Rand Fishkin recently filmed a Whiteboard Friday about paying one forward to people in your network with the hopes of having a hand to reach for some day when you need one. In the moment, it sounded like a loaded favor. “Here, let me give you something you didn’t ask for so I can offer a way to repay me.” Unfortunate.
As I drifted from my desk in thought, it became clear that actually, that is what link building really is. Regardless of how it is packaged, Rand’s technique is used by SEOs every day.
- “Dear Webmaster…”
- “Dear Blogger…”
- “Dear Reporter…”
Each outreach method includes a line about a great resource/article/idea that helps them, contributing to your SEO in the process. We are essentially offering (or begging for, really) something in exchange for a favor, also known as a link. So, how is how is going through an address book any different?
Most of us have tried broken link building, or what I call The Exchange. It reduces cold call syndrome by offering while asking. “Here are a couple broken links that you might have missed” is a much more successful ice breaker than “Hi, I work with… Hello?” The webmaster gets a gift and (hopefully) gives you enough time to ask one little, itsy-bitsy, tiny favor that would mean the absolute world to you. If this is a new concept, check out the many great resources on broken linking building tactics, like this and this.
The Exchange is a great angle, but it doesn’t give anything back to our digital or local communities. A webmaster catches a couple 404s, you get a link, but what about the kids?
SEO Link Building for Idealists
The Professor. Odds are that you did not learn SEO on campus, or at least not in a classroom—our trade grew in appeal once it was clear that content writing for $0.05 per word wouldn’t pay for school. You can change the campus drought by speaking to student organizations or holding 101 seminars at local universities. Teaching students about SEO not only advances the industry by exposing bright, hungry minds to search marketing earlier in life; it’s also an adrenaline shot to your link profile. These speaking engagements provide locally relevant links from schools with high domain authorities.
Finding the right minds to mold is the most important step. Here are two places to start your search:
- Departments with events pages are likely to attract more spectators (because they already have a promotional channel) and can easily link to your home and resources pages. You might even win a nice local citation. Schools of communications, computer science and business would be good places to begin.
- Some student organizations also have sites on the root domain. A listing there is also more likely to be static than a fleeting departmental events page.
The Do-Gooder. Great organizations survive on pro bono services, and SEO is no exception. Look at the number of nonprofits who have open volunteer and internship opportunities that include SEO on Idealist.org.
Is it a cost effective link? Well, that depends on a few things, but can you really put a price on a solid soul cleansing? Plus, a couple hours of research and on-page work would likely be repaid with a flattering blog post in your honor and a generous link (since limited resources means you’d be the one writing it). Helping community organizations is a great way to give back while picking up a lovely locally link.
Let’s also not forget about the PR opportunities that come from your labors of love and any resulting business leads. No guarantees, obviously, but it’s certainly not hurting your cause, either.
The takeaway is that link building does not need to be a blatant ask or carrot on a stick. It can help others more than yourself, while still doing right by you.
There are lots of other ways to practice good link building. What are some that have worked for you?