Inbound links — every SEO needs them, yet acquiring good ones is easier said than done. What is meant by “good” links? Good links aren’t just one time affairs, but are those that lead to other links, which then inspire more links, and so on. To accomplish this you have to stop thinking of link building as an isolated task and consider it part of a relationship building strategy.
Why Build Relationships?
There are three major problems with trying to get links without first forming a relationship:
- It’s Hard! – Those with popular websites and blogs are constantly being hounded by others for links and mentions, which makes it nearly impossible to get noticed among all the beggars. Not to mention, those that matter usually don’t have the time to deal with virtual people with whom they don’t already have a relationship.
- Results are Short-Lived – By focusing on links one at a time, once the linked-to content is out of date, you basically have to start all over. Even if you had a really fantastic posting, if the person doesn’t know you, they’ll probably forget you ever existed and won’t think to look at your content for future link material.
- There’s No Loyalty – Sure, a site may link to your brand one week, but if your competitor approaches them the next week they may have no qualms about giving them a link too. Thus, their readers aren’t getting a consistent endorsement of your business. On the other hand, if you had a relationship, they’d likely talk about your brand repeatedly (making you seem more valuable and much more memorable).
When you start focusing on relationships instead of links, the links will come naturally, and they’ll be much more worthwhile. Essentially, you’ll find yourself in a community and among people who know you and share your content on their own accord and on a regular basis because… you are a part of the group and part of the discussion (as opposed to a stranger pleading for attention).
How to Form Relationships?
If you have few virtual or real-life industry contacts, the thought of forming new, quality relationships may seem somewhat daunting, and you may wonder where to begin. The good news is there are a lot of people online looking to make “friends” too (every website needs links), so if you use the right approach you can quickly find yourself as part of a link sharing community.
Here are some of the best ways to make that happen:
1. Check the Links You Currently Have
Use your website analytics tool to see what inbound links you already have. Chances are they are from sites similar to yours who are also looking to form relationships, or, if you’re lucky, you may have caught the attention of an “influencer” (someone who has a lot of followers and sway). Either way, you can try to spark a relationship by reciprocating in some way (e.g. linking to them, mentioning their brand in a post, writing a comment on their page, etc.).
Of course, only reciprocate with quality sites that are worth the association.
2. Track Your Social Mentions
In addition to checking inbound links on your website, you should also track your social mentions. For instance, if someone gives you a retweet, shares your post, or discusses you in a positive way, use it as an opportunity to start a conversation.
Start by saying “thanks” in a tweet or sharing their page on your Facebook timeline. Then, to keep the ball rolling, a short time later, find another way to mention their brand on your social pages. Hopefully, they’ll respond in kind and the relationship will progress.
If you’ve yet to receive a social mention then you should take the initiative. Find someone’s content you truly respect and start talking about them. If you make it genuine and not a shameless plea for links, they may return the favor. Remember, when you’re just starting out, you’ll have to give (retweets, mentions, “likes,” shares, etc.) more than you receive.
3. Look to the Real-World
Despite the popularity of social networking, relationships started in the real-world are often the most beneficial and long lasting. It’s amazing how trust, loyalty, and link sharing increases when people have met you face to face, shaken your hand, or at least spoken to you on the telephone.
To make real-life connections you can:
- Attend industry conferences and social events
- Join local business groups
- Contact those who are in or related to your industry but not in direct competition
- Find professionals on sites like LinkedIn, and meet for lunch to discuss linking opportunities.
- Ask people you already know for referrals (you may be surprised who your friends and family know)
4. Find the Influencers
As mentioned, influencers are those who have made a name for themselves online, they have tons of followers, and people look to them as a go-to source in their industry. Getting your brand noticed by an influencer can give you tons of traffic, and if you can form a relationship with them, you have a good chance of also becoming an influencer.
You probably already have an idea of who the major influencers are in your field; however, you can use one of the many social tracking tools available to uncover even more, and don’t forget to check your current followers.
5. Don’t Forget the Little Guys
As much as folks love to get the attention of the power players, the little guys have a lot to offer too (plus, you never know who might become a future influencer). Although they may not have hundreds of thousands of followers individually, when combined, it can really add up to a great number of links and traffic to your site.
Also, those who are in a similar position as you share a certain camaraderie and are more eager to make connections and participate in link building connections, like guest blogging and interviews.
6. Provide Something of Value
Unfortunately, no matter how personable you are or how generously you dole out links to others, no one wants to share your content if it has nothing to offer. After all, who wants to be associated with a brand that’s boring and uninspiring?
With that in mind, the best link building strategy is to constantly offer unique, quality content that provides some sort of entertainment or education. Consumers, bloggers, and basically everyone on the web is in a constant rush to share with their followers the trendiest, funniest, and most informative stuff available, and if you can be the source of that information, just imagine all the links you’ll receive. Instead of worrying about your link building strategy, you’d be trying to figure out how to manage all the people who want to form relationships with you.
No matter where you’re at in your quest for links, remember it’s a long term process so don’t expect to see changes overnight. But, by concentrating on relationships and expecting to give (not beg) to receive, you’ll find you have much better luck and are able to make connections that provide links well into the future.