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Why Creating Competitor Link Gaps Is Just as Important as Closing Them

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Why Creating Competitor Link Gaps Is Just as Important as Closing Them

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

In SEO and digital PR, there is a lot of discussion surrounding how and why brands need to close backlink gaps in order to rank high and be competitive in the SERPs.

But what about tackling competitive SEO from the opposite direction by creating link gaps?

In this post, I’ll share a framework that we use at JBH to help us create hyper-niche and relevant digital PR campaigns that will earn links on sites where our clients’ competitors aren’t found, and highlight the strategic importance of creating these gaps for SEO success.

What are link gaps, and how do we find them?

On a very basic level, a link gap is the difference between the sites linking to multiple competitors, but not to you.

It’s really easy to discover these sites by performing a link gap analysis (using a tool like Moz’s Link Intersect Tool), comparing the backlinks you have to those of your competitors. At the end of your analysis, you’re left with a list of websites you should try and earn a link from — this is called closing the link gap, and is common in most SEO strategies.

Closing link gaps makes a lot of sense. For example, if someone is linking to a site in a particular industry or vertical, it’s likely they’d be keen to link to a similar site. And if your competition is ranking well, then you’d expect those links to be contributing to that.

But if we flip that theory around and start to think about creating backlink gaps as opposed to closing them, then we become more proactive in our approach to link building, as opposed to simply reacting to the competition.

Create link gaps in competitive industries with an audience-first mindset

If you’re trying to earn or build links for brands in very competitive industries, it can be tempting to follow the competition and simply copy their link strategy to prove you’ve done everything you can. I’d like to share a different approach, and it involves thinking audience-first rather than backlink first.

The idea behind this technique is to generate links from sites that are:

  1. Topically relevant to the industry your brand or client operates in

  2. High quality and non-spammy

  3. Not feature a link to any of your competitors

For this technique to work, we still need to have a good understanding of the competitor link landscape. By using Link Intersect, we can see where our competitors are focusing their link building efforts. We’ll red flag that information in our strategy and do something completely different.

For most industries and sectors, there will be “business as usual” topics that their PR teams might use to generate coverage and links.

  • A personal finance brand might talk about how to get the best exchange rate on travel money

  • An alcoholic beverage brand might share some recipes for summer cocktails to enjoy in the garden

  • A car insurance brand might warn drivers not to wear flip flops when driving in a heatwave

These are all interesting and relevant subjects, but they are not going to achieve the unique links for the purposes of creating a link gap between you and your competitors.

Case Study: How we identified niche link targets for a well-established brand in a competitive vertical

For an established brand in the UK holiday industry, the objective was to earn links from entirely new referring domains, as well as create a link gap between them and their competitors.

The initial link gap analysis highlighted that there wasn’t much difference between the key players. As they were all well established brands in the vertical, all brands had earned backlinks from the usual and expected outlets, so we spotted a really great opportunity to develop a new link gap.

Identify new audiences by asking the most important questions

As mentioned above, instead of thinking “link first”, we take a step back and think “audience first”. We have to step into the shoes of our audience, and to do that, we create a checklist of questions to help frame our thinking.

For the UK holidays brand we wanted to know:

  • What drives them? What are the passions and interests of our intended audience?

  • What makes them tick and click? What actions do the audience take before and after using your product or service?

  • What do they care deeply about? Their close family and friends? Finances? Pets?

  • Problem solving? What do the audience need and what problems does your product or service solve?

Once we answer all of the audience questions, we have a solid starting point to pinpoint those niche audiences.

Using a mind mapping tool like MindNode, we can then get to work on expanding out those primary and secondary audiences:

These audiences will look different for every industry, but it’s easy to see how each of the audiences we identified might be interested in booking a holiday in the UK.

Let’s take “work from anywhere” as the primary audience to explore first. If you’re a freelancer who works primarily online, it’s likely that you’ll be able to work from anywhere with a decent internet connection. So, taking a UK holiday whilst working at the same time is an option and therefore relevant to the audience.

