Search engine optimization professionals may think of themselves as marketers but not salespeople. Nonetheless, a good salesperson can teach us at least four lessons related to the SEO process of obtaining backlinks.
Let’s start with some context. Link building — the act of encouraging links from other websites to your own — has been an important part of SEO almost since Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin thought of using backlinks as a way to decide how relevant a particular web page might be to a given search query.
Before their revelation, nearly all search engines ranked pages based on the number of times the target keyword phrase appeared. Stuff your web page with a particular keyword and search engines circa 1996 rewarded you. SEO was easy.
Building links, however, requires more work. To optimize a page, you need other websites to link to it. Today, blogger outreach, broken link replacement, converting unlinked brand mentions, and even public relations are all key link-building tactics.
SEO link-building tactics often resemble a consultative sales process.
For example, there is a prospecting phase, wherein you look for websites that have mentioned your company or products but not linked to your site. Or you seek authoritative pages with broken links your company could replace.
There is also a contact phase. Like a salesperson, you email or call your prospect to begin the link-building conversation. And there should be a closing and follow-up, too.
With these similarities in mind, let’s consider four things salespeople do that could make SEO outreach more effective.
A popular saying is “sales is a contact sport, so make contact.” The idea is to nudge a salesperson (or SEO practitioner in this context) to reach out and connect with a prospect.
Many prospects will say “no.” If you ask 100 publishers for a link, you might get 10 links. Or you might get none. The more prospects you connect with, the more links you can encourage. If you want more links, contact more website owners or publishers.
This does not mean you should spam hundreds of website publishers with thoughtless, scripted email messages. That’s just lazy.
Instead, contact many prospects directly. Do not become discouraged. Build your emotional fortitude to handle rejection and keep going. And, to improve your approach, try to understand why some prospects decline.
There is an advertising salesman I know named David. He lives on Long Island in New York. He services businesses from Philadelphia to Boston. He is exceptional at what he does, in part, because he is always offers something of value.
He is a true believer in the advertising he sells. He believes his product is valuable. But David goes beyond that.
For example, when David realized that one of his customers should buy a particular component from another one, he introduced them. The former was able to source a needed product. The latter earned new business.
David also offers useful advice. In the early 2000s when so many marketers were trying to measure the effectiveness of print advertising, David provided real (and proprietary) suggestions that helped his customers.
So how could you add value to your SEO outreach? Consider the case of broken link building.
“Sites change, and pages disappear all the time,” said SEO expert Greg Gifford in lesson five of SEMrush Academy’s “SEO Fundamentals Course.” “With this strategy, you’re looking for quality, authoritative pages that have links pointing to pages that no longer exist — that’s called a broken link. Then, you go and create a new piece of content that answers the same question or need. You reach out to the website and let them know that the link on such and such a page is broken, but you’ve got a brand new page that would work instead… and boom. Kickass quality link.”
The approach works because a broken link is a broken promise. It could disappoint a reader. Informing the publisher is a service, a value. You’ve even offered a recommended replacement that could make updating the page relatively easy.
Consider this thought, however. You might find many broken links on a particular site. But you tend to reach out about those links you believe you can convert to a backlink. Why not let a publisher know about other broken links, even if you cannot replace them?
Build and Track Relationships
Salespeople use customer relationship management software. SEO practitioners should use a CRM, too (not spreadsheets).
Many salespeople I know, including my friend David, make extensive use of CRM software. They note each time they interact with a prospect.
They observe a prospect’s attitudes and desires and then use the information to build a relationship. And they use it to change their sales approach when needed.
Taking notes and tracking relationships help them as they interact with prospects.
Here is an example. Imagine that you decided to offer value even when it doesn’t immediately lead to a link. You scour a popular website for broken links applicable to your topic, but there are none. There is, however, a word choice error in one post. So you take a minute to message the author on LinkedIn.
I hope this message finds you well. I just finished reading your post about the ecological impact of leather shoes. It was a great article that has me thinking about my footwear choices.
I did wonder, however, if the last sentence in the third paragraph should use “wear” rather than “ware.”
You would then note this message (and Jane’s reply) in your CRM.
Now it’s three months later. Another article on the same site has a new broken link that fits your topic. You create “The Definitive Guide to Environmentally-friendly Footwear Manufacturing.” Then you reference your CRM and see the exchange with Jane. The previous message may give you a way to connect.
Hello. I hope you will remember me from my message a few months back. I was the “wear” or “ware” guy.
I wanted to let you know I found a broken link on your post “Save the Planet with These Pumps.”
You linked to the 2011 paper from Green Footwear Makers Association on footwear manufacturing. That resource is no longer available I don’t believe.
If you’re interested, I recently co-authored an ebook, “The Definitive Guide Environmentally-friendly Footwear Manufacturing.” Chapter 7 has a data similar to the GFMA document.
Realtors often deliver gifts to their clients after a closing. Car salespeople might send a Starbucks gift card.
Sales professionals follow up after they close a deal. They want to ward off potential buyer’s remorse, and they hope to position themselves for future purchases.
Do the same thing with SEO outreach. Follow up after you get the link.
Let’s imagine that Jane, the hypothetical author of eco-footwear articles, agrees to link to your document. Follow up.
Thank you for linking to my guide. I shared your article on Reddit and Facebook. I hope you get lots of new traffic.
Please let me know if I can assist with future articles.
The message lets Jane know that you appreciate her efforts. It leaves open the relationship, for future outreach.