9 Netiquette Reminders For Today’s Link Builders

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For many years, email was one of just a few ways you could share a URL with another person. And, people were far less accepting of link request spam than they are today.

So, for today’s column, let’s talk about the ancient concept of net etiquette and link building. In many ways, it’s come full circle and is as relevant today (if not more so) as ever.

Net Etiquette & Link Building

There was a thing called “netiquette” back in the day, a concept that today seems almost quaint.

There were even online guides (still out there) explaining how to behave. Many of the emails I receive today would have cost you your ISP account back then. Seriously.

Who out there reading this has not received an email containing lines such as:

Dear webmaster… I was looking at your site…Please place a link to our site… We’ve already placed a link to your site… This email is not spam…

By the way, the first indication that an email is spam is when it tells you it is not spam.

Receiving an email like that was a rare thing once upon a time. Today, those types of emails hit my inbox every day.

Different Ways To Share URLs

While email is still the cornerstone used for link-building outreach, there are numerous other ways a URL can end up in front of someone today. This is very cool, but it also has led to some really unfortunate outreach behaviors that, in turn, have led to search engines going on the offensive — not just to identify the good, but to purge the bad, as well.

Besides email, the most obvious ways a URL can be shared is through these social networks:

  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Linkedin

Add to the above: social bookmarking, voting and sharing services like Stumbleupon, Digg, Squidoo and a few hundred others. With so many ways to push URLs around the Web, it was inevitable that new services would appear that were designed to help make sure your URL was one of the URLs being pushed, consequences be damned. We all pretty much know where this got us. The battle between the search engines and the link pushers rages on.

But… there is still a place for etiquette when it comes to link building, often in subtle and nuanced ways.

Simple Etiquette Tips That Won’t Go Out Of Fashion

Here are several thoughts and tips that might be worth keeping in mind, particularly in the new age of social sharing. These have served me well over the past 19 years; and for me, they matter as much today as they ever did.

1. Stop The Outsourcing Madness!

Stop outsourcing your link building to people in other countries that can’t write proper sentences. Take a look at this email I received recently — it’s real:

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2013 17:37:31 +0530
From: <********@gmail.com>
To: <eric@ericward.com>
I am professional link builder with team 
of 20 link builder working under me, we have 
huge tie ups with USA and UK based web design 
firm and we provide 10000+ one way links per month.
I have a good solid on-going client base who 
welcome you to contact for reference with 110% 
positive feedback.
Please let me know if I can be any assistance 
to you in any of your existing/future projects.
One Way Link Building Package (Mix PR from PR1 to PR4)
PR 1 = $ 2
PR 2 = $ 4
PR 3 = $ 7
PR 4 = $ 12
Packages --
50 links = $200
100 links = $300
150 links = $400
200 links = $ 600
Looking forward for your reply !!


What an epic fail. Moving on…

2.  Put An End To Nameless Requests

Don’t send an unsolicited email link request unless you know the name of the person whom you are sending it to. Never. If you can’t find a name on the site, get on the phone. If you can’t find a name or a phone number, chances are it’s a poor target, anyway.  There is no possible way to build a credible link profile by sending out unsolicited email to no one in particular.

This seems so obvious; but apparently, it isn’t. “Dear Webmaster” = delete, every time.

3.  Please Don’t Tell Me How To Link To Your Site

Let me decide if I feel your site is something I want to link to. And, if it is, I’ll link to it in a manner that I feel most helps people visiting my site. Over the years, I have composed and sent thousands and thousands of emails where my objective was to introduce content to a person in hopes of earning a link. In all those emails, I have never once asked for anchor text. Not once.

If you take the time to study the site you are hoping to get a link from, chances are the site will have an obvious protocol it uses when giving links. Here’s an example:

If you happen to have a site that you feel is a fit for that curated link collection, why would you ask them for anchor text? They don’t do anchor text.

