How To Build The Best Relationships, Err…I Mean Links

What is it about SEO that makes people stop acting like people? Sure, it has your fair share of data mining in dark corners, but the SEO industry is brimming with personality, sometimes too much of it. So why is it that when it comes to link building, that personality is left to the wayside?

The best links come from the best relationships, and the best relationships take the most effort to create, foster and maintain.

If you want to get success and sustain it, stop thinking about building links and start thinking about building relationships. Here’s how to do it.

Search For People, Not Sources

Websites don’t give you links: the people who run the websites do. Instead of finding the source first then backing into a relationship, find the people first.

LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest are some of my favorite ways to do just that. Search for your keyword on any of the networks to find people with that query in their bio or profile.

On LinkedIn, you can even filter out by location if you’re looking for geographic influencers; on Pinterest, I stick with searching for boards or pins to find the most relevant people; and on Twitter, there’s a host of tools that can help you find users based off your query, including:

  • Listorious
  • Follerwonk
  • LocaFollow
  • Twitter Advanced Search

First Talk, Then Link

First impressions are critical when you’re building relationships. You would never ask someone outright to marry you, so why do you ask someone outright to link to you?

If you’re starting the relationship on Twitter, follow them first. Then, tweet to them, but don’t ask for a link. Ask them a question about something they recently blogged or tweeted about it:

Hey Sarah. Erin here. Found your blog & love it! Great post on why turkey bacon rocks. Do you have a favorite brand?”

Get the conversation going, and then when you have something that fits with their niche, they’re more inclined to listen and maybe even link because they know you.

News flash, people: nothing we do online is actually talking to people. If you really want to put yourself out there, pick up the phone and call someone. Chances are you’ll surprise them so much into linking to you.

Do Real Things…

Wil Reynolds calls this real company stuff, and it’s both the smartest and simplest advice I’ve ever heard. If you want to make real relationships, get real links, and see real results, do things that real companies do. Real brands don’t submit their site to 5,000 directories for one-way backlinks. Real brands don’t write 500-word spam articles.

Real brands create relationships. Real brands engage their audience. Real brands do this. And this. And this.

…With Real Budgets

OK, that’s great, but few of us are actually working with Coca-Cola-sized budgets. That’s fine. You don’t need a big brand budget to do real things. These are things you can do just by acting like a real person:

Ask People Stuff: People love talking about themselves, so ask them about themselves. When we decided to disavow more than just links, we asked people what they would disavow. People responded. We re-blogged it, and then they linked.

Give People Things: If you do things without really asking for anything in return, you’re more likely to get a link. And these rarely cost you anything more than time:

  • Free knowledge, whether it’s in blogs, articles, or even one-on-one
  • Interviews for local papers; bonus if it’s for a student journalist
  • Help student organizations; find a student organization in your niche, go speak to one of their meetings, and the university will tweet it out
  • Sponsor local events, but not just to get the link on the sponsors, go to the actual event to talk to people

Just like any relationship you have offline, doing these things won’t result in immediate results. You will have to give it time to marinate, and you have to work on maintaining it.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | Link Week Column


About The Author: is an experienced digital strategist, content developer and search marketer. She's currently the SEO Manager for The Home Depot and has previously worked agency-side for mid-sized business and Fortune 500 companies. She speaks regularly on digital strategy, content development and inbound marketing at conferences nationwide. Follow her on Twitter @erinever.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Oleg Korneitchouk

    Great points Erin!

    Building relationships is definitely more time consuming than “traditional” link building. Relationships take time and effort to build but result in powerful, hard-to-copy and REAL links. Just make sure you are spending your time attracting the right people!

    I LOVE this slideshare by Richard Baxter on audience targeting – I recommend everyone to check it out.


  • sharithurow

    Hi Erin-

    I can answer this question!

    “What is it about SEO that makes people stop acting like people?”

    Because too many people still believe that SEO is optimizing a website (web docs) for search engines only, not people who use search engines.

    On the flip side, too many human factors folk, I believe, think that the website optimization process does not include non-humans…and they believe too much techie nonsense.

    And in the “I need this yesterday” environment of the Web, marinating doesn’t appear to be a viable option, even though it is.

    My 2 cents.

  • Durant Imboden

    Links are citations. They shouldn’t be about relationships, they should be about relevant content.

  • steve

    love the coca colo ideal if you plant you will be watered;)

  • Adam Steele

    “You would never ask someone outright to marry you, so why do you ask someone outright to link to you?” Hilarious. So true.

    Recently picked up Follerwonk, and it is awesome. Great suggestion!

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think you make a great point and relevant content is wildly important for SEO and link building, no one can deny that. But I also feel that by building relationships you are creating more outlets for your content to really get seen and shared. Great content will get some attention, but it never hurts to give it a little push and leverage some of your online relationships to get the ball (and links) rolling.

  • Aziz Ali

    Love this post.


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