5 Simple and Effective Free Link Building Tools

In the spirit of continuing my free tool series, I’ve turned my focus to link building. Link building is a huge part of getting any website to be visible to search engines these days. Of course, Annie Cushing’s Tools for Marketers Google Doc has a tab for link building tools which I used to pull together the tools for this post. This list includes five simple, free link building resources, that are easy to use and don’t require downloads of any kind. For a more extensive list of in-depth paid and free tools, I recommend checking out Annie’s Google Doc.

Link Building

Hey look, it’s Link … on a building!


Check My Links

This is a link checking Chrome plugin that tests all the links on a web page and either marks them green if they’re valid or red if they’re broken. The broken links have codes next to them according to the type of error message they have. Links that require a login to see the pages also show up as red.

A full list of the HTTP response codes and full URLs of broken links are published in the Console log (Found in: ‘Chrome > Tools > Javascript Console’ or Ctrl+Shift+J), under the Sources tab.

link checker


This website checks email addresses to see if they’re valid by pinging the mail servers and the individual addresses for validation.

mail tester

Embed Code Generator

This is an online tool that generates and emails you a customized embed code for infographics or types of media that you would like to track by incorporating the media’s URL, source link, anchor text, and title.

embed code generator

Citation Labs Link Filter

This web service filters a set of links according to the keywords you require or exclude in your query.

link filter

Ontolo Tools

Ontolo is a website with free and paid link building tools. Here’s how you can navigate to their full list of link building tools from their homepage:

link building tools all tools link ALL the tools


These are my five favorite free Ontolo tools:

Generate Link Building Queries

Creates link queries that you can export as a CSV file based on the types of assets, opportunities and campaigns you have associated with your keywords.

generate queries

Prospect List Filter

Filters the links that you’ve already gone through from the sites that you haven’t worked with yet and generates a report you can export as a CSV file.

filter prospects

URL Viewer

Opens a list of URLs in separate tabs.

URL tabs

URL and Hostname Counter

Counts the number of URLs or individual hostnames entered into the tool and creates a report that you can export as a CSV file.

hostname counter

SEO Keyword Generator

Creates a list of keywords based on the root and stem phrases you provide.

keyword creator

Pro tip: You can sign up for a free account with Ontolo and get 25 free reports from their paid tools.

ontolo free account


What are your favorite link building tools? Feel free to share in the comments!


101 Wednesday: Conditional Formatting in Excel Recap

Formatting in Excel has always been a major point of focus in our 101 Wednesdays Google+ Hangouts. Our latest wasno different. It’s pretty much the Cushing way to focus on making data pretty. It just so happens that we, and you, can use  pretty colors and icons to quickly show how well data is doing in data reports. Below is a snapshot of what you’ll learn in about 20 minutes in the video below.



In the video below I went over how to add data bars, color scales and icon sets all based on the custom conditions of your data. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and if you want to learn more please feel free to comment with what you would like me to go over next!

Do you want to try this for yourself? Download the Excel sheet and follow along.

What Content Marketers Can Learn From Snipers


Image courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

I was born a gun nut. My dad, his dad and my mom’s dad were all great shots, and I grew up in a house full of long guns. Hunting and shooting were a part of life. As a kid, nothing lit a fire under me more than bass fishing, plinking or reading science-related books.

However, unlike my dad, who was an excellent shot, I needed lots of practice to make long-distance shots accurately. So, during the summers, I fired thousands of rounds to get better.

By my early teens I could hit plastic bottle tops at 80 yards with frequency.

Sucking At Something Is No Excuse For Not Trying

This train of thought occurred to me last week, as I talked to a few of my law enforcement friends, one of whom was a SWAT team member for a large municipality. When I lamented having never made a shot longer than 500 yards, he chimed in.

“It takes time,” he said. “You have to remember, the guys who’re really great at making those 800- to 1,000-yard shots are shooting a lot, like every day and for years and years. And they aren’t just shooting. They’re focused on little things, like windage, elevation, obstacles, etc. You can’t expect to get good at something that difficult by practicing here and there.”


