Screw Link Building, It's Called Relationship Building!

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Do you get queasy at the thought of the term "link building"? Well, maybe you're thinking about link building the wrong way.

Try thinking about link building as a way to build value and loyalty with people in your vertical. Not only will it be a longer-term effort that just spamming people for links, but the effect will be longer lasting and way more authentic.

That was the overarching message from the Screw Link Building, It's Called Relationship Building session last week at SES New York.

Speakers Erin Everhart (@erinever), director of web marketing, 352 Media Group, and Jo Turnbull (@SEOJoBlogs), founder, SEO Jo Blogs, explained how to build a relationship versus a link and broke down case studies to illustrate why relationship building is far more effective than the old ways of link building.

Why Build a Relationship Instead of a Link?

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The benefits of relationship building, according to Turnbull, are:

  • Low cost for you and your client.
  • It’s longer lasting.
  • It’s more beneficial to you and the client.
  • Quality link building is about relationship building.
  • You stay current with shifting market dynamics.
  • Don’t be left behind by Google updates.

Sold? Now it's time to start building relationships. Her advice:

  • Be honest and open to people.
  • Attend events. Building relationships offline should be as much of a priority as building relationships online.
  • Take the long-term view when building relationships. The results you get from those relationships will last longer and go further than just one link.
  • Do something different and stand out so people will want to also build relationships with you.

Making the Case for Relationship Building

Turnbull's first case study was on her efforts with Search London. She took over Search London in October 2010 when the organizer stepped down. At that time, the group only had 200 members. Her goal was to grow the event and develop more relationships with people in all areas of search.

She created several events through 2012-2013 and after putting forth effort, increasing meet-up events, she ended up not only building additional relationships but also managed to increase the membership of the group by 86 percent.

How was this done?

  • The group was on a strong domain.
  • She got good speakers to attend, just by asking them.
  • She put effort into titles of each presentation so it appealed to many.
  • She asked to guest post on sites like SEO Gadget.
  • Made sure she interacted with people at the events.
  • Encouraged people to use hashtags (e.g., #SearchLondon) on Twitter to draw attention to the group.

Some additional results:

  • She developed a website out of a further need.
  • She is getting more world renowned speakers to attend, like Google’s Pierre Far.
  • Now Search London has nearly 1,230 members in 2 years.
  • She now gets asked to guest post.
  • Increased confidence with her clients as her brand has grown.
  • Getting asked to speak at more conferences.

And the other great goal achieved: she earned more links.

Making Another Case for Relationship Building

Turnbull wanted to increase her brand awareness as an SEO blogger and gain links to her site. In order for her to do this she ran various meet-ups and also attended events that were related to her industry.

Not only did she expand her network by meeting various other experts in her industry in Europe and the U.S., but she was also invited to attend the UK Search Awards.

Relationship Building Lessons Learned

Be honest and approachable

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to your existing contacts.
  • Find a great blog in your field and contribute.
  • Use Followerwonk that lets find and connect with influencers in your niche.
  • Engage in your community to build even more relationships.
  • If you’re going to reach out via email to ask to guest post for them, make sure you personalize the email. Do additional research on the recipient’s passions and interests and include them in the email to make it more affective.

Attend Relevant Events

  • Many events like meet-ups, trade shows and product launches are a great way to meet people.
  • If you’re wishing to guest blog, reach out to the bloggers and speak to them.
  • Speak to the press within your niche too as they have a big audience.

Think Long Term

  • Don’t just look for one link, think about maximum benefits.
  • Become a regular contributor on a site.
  • Encourage others to post on your site, so you develop a wide, diverse audience.
  • Interview people and place that interview on YouTube. You then can embed that video on your site, to maximize reach.

What Do You Want Out of a Personal Relationship?

Next up, Everhart stressed the "big picture" as opposed to getting one link. She began with a simple question: What do you want out of a personal relationship? Loyalty and value are at the top of this list.

This is the same way you should think about link building and how you should approach it. Be valuable and loyal to people and you will have a high return on your time invested. It’s important to find those areas where the like-minded people are that you wish to communicate with.

If you're looking to get links by building relationships, here are some dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t Lie: Be open and honest with people when building relationships or asking for links. If you’re not, you will be called out for it and will end up hurting yourself more, accomplishing nothing.
  • Be personal when communicating with people: If you must email them, make the email personal and don’t mass email people, as it will be noticed.
  • Find people behind the websites: Instead of finding the source, find the people who run the website and start building relationships with those people.
  • Use Linkedin to find like-minded people: Use the advanced filter on LinkedIn to find the people behind the websites. You can filter not only by keywords, but also location and company, to name a few.
  • Don’t forget about Twitter: Twitter also has an advanced search tool that will also help you find people using the same keywords that are in the vertical you’re trying to reach out to.

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  • Don’t creep people out: Don’t be pushy when building out relationships. Be natural and don’t come over too strong as this will only scare them away.
  • Talk to people like they are your friends: Remain open, honest, and helpful. Approach people in the way you would want to be approached.
  • Use Followerwonk: This SEOMoz tool will let you find the influencers in your niche, but also will analyze when they are most active and where they are located. A great tip is when filtering add money keywords to your search.

What are Money Keywords?

Money keywords are words you can use in your filter when trying to find the decision makers or the active members within a vertical.

For example, if you want to further brand yourself as an expert in your niche, one way is to guest blog. Editors would be one person you would benefit from reaching out to, so adding the term ‘editor’ in your search will only help.

Other money keywords are:

  • Writer
  • Blog Owner
  • Marketer
  • Copywriter
  • Journalist

Researching Your Competition

The above tips are also great for doing competitive research. If your competitor has tons of followers, find out who is following them and then start building relationships out with those individuals.

Everhart said that relationships are an investment. They have to incubate before you see any results. Be a resource and helpful to people. If you lend a hand and build relationships the proper way, you will achieve maximum benefits and results.