The Tend Blog

A blog about growth

by Ryan Evans
Oct 24 '18

A detailed breakdown of Brian Dean's moving man link building tactic

In this post, I'll break down a link building method SEO expert Brian Dean calls the "moving man" method. I'll go through a step-by-step process of how we did it, share some responses, and show you the results.

Table of Contents

Background

I'm not an SEO expert, but I know enough to recognize the massive swirling sea of garbage SEO advice on the internet. So, when I first read Brian Dean's posts on Backlinko, I raised an impressed brow and nodded in approval.

Brian writes reasoned, detailed posts about SEO. In one of his posts, he describes a link building tactic he calls the "moving man method". Here's how he describes it:

First, you find web pages, resources or businesses that are outdated, rebranded or recently changed names. Then, you find the sites that are still linking to these outdated resources. Finally, you email people to let them know that they’re linking to something that’s out of date.

When I read that, I thought "By golly, that just might work," but these opportunities didn't seem obvious to me at the time so I added it to my massive list of great ideas that I'll never get to.

But then, I came across this Tweet:

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Kissmetrics is an analytics tool, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out Brian's moving man technique.

Rank higher in Google
The main reason to do link building is to get high-quality links to your website which helps you rank higher in Google and thus drive more traffic. This is an oversimplification so if you want to understand the details of how link building fits into SEO, take a look at Moz's guide to link building.

Influencer awareness
Even when you don't get a link right away, making bloggers aware of your business is a good marketing tactic. There is a good chance they'll check out your product or site, they may write about you in the future or even refer others to you. While I didn't set out to do this, I did land a podcast interview and made a few great contacts in the process.

Customers
I was a little surprised by this, but we got a few signups as a direct result of this effort.

Tools needed

Here are the tools I used:

  • Backlink tool - Ahrefs
  • Spreadsheet - Excel or Google sheets
  • Screenshot tool - I used Annotate but it's only available on a Mac.
  • Email outreach software - I used Outreach.io, but Reply.io and Bluetick.io are worth a look.
  • Web scraper (optional) - I like Outwit but it only works on a Mac. Webscraper.io is great free option.

Types of moving man

I realized there are different situations to apply this moving man technique.

Links to specific content
In Brian's example, he targets a specific piece of content on his site. What's nice about this approach is you can target a specific topic or group of keywords you want to rank for.

Links to your domain
I didn't target a specific piece of content on our site. I just asked people to link to our homepage because we're so awesome ;) My hope is that this approach increases our overall domain authority, which is weak as we haven't focused on it. I'm not getting the benefit of targeting a topic or keywords.

Find targets

I stumbled onto the news that Kissmetrics sold their domain. But there are other ways to find moving man targets. I was looking for posts or resource pages that listed several other analytics or marketing tools. Here are a few ways to find targets:

Search term with date range
I used simple searches like "google analytics alternatives" or "web analytics software" but limited the search result by posts that were at least three years old. Limiting the search to older posts makes it much more likely that you'll find sites no longer in business.

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Google a target
Once you find a site that is a good target, search for that company along with qualifying search terms. For us, it might be "kissmetrics" AND 'analytics tools'." Pages that list one outdated tool are more likely to list others.

Updated directory
Find a directory of resources that are updated regularly. Capterra is a good example for software companies. Go to your category and find a page that lists your targets. Then, enter that page into the Wayback Machine. If the directory is updated often, links from the old page won't be on the new one.

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Set up alerts
Finding targets that recently went out of business is ideal because far fewer SEO types will have tried this technique. Plus, it's a little more of a newsworthy and interesting pitch. If you have a large list of targets, you can set alerts in something like Uptime Robot to find out when a site goes down. This won't work well with a small list, but if you have a big list and you're in a dynamic industry it's surprising how often this happens.

Quick math aside: If you have 60 targets and the average life span of each target is five years, then on average one of them will bite the dust every month. (60 targets/60 months = 1 target per month)

Once you find all of your targets, you want to find the sites that have relevant, high-quality pages that link to those targets. To find backlinks, I used Ahrefs, which is an amazing tool.

