21-Day Link Builder Relationship Challenge

Have you ever created awesome content, slavishly built a list of amazing blogs and link prospects, and crafted dozens (or hundreds) of personalized outreach messages, then waited, and waited, and waited with little or no response? If you’re like many link builders, the problem may be that you didn’t do spend enough time earning the right to ask a blogger or webmaster to link to you.

Many link builders espouse the notion of “link building is relationship building,” but the reality is that it’s easy to get caught up with deadlines and a create-promote-rinse-and-repeat cycle and overlook the reality of how little context for a relationship exists between us and a blogger.

One helpful strategy is to approach relationship-building with the same rigor and systems as you use for link prospecting. Being systematic is an effective way to noticeably improve your results, especially for content-based link building.

So here’s the formula: put your link prospects on a 21-day plan that requires you to make at least three “gives” (one from each category below) within 21 days to each link prospect before you make an “ask.” Here are the three general categories of relationship-building “gives” that will help you create a worthy relationship foundation.

Engagement “Gives”

  • Comment on a blogger’s posts, comment on articles where they’ve commented off their blog (you can find these via Backtype).
  • Follow them on Twitter and Quora and respond to them in these venues (incidentally, I recommend not using Facebook and LinkedIn for contacts unless you’ve actually done business together).
  • Promote their content via Twitter. This works especially well if you (or your company) has a sizable Twitter following.
  • Send them a private e-mail commenting on a post, providing a news tip (“you might want to take a look at…”), or with a suggestion for a post (“I’d love to see a post about XYZ and hear your thoughts on…”).
  • Meet them at a conference. This is extremely effective, but not exactly scalable, unless you find a conference where many of your bloggers will be attending. If you do, then you really must attend and if possible, put on an invitation-only dinner or happy hour for the niche of bloggers you wish to meet. Few better opportunities exist to build relationships than an in-person event.

Business “Gives”

  • Send out a T-shirt, mug, or other logo schwag for your site for free, just because. For most bloggers, you can do this by finding their address on their Whois record and sending the package directly to your contact. Throw a couple of your business cards in (assuming they don’t list your title as “SEO” or “Link Builder”) and just let them know you like their site and wanted to introduce yourself.
  • Offer them something of value they can give away to their audience. For example, you could give them a $200 Southwest voucher to give away via a Twitter contest (free tools like TweetAways make it easy to manage). The key is to give them something of actual value (between $30 and $250, and no, a free month of service on your app is not compelling). Remember, this is a no-string-attached give. You might get a link, but that shouldn’t be your goal.
  • Buy an ad on their blog. Just buy a straight-up banner ad (don’t try to sneak in any links). And be careful to set expectations that you have “some budget left over and wanted to do a short term ad buy.” You don’t want to get into a situation where you have to keep buying ads to keep the relationship.
  • Give them some banner inventory on your site (or other in-kind exchange). If you have a reasonably high traffic site, reach out to them, tell them you really like their blog and would like to promote it to your users, and offer some banner ad space for free. Even if they don’t take you up, you’ve accomplished the goal.
  • Offer to “sponsor” their attendance at an industry conference as your ambassador. Make the responsibilities very light, such as leaving out stickers (but be sure to check the rules of the conference organizer so you don’t get them in any trouble).
  • Create a niche conference and invite them to it. Yes, this is a biggie, but if you have the resources, creating a conference in a niche that doesn’t already have one will definitely get you on the radar of every blogger, and could put your company in a position of great power (especially if you make it free to attend for invited bloggers).

Promotional “Gives”

  • Write a blog post that profiles their site or include them in Top 10 list. Link to them with a followed link.
  • Offer to interview them or invite them to participate in a group interview. Limit the time required for them to participate by asking only a few questions, otherwise this tactic could turn into a premature ask itself.
  • Offer to guest post on their site, if they’ve previously accepted guest posts, or ask if they’d be interested in guest posting on your site (if you have the audience).

If you put this strategy to work with a link prospect you hope to contact (particularly one you expect may promote multiple pieces of your content over time), in:

  • Week 1: You might start by writing a blog post that features their website and possibly tweet the link with a mention of their Twitter handle.
  • Week 2: You send them a mug and a note announcing your site.
  • Week 3: You leave a thoughtful comment on their latest post.

Now you’ve had three positive interactions, and in Week 4, you email them about a new infographic you’ve released they can run exclusively, and guess what happen? They’ll probably run it.

The reason this strategy works is thanks to a simple truth of sales: warm leads win every time.

As link builders, it’s up to us to proactively create warm relationships with sites we want to be close to. This will often be the difference between tediously eking out a precious few links and sustained success in attracting your unfair share of links.

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