It’s common these days for your content and web teams to frequently field emails asking for some kind of link back. Link building is often a bad tactic to fall into Google’s good graces, but content marketers could learn from its faults to boost their own strategies.
As someone who knows a thing or two about creating content on the internet, it’s probably natural that I get some pet peeves over time.
And perhaps the biggest such pet peeve is when I receive emails focused on “link building,” or convincing other website owners to link to your page. These tactics—generally pushed via email—have been around for years and are a reputation play of sorts for search engines.
The tactics take a lot of different forms; among the methods I frequently see:
“Can I write a guest post for your blog?” This is perhaps the most common kind of link-building scheme. A good guest-blogging program is one that’s built around experts who add value to your own offerings. But emails asking to do a guest post often aren’t that. These messages are usually automated, and clearly intended to score a quick win. (And if you ignore the message, they’ll inevitably send you a canned reply.) You will have little control over the quality of the guest post, but I do guarantee you the post will require you to include a link in the piece..
“I just designed a great infographic!” Years ago, the infographic was a defining part of online culture. Before social media became a major traffic driver, they were considered an effective promotion tool. While the fad has worn off, the strategy remains widely used—and often, the infographic comes with a request that you share it with a link to a resource. You might want to verify the info on the graphic first.
“I just found a broken link on your site.” More recently, there’s been a rise in link-building attempts that play off the demise of a website, with marketers reaching out to website owners that linked the shuttered domain, possibly many years ago. That sounds helpful, but it’s really not: The new link is almost always to a general resource that doesn’t match the original link’s specificity, and it takes away from more important content management tasks. Generally, when asked to change a link like this, I link to the Internet Archive version of the original resource, which keeps the original intent of the link intact, while not rewarding spammy behavior. (I’m in good company with that approach: It’s what Wikipedia does.)
“Can I just pay you for a backlink on your old piece?” Yes, you’ll get these messages, too. If it sounds seedy, it’s probably seedy. Do not trust.
Why These Tricks Don’t Work
These tactics, always somewhat prevalent, seem to be growing as social media traffic dwindles, and the strategies appear to be getting sneakier and more direct. (When I asked about it on Twitter last week, a number of people felt my pain.)
Just last week, I received two such messages that left me shocked at their brazenness.
Just last week, I received two such messages that left me shocked at their brazenness: One, I fielded a request from someone on our Facebook page who wanted us to add an “additional resource” to an article we had written—which was novel, because such communications almost always happen over email. And two, I received a request from a college graduate who claimed to be looking for portfolio bylines—but for whom a Google search revealed worked for a content marketing company that specialized in “creating and placing bylined articles” in media outlets.
The problem with these link-building tactics is that they’re often one-sided in nature. They benefit the person sharing the link with more notice on Google and other search engines, but generally hold no benefit whatsoever for either your organization—which has to spend time fielding the requests that get sent—or to readers, who probably won’t find any value in that additional link or guest post.
Beyond being annoying for people trying to do their jobs, many of these tactics are explicitly barred by Google’s own quality guidelines, particularly those that involve the sale of links, as well as aggressive guest-blogging campaigns. They could also negatively impact your own search engine position.
And it doesn’t help that the asks are often automated, which means that they have no understanding of your own content strategy.
But What About My Own SEO?
Of course, reading all this, you might be wondering: “Well, what about my association’s site? How do I get people to link to that without coming off like a spammer?”
Here’s the not-so-secret strategy that SEO experts will tell you: You have to put the work in.
It’s not a matter of simply offering a resource in the general vicinity of what a website or blog needs; it needs to actually be an exact match. But that means waiting for a match to actually show itself.
In an article from last year, Moz Founder Rand Fishkin laid out how many of the tactics I mentioned above almost work, but are missing some key element of thoughtfulness that boosted their success rate: Rather than offering a general resource, offer a specific resource that specifically fits a need. That’s something you can’t automate; you have to actually be familiar with their work.
“So this is a way where you’re simply monitoring these folks that you would like to get links from, waiting for them to express some sort of need, fulfilling that need, and then reaping the benefit through that link,” Fishkin writes.
It’s a subtle, but important, difference: If you don’t want your search engine marketing efforts to go straight in the spam folder, do the work of building relationships.
That way, when a news outlet or website links back to you, everybody wins.