Download the links

  1. To find the links in Ahrefs go to site explorer, enter the URL of your target and click "backlinks."
  2. Select "do follow" to find links that pass link authority.
  3. Select "English" to find English sites
  4. Select remove "group similar links." This will filter out category, tag and author pages that usually link to the same place.
  5. Click "export" and export the links to excel.

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Not all the links in your spreadsheet are going to make sense to pitch. This is a good time to remind yourself that you are going to pitch an actual human being who manages these pages and you need a credible reason why your link should go on this page.

Examples of bad links
Here are a few examples of links that didn't make sense for us:

  • Site isn't maintained
  • Content is off-topic
  • Page isn't in English
  • Broken link or 404
  • Page isn't a blog post or resource page (ie footer link, link from a partner page or testimonial page)
  • Post profiles one company and doesn't list other alternatives
  • Page is about something specific that happened like an interview, conference recap, or podcast

How to filter out bad links
While Ahrefs does an impressively good job of providing good links, there will still be some you'll want to filter out. I get into how to filter things out in the video, but this is how to filter in excel. Here are a few ways to further refine your links:

  • Link quality - Ahrefs provides metrics like total backlinks, domain rating, and URL rating that attempt to quantify how authoritative or valuable a link is.
  • Link URL - When you download Ahrefs spreadsheet you'll see the link URL. The link URL tells you whether the link points to the home page or a blog post on your target's site. For this effort, we wanted to focus on links to our target's homepage, but if we were trying to get links to a piece of content, we'd focus on links to blog posts. In that case, the link URL is useful because it gives you a hint as to whether the backlink is similar or relevant to the page you're promoting.
  • Link anchor text - Ahrefs also provides columns called TextPre, Link Anchor and TextPost, which all provide clues about the nature of the link. In our example, we were looking for pages that had links to analytics companies. So anchor text with "Kissmetrics" was a good signal while anchor text with something like "heat map" or "call to action" was a negative signal.
  • URL and title text - The Referring Page Title and Referring page URL in the Ahrefs spreadsheet tells you the topic of the page where the backlink is. This, again, helps you know if the page is relevant.
  • Your eyeballs - Yeah, I know, this isn't very fun but you should look at these links. When you do this, you'll catch things you hadn't thought of. Even looking at a sample manually will help you figure out ways to filter a lot of bad links.
  • Words from a scraper (Extra credit) - Because we wanted to find pages that mentioned several other analytics tools, we scraped the target pages to see if the page also mentioned Google Analytics. While your criteria will differ, scraping the pages that contain the backlinks is a great way of determining whether or not the page is a good fit.

Taking screenshots

Taking a screenshot of each page where your target's link is located is a big pain. My hunch, though, is that doing so improves your response rate enough to make it worth the effort.

First, it proves to the person you're emailing that a human looked at the page. Second, some email inboxes show a thumbnail preview when you include an image attachment. That's going to draw attention to the email in the inbox and improve your email open rate.

Recommended screenshot workflow
Breaking the screenshot task into a workflow where you can batch the task, use keyboard shortcuts and get into a rhythm makes this go much faster. With this workflow, it was possible to do about 100 screenshots in an hour. Here's how I did it:

  1. Copy and paste 20 - 30 links to a site like openallurls.com. This site simply opens all of the pages in separate browser tabs.
  2. On each page click "Command + F" (if you're using chrome) which will open a search. Then enter the first few letters of the link you're targeting i.e., "kissmetrics." This will scroll the page quickly to find the link.
  3. If the link meets the criteria, pull the tab out into its own window so that the other tabs don't show up in the screenshot.
  4. Enter "shift + command + 6" to take a screenshot of the window.
  5. Click and drag an arrow pointing to the link.
  6. Click "command + S" to save the file.
  7. Name the file the root domain less the .com. For example, "somesite.com" would be saved as "somesite." If the site has a subdomain like "blog.somesite.com", just call it "somesite."

