the accuracy of the drawing and colours. They then put this into infographics to show the data. 

I personally enjoyed the Starbucks drawings the most. To be fair I doubt I could do much better.

 

Rebrand pending?

I’m sure that this was extremely resource intensive but the end result is great. 

As you can see they had a large spike of referring domains initially but continued to gain links over time, like the link they’ll receive from Cozab.com. This piece had links from the likes of dailymail.co.uk, moz.com, smashingmagazine.com, harpersbazaar.com and many more. 


Note: One thing that they did really well with this piece in my opinion is they almost hid the main website from this page, when you look at the page you can’t tell that this is an ecommerce website. This can make websites have less resistance to link to you. This is especially important if you’re working with a grey niche website like casino, loans, cannabis etc. 

Versus

In this piece Visual Capitalist asked experts when will life return to normal after COVID-19. 

This example by Visual Capitalist is an example which generated links but isn’t evergreen and won’t continue to generate links over time, in fact they’ve seen a drop off already, this is very normal for non-evergreen content.

This is due to the nature of the data but I think it’s still a great example of a link asset even if it doesn’t continue to gain links over time. 

One thing I really like about this piece is that they don’t even use their own data; they’re leveraging data from the New York Times and just making it more visually appealing. This has a much lower barrier to entry compared to collecting the data yourself. Plus it means if you have a great data visualisation department you could literally repeat this process over and over again. 

This piece still managed to pick up some solid links such as businessinsider.com, marketwatch.com, gizmodo.com, clickup.com and many more. 

Internal Company Data

This is probably the link asset with the highest barrier to entry, the others the barriers are just budget or whether your niche has a suitable content angle for it to work. This one typically requires you to be a large company with a lot of consumer data.

Some examples of internal company data that could be used to gain links might be:

  • A cannabis retailer reporting on which items had the biggest increases in sales leading up to 420 and the most shocking statistics (i.e. the statistic that they’re really surprised to see as it goes against the preconceived notion they ha)
  • A large clothing retailer could do something related to celebrity outfits and spikes in particular clothing brand searches, maybe even compare which celebrities had the biggest impact (e.g. Kanye West being spotted wearing Balenciaga versus Justin Beiber wearing Gucci – which had the biggest search spike)
  • Buying habits near key events like Christmas / Valentines Day etc.
  • A fast food company could look at which TV shows cause the biggest spikes in ordering takeaway

 

I really do think that this is underutilsed by large companies, it’s an angle where there are no real competitors because it’s your customers’ data. But it’s hard to do unless you’re a very large company.


Note: Again with internal company data you need to consider whether you can make this evergreen and be data which is always updating otherwise you might only get a one time increase in links, rather than a continuous stream. 

Honestly, I never thought I would be talking about Pornhub on the Cozab blog but here we are. Their PR team does a seriously impressive job of using customer data to their advantage. 

The piece we’re highlighting here is their 2019 yearly insight review. 

They break down key areas such as top searches, traffic stats, gender demographics, celebrity searches and geographical breakdowns. They then create visually appealing infographics to display this data. 

In my opinion this is genius by Pornhub, they are a taboo website where there probably is a huge amount of curiosity about what other people are doing. They have a unique insight into what people are watching and searching for that probably no other website has. 

This makes it easy for news sites and blogs to cover the statistics that are most relevant or surprising to their audience. By covering so many different topic areas there’s an area to suit most websites or news sites. 

And that’s exactly what happened, they managed to gain 1,780 referring domains to this piece of content which they are able to re-use each year essentially by releasing the same data but a year later and comparing and contrasting with previous years. 

This piece attracted links from the likes of nytimes.com, theguardian.com, theguardian.com, bbc.co.uk, washingtonpost.com, healthline.com and many more high quality editorial sites that I doubt would usually link a porn website. This gives them a serious competitive advantage over smaller competitors and allows them to build a huge moat to keep them ahead of their competition.

Once per month OKCupid releases survey data from their user base. They cover different topics but May 2021’s was based around the pandemic and dating. For this survey they managed to have 200,000 respondents, an impressive amount of data. 

In their dating data centre pieces they just break down these survey responses and talk about the interesting trends that the data shows. Honestly, it’s not usually anything groundbreaking but due to the amount of data and their demographic (singles) these pieces sometimes gain some traction. 

While 47 referring domains isn’t anything crazy, it’s certainly nothing to turn your nose up at, especially when they’re repeating this once per month. 

 

The May 2021 piece picked up links from the likes of yahoo.com, mashable.com and hyper relevant domains like globaldatinginsights.com. 

Statistic Pages

To the best of my knowledge this was popularised by Sia of Blue Tree at Chiang Mai SEO Conference in 2019. I know it wasn’t something on my radar until after his talk there, but it has been covered quite a lot since.

But the idea is really smart, reporters and writers often look for statistics to back up their work. So they will look for statistics to do so.

Where do they go for statistics?

I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of the time, they turn to Google.