4.  Trim Your Twitter Stream

Regarding Twitter, the fastest way to make your streams useless in each direction is by feeling obligated to follow everyone who follows you. It may seem impolite to not follow back, but if you think it through, it’s the opposite. You follow 17,000 people and have 17,000 followers? Why? In what way is this firehose useful? Can you really, really read 510,000 tweets each month?

Take a look at the two Twitter Follower/Following profiles below.  One looks like they have something useful to share while the other looks like an exercise in futility. When you have 400 times followers than you follow back (assuming they are legit), you are tweeting good stuff.


5.  Google+

G+ circles are sneaky. They give you a way to make it appear you care when really, you don’t. You can add people to circles so they will know you’ve added them, but you put them in a circle you never check. Does that really help anyone?

6.  Stop Begging For Likes

Regarding Facebook, if “Likes are the new links” (hint: they aren’t), please stop asking me to Like things. Not just via email, but everywhere. Driving my son home from school, I see the Chick-fil-A sign that says “Like us on Facebook.” Why should I? I mean, I like your chicken and all, but seriously? And please, stop bribing me to Like you.

Add up the number of times you are prompted to Like something in a single day — I’ll bet it’s a lot. I really believe that if the Like button had its own Like button, nobody would click it.

7.  Not Everything Is Likable

Social inequality extends to the Web. People will “Like” Lucky Charms cereal all day long, but they aren’t going to sprint onto Facebook and “Like” that yeast infection cream or jock itch spray they just bought with the same zeal. Click and check the numbers. I feel bad for Tinactin, but I guess in this case, the key to Facebook success is to be magically delicious.

Social signals are an absolute train wreck, with marketers doing everything they can to game the signal, and that’s partly why, in my opinion, at SMX last month, Matt Cutts was quoted as saying, “Links still have many, many good years ahead of them.”

8.  Pin The Original Version (And URL) Of The Creator’s Content, Not A Re-Pinned Version

If you maintain Pinterest boards, when you pin something, please consider attributing it to the original creator’s URL. It may seem like nitpicking, and the links may be no-followed, but that’s not the point. Giving credit (and links) to the original creator of what it is you are pinning is just a polite thing to do.

Here’s one reason why: if you come across a great picture or product or photo or infographic on a site and you pin it, that pin brings along with it the URL of the site where you found the object, which may not be the person or site that created the original.

It often only takes a moment to identify the originating source; so, take that time and then pin from the originator’s site. Many people don’t take the time to verify the original source.

9.  Don’t Link Spam Me On Twitter

One last tip pertaining to Twitter: when someone follows you, you don’t have to auto-tweet them back a “thank you for following me” tweet. If you are one of those who do, fine; but please don’t include a link to try and sell me something in your very first thank you tweet. It’s rude.

Take a look at the below pair of tweets.  They aren’t that different from many I see every day.


Joe Blow @JoeBlow

Thanks for following me on Twitter. I hope you find my tweets helpful!

Not Polite: 

Joe Blow @JoeBlow

Thanks for following me on Twitter. Follow this link for 25% off my new white paper titled “You are nothing but money to me.”  http://not-very-polite

Which one of those thank you tweets makes you feel like you matter?

The social sharing explosion has created many fantastic opportunities for link growth, but has also created many ethically ambiguous scenarios. I’ve only touched on a few examples of etiquette here today in the age of sharing.

I would love to hear yours.

About The Author

Eric Ward
Eric Ward founded the Web's first services for announcing, linking, and building buzz for Web sites, back in 1994. Ward is best known as the person behind the linking campaigns for Amazon.com Books, Weather.com, The Link Exchange, Rodney Dangerfield (Rodney.com), the AMA, and PBS.org. His services won the 1995 Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web's 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. In 2009 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes. Eric has spoken at over 100 industry conferences and now publishes LinkMoses Private, a subscription based link opportunity and strategy service. Eric has written linking strategy and advice columns for SearchEngineLand, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, Search Marketing Standard, SearchEngineGuide, Web Marketing Today, and Ad Age magazine. Learn more about Eric and his content publicity and link building services at http://www.ericward.com