Why can’t content marketers get this? We seemingly expect to start out great at everything, or we consider it a failure.

  • “I’m not good at blogging, so why should I even bother?”
  • “My first email campaign was a complete bust.”
  • “The new website has yet to show any significant ‘returns’ despite an enormous investment.”
  • “Why are we even doing social media, when we don’t have but a few hundred followers after three months?”
  • “If our SEO efforts are really a success, why aren’t we ranking better for our main keywords? It’s been six months.”

Sound familiar? If not, you’re one of the rare few who understands that success takes time.

Passion Doesn’t Correlate To Immediate Results

No matter how great we think we are, immediate success is the stuff of movies. As I’ve said and written before, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” No matter how much I loved guns, becoming a better shot was not instantaneous.

With content marketing, correlating frequency with quality can also be a problem. We write blogs daily and then grow frustrated that the posts lack traction. No one reads them. No one is sharing them. No one is commenting on them. All you see and here are crickets. When you step back, however, you see the real culprits:

  • No one is reading because you have not committed to outreach, community building.
  • The lack of sharing is owed in large part to your refusal to share others’ content.
  • There is no commenting in because you’re not active on social media, so next to know one even knows your content exists.

We must stop confusing action with efficacy.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, yes.

However, the key to honing your skill is to make “practice” efficient. Set a small goal, then do all the little things required to see that goal through to fruition. In this way, the practice is made as much of a priority as the goal itself.

I call this skill development. For example, if your goal is to grow the readership of your blog, you might do the following as part of “perfect practice”:

  • Set a target for the minimum number of blogs you’ll write per month, religiously sticking to that schedule.
  • Become active on social media daily, making it a priority to share others’ content and be a part of relevant conversations.
  • Create clear calls to action on all of your content.

This is just a start, but each of these steps is in line with your overall goal. If nothing else, taking these small steps helps drive home the fact that getting to where you want to be in business takes time. That’s a lesson we can all stand to learn, in business and in life. The talk with my friend certainly helped me regain perspective.

“You may never be a 1,000 yard shooter,” he said. “But here’s what we know: If you practice a lot, you will get better. And the better you get, the more distance you create between you and the competition.”

Please Join Us for 101 Wednesday: Conditional Formatting in Excel

If you would like to watch please RSVP here. On Wednesday May 28th at 3PM EST with Tori Cushing.

She will be showing viewers how to do conditional formatting in Excel. This tutorial that will be good for anyone that wants to learn some basics in Excel.

Watch our conditional formatting hangout to learn how to:

  • Add data bars
  • 101 weds ad 300x500 vers3Color scales and icon sets all based on the custom conditions of your data

We will also have a Q&A period after the tutorial is done.

Check out previous Hangouts and Tori’s previous posts on this topic:

We plan on having bi-weekly hangouts and our goal is to focus on tutorial-style hangouts. There will always be something to learn.

4 Tax Deductible Devices That Everyone Should Have


Every year deductions are really important to any business, but I think sometimes newer small businesses and consultants don’t realize there are so many deductions available for them. If you are new to running your own business and you are in the SEO / Internet marketing industry here are some devices you can and should invest in.

Computers – 100% Deductible

New computers are, for geeks, more exciting than Christmas morning, right? Imagine getting to open a new, amazing computer and also getting to deduct 100% of the cost! With Section 179 small business owners “can get their entire depreciation deduction in one year, rather than taking it a little at a time over the term of an asset’s useful life.” (Nolo.com).

So, now you don’t need to feel guilty about getting the most up-to-date computers, and honestly you really need to stay up to date in this industry with your electronics. Don’t feel bad about investing in computers that will make your life easier.

Cameras – You Really Need A Good One!

You don’t have to have the best camera available, but you do need a really good camera if you are in the Internet marketing realm. Some examples:

  • WritersCameraYou can buy tons of images for articles or take your own and not worry about image credits. You could even gain some additional personal branding coverage with great images, and image credits. In the end you save money with a camera.
  • Web designers – You too can buy tons of images for the sites you create or you can charge your clients to get more custom images of their business, staff, products and offices.
  • Social Media Managers – Just imagine how many images you could take yourselves for marketing purposes, and memes. Even if you work for someone else the camera can help you be better at your job and it is a deduction.
  • Editors – You know how you can always think of this one image you would like to have for an article, but can’t find it on image buying sites? Well now you can take them yourselves.