So if you’re at the top of the search for their query and they use your statistics in their article, there’s a chance that they will link to you as the source.

There are usually two common objections I hear to this, and these are:
1. But I don’t have any statistics and can’t afford to do expensive research
2. But that requires me to rank for the term and it’s very competitive

I don’t have any statistics and can’t afford to do expensive research
Neither do we, so what we do is we collate all the statistics that we can find into an easily digestible format. When doing this I always tell my clients to think about the user experience for the types of people you want to be reading this content.

Journalists and writers probably want to be able to see the clear themes of your article very quickly and effectively navigate to them.

For example if I was doing an article about Marijuana Statistics I would think about the common topics which someone might be looking for.
A few that come to mind:

  • Youth participation
  • Mental health
  • Crime

So I would break down the statistics to cover these areas and have subheadings for these, I might break it down further e.g. youth participation, if there was enough data maybe I would separate it by age groups like teens or pre-teen.


Note: once your article is live, I like to look at Google Search Console and see what terms are giving impressions, sometimes you can identify subtopics which are easier to rank for that you might not have optimised for. Or topics which you have completely missed in general.

That requires me to rank for the term and it’s very competitive

I actually agree this is more of a problem now that it is more mainstream, you have a lot of big companies utilising statistics pages like G2.

There’s a few things to consider, if your article is more complete you might outrank them, but that’s a big might. The search results are being completely dominated by authority at the moment. 

You can use Google Ads to be at the top of the page, before the organic results but of course this costs money. But luckily the CPC for these terms is generally not too high. 

Thirdly you can narrow your focus, you can use Google search console to look at queries which are generating impressions and you can create statistics articles targeting just these queries, which means you’re hitting the intent of the searcher better than these other general statistics pages.

Hootsuite created a YouTube’s statistics page which they keep up to date with current YouTube statistics. These are exactly what a reporter might be looking for when writing a piece about YouTube. 

The piece by Hootsuite ranks for some huge keywords like YouTube Statistics.

But it also ranks for longer tail variations like we spoke about above such as.

This piece generates some nice traffic for Hootsuite and is actually a perfect piece for them as their tool can be helpful with managing your YouTube account (apparently).

But the part we’re interested in is the referring domains, as you can see it has a huge 1,730 referring domains.

With no signs of slowing down.

The piece has links from the likes of forbes.com, woocommerce.com, hubspot.com, entrepreneur.com, socialmediatoday.com and many more.

Not bad for a 2,278 word article that links out to external data sources, right?

As the website domain suggests this website provides live internet statistics.

The page we’re deciding to highlight today is their Google search statistics page which has racked up an insane 6430 referring domains with no real signs of slowing down. It has links from the likes of Google.com themselves, theguardian.com, washingtonpost.com, businessinsider.com, techcrunch.com, telegraph.co.uk, vice.com and thousands more. It has around 646 DR70+ referring domains pointing at this one page.

So how did they put this together?
Well they explain in their FAQ page as well as in their sources section on the page. While I’m sure that this was a time consuming project to come up with estimates, the data is by no means groundbreaking and is publicly available.

I think a lot of the success just comes down to the simplicity of the page as well as answering common search queries with their statistics, as you can see in the keywords that the page ranks for. 

Tools

Creating useful tools can also generate links, tools are much like calculators but can have more advanced features. The possibilities are endless with tools, they can be as simple or advanced as you wish but I think the main thing is to think about the end user, what would make their lives easier?

To be able to do this effectively you really need to be in touch with your niche and understand their wants, needs and desires but also their frustrations. Otherwise you can spend a lot of time and money on development for something that no one will use, let alone link to.

A good way to build tools is to look at what is already available and build upon that. Look at the feedback the tool receives in forums and niche communities. Are there common complaints? Limitations that users point out? Or can you simply improve the design or usability of a popular tool?

You can just repeat a tool that is already made but you will generally find resistance in doing so. Why would people change over to a tool which they have already been using if there is no benefit of doing so.

 

Note: Both of the examples here have been acquired by other websites. This can be a fantastic link acquisition method to utilise if you have a budget to do so. But also if you do it right it can bring your ideal audience over as well. For example Toptal, who we’ll talk about in a moment, used this not only to gain links but also to gain the audience of people who might use their services. This is a link acquisition method that I have spoken about with Steve Toth for a while. It’s not always easy to find sites which would fit your niche but when you do they can be a goldmine. Often they’re under monetised or not monetised at all so they don’t understand the value of their website.

This is probably where I first became aware of tool purchases for link acquisition, I used to use Mergewords all the time when they were on their original domain and then one day I went to the website and while it was 90% the same, something was different. What was different was that they had been acquired by Toptal and 301’d to their domain.

Mergewords is a really useful website for essentially avoiding using the =CONCATENATE formula in excel. I use it when creating title tags, creating search operators and many other day to day tasks, just because it’s quick and easy.

And I’m not the only one who sees the value in this. As they mention in the blurb some popular uses are domaining, linkbuilding and adwords.

