As a web marketer who is requesting high-quality links from the gatekeepers of academic sites, understanding the lingo and professional culture of the academic world can greatly improve your success rate. Academic environments can be a bit more formal and regulated than web or business world. When you get through to a blogger or .com webmaster and ask for a link, there’s usually a minimum of red tape: they’ll decide to link to you or they won’t.
But when you get through to an academic webmaster or university professor, you’ll oftentimes encounter someone who isn’t outright opposed to granting you a link – but it feels much safer for them to not make a decision or personally advocate for an outsider’s proposal. Some fear that giving you a link to you might be frowned upon by one of their peers or be in technical violation of some fine print (on page 397) of the school policy or employee conduct code. They shudder to think of being called to task in front of the dean or president (and possibly demoted or fired) for making an inappropriate use of a government websites or school resources.
Although the red tape and hesitation around outbound linking in the academic world can be challenging, the response and linking rates from .edu contacts can increase dramatically with some subtle tactical changes. If you dig deep, using the phone and advanced link building queries, you will encounter “virgin” webmasters and decision makers whose contact information isn’t listed anywhere near the desirable target pages. These people are infrequently spammed or contacted by email, and therefore, not yet hardened to link requests. Using academic-sounding metaphors and terminology when building relationships or pitching can really help win favor “close the sale” and get them to take initiative and risk to link to your site, rather than ignore you.
Here are three of my favorite metaphors for eliciting sympathy and closing the deal when .edu link building.
Request an academic citation. When requesting .edu links, I’ll sometimes describe myself as a researcher or independent publisher who is striving to create world-class “research guides” and “online publications” (a.k.a. blogs and web pages) on a topic. I stress how there is little to no current research on my specific niche, and I explain how my content is dire need of an academic citation in order to be read and respected by my peers.
The best way I could get an “academic citation” would be from a link in the text of page X of the university’s site. I explain Google will automatically count this and help my research be more easily found by my peers. Department heads and professors who otherwise would refuse to give a “link” to a marketer or business person sometimes will sometimes be willing to go out on a limb and provide your “research” with an “academic citation” because they can empathize with that concept.
Ask for a grant. Academic folks can be sympathetic to a wholesome story about someone is working on a noble publishing project or research—that could help all of humanity—but will never see the light of day unless it is recognized and financially compensated by a generous outside institution or committee. Writing and requesting grants is common and respectable academic activity. Reviewing and awarding grants is an elite, high-level role… so play your request to make your target feel like a noble and generous bigwig.
I like to explain that I have an amazing web site or resource that I have spent hundreds of hours on, but because it is brand new, and it can’t be found by anyone. My research project probably won’t receive the necessary traffic or funding to be sustainable unless it gets recognized by an esteemed academic institution (such as theirs) and increases its web traffic. I ask if their department or institution would be able to help me with a grant of support in the form of a link. A link from page XYZ at a prestigious university like theirs would honestly would be more valuable to the success of my seed research project (a.k.a. quality content page)—and to my own career—than $5,000 endowment. Could they possibly grant my web research efforts a just a tiny bit of help?
Check out this handy glossary of grant terms to get a feel for some of the language and formalities used by academics when making their projects sound important and asking for support. The “grant” approach can works well for government (.GOV) sites.
Apply for a scholarship. Another thing academics are sympathetic towards is recognizing a deserving “student” who shows great future potential by offering them a benefits and financial support package called a “scholarship.” For a link builder making her case, the “student” could be a promising PageRank 0 website, and the “scholarship” could be a juicy link on a heavily-linked-to, on-topic page. You can play the “starving student” card. Explain that you’re an independent blogger/researcher/webmaster without any steady paycheck or means of outside support. Describe how hard you’ve worked on this great content that is getting no visitors, and how a link from the right page at Harvard would be like a scholarship to your site and directly improve personal situation more than money.
While this may sound a little bit of a stretch, I have personally used these metaphors to help build rapport and close the deal on fresh, juicy links from some of the web’s most desirable .EDU and .GOV sites. Taking the time to learn about the personal details and projects of the academic gatekeeper—and then and phrasing your request in terms they’ll be (personally and professionally) sympathetic towards—will always get you the best response rate.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.