To say link building is a long, drawn-out process that requires time, patience and resources has become a bit of a tired opening to a blog post, but it’s nonetheless true.

Part of what makes it so difficult is that it can be difficult to quantify time and results. As with anything, there are always quicker, more efficient ways of working; it’s just about learning the hacks and developing new ones.

At 9xb, we tend to break the process link building down into three stages:

•    Link suspecting – gathering as many potential link opportunities as possible
•    Link qualification – sifting through these sites and qualifying them in terms of the opportunity they represent
•    Link acquisition –  making the outreach and getting (or not getting) the link

As well as speeding up the process of building links (without compromising the quality of the outreach or the links built), using this process also allows you to assign the skilled people to the right job.

For example, you can put the more technical guys on the suspecting and the communicators on the outreach.

It also makes the process of training someone to link build a little easier, as you can start them gently on qualification and work them into the two more difficult stages: suspecting and acquisition.

This post is an introduction to each of these stages. Of course, each of these steps is an art unto itself, but this should serve as a nice introduction.

1.    Link Suspecting

The first stage of link building is drumming up a list of as many sites as possible that may present an opportunity where you can build a relationship and secure yourself a link.

To start then, you want to cast your net as wide as possible, with a view to cutting the wheat from the chaff in phase two.  There are countless ways you can quickly pull together thousands of link suspects and your process will be defined by the type of opportunities you are looking for.

You may start by scraping your competitors’ backlinks to a CSV from Majestic and stacking the on top of each other.

If you’re looking for fresh opportunities, define your parameters in Ontolo’s Query Generator and scraping the top 100 results for all your relevant search terms.

Stack each set of results in Excel or Google Docs and soon enough you will have rows and rows of URLs – some good, some great and some garbage.

The next task is to sift through and qualify the opportunity (or lack of) each one represents.

2.    Link Qualification

The second stage then is link qualification. This is where you need an eye for recognising and distinguishing between the different opportunities presented by different sites.

In simple terms, this is deciding whether your best bet  shot of getting a link on the site is through a guest post, getting your product reviewed or, god forbid, paying.

The prospect of sifting through thousands and thousands of sites to ascertain their value needn’t be as arduous a task as it first appears.

Use the Ontolo url reviewer and the close tab keyboard short cut (ctrl + w) to wade through the sites as quickly as possible.

Each time you need to be able to ask yourself what would motivate the site’s owner to link to you – a question you become more adept at answering with experience.

We work off a master list and, any link that is qualified with an opportunity, is then added to the CRM tool BuzzStream and tagged with the opportunity type it represents.

If you don’t want to fork out to use a CRM tool like BuzzStream, you can just use a spread-sheet. Be forewarned though, things can get pretty messy when you’re trying to juggle multiple campaigns, so be meticulous.

3.    Link Acquisition

listThe third, and final stage is most important. All the previous efforts are in vein if you don’t actually get the link from the website.

Putting pretty spread-sheets together helps manage and speed up what you’re doing, but it won’t directly push the rankings needle.

Once you’ve qualified the websites, you can put the sites in the hands of the people who need to make the acquisition (or do it yourself, either way).

How you get in touch, of course, depends on the opportunity you have and the person you need to communicate with. Sometimes an e-mail will be appropriate, sometimes a phone call, sometimes a tweet.

It takes time to craft unique e-mails to each opportunity but, if you want to improve response rate, it really is important.

Because you have sorted your prospects by opportunity and you know you know your value proposition for the opportunity type, it makes it a lot easier to speed up and scale the acquisition process, without jeopardising the chance of getting the link.

John Doherty’s guide to a Linkbuilder's Gmail Productivity Setup is a good place to start if you want to learn more about getting things done quicker here. As a rule, never do anything to compromise the quality of your outreaches.

That’s it then. As I say, there is reams and reams you can write on each of these stages. Hopefully this will serve as a good introduction.