When the Internet was new, it was difficult to find interesting and relevant websites. Link building was easy in those days. It was often just a matter of letting webmasters know that your site existed and they could link to it. Things have changed in the last couple of decades.
Webmasters today are jaded. They’re bombarded with requests for links, offers to receive hundreds of links for one low price, and comment spam, among other things. Approaching a blogger or site owner today with a request for a link is akin to walking up to a stranger and asking for $50. You might get lucky, but chances are you won’t even get a reply.
The concept of link building — manually identifying and contacting individual webmasters to request a link — is all but obsolete. In this new social era of Internet marketing, to get a link you’ll need to build a relationship.
Relationship building as part of search engine optimization is a difficult concept for ecommerce sites to understand. Imagine a Facebook thread that included three back-and-forth replies from a relevant and influential blogger. If your primary goal is building links, that Facebook thread is gold as a relationship builder.
Links: Give to Get
Yes, search marketers seek links and social mentions. But successful link builders today are able to put that personal need to rack up links aside and act more altruistically, knowing that you have to give more than you receive. Think about being at a party where everyone is trying to avoid that loud-mouthed jerk that only talks about himself. The same concept applies to online relationship building. Take a good look at your link requests, your social media activity, and your blogging. Is it all about your brand and the benefits your products bring to the rest of us? Your brand may be that loud mouth at the party.
To build relationships online requires seeking out others with similar passions or questions or problems. Ask for their opinions. Compliment their points of view. Answer their questions. Like or retweet or +1 their updates. Like in the physical world, people online want to be appreciated and respected for their opinions. And just like in the physical world, friendships flourish when both people give freely of their knowledge and respect.
But, and this is important, only participate if your participation is sincere. As a human, it’s easy to know when we feel something sincerely. But what does a brand feel sincerely about? Anyone participating in link building or social media for a brand needs to be able to personify that brand, to step into the brand’s persona and act on its behalf.
Sometimes the hardest part is just finding the relevant and influential people with which to build relationships. A quick Google search on a topic reveals some of the better ranking and theoretically more influential bloggers in a given space. For example, a site selling landscaping products might want to reach out to gardening and landscaping blogs. Googling “gardening blog” or “gardening intitle:blog” would return many relevant blogs to review for friendship possibilities.
Look for blogs with relevant comments. Those bloggers with an active audience are more likely to be influential. Look for blogs that also have active Facebook, Twitter or Google+ profiles, beyond just syndicating their blog posts. If they use social media as another way to engage their audience as opposed to a bullhorn for their blog content, that’s a good sign that they are savvy enough to understand the benefit of relevant online relationships.
Offerings that Benefit Your Brand
So far I’ve discussed sincerity and reciprocity in relationships. As ecommerce professionals, though, we also have revenue goals to meet. Fortunately, there are ways to give more than you receive that also benefit your brand. Finding creative ways to offer content that will likely also benefit your brand is the key to link building in the social era.
Guest blogging is an excellent way to offer something of value to a blog friend, and is likely to earn a link in return. Many bloggers reach a point where they’re tired of trying to find something interesting to say day after day. If you can offer a fresh perspective without sounding self-serving, the request will likely be met with enthusiasm. Before offering a guest blog post, though, be sure that the relationship is far enough along that you would feel comfortable entertaining a similar offer from that online friend.
Infographics are the current link building craze, and with good reason. Readers love the sound bite approach to consuming information in a world that bombards them with information constantly. Infographics can also be used as a relationship builder, or as a temporary exclusive for a special — and especially influential — online friend. Offer them the opportunity to publish the infographic before any other blog.
Interviews are another way to build relationships and introduce interesting media to your ecommerce site. Many bloggers or site owners or other professionals would be flattered by a request for an interview. Record the interview as a podcast or a video conference and it becomes a valuable addition to your site as well as a piece of content the interviewee is likely to link to and promote to his own network of fans as well.
There is no easy solution to link building today. Any way you approach it requires creativity, relationship skills, perseverance and a healthy dose of luck. The best link builders know that it’s worth it to keep trying with a handful of very influential experts in an industry than to give in to the pressure to build a larger quantity of low-quality links.