Link building isn’t really link building. It’s relationship building. Links are just the proof of the relationship, as are the tweets, likes, sales… relationship building is link building. Your social graph is your linkerati.
Tom Critchlow encapsulates this with one of these Distilled Pro Tips:
Here’s a few tactics and strategies to build and leverage relationships that lead to links, likes, sales and more. Outreach is for tomorrow. Relationships are for life. Let’s go!
First, Work Out Why You Do What You Do
The single most important concept in SEO, marketing, business and life can be summed up with Simon Sinek’s talk here. His theory of ‘The Golden Circle’ is central to everything you and I do, and yet is remarkably simple to understand.
Watch the following TED talk, if not now then today at lunch…. (I promise, it’s worth it!)
Read more at Start With Why.
Everyone knows what they do. Some people know how they do it, whether that be a unique selling point, proprietary process or secret tactic. But very few people know why they do what they do.
- Apple was built around the idea of challenging the status quo. They do this by creating products that are beautifully designed, easy-to-use and user friendly. They so happen to make computers.
What do you believe in?
You need a reason to get in touch that isn’t totally selfish (“gimme a link” just doesn’t cut it). Find something they believe in and orchestrate a message, event or project around that. An interview for a blog post or guide, product review or maybe just some advice on a project? Of course, you could get your in by pointing out broken links to a webmaster. Ask yourself, if they knew what you were doing and knew you didn’t reach out to them, would they be upset?
So, how to get in touch with these people…?
First Touch Contact Methods That Work A Charm
Your first touch needn’t be as weird as this…
First touch methods should never interrupt or inconvenience your prospect, so I’d avoid cold calling (no matter how successful folks say it is, it ain’t long haul!). Don’t pin your prospects to the spot when you barely know them. Become respected by respecting your link prospects. Remember, you’re building the relationship now. The links all come later 🙂
Don’t use email. Not for your first touch. Your inbox is bomb-proof fortress, as is your link prospects. Email from relatively unknown senders is just as bad as anonymous email (why should they care?). With email, it’s too easy to be lazy and become less authentic.
As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, it’s as if we’re all 19-year old dudes in a bar. We try to close on the first encounter. Don’t. You’ve got to put a ring on it. You’ve got to get in the long haul game. Get their respect as well as their attention.
That was an extract from Gary Vee’s Q&A at Inc500 Seminar 2011. You should *totally* watch the full thing here 🙂
In the SEO world, attending events like LinkLove London has been incredible for building relationships. It’s not too often you get to casually talk SEO with a guy like Wil Reynolds (and all the speakers really loosen up at the after parties! :D). But that’s where relationships were formed…
LinkLove 2011 was in March. September 1st 2011, the Distilled Linkbait Guide went live and I called back upon those relationships to help get the word out. That’s the not-so-amazing secret to getting links from places like Seth Godin’s blog!
There are plenty of opportunities where people are reaching out publicly for a response; there’s a goldmine of relationship building opportunities at search.twitter.com. (You’ve read the awesome diet coke story on SEOmoz? And the response?) As a link building professional, you need to get as familiar with Twitter advanced search as you are with Google advanced search. There’s a goldmine of relationship building opportunities on Twitter, and you don’t have to be huge to make it work. Anyone can do this!
Alternatively, you can try an “inside job”. Scour your Facebook friends, LinkedIn Contacts and Twitter followers for useful names and organizations to be introduced to. Names that share the same beliefs you do, then politely ask for the brief introduction. Again, make sure you have a reason, be it an interview, business deal or some way you can help them out.
When was the last time you checked where all your Facebook friends worked (oh, and your non-facebook “real life” friends too)…? I discovered a cousin of mine had ended up at Google. Through various Facebook messages, phone calls and emails I managed to fix a lunch in their London Victoria office with the Head of University Programmes there. Eating deliciously seasoned steak and ice cream whilst talking with folks at Google.
As an SEO, you’re conditioned to spotting all sorts of link building opportunities… now you need focus yourself on relationship building opportunities. Think long haul 🙂
But if you really are out of ideas to get a ‘strangers’ attention…
…like, if I put a gun to your head and asked you if you had ANY other way of contacting this person…
Then try some of these tricks….
Invariably, you’ve got to initiate the conversation and the relationship. And for that you’ve got to send something physical.
Send a box. Yes, a box. A package in the mail. Spend your link building budget with FedEx. You can ignore emails… You can hang up the phone… You can shred letters… But it’s really, really hard to ignore a box. People simply can’t ignore a mysterious package marked “express delivery” sitting on their desk. *ooooh* shiny package!
So long as they don’t think it’s a bomb (!!), it’s brilliantly effective for getting positive attention. Put something in the box that proves your belief, and don’t ever be afraid to go bold with your budget here. You’re making friends for life, remember? I tested this with Distilled last year, by shipping a 3D-printed model of their logo with messages in the package. Here’s a (bad!) picture of it still in production…
This was produced via a 3D-printer before the final lacquer was added.
The great thing with couriering goods is you know whether or not they’ve received it (tracked delivery for the win!). The big bonus of a box is you get the *WOW!* effect. Naturally, surrounding people will come and have a look for themselves. Suddenly, you’ve sparked a conversation which will only lead to them reading your message with that degree of fascination.
Letters I’ve found to be less effective, since they can quite literally be mistaken for spam and you don’t get the “WOW! Gather Round!” factor of a box. You’ll have to make your letter stand out such that it doesn’t look like a commercial too.
