Be My Valentine: Please Link to Me?

I realize this column's title is a bit dated on February 20, but it's most appropriate to describe the process of getting someone to link to your site. If you're going to ask someone to be your Valentine, you have to be sweet. Chances are you'll get a lot of Valentines simply by asking. But if you act strange, or go somewhere that you don't really belong and start asking for Valentines, all you'll get are weird looks.

The process of requesting links in order to help your site pages rank better has been a fundamental effort of link building since links became an important part of the algorithm. Even before that, early pioneers like Eric Ward and Jim Boykin were building links to Web sites simply for the traffic and public relations benefit.

Let's discuss how the process of requesting links for your Web site can work, its continued importance, and the strategy behind picking the right sites to ask.

Researching Sites to Request Links From

The classic "blocking and tackling" required in finding desired links is based on the keywords you're targeting. Sites that already rank for those key phrases, as well as semantic equivalents, should be at the top of your consideration list.

Don't overlook evaluating the potential for getting links from those sites, as many people skip to the next step. Remember, just because someone is ranking for a targeted term doesn't necessarily make them a competitor. You may be able to argue that your site's content is worthy of being linked to from theirs, in order to expand the relationship between relevant sites.

Once you've identified the well-ranked sites for relevant keyword phrases, and decided which ones to ask directly and which ones likely won't link to you, the next step is to research their inbound links. Use Yahoo Site Explorer (even Matt Cutts from Google does) as the quickest and easiest way to get that sort of information. Make a list and check it twice, and then get to work on those requests!

One very important thing to remember: not all sites will have the type of content that everyone simply wants to link to. A link strategist on our team just today mentioned that he felt it may be more difficult to get people to link to the site he's working on because the site is mostly for-profit, and doesn't necessarily provide the kind of content that really would "wow" a Webmaster. This is a very valid point.

If your content is pretty basic, you may wish to look for sites and pages that are hubs linking to a number of sites with similar products or services. This is a great reason to consider adding more depth to your content. After all, great content breeds great links.

Typical Direct Request Methodology

The process of asking someone for a link to your site can be named a variety of different ways and performed in many more. Our team calls it "Direct Requests," and a few more specialized processes fall underneath from a hierarchical perspective. The basic roux for this process involves researching pages on the Web that you feel should link to your relevant pages, and asking the Webmaster for a link.

In the early 2000s, this process became more of an annoyance because people sent out mass e-mails to everyone they could find -- no matter how related the site content matter was to the recipient site. The e-mails would typically be along the lines of, "Hey, I checked out your site and it is the most amazing site ever. I am going to name my first child after your product. Since I think you are so awesome and since your visitors would undoubtedly benefit from visiting my site, please link to me using the following code."

The delivery of a direct request for a link should be far more personalized, and far less fake. The root process is still the same -- asking someone for a link -- but the level of customization will make all the difference.

When contacting someone for a link, it should be like any other business communication: formal, relevant, and to the point. Taking the time to discuss why the particular site is of interest will show the recipient that the request is legitimate, and also help the link team member ensure that the target site is relevant to the destination site.

"Content bartering" is a process in which you can offer to create unique content for someone containing a link to the site you're working with. The value for the site owner is that they're getting more content generally related to the topic of their site, and all they have to give up is an outbound link.

Content bartering, like the rest of the direct request process, is time-consuming, and will yield a low success ratio. You may wish to have some articles ready, or create articles based on negotiations with the person receiving the content. Last year, we provided a glossary of industry terms to a blogger who had been thinking about creating one -- he got content he wanted and we got a link to a relevant page as a result.

Taking the time to research and request links that will make the most sense for your site can seem arduous to some. In the long run, it will be less time-consuming than having to get out of a penalty for trying to take shortcuts.

Make sure that you leverage your business relationships, including sponsorships and partnerships, to gain additional links, as well as good old-fashioned networking. Make it a goal that the next time you go to an industry event, you ask at least one person if they feel that they may benefit the visitors to their Web site by having a link to yours. You never know, you may get a nice Valentine out of it.

Frank Watson Fires Back

The ability to find and gain links without seeming like a stalker, or worse, is an interesting way to see the process, but in many cases accurate. We should, continuing the Valentine's motif, woo our potential linkers. The better the relationship, the better the chance the link remains and others follow.

Social media provides good tools for building the relationships that can garner you good links.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York March 23-27 at the Hilton New York. The only major search marketing conference and expo on the East Coast, SES New York will be packed with more than 70 sessions, plus more than 150 exhibitors, networking events, parties, and training days.

About the author

Chris has been a digital marketer since 2000, starting in-house in the insurance space and subsequently assuming growing leadership roles across large agencies and SEM firms. He recently founded Web Traffic Advisors, LLC, in upstate New York. Chris consults with and coaches business and agency teams ranging from senior executives to technical, brand, content, and legal groups; helping to improve validation, efficiency, internal acumen, and implementation. Chris has diverse experience across major e-commerce platforms, pharma, retail, and other industries.

Since 2004 he has been a highly rated speaker and moderator at conferences and partner events all over the world, covering search engine marketing, social media, analytics, and evolving tactics including the promotion of better SEO integration across marketing channels. He has served on the Global Board of Directors of SEMPO since 2006, and co-hosts the weekly podcast SEO Rockstars from Webmasterradio.fm. Chris blogs for various industry publications, but most of his writing involves analysis and recommendations for clients, while promoting integrated online marketing and branding to a qualified target audience.