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How We Built Thousands of Whitehat Links: Shotgun Skyscraper + LeadCrawler

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Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve built thousands of high-quality, 100% whitehat links to this site. Here are its current Ahrefs stats:

And the links growth over the past year:

Not only are these natural, whitehat links, but many of them are from extremely high-authority sites — the type that most SEO’s could only dream of. For example, here are a few DR 90+ college websites we’ve gotten links from like Berkeley and UCLA (just a few of the dozens of colleges that have linked to us):

We’ve even got links from some government sites:

As I’ve automated most of the work in building these links, the time commitment is minimal. And the best part? Every link was 100% free. We never pay for links or guest posts (in fact we don’t do guest posts at all), nor will we ever.

How it was done

The essence of the strategy is this: email people who have linked to similar content to ours, politely asking them to link to our content as well.

You may be surprised at the effectiveness of this strategy. I certainly was. Consider that:

  1. We never pay for these links, as mentioned, and usually offer no incentive whatsoever to linking to us;
  2. These are cold emails to complete strangers;
  3. To link to us, the website owner has to take the time out of their day to login to their site, find some old post, edit it with a link to us and republish it — just to help a stranger for nothing in return. Why would anyone bother?

Given the above, I thought this method of link-building was going to be completely useless. Instead, the results have been phenomenal. So much so that I’ve stopped caring about all other link-building methods, choosing to focus only on this one.

Here’s an example of the type of email we will send out asking for a link:

There are just a few prerequisites for succeeding with this link-building strategy:

  1. You need to be publishing high-quality, genuinely useful content that people will consider it worthwhile to link to (it should also have no ads or pop-ups, and preferably nothing commercial at all — for examples, these are the types of articles we’ve gotten great links to)
  2. You need to put some effort into writing nice outreach emails, not just sending boring email templates
  3. You need to be using the right tools (see below)

The details

Credit for this strategy goes to AuthorityHacker.com, who termed it “shotgun skyscraper” and wrote a detailed post explaining exactly how to do it:

Stop chasing link building Techniques like a headless chicken: The only link building system you will ever need

The information there is gold, and it’s thanks to that article that I ever even got started with this method of link-building.

The problem

Over the past 18+ months I’ve been continually improving our shotgun skyscraper process. In doing so, I’ve found that while powerful, the original method as described on AuthorityHacker.com has some limitations.

First, it’s time-consuming. But most of all, the tool they recommend to find emails of the website owners you want links from (Hunter.io) is not very suitable for this purpose. It’s both expensive and misses a ton of very important emails. Other email tools aren’t much (or any) better.

If you’re using this link-building method with any conventional email finding tool, you’re probably missing out on tons of awesome links.

Consider the links I mentioned at the start of this article, from big high-authority sites like Berkeley, UCLA, government sites and so on. Had I been using Hunter.io or similar tools, I almost certainly would have failed to get all of these links.

Why? Because big high-authority sites like these tend to have hundreds or thousands of emails — and Hunter.io isn’t designed to search a specific page for emails (like xyzcollege.com/resource), only the entire website for emails.

For example, if you want a link from hr.berkeley.edu/covid-19-resources as we’ve got, and you want to find an email on that page to reach out to asking for a link, Hunter.io can only return one or all emails for @berkeley.edu, of which there’s over 24,000 😕 … rather than just going directly to hr.berkeley.edu/covid-19-resources and searching for an email on that specific page, which will hopefully be the contact email of the person running that specific page.

As such, the bigger the site, the worse Hunter.io will be for shotgun skyscraper, because it almost certainly won’t return the right email. You won’t be emailing the person who can actually link to you. And while Hunter recently launched an author finder tool allowing you to search a specific URL for emails, it still only works for certain sites where an author is clearly listed (testing it on all the college and government resource pages we’ve gotten links from, it failed).

And that’s just one of the problems with tools like Hunter.io. Every other tool I tested (including desktop email scrapers like Scrapebox) also had major defects, missing one or more of the following type of emails:

  • Emails obfuscated by Cloudflare (Cloudflare obfuscates emails by default, and 16% of websites on the internet use Cloudflare)
  • Emails where the website owner has setup an @gmail.com email to handle website inquiries, such as xyzwebsite@gmail.com for xyzwebsite.com
  • Emails on the websites Facebook page, if it exists (surprisingly, Facebook pages for websites are a goldmine for finding a contact email for the website)
  • Emails for newer sites that haven’t been looked at yet (since tools like Hunter.io don’t search in real-time when you give them a site; they just look at their previously-searched results)

It quickly became apparent that to really maximize shotgun skyscraper to its full potential, I would need a much better tool for finding emails to outreach to.

The solution

Very soon after starting shotgun skyscraper, I wrote my own script for finding emails (building off an existing MIT licensed email scraping script). The script would also automate most of the shotgun skyscraper process, which would normally require a significant amount of boring and repetitive work.

Over the months I would also be continually improving the script — every time I gave it a job to do, I’d go over the results and compare them to those of other tools, almost always having to fix issues with the script bringing back non-emails and/or not finding as many valid emails it should have. While the first version didn’t take too long, a lot of time was spent on the constant tweaking and improvement of the email finding algorithm (and it’s still a work in progress).

In conjunction with publishing great content and writing effective outreach emails, before long, we started crushing it with shotgun skyscraper using this script. We were able to outreach to a huge number of emails other tools were missing, and with much of the process automated, we were able to get dozens and then hundreds of great links:

There are hundreds of such emails I could show, but you get the point.

Offering the script

For the past few months, I’ve been working part-time on turning this script into a functional web app, a process that came with its own challenges. That app is called LeadCrawler.io and I have just released the first version:

LeadCrawler automates almost the entire shotgun skyscraper process and easily finds more emails than tools like Hunter.io. I’ve also priced it far cheaper, with a starter plan costing just $29/month and allowing you to find up to 1,500 emails (Hunter.io’s cheapest plan costs $49/month and allows you to find only 500 emails). The app allows you to sign up for a free account and find up to 1,000 emails (which will be partially obscured) so you can see exactly how well it works before signing up for any paid plan.

Click here to visit LeadCrawler.io.

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