Link Building – You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Link Building – You Can’t Always Get What You Want

14th June 2011

The ever insightful Claire Carlile wrote a post a few days on the importance of understanding the answers to core questions about both your client and your goals before embarking on a link building campaign. This got me to thinking about my recent somewhat haphazard yet I’d say still successful work in this area.

1. A few disclaimers before we dig into this – I do work for a large agency and therefore work on large, big brand clients. This has both pros and cons. The sites I work on can attract links through their brand names at time, however they can also repel due to the well-known commercial aspect of said sites.

2. These are sites that I have been working on for some time so I am fully immersed in the client, their USPs, the kind of sites that may be good link targets etc. Having said that, Claire’s post did make me take a step back and review things from a wider perspective.

Tip 1: Don’t assume you know your client so well that you’ve explored all the obvious link building targets. Take a step back once in a while and get outside the box!

So where am I going with this? Well. For starters, we all know it –  social media and its impact on SEO has been blowing up continuously for quite some time now, and the noise around it only seems to be getting louder. Ever since Matt Cutts confirmed that social signals are taken into account back in December, the whole world has gone nuts for them. Now call me cynical, but let’s face it, for the present moment this is only used in “limited situtations”. I don’t think that a hundred tweets pointing to your page are ever going to be as valuable as a great link but hell, what’s to lose?! Realistically, social signals are only going to become more important because damn SEOs the world over have spent the past decade pro-actively over-engineering the link graph and gaming Google for all their worth. (Good work SEOs – thanks a bunch).

Tip 2: A social signal in the hand is worth more than two links in the bush.

[Or some other convenient proverb of that ilk.] I’m by no means saying replace link building activities with social media activities, but the name of the game is visibility. Don’t actively ignore an opportunity to gain social signals just because you can’t get a link out it when considering your link building campaign.

I’ll give you an example. I had a client promoting a short term promotional campaign recently and I had already formed a relationship with a couple of possible partners I thought would make excellent link targets to make the most of that campaign. A number of emails and phone calls later, things were going swimmingly. Then the bombshell – they wouldn’t be allowed to link to my client due to business politics beyond their control. WHAT?! Initial reaction? Give up, I can’t be bothered with this. Better (and undertaken) reaction? Ah hell, I’ve put in the effort to build this relationship, I might as well see what I can get out of it if not a link. And get I did. Posts on their site promoting the campaign, interaction on both parties’ Facebook walls, tweets and retweets and even donated competition prizes that I later used to fund some blogger competitions. Ok so Target Number One failed me on the direct link building front but let’s remember a crucial role that social media so often plays well – Secondary Links.

Solid links you go out of your way to win directly are damn hard. However if you’re promoting content that’s semi decent, stop worrying so much about getting the link and justsuck up whatever you can. It can’t hurt. On that note, my word to the wise at this point is that there is generally little faith to be had in people’s interest in content these days. Even LOLCats have had their day. Us internet savvy lot are much harder to impress these days than we were a few years ago. We’ve seen it all from instrument playing hamsters to tipp-ex’d bears. If in doubt, stop trying to impress and start bribing.

Tip 3: Build up a network of trusted reviewers, competition holders, bloggers, whoever and SPOIL THEM.

It’s more than just working on getting a long list of names to contact. We all know you’ll be lucky if 2% get back to you. However there are influential people out there, or even just people with a following of a couple of thousand. Good enough! Don’t just contact them, treat them. They’ve got something you want, you need to give them something they want. Take them out for drinks, arrange to get them wherever you can get them for free. It’s PR done the SEO way. We aren’t as advanced as offline PR but our target audience also doesn’t expect as much to be impressed as the Times Style gurus or Perez Hilton’s of this world. Offer products to test in exchange for reviews, free trips in exchange for a write-up. Whatever your product/service is – it’s probably the least expensive and easiest commodity you have to trade.

You might only get one link out of that person but choose your precious targets carefully, insist on a full write-up and you’ll get increased visibility. More readers, more visitors, more social signals and yes – more links. You don’t have to go big, in fact it’s probably best you don’t. The more influential a person, the more difficult it will be to gain their trust. The internet is a big place, there are a lot of medium sized, semi-influential blogs out there. Sometimes, it’s a lot more effective to take what you can get! What can you trade? Speaking of trade…

Tip 4: Get Commercial

No no you can’t just go out and buy links (tsk now!), but let’s not forget that we live in a world where Google conveniently gives new Android phones or Google TVs to those influential guys who are likely to blog about it. We all gots to do what we gots to do right? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of an SEOs most under-utilised tools is his/her clients. By far the easiest place to get commercial is to start with your own client list. Who can partner with who? Who can fund what? What’s the sell? It’s amazing the interesting combinations that can suddenly make so much sense. Think cross-branding. Fairy liquid meets children’s charity. Where did that come from?! Pepsi and football. Eh?! O2 and music. WTF. It’s so common in the offline world, it’s not that much of a leap to look at it online. Free content, competition prizes, content hosting or even just plain old funding. It’s amazing the deals you can set up for the love of a link back. But more importantly, even if you can’t get the link. You can get the traffic, the visibility, the referrals and the mentions. That’s also a pretty good place to start.

So in conclusion, well… don’t be so pedantic in link building campaigns.

You can’t always get what you want.

But if you try sometimes well you just might find, you get what you need.

Yes that’s right, I’ve taken this particular lesson from The Rolling Stones. Enough said.

Image credit: Steve Lambert


Written By
Originally from the UK via France and Malaysia, Annabel Hodges is a digital marketer with long experience in the industry now residing in Sydney. She heads up the Digital Marketing at Next Commerce, working across an array of products, channels and brands.
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