But who else can work from anywhere? Here, we can also identify four secondary audiences who could also be targeting our content:

Same keyword map with a circle around specific keywords for the term

The results of this audience-led approach to digital PR

Following this approach, over a third (35%) of the links that JBH secured were from completely new referring domains, and (at the time of writing) none of the brand’s competitors had links from those domains either, proving that an audience-led approach to digital PR can put space between you and your competitors.

How to find suitable sites and link targets

Now that we’re happy that the “work from anywhere” audience group would be suitable to target, our next steps are to identify the sites we want to target for links.

It makes sense to do this before we start to create any content, as we’ll assess:

  • Quantity of sites: Are there enough sites to target?

  • Quality of sites: Are the sites high enough quality?

  • Topics of interest: What conversations are trending and can we add value to them?

  • Targeted by the competition? Have our competitors got links on here yet?

  • Will they share our content? Is it likely they will take content on an editorial basis? We don’t want to target any sites who require payment for coverage

Searching manually with Google

This technique is old but gold, and it’s probably the most effective way to find new sites to pitch your content to. We search for terms relevant to the audience we’re looking to target, and make a list of the sites that pop up, noting down journalist/author names, the domain authority of the sites, any similar content, and how likely they are to take content from us.

Top tip! Drill down your settings in Google’s tools. Try changing the country or changing the “last published” date to see more sites in the search engine results.

Discovering similar sites

Download a free tool called SimilarSites from Chrome’s web store. When you find a site that looks perfect for the niche audience you’re targeting, click on the extension to be shown a list of sites that might also work. Simply add them to your outreach list to use later.

There are plenty of other prospecting techniques you can use to find link targets, but you should now have a list of relevant publications that may be interested in your content – it’s time to start thinking about the type of content you could share!

Content ideas for niche link targets

How boundaries can help

It’s worth mentioning at this point that having boundaries for brainstorms can actually make this part of the process much easier.

In 2006, a team of architects wanted to study how having a fence around a playground would impact children and how they play. They observed children playing on a playground surrounded by a fence and compared it to children playing on a playground without the physical boundary of a fence. They found a striking difference in how the children interacted with the space.

Illustration of the playground study.

On the playground without the fence (1), the children gathered around the teacher and were reluctant to explore the space. On the playground with the fence (2), the children explored the entire playground, feeling more free.

The study concluded that the boundary (in this case a fence) made the children feel more at ease to explore and play.

We can draw parallels with this. By providing some boundaries and a specific problem to solve, we can actually improve the creative process.

“The three Rs”: A framework to develop content ideas for niche link targets

The content ideas we produce need to resonate with our niche audience, so we need to get immersed in the topics they care about. And there are some unique and perhaps unexpected ways we can do this. Before you start thinking about creative content, ensure you follow the Three R’s:

Research

  • Reddit – join subreddits related to the audience you want to target – Reddit is the front page of the internet and it’s likely you’ll find your audience there

  • Quora – discover the questions your audience want to know the answers to

  • Facebook Groups – joining very audience specific groups lets you see the genuine conversations that the community are having

  • Buzzsumo – discover the topics that are trending and getting tons of engagement and clicks on social media

React

  • Google Alerts – Set up alerts for keywords and phrases surrounding your identified topics ie: work from anywhere

  • Google Trends – Check to see if any topics are experiencing a spike in searches as this can highlight the popularity of trends

  • #JournoRequest / Response Source / HAROKeep an eye on the type of requests that journalists are making to see if they match the style of content you’re planning

Relevance

  • Audience — would my client or brand’s audience be interested in this content?

  • Authority — is my client or brand an authority on the subject? Could they be interviewed about it?

  • Keywords — does it contain keywords that we want to rank for, and do we have a page on the site that makes sense to link to?

  • Newsworthiness — will journalists care about what we are saying? What are we adding to the conversation?

A strategic approach can give you the competitive edge, but it’s all about the set up

It is so easy to get carried away chasing the tail of your competition, but with this approach, you’ll begin to create content designed specifically for niche audiences that creates beneficial gaps between you and your competitors. Remember, there’s no better link to build than one that the competition doesn’t have yet.



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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

1716755163 123 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 123 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

1716755163 298 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 298 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To
  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

1716755164 348 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755164 348 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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