A few years ago, while my specialty was still social media and I spent most of my time making confused faces at the website I was managing, the SEO firm we were working with started talking about link building.
Link building, we learned, was important. It was the SEO tactic of the future. If we wanted to rank better (and we did), we needed to build links. And lots of them. So, of course, our CEO turned to me and said “get us links!”
Now before I get any further here, I want y’all to understand something about me. I am terrified of rejection. Terrified. I’m a people-pleaser and my ego is about as a fragile as an entire china shop. So when I learned that “link building” actually equated to emailing people and asking for links and probably getting told no a lot, I freaked out.
Fast-forward to today, though, and I’m like “we need a link? Pfft. I’ll get two.”
It took time, but I eventually managed to jump what I call the “fear hurdle” in front of the link building process. Link building is much different today than it was five years ago, but it’s still nerve-wracking and probably even downright scary for new SEOs and marketing managers. So here are a few tips to clear that hurdle and get those links!
Image credit: AdamKR
Figure Out the “Why” and “How” Before the “Who”
When I started link building, I made this big list of industry leading websites that I wanted links from. Popular blogs, resource websites, ecommerce stores with blogs, you name it. So I made my list, and then I stared at it. And after about five minutes of staring I smacked my head into my desk because I had no idea how to get links from them.
Image credit: slworking2
Don’t do this. Don’t start with a list. Figure out why you want links, and how you’re going to obtain them, before you start thinking about the “who.”
Why do you want links? Maybe it’s primarily for SEO – because you want to rank better. Or perhaps it’s because you need to build awareness of a new website or brand (and fast). It could be a combination of the two, or because you simply view link building as another form of promotion. Regardless, settling on the “why” will inevitably impact the “how.”
As for that, how exactly are you going to merit your links? Are you building some sort of amazing new tool that will attract links merely by existing and being awesome? Or are you planning a content marketing strategy involving a blog or industry resources? Perhaps you’re going to have the wittiest website copywriting in the universe? Blah, boring, everyday “stuff” doesn’t get links anymore. You need to stand out. To be epic, if possible.
Once you know why you’re looking for links, and how you’re going to get them, you can start thinking about the “who.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t start with a target in mind – but don’t get your heart set on it.
Stop Taking it Personally
If you’re really invested in your job, or the success of your business – and I’m not talking financially here, but emotionally – link building could potentially be devastating. This varies from person to person, but for me, I found it difficult to not take the rejections personally. I was always thinking “was it my pitch? Was it my email signature? Maybe they looked at my Facebook profile and hated my picture?!”
It probably wasn’t any of that. So don’t take it personally if you get turned down. If you’re anything like me (i.e. sensitive), you probably have a hard time detaching a business rejection from a personal one, and this can go double for CEOs and founders.
Fear of rejection is the biggest reason I had trouble building links, at first. The automatic assumption that “so-and-so runs a huge site, they’re never going to link to us” kept me from making pitches. But you can never get links if you don’t at least ask for them, you know? Yes, negative responses can hurt, but you can’t take it personally. Just move on. If it helps, frame every single “no” as “their loss!” and point and laugh at your monitor a little bit.
This leads me to my next point…
Actually, You Want a “No”
If you’re brand new to link building, you’re probably dreading your first “no.” You might not be pitching that many people, or you may have your heart set on a particular website or contact. In these situations, a negative response can be devastating.
Image credit: Caro Wallis
But here’s one extremely important thing I’ve learned that I don’t see many people talk about: a “no” is an opportunity.
Why? Because “no” is still a response. It’s acknowledgement. It means the person you pitched cared enough to look at what you sent. They took the time to write you an email back. To put it simply, “no” is better than no response at all, and if you handle it properly, it’s also a fantastic relationship opportunity.
When you get rejected, the last thing you should do is slink away with your tail between your legs. What you should actually do is thank them, ask for feedback, and then ask how you can help them.
Maybe your content is great, but it was the wrong time. Maybe they’re about to shift the focus of their blog. Heck, maybe they were just in a bad mood and didn’t realize how awesome your infographic was. By doing these three things, you’re positioning yourself as someone in it for more than the link. You’re in it for the relationship.
Being told “no” is so much better than not being told anything at all, because it keeps the door of opportunity open for you. If you want to be scared of anything, outreach-wise, it should be those people who never say anything at all.
Don’t Give Up (Unless You Have a Plan B)
Link building is hard. You probably already know that. But so many difficult things are worth doing, and it’s usually because they have fantastic results. So whether your problem is fear or a lack of content or something else, you should know that giving up is the worst thing you can do.
It’s easy to assume that you’re going to get links automatically, especially if you’re putting out great content or have already made the news a few times. But this isn’t the case. Marketing is a long-term commitment, and link building is now part of marketing. There will always be new consumers to reach, and the awareness and actions you drive with your links ensure you keep reaching them.
Having said that… don’t feel pressured to build links by yourself. You can always ask someone for help. There are plenty of great agencies and SEO companies out there who can take over or even supplement your link building activities. Asking them to help isn’t a sign of weakness – in fact, it’ll probably take some weight off your shoulders!
Image credit: Lara Cores
Some of you reading this are probably experienced link builders and SEOs, while others are brand new to online marketing. Regardless, I’d like to ask you all the same question: is link building scary? How else can someone new to the process clear the “fear hurdle”? I would love to hear your feedback and advice.