My Favorite Link Building Lie

People will tell you it’s no longer possible to obtain links by asking for them via email. Spend even a little time reading the SEO/SEM blogs, forums, comments, etc., and you’ll find a reasonable and well-meaning  post, something like this beauty I read over at the UK version of TechCrunch.

“The days of asking a site to link to you politely are long gone”

Darn.  I wish someone had told me. I could have saved several clients some money and spent more time with my family.

The reality is the exact opposite. While it is pointless to seek links (via email or any other method) for crappy content from other sites with equally crappy content,  link building via email does in fact work perfectly – but only under one perfectly obvious and sadly overlooked circumstance: when the link seeker represents meritorious content and the link granter is looking for that type of meritorious content to link to. It’s so painfully obvious to me, that I fight the urge to laugh out loud when I read quotes like the one above.

In fact, not only does link building via email still work, it still works for both traffic and rank.  I’ll spare you a link drop here and explain by real-life example.

My son has a hearing impairment and through serendipity, I recently ended up working with a company in a related field. This company creates diagnostic tools and devices, and had launched a new web site devoted to that topic. This new site has a tremendous amount of content that physicians, audiologists, SLPs, and the parents of a hearing impaired child will find helpful. As their linking strategist, over the course of six weeks, I conducted industry research and link analysis, and I identified 28 truly outstanding sites devoted to pediatric hearing loss which also offer a resources and/or links section. I contacted each those 28 sites individually via email and introduce my client’s new web content.  I did exactly what the article linked to above says I should not do.

I politely ask for link consideration.

The result is a 100% success rate. I’ll repeat that.  All 28 sites devoted to pediatric hearing loss did in fact link to my client’s site devoted to that exact topic.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? And only someone who either a) has never done any link building, or b) worked for really bad sites, would make the statement that link building via email does not work.

My client’s new site now ranks at Google and Bing at an extremely high position for the specific multi-word phrase they most coveted. For you anchor text fans, note I did not once ask for any anchor text at all. If you’ve read my articles before, you know I find it rude to ask high merit content authors for anchor text when it’s obvious and apparent they do not give it. When you go vertical enough on both sides of the link building equation, anchor text is not needed.

This is the point where the hard core SEOs shoot at me. They say it’s not hard to rank for highly vertical multi-word phrases when you are working on behalf of really outstanding content.

My response is always the same: exactly.

That’s the point. If content is truly worthy, your goal does not have to be to make a site rank first anyway. That’s up to the content and the engines. The goal is to help the site seek out the exact links their content deserves and can earn.

High rank is a side effect of meritorious content that becomes well linked.

It was, is, and always will be about content merit and topical resource citation. You can write whatever you want about link building. I’ll always be here, or here, telling it like it is, like it was, and like it hopefully will be in the future, from the perspective of someone who actually does it.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

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  • Bas van den Beld

    Interesting article Eric. I do agree very much that asking for links might still work, but relevancy is extremely important. I’m usually on the other side of linkbuilding, linkbuilders mail me asking for links. Most of them however do not take a good look at the website. If they would have they would see I don’t “just place” links, but if the content is good, interesting or newsworthy I will write about it and link to the site.

  • Marcus C

    I believe most of us in our business understand that meritorius content will get links by simply requesting them from well-targeted websites in the relevant vertical. Unfortunately, not all clients who request our services have meritorius content. and when the value of strong content is demonstrated, have the budget to compensate for this problem. In fact, I find when someone gets to the point of requesting website marketing services, they have usually have this problem, and hence the reason they are failing. It is only when presented with the option of the never-ending PPC program that they decide its worth it.

  • Terry Whalen

    I think the point here is that asking for links can work great and to long-lasting effect if the asker (sp?) has high-value content that is truly relevant to the linking site. The main ingredient in the recipe: high-quality, relevant content.

  • kevinpike

    “link building via email does not work.” is not a black & white statement in my opinon.

    If anyone has said or thought this, I bet they meant to say: “link building via email blasts do not work”.

    This probably doesn’t make them any more of a liar than saying it does work. Like most things with SEO there are opposite ends of the spectrum and you have to learn to read between the lines.

    I have never heard any SEO take a hard stand like:
    1) “Spammy & Generic email link requests are great & don’t get ignored.”
    2) “Personal link requests to a relevant site back to your fantastic site is a bad idea”

  • JoelGross

    Very Interesting and useful article Eric. I was just debating this topic with a friend the other day, and I couldn’t agree with you more. In your opinion, what is the correct route a “link seeker” should take in order to get their links placed? Besides good content, how can they ensure they see more success with their link building strategies?

  • AricB

    I agree with what you are saying, it is all about relevancy, how mach if at all your actions are relevant to the person and the situation.
    I like to use to find relevant sites to cooperate with.

  • javaun

    @Kevinpike, I think the point Eric was making was that this myth needs to be shattered. Certainly as Eric and you point out, there are some caveats here: mass email blasts don’t work, and requesting links for bad content doesn’t work.

    For a lot of us in the SEO field, this is a friendly reminder to stick with the bread and butter. Rather than looking for the next hyped technique, could we instead improve our site by getting back to the basics.

    I think it’s noteworthy that he cited TechCrunch UK, and non-SEO blog. While someone with a search background like you can understand that’s a broad generalization, a marketer (maybe your client) might read statements like that and begin to second guess the work of their SEO consultant or diligent in-house team.

    Search is so needlessly shrouded in mystery, and there is a lot of misinformation. That makes all of our jobs harder because we have to repeatedly justify doing very basic things.

  • DaveD

    I agree that if you have a informational website, that is related to the websites you are e-mailing I think its a great idea. The problem is, for sites including mine that are e-commerce only, that is a luxury I don’t have.

  • liveambitions

    Like DaveD said, it’s a lot easier to get links for a “good cause” informational site vs an ecommerce site.

    I must admit though, you did a nice job of getting all 28 sites to link to you.

    For an ecommerce site, you’d be lucky to get even 5% of other sites to link to you for free.


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