Thanks to the utility of this tool they have managed to build up 920 referring domains. Of course the link growth graph doesn’t really represent the actual growth due to the 301 but you can see that it has continued to grow slowly over time.

If we go back to the original domain (mergewords.com) you can see the link growth over time.

During its time it managed to gain links from the likes of moz.com, neilpatel.com, semrush.com, wordstream.com and screamingfrog.co.uk. Perfect links for your domain if you’re in the internet marketing space. Which they are to an extent (see here).

ClickMinded acquired Da Button Factory, which was a tool which helps you to create a button image or HTML and CSS coded call to action buttons.

Creating buttons for websites isn’t always the simplest thing to do if you’re not sure how to use tools like photoshop or canva.

Therefore, this tool solves the need of amatuer web designers. It helps them to create customisable call to action buttons. And in doing so it has managed to gain a lot of popularity and links over the years and it still gains links to this day.

Again this was a tool acquisition by ClickMinded and therefore, the referring domain growth graph doesn’t show the full picture.

This is what the growth of the original domain, Da Button Factory looks like.

This tool has managed to generate some great high quality backlinks including the likes of github.com, hubspot.com, wufoo.com, activecampaign.com and many more. All of these links are again great to be part of a digital marketing backlink profile and have some real trust and authority behind them.

There are 152 DR60+ referring domains pointing at this page. Some serious power for quite a basic tool.

Content Assets

The final link asset is probably the least sexy of them all.

Content assets are pieces of content which provide so much value that they generate links. It’s possible to do this but they generally are a huge time or money investment. Generally I only recommend content assets to clients where this could be top of funnel for customers to invest in their product or service, otherwise the ROI probably won’t be there.

For a content asset to work it really needs to be an impressive piece of content that brings something new to the table. Often a content asset won’t just be one piece of content it will be multiple pieces of content that form complete topic coverage on an entire topic.

The reason for this is that they become the go to resource for whatever topic area this is. The guide that if someone asks about the topic with no knowledge can take them from zero knowledge to a very good understanding.

I really like this content asset by Drift, not only does it gain a lot of links for them it also brings them down the funnel to be a drift customer. If you look at the “featured articles” section in the left hand sidebar you’ll see the final article is to learn more about Drift’s chatbot software. 

So not only does this piece of content bring links and traffic, it has the potential to convert to customers. In fact, this in-depth content is likely to solidify them as a first choice because it builds their authority in the eye of the reader when all the information they put out is extremely high quality. Their pricing begins at around $50 and goes up to $500+ per month so if they use this traffic wisely I’m sure this could lead to a good amount of revenue. 

This content asset hub (which is made up of multiple pages) has brought in a total of 881 referring domains for Drift. As well as driving a solid amount of traffic.

Of these 881 referring domains there are some really solid backlinks in there from the likes of microsoft.com, forbes.com, surveymonkey.com, slack.com and neilpatel.com. All of which are great links for a site like Drift.

I’m sure this was resource intensive to create but the beauty of this is that it continues to generate more and more links as time goes on. Not bad for a hub of 6 pages, right?

I think this is a fantastic example of a content asset done right, it serves not only as a link asset but also a top of funnel asset for generating leads. Even if this wasn’t generating links but it was generating traffic this would still be a huge asset to Drift, the fact it also generates links is of course a huge bonus.

I thought this was another great example to include because it also shows that a link asset doesn’t just have to be a multiple page hub, sometimes it can be a single page which really gains traction.

I will say that I think that it’s harder for a single page to take off in the way that this Coinbase piece has but it’s not impossible.

I also want to show a misconception that more is always better, this piece is only 2,327 words but has managed to have huge success. I think this really is a testament to the writing talent of Sid Coelho-Prabhu. Being able to break down a complicated topic into a guide which almost anyone could understand and doing so in a condensed format.

This piece doesn’t generate a ton of organic traffic but it does generate a ton of links. With 707 referring domains pointing at this URL alone. It has managed to pick up links from the likes of bloomberg.com, techcrunch.com, windows.net, fortune.com, coindesk.com and many more. All of which are great links for Coinbase to have.

This article was published back in January 2021 but has continued to generate links for coinbase, a true link asset.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully this piece has opened your eyes to a few ways of building out link assets, this list is by no means exhaustive, there are tons of other examples which have been done successfully.

Link assets are a great way to secure links that you might not be able to usually get which can be great to diversify your link profile or you may be able to obtain them at a substantially lower cost.

But there are other benefits beyond just the links that these pieces will obtain that can become pillar pieces that your brand gets recognition for and can continue to generate traffic from referral sources other than Google for months or even years to come.

They’re not easy to pull off and sometimes require a lot of resources to build but depending at what stage your business is in they can be a great addition to your SEO strategy.

Hopefully this article has been helpful and if you have any questions or link assets you think should have been included in this article you can join the discussion in this [LINKEDIN] thread.

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