Link Building is Social Networking
Successful link building strategies all come back to building successful relationships. Here’s a little story:
There’s a story with countless variations about a religious missionary trying to preach the good word to an unfamiliar, indigenous people. His efforts fail due to several barriers he is not able to overcome; they don’t understand the language, he looks different, they doubt his intentions. Eventually, he changes his strategy. Instead of preaching to crowds, he gathers tools and travels to each home, helping the people with whatever he can: gardening, home repairs, teaching, medical needs, and so on. After a few weeks of serving the people, they become more amiable toward him and more trusting of his intentions. He begins to see success in preaching in areas he wasn’t able to reach.
So what? Don’t go around preaching the good word of your website to webmasters expecting them to drop everything they’re doing and put a link to your site in their next blog post. Focus on building a relationship, not a link.
I won’t get into this too much, since blog posts on link building tactics are about as common as bootlegged copies of Avatar in 2009. Basic tactics apply; look at links your competitors have via Yahoo! Site Explorer or SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer, search Google for applicable sites, blogs targeting your topic, niche directories or targeted social networks, and so on. Don’t over-research. If you do this right, even a very shortlist will take a long time to get through. Look at this list of potential backlinks like an investment portfolio; balance the risk (time invested building the relationship) versus the reward (likelihood of receiving a link), but don’t discount a link from a site with extremely high traffic and loads of authority; follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to a juicy link.
Follow them on Twitter. Become a fan of their Facebook page. Follow their company on LinkedIn. Follow them on Quora. Add them on Google+.Upvote their submissions on Reddit. This should be common sense since, if you’ve done the first step correctly, you’ve got a healthy list of high-quality sites that are relevant to your topic and that publish original content. If you’re saying “but then I’ll just get spammed” then you’ve got a list of the wrong people to get links from.
Give Them What You Want
The Golden Rule. Give Before You Get. Serve the Eccentric Indigenous People Before Throwing Holy Books At Them. Whatever you want to call it, it all falls under the same principle. If you want something, you’ve got to be willing to give first. You’ve got to give them what you (and every other webmaster and SEO in the world) want.
Put your prospective partner first. Don’t wait until you’re sure to get backlinks before you drop a link to their content in your own blog posts. You want this to be about the person, and the best way to get someone to warm up to you is to give them something. So give them what you want: backlinks, social mentions, praise, reviews. Make them feel like they’re the best thing to happen to blogging since WordPress. And again, if you’ve got a list of the right people, heaping praise on them won’t be an exercise in deception. If you are genuine in your giving, you’re sure to gain a friend.
(Subtly) Suggest Something Mutually Beneficial
Don’t jump in and ask for a one-way link right away. Give the partnership time to germinate. Like the missionary, continue to give, give, give. Even if you don’t get backlinks, you’re making the web a better place by promoting quality content. Once you’ve established the relationship, suggest that you do something that is mutually beneficial. Offer them guest blogging posts, request an interview, ask to collaborate on an experiment or a bit of research; use your specialties to make their site better.
Go for the Gold
If you’ve done everything above with even a moderate level of success, you should be well on your way to receiving a juicy, delicious link, if you haven’t already. Even so, don’t ask your contact for a link with an obvious expectation. Nothing will ruin a carefully constructed link relationship like “Well, I built all this stuff for you and made your site beautiful. Will you link to my site now? You kinda owe me…”
Why Does This Work?
It’s a natural human tendency to want to repay kindness. People want to feel valued. If you value another webmaster’s content, they will naturally want to repay your kindness. Unless they’re the evil type of webmaster that doesn’t engage with people and just hoards links for their own gain, then you’re pretty much out of luck. But, again, if you’ve conducted your research properly, you’re not trying to get links from these kind of sources.
What do you think? How have you used this strategy (or ones like it) in your past link building efforts? What other methods can you use to build successful linking relationships? Tell us in the comments.