by Alan LaFrance ( @Texas_Marketing on Twitter – Follow Me )
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how link building is about developing relationships more than anything else. As a webmaster, I’m really excited to see this revelation finally make commonality in the SEO community, but as an SEO, I can’t believe it took this long for it to finally ‘click.’ We’ve all read the “How-To … ” ad nauseum, but here’s the perspective I had on link builders before I got involved in SEO.
Several years ago I had no real concept of the benefits of link building. I knew that links gave a pathway for people to visit your website, and that was about it. I viewed them as a more intimate partnership with another website where we could link like-minded visitors to our websites. It was somewhat of an investment to seek a link out, and likewise we would both seek intrinsic value in taking the 30 seconds to alter a page with the link. Knowing this, imagine my reaction when I would receive emails like this:
I’d like to offer you the opportunity to dramatically increase traffic to both of our sites. Please add us to your link page and we will return the favor! This benefits us both greatly and is easy to do!
Rodeo Clowns, Rodeo Clown, Bob’s Rodeo Clown Boutique
Jim – Jim’s Marketing Agency”
I immediately tossed this email into the trash. Not only that, but it damaged any potential of ever developing a link to my website. This is a website that ranks 1st for numerous terms, does over 2 million visits a year, and has significant link value. Here’s more of an analysis that went through my mind when I read this:
1) Spam – This is a “cold” email that was completely unsolicited. While I’m very entrepreneurial and open to cold emails I still felt very guarded before I even opened the email. This is not a good position to be in if you are “selling” something.
2) Unknown Identity – I don’t recognize the brand, person, nor the subject matter the site is about. This puts the credibility of this solicitation somewhere around Nigerian money launderers.
3) Hard Sell – I’m barely registering on the sales spectrum but this guy is already going for the kill. This is akin to showing up to the bar and asking the first beautiful girl you find to marry you. While I’m most certainly not a beautiful woman, I can assure you the results are equally abysmal.
4) No Match – My website is about firearms ownership in Texas, not about rodeo clown apparel, or even rodeos for that matter.
So what Recommendations do you Have?
Here’s a great insight to read about link building, specifically the mutual benefit factor, from a Mozzer: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/the-blogger-outreach-equation
Basically reverse engineer the above pain points:
1) Be Authentic – Spend time making your contact as personal and inviting as possible. Webmasters invest LARGE amounts of time, money, and effort developing their sites and we all like to be acknowledged with some degree of respect.
2) Be Truthful – Guy Kawasaki speaks well to this effect in his book on enchantment, but be upfront about your motives and explain the benefits to each party in depth.
3) Replace the Sell – You aren’t selling door to door and a link in the hand counts for far more than two in the bush, or is that birds? Regardless, engage and develop relationships with webmasters before you push for a link. Chat us up on twitter or facebook, help us promote our site(s), buy us lunch, give us a quick SEO guide, something. There has to be something in it for us, and that item has to have value to the webmaster that we can see. Not everyone is up to speed on SEO best practices, so we may view links in a completely different manner than you.
4) Find Commonality – As an SEO you should know this by now, but in case you missed the last year of Google updates here it is again. Obtain links from contextually similar websites. It looks more natural, is more natural, and is considerably easier to achieve.
An yes, the above does work. I had a fellow webmaster in the Austin area take me out to lunch so we could discuss ways to improve both of our websites. The result? He spent a whopping $15 and got a link on my homepage that has sent thousands of like-minded searchers to his site on top of all the link value you could shake a stick at (well … a medium sized stick at least, I’m not Amazon! LOL)