If you are in the Internet marketing world you know how important images are. A nice camera is a deduction and an investment because it can help you brand your company and/or yourself.

Tablets  – You HAVE to Have One!

Again, whether you are a designer, developer, writer, social media manager or have any other role in a tech field, this is a needed item and a deduction. It is CRITICAL that you know how things – websites, articles, images, social apps, emails, etc. – display and/or work on a tablet (really all tablets). You need to be aware of problems that arise for readers/users for quality control purposes.

Examples: If you are a writer you need to know that your articles are displaying well on mobile devices. Many writers guest blog on multiple sites and they need to be aware of how their articles are seen by others. Believe it or not readers often blame the author, not the site when things don’t display well.

Social media managers need to know how things appear to their community members on tablets and designers already know how important it is to check mobile devices for design issues.

Bottom line, you need a tablet and it is a deduction (and it falls under the computer category).

Backup Chargers

If you are involved in any of the jobs I mentioned above you have to be ready to work from anywhere at anytime. It is always great to have backup chargers for your computers and tablets, but it is even more important to have them for your mobile phones. If you don’t have access to wi-fi for your computers you can use a phone as backup.

Community managers, writers, editors and marketers can run almost every tool from their phones while also checking the web, email and social accounts at the same time. Obviously this quickly drains a battery, but sometimes emergencies happen and a mobile device is a lifesaver. However, it isn’t always possible to find a place to charge a phone, so a backup charger is a must have.

Yes, There are Many Devices You Could Buy and Deduct…

…but these are 4 items I cannot live without for many of the reasons I listed above. I have a camera that allows me to take high quality shots for work and also personal branding. I can’t live without a tablet and my backup charger keeps those who pay me happy. If you work in the same field I do it is really important that you can work from anywhere so do your research and invest in well-reviewed backup chargers. Please tell me what devices you can’t live without in the comments below.

7 Ways to Grow Your Blog Audience

increase blog audience

Ok, so you’ve decided to start a company blog. Or maybe, you’ve been plugging away for some time, but have yet to see the results that you’d hoped for. If you’re putting in the effort to create high quality content, the next step will be finding a bigger audience to read, share and engage with that content. Here are six ways you can increase your blog audience (without spending money on paid placements).

1. Syndicate your content to third party publications


Syndicating your content to a third party site is one of the easiest and quickest ways to increase the audience and exposure of your content. These sites are frequently cited by a wide variety of people, and your content posted there will likely get many more social shares. These sites can also expose your name, links, company and thought leadership to a much larger audience, and can in turn steer more people back to your own site.

There are a ton of sites that aggregate user-submitted pieces and post them. Your best bet is to find one (or several) that have high traffic and social sharing numbers, and whose subject matter is most closely tied with your brand and content strategy. In some cases, these might be trade publications as well.

Here are a few of the better known sites from a variety of industries where you can syndicate your content:

Social Media and Marketing

  • Social Media Today – A site that covers social media including: Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Instagram, strategy, search, ROI, policy, metrics, marketing, influence, and more.
  • Social Media Explorer – A site dedicated to sales and marketing, which covers social selling, sales process, sales, online community, marketing, lead generation, customer service, CRM, and branding.

Data and Marketing

  • SmartData Collective – A site dedicated to business intelligence and data analytics covering warehousing, visualization, marketing automation, market research, governance, data mining, cloud, analytics, and more.


  • Sustainable Business Forum – The future of healthy enterprise covering workplace safety, environmental stewardship, culture & leadership, corporate social responsibility, and more.
  • MyVenturePad – A source focusing on venture funding and growth; covers women entrepreneurs, technology, startups, leadership, business transformation, and more. Governing People – The world’s best thinkers on e-government and open democracy.


