4 Sales Lessons for SEO Link Building
Search engine optimization professionals may think of themselves as marketers, but not as salespeople. Nevertheless, a good marketer can teach us at least four lessons related to the SEO process of getting backlinks.
Let’s start with a little background. Link building – the act of encouraging links from other websites to yours – has been an important part of SEO almost since Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin thought of using backlinks as a means of deciding the relevance of a particular web page for a given search query.
Prior to their revelation, almost all search engines ranked pages based on the number of times the target keyword phrase appeared. Fill your web page with a particular keyword and the search engines circa 1996 rewarded you. SEO was easy.
Building links, however, requires more work. To optimize a page, you need other websites to access it. Today, outreach to bloggers, replacing broken links, converting unlinked brand mentions, and even public relations are all key link building tactics.
SEO link building tactics often resemble a consultative sales process.
For example, there is a prospecting phase, in which you search for websites that have mentioned your company or products but are not related to your site. Or you are looking for authoritative pages with broken links that your business could replace.
There is also a contact phase. Like a salesperson, you email or call your prospect to start the link building conversation. And there should also be closure and follow-up.
With these similarities in mind, consider four things sellers do that could make SEO outreach more effective.
A popular saying goes that “selling is a contact sport, so make contact”. The idea is to get a salesperson (or SEO practitioner in this context) to reach out and connect with a prospect.
Many prospects will say “no”. If you ask 100 publishers for a link, you might get 10 links. Or you might have none. The more leads you connect with, the more links you can encourage. If you want more links, reach out to more website owners or publishers.
That doesn’t mean you should spam hundreds of website editors with thoughtless, scripted email messages. It’s just lazy.
Instead, contact many prospects directly. Do not be discouraged. Develop your emotional strength to handle rejection and move on. And, to improve your approach, try to understand why some prospects decline.
There’s an ad salesman I know named David. He lives on Long Island in New York. It serves businesses from Philadelphia to Boston. He’s exceptional at what he does, in part because he always delivers something of value.
He is a true believer in the advertising he sells. He believes his product is valuable. But David goes beyond that.
For example, when David realized that one of his customers needed to buy a particular component from another, he introduced them. The first was able to obtain a necessary product. The latter won new business.
David also offers helpful tips. In the early 2000s, when many marketers were trying to measure the effectiveness of print advertising, David provided some real (and exclusive) suggestions that helped his clients.
So how could you add value to your SEO reach? Take the case of building broken links.
“Sites change and pages disappear all the time,” said SEO expert Greg Gifford in lesson five of SEMrush Academy’s “SEO Fundamentals Course.” “With this strategy, you are looking for quality, authoritative pages that have links pointing to pages that no longer exist – this is called a broken link. Then you will create new content that meets to the same question or need.You reach out to the website and let them know that the link on such and such a page is broken, but you have a brand new page that would work instead…and boom. Kickass quality.
The approach works because a broken link is a broken promise. This might disappoint a reader. Informing the editor is a service, a value. You even offered a recommended replacement that might make updating the page relatively easy.
Consider that thought, though. You may find many broken links on a particular site. But you tend to search for links that you think can convert to backlinks. Why not let an editor know about the other broken links, even if you can’t replace them?
Build and follow relationships
Sales reps use customer relationship management software. SEO practitioners should also use a CRM (not spreadsheets).
Many salespeople I know, including my friend David, use CRM software extensively. They note every time they interact with a prospect.
They observe a prospect’s attitudes and desires and then use the information to build a relationship. And they use it to change their sales approach when needed.
Taking notes and tracking relationships helps them in their interactions with prospects.
Here is an example. Imagine you decide to offer value even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a link. You browse a popular website looking for broken links applicable to your topic, but there are none. However, there is a word choice error in a post. So you take a minute to message the author on LinkedIn.
I hope this message finds you well. I just finished reading your article on the ecological impact of leather shoes. This was a great article that got me thinking about my shoe choices.
I wondered though if the last sentence of the third paragraph should use “porter” rather than “ware”.
You will then note this message (and Jane’s reply) in your CRM.
Now it’s three months later. Another article on the same site has a new broken link that matches your topic. You create “The Definitive Guide to Eco-Friendly Shoemaking”. Then you reference your CRM and see the exchange with Jane. The previous message may give you a way to log in.
Salvation. I hope you will remember my message a few months ago. I was the “wear” or “items” guy.
I wanted to let you know that I found a broken link on your “Save the planet with these pumps” post.
You linked to the Green Footwear Makers Association’s 2011 article on shoemaking. This resource is no longer available, I don’t believe.
If you’re interested, I recently co-wrote an ebook, “The Definitive Guide Environmentally-friendly Footwear Manufacturing”. Chapter 7 contains data similar to the GFMA document.
Real estate agents often deliver gifts to their clients after a closing. Car salespeople can send a Starbucks gift card.
Sales professionals follow up after closing a deal. They want to ward off potential buyer’s remorse and hope to position themselves for future purchases.
Do the same with SEO awareness. Follow up after getting the link.
Let’s imagine that Jane, the hypothetical author of eco-shoe articles, agrees to link to your document. To follow.
Thanks for the link to my guide. I shared your article on Reddit and Facebook. Hope you get lots of new traffic.
Please let me know if I can help with future articles.
The message lets Jane know that you appreciate her efforts. He leaves the relationship open, for future outreach.