Take a leaf out of direct marketers books and try handwriting your addresses rather than mass-mailing, mass-printed stickers. Try varying the size, colour and shape of your envelopes. And please try my personal favourite – origami envelopes – just make sure you print onto good thick paper!
Don’t mislead your prospects. “Traditional” outreach etiquette that Mike King talks about here still applies. Make sure you indulge in sharing your beliefs – prove your why – and show some enthusiasm for what you do. And since you share something in common, talk about something related, but off-topic to what you’re mentioning.
Heck, you’re an SEO consultant so maybe something to help them out with their marketing. That’s a really easy win to show you care about them, what they do and are kind and human enough to offer help. You care about them, remember?
And of course, always make sure you personalise each method of outreach and give a very, very clear call-to-action with ideally just a yes/no decision needed from them. Something like “if you’re interested in meeting on 1st April at 9am at The Epic Sandwich Shop, drop me an email at … or call me at …”. Do the thinking for them, and people love it.
Next, use these relationship building tools.
Once you’ve established a relationship with someone, its kinda rude to use form letters. You don’t form letter your mum, so don’t form letter your link prospects. We live in a world where authenticity rules. It cuts through the noise and clutter. Caring about people and relationships really does build links! So throw out your f-ing form letters and start writing some real messages and building a real relationship.
Nothing… nothing beats a real face-to-face meeting. Meet someone for lunch or a coffee. They’ll relax and you’ll be able to have a casual conversation about whatever. Don’t call it a meeting if you don’t have to.
Why not ask if you can spend some time in their offices or with them actually working? Ask to help them out some day… you share the same beliefs and mission, and you have the rest of your working life to seal these kinds of relationships, don’t you? Besides, it’s fun!
Go out of the way for your new friends. My favourite link building tools aren’t Google Docs or Buzzstream, but train tickets and a telephone. I travel the length of the country, and these days you can still get work done whilst travelling (gotta love midday off-peak first class fares!). Yes, this can be practical too!
This is how I build links (and yes, those trains are supposed to tilt!).
Even better, if you’ve got many link prospects in one location, then run an event and meet them face to face. Spend budget on hosting an awesome party, and your link prospects will never, ever forget you. I think this was one of Tom Critchlow’s tips again, but for $5k (about the budget of a decent infographic project?) you could put on a really, *really* awesome party!!
Keep in touch. Write (short!) emails now and again. Banter over Twitter. Share interesting links. Keep people in mind, like you do your friends.
Writing for Likes is Writing for Links
Remember, your social graph is your linkerati. Keep them happy by writing content they’ll read and love sharing over time. Don’t count on them “just reading it” either… ask them what they thought. Solicit comments from them. Get them involved, in a follow-up or response post or something. How can you provoke regular, positive responses?
The big point to building relationships is the benefits over time. You’re not just shooting for one link like you might in your previously outreach emails, but hundreds over several years to the day you retire… and invitations to countless events. And sales. And referrals, Christmas cards, bottles of wine… you’re not changing the status of a contact in a spreadsheet – you’re making genuine friends!
Seth Godin sums it up…
One of my favourite ways to create intrinsically social pages is to create pages about individual people. It’s egobait, and it works. Write detailed, flattering content about people and they’ll pick it up and be over the moon. They’ll share it, their social graph will see it and share it and you’ll begin to build momentum.
Pssst… you don’t have to target the page around a person. You can still target it around a keyword, but make it about a person. Case studies like “How Barry Learnt Ruby in 4 Weeks” work well! You gain the social shares as well as the keyword focused page. Double-win 🙂
It’s slightly more difficult to do with brands, since few brands are treated like people. Make pages about individuals. If you’re targeting a bigger brand, then pick a big name from that brand. You don’t know how a brand might react (there may be protocols to control tweeting etc.) but a person is much more likely to react in the way you want. It’s easier to flatter a human than a brand.
Comb through your keyword lists and work out how you can make a page about a person. This can work with product pages, case studies, blog posts, landing pages, sales pages… pretty much anything 🙂
“Hmmmm… I’m Not Convinced…”
I’ll tell you what’s cool. Being undisputed king of a SERP for years and years to come. Links are just one part of the signal, the signal of a relationship and approval. Google’s algorithm is changing and Google’s algorithm is all around us. Making friends is such a central part of what we SEOs do (and arguably, the most fun part!), but we don’t pay nearly enough attention to it.
You’re In It For The Long-Haul, Aren’t You?
You’ve got to have the relationships around you that will last for years and years on end. The internet is still incredibly young (Google’s just hitting puberty). And don’t worry… you’ve got plenty of money to do this, because your marketing budget stretches for many years to come, as will your future relationships.
How long is your endgame? You’ve got to start thinking how you can build a system that build links. If you want to dominate in 5, 10, 20 years time then you need to set out the signals now.
You’ve got to start thinking long haul. If you’re not “in bed”, so to speak, with all folks in your industry, someone else is going to take your cake and eat it. You know your industry, so imagine your fiercest competitors cosying up with key industry figures over some joint venture, collaborative linkbait or something else.
Google+, Pinterest, Twitter…
The rise of all these social networks isn’t the point. The point is you can now connect easier with these tools to people who share your why and your beliefs. You can build and maintain these incredible relationships that will make you win in the long run. Aim for where the game is going to be, not where the game is now.
OK I hope that helps to justify some of what I’ve been advocating, namely that social proof is in effect more valuable than the previous practices of building links by the thousands. Personally I believe that 50 or so good links from relevant sites can be worth more than hundreds nay thousands of poor links from irrelevant sites. More on that and a formula for calculating link value next week.
Meantime a quick thought – Why do kids “get” social media and how might that help you?