  • HealthWorks Collective – A site focused on healthcare, social media, public health, medical technology, medical ethics, policy, business, global healthcare, and more.


  • The Energy Collective – A source on energy and climate with topics that include wind, transportation, smartgrid, oil, nuclear, climate, clean tech, and more.
  • Sustainable Cities Collective – A site that spans topics on transportation, sustainability, health and food, design & architecture, community planning, bicycling, and more.

2. Use forums – and provide useful information.


Forums like Quora can be a really effective way to drive targeted and relevant traffic to your blog. This became an incredibly effective strategy I employed while running the content marketing at my last job. I would search for questions and topics related to various posts I had written, and answer the question with relevant and thoughtful information – and then add a link back to the appropriate blog post.

Similarly, Linkedin groups can also be an effective method for finding and expanding the right audience for your blog and content.

Not only does this get links out to your blog in places where people are looking for the information you have to offer, it can also help establish you and your blog as a trustworthy and useful source of information for future questions or problems someone may have.

3. Guest Blog

Another way to get your name, point of view and/or company in front of a broader and different audience can be through guest blogging. Find a list of relevant blogs that you think might have the best crossover with the audience you’d like to connect with. Then start reaching out to the bloggers or editors who run those sites with inquiries for guest blogging opportunities. Most blogs are more than willing to accept high quality, free content and are more than happy to put your content on the site.

There are a few strategies that will help ensure success. If it’s a larger blog with high traffic, you’ll want to pitch specific blog topic ideas in the very first inquiry email. Send a possible headline and brief synopsis of what you’d write about. It is often a lot easier to get a yes to guest blogging possibility when the editor knows what to expect from you – and knows it’ll be high quality content. In this vein, it can also be smart to send over examples of other work you’ve done. Send links to a few of your favorite/best posts you’ve written. Lastly, make sure you write all original content for any guest posting you do.

Accepting guest submissions, or asking other writers you know and admire to guest blog, can also be a great way to drive their audience to your site. If another writer/blogger has a substantial following, a post by them on your site could help establish your credibility, expose you to a larger audience and gain new readers.

4. Think About SEO

keyword plannerSearch engines are a massive opportunity for traffic, and a great reason to invest in content marketing – yet many bloggers ignore this channel as a great way to grow your audience.

By improving the search rankings of your blog, many will find everything from inbound leads to inquiries for advertising, to guest posting opportunities, to press and discovery by major media entities all come from search.

SEO for blogs can be a lot easier and less intimidating than you may think. When you begin you don’t have to start with hours of keyword research or technical set up. Simply brainstorming a list of keywords that you’d like your blog to appear for, doing a little research on those terms, and then finding clever ways to infuse your blog topics and writing with those words is a good start.

There are tons of resources out there for improving the SEO of your blog. Here are a couple great places to start:

5. Add Images to Your Posts

better blog traffic

Not only will adding images to your posts make them more readable, more shareable and improve engagement on your blog, but adding images and tagging them correctly can also help your blog show up in image search results.

6. Reference and Link to Your Own Posts and Those of Others

Readers appreciate links, as do other bloggers, site owners and even search engines. When you reference your own material in-context, in a way that’s not manipulative (don’t overdo it), you potentially draw visitors to your other content AND give search engines a nice signal about those previous posts.

Also valuable is referencing the content of others – especially those with high quality sites and great content. The site owners will often receive an alert or see that you have linked to their content, and will sometimes return the favor later on down the road – or possible share your content on their own social channels.

Linking out is a direct line to earning links, social mentions, and new relationships with those you reference.

7. Don’t Give Up

It can take a long time consistently hammering on a blog or content strategy before you will see any success. Unlike some paid techniques, earning page views, traffic and inbound leads from a blog can be a long and arduous process. It is not uncommon for bloggers or company blogs to take two years before tangible benefits come to fruition. However, those who stick to the program and continually focus on putting out great content on a consistent basis will often eventually find success. While many bloggers will throw in the towel after a year or less of working, those who stick it out will often be rewarded with improved SEO, loyal audiences, lots of social shares and plenty of brand equity.