Finding the person to email

We looked for three different types of people to email. The author, the person who heads up marketing and the founder.

  1. Author - The person who wrote the post. Their name is easy to find as it's usually on the post itself, but often the author is no longer at the company, so we also tried to find a marketing contact.
  2. Marketing person - This is the person responsible for the content marketing at a company. Usually, they can be found on a team page, a google search, or on Linkedin.
  3. Founder/CEO - The Founder or CEO can be found in the same places as the marketing person. Generally, we didn't email the Founder of a large company because, in that situation, they weren't the right person to pitch.

Finding the email address

Once you have a contact's name, finding email addresses is pretty easy. All of the following tools work really well:

Email outreach template

The email outreach template I used was stolen err I mean borrowed from Brian Dean. Thanks Brian ;) I did modify it a little to make it my own. I highly encourage you to do the same.

Hi {{first_name}} - I came across your post from a while back and see that you mentioned [TARGET COMPANY NAME].

I'm not sure if you heard but [TARGET COMPANY NAME] recently [WENT OUT OF BUSINESS/WERE BOUGHT/DISCONTINUED THEIR PRODUCT] and [THE LINK ON YOUR SITE IS BROKEN/REDIRECTED].

You may want to remove their link. Here's a screenshot of where the link is on your page:

[INSERT SCREENSHOT WITH ARROW POINTING TO LINK]

Also, I thought you'd want to know about our company → [YOUR COMPANY NAME & LINK].

Convenient huh ;)

[REASON YOU ARE AWESOME AND YOUR LINK MAKES SENSE ]

Might make a nice addition to your page?

Either way, keep up the good work!

Thanks {{first_name}}

Ryan Evans
Cofounder, Tend (https://Tend.io)
https://twitter.com/tend_io

Here's how it looks: alt

Notes about the template

  • I included a link to a tweet about Kissmetrics selling their domain. I think it builds a bit of trust when you show someone else talking about it. This can be news, an announcement, screenshot or other people talking about what happened.
  • Directly tell them what you want, i.e., "You may want to remove their link."
  • Mention why your link makes sense on the page.
  • Don't be too pushy. I like how Brian gave an "out" to people in his template.
  • Be authentic. My little comment "Convenient huh ;)" is an attempt to tell them I know that they know what I'm doing. A lot of templates try to play it off like the person pitching is some good Samaritan that just so happened to be on their post and noticed a broken link. Anyone with half a brain can spot the BS.

Send the email

Once you've found the name, email address and taken the screenshot you're ready to send the email. I used Outreach to send the email so I had to upload a spreadsheet first. Here is how I organized it: alt

Image url
I included a link to the path of where the image was on my local computer. The reason I did this is so I could copy and paste the URL of the image location into the browser and drag it into another browser where I had the email template populated.

Send email in waves
Because we sometimes found three different contacts at a company, I sent the email in "waves" so that we didn't send the email to the same people on the same day. Also, when someone agreed to add our link, we obviously removed that company from future emails.

Results

We sent 342 emails and got nine links from sites with an average domain rating, according to Ahrefs, of 54 (ranging from 28 - 72). All of the sites that linked to us were relevant, good domains. We also got a podcast interview and a signup.

Responses
Here are a few of the responses I got:

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Quantifying the value
It's hard to quantify the value of gaining those few links. Ahefs has an interesting post on the value of links. If I applied that logic, the "value" of those links would be about $3,350. But because the links were to our home page instead of to a blog post it's tough to quantify an increase in ranking for a specific keyword.

What I learned
This first experiment was to see if people would actually link to our site using the moving man method without writing any new content. It turns out they did.

I think this method of linking building links to our site has value and it wasn't difficult to pull off. But, we don't have many pages on our site right now that rank for targeted keywords. So, while these links will improve the overall authority or domain rating, that authority doesn't translate into specific keyword rankings. Once we create more content, I'll revisit this tactic and build links to specific posts as well.

If you want to get an update when we finish that experiment, sign up to our email newsletter below and we'll send you the results.


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