Get Over Yourself And Give Me A Link (please)

Getting a topically relevant link is preferable to one from an off topic webpage but  it’s not always so easy, competitors seldom link to competitors, authority sites seldom link to newbies.

I had some luck getting these hard/competitive/authority type links awhile back, the campaign brought in a large number of on-topic, quality links from competitors in a specific industry.

What’s more interesting is the fact the campaign did not use:

Social media. (No Twitter, Digg, Facebook, Reddit etc.)
Didn’t use any directories .
No article writing/rewriting was done.
No guest blog posting.
No reciprocal links used.
No blog commenting.
No dropping links in forums.
No press releases.
No contests were launched.
No interviews/white papers/ebooks were waved around.
No utility linking (search: “submit site” + keyword) was done.
No buying old domains/redirection took place.
No paid links.

The whole program ran 90 days and netted 131 quality, on-topic links from established sites.   And best of all, it didn’t cost a lot of money to execute! :).

Before you roll your eyes and click away thinking this is going to be one of those “establish relationships and the links will come ” type posts, hear me out.  Granted, there is a bit of “touchy feely” involved but it’s more about understanding what people care about than spewing regurgitated crap that doesn’t work.  Take a look at what I’ve done and see if you can twist it to work for you.

Incentive linking

The client I ran this campaign for is in the concrete business, his site has been online for a several years, was optimized and ranked in the high teens.   Concrete isn’t exactly a sexy topic, it generates little interest outside it’s industry and isn’t in mainstream media unless someone is found buried in it.

My client wanted to increase his visibility in the concrete community but also increase his rankings substantially since he had just invested major money in creating a new department focused on re/paving homeowners driveways.  I knew I had a challenge, concrete providers are fiercely competitive and filled with men named Bubba who don’t give a damn about participating in social media, blogging or link building.

Since I understand what does/n’t motivate Bubba, I decided not to waste time and energy trying to think up cutesy infographics or writing top ten articles.  Instead, I focused on trying to find what motivated concrete operators and the issues they were concerned about.   I stumbled across an article from a building association talking about the reduction in association membership levels, companies were not renewing as a way to cut costs.  Knowing this and seeing a need for free information, I convinced my client to build a resource center anyone could access free of charge and fill it with information they had been paying for previously.  Once complete, we would promote the resource center and use it as a way to attract links.

Initially we thought the resource center  would be 10 – 15 pages deep but in the end there were almost 100 pages of content added.  Once we started looking, reading and asking people what they wanted to see, it grew like crazy!  While we were researching content, I found several articles talking about the heavy toll wet concrete takes on workers shoes and uniforms and how this issue costs companies a lot of money.  A light went off and armed with this information, I developed a simple incentive program as a way to promote the resource center and get companies to link or host our link embedded content.   The offer was simple:

Reprint our content or link to our resource center and we’ll send each of your
employees a free tee-shirt.

The promotion was a hit!  We gave away hundreds of shirts and got a ton of publicity.   The t-shirts had funny generic sayings on them which eliminated the objection of wearing a competitors logo. I sent personalized emails to concrete companies and companies in a couple of complementary niches plus ran ads in trade magazines.  After three months, we closed the promotion and counted 131 one-way inbound links from relevant, on-topic pages.

The link building methods I listed above  still work and produce results, but sometimes we get so involved in keeping up with the latest social media this or linking that we forget the simple, non-technical stuff works. If you’re in an industry that doesn’t engage in social media, or tends to be self-focused like concrete, look at creatively overcoming objections as a way to build links.  It works!




  1. Bill Rowland says

    Great story. I particularly appreciate the research that was performed to uncover a need in this decidedly unsexy industry. The fact that competitors linked to the resource pretty much says it all and I like the incentive of a free t-shirt too.

  2. Rosendo Cuyasen says

    I’ve read your article regarding link building technique for a particular industry that don’t need to be involve in social media online and have learn something of it.

    Probably If I have encounter such project probably I will be doing your example. Thanks for this simple link building strategy.


  3. ed says

    I find this post of great value and here is why ! You said that you did not bother with what most people do to get links but instead the approach was different.

    The problem I am having is that my business is not sexy if anything they look at me with a evil eye. Since I buy and sell properties.

    So now how can I turn this thought you shared into something that I can use for homeowners who in some of form distress and have to sell their home fast, they can be facing divorce, foreclosure, tax lien, probate, vacant house, bankruptcy, etcccc

    My approach is very simple, but not enough provide good content for them with value that they can use to their benefit even if it does not benefit me directly, now I have done something good for them.

    What I walked away with this post is that I need to start thinking with a creative 2nd head and not one :) You used already existing content to create a resource and gave it to them now you got me thinking and how can I apply this idea to my own niche in new york city ….

    Thanks for opening my mind to being creative and not main stream link builder ….

    So now

  4. says

    Wow. Way to miss a point. Anyway, Debra – great idea. Reminds me of how bloggers will do things like run a blog carnival or contest – and they’re usually not SEO savvy, just plain smart marketers. Brilliant idea with a concrete company (I thought you were going to say you gave away a pair of Redwing boots…at which point I’d call you nuts, but then again…).

  5. James Chatman says

    Thanks for the advice Debra. I really appreciate it. I’m going to put this all into practice.

  6. Debra says

    I agree Greg and equally important is the push to promote the content. Content isn’t king when it’s badly written and/or can’t be found. You have to promote the heck out of it as well as write what people want to read. In my case I just used a little hook to my advantage. I will never be able to replicate the promo again in that industry but it’s OK, I got on the right people’s radar and that’s all that mattered. :)

  7. Greg says

    People say content is king. Obviously there is merit to this.

    A key idea I’ve learned here is to perform research to find content in a market place that people pay for, and offer it free. You are guaranteed to be producing valuable content, so then the issue becomes quality. It prevents you from coming up with goofy ideas you think are good but really no one is interested in.

  8. Debra says

    I didn’t ask for certain anchors, we let people link to us as they wished. The resource center wasn’t done to funnel PageRank, it was done to promote the client’s new business venture and generate links in the process which in turn would help the site overall. The new resource center did not host any sales pitches or anything other than the info we built into it. My previous comment answers some of what you ask as well

  9. Debra says

    Research is a very important aspect of anything you do marketing wise, without it you’re shooting in the dark! I think there’s a lot you can do for small to mid-size firms. For starters, read what the industry association and professional organizations are saying about your niche, these people make their living selling subscriptions so they have to provide visible value in order to get people to join. Second, all business has to register with some tax and government organization, read their annual reports and the free literature they provide tax payers as a courtesy. In the USA, the SBA (Small Business Assn) is a GOLD MINE of information and free help, takes a bit to wade through their website but it’s worth doing it. Lastly – just ask people, starting with your client and his/her customers. People frequently ask me what’s my favorite link building tool and I normally answer, without hesitation, my alert and survey services. Good luck with your career in the SEO industry James!

  10. Bingo Ventura says

    I liked how you bartered for links with something offline. Normally links cost something online, time, effort, articles, links, exposure, promotion….blahblah. It’s done off a monitor screen and I loved how you did that. Cheers!

    Thanks for your post, It’s a refreshing idea to mull over.

  11. James Chatman says

    Hi Debra. Thank you for writing such an enlightening article. I’m new to the SEO game and I’m quickly learning that market/audience research is a major factor in determining the success of an SEO campaign. Unfortunately there is no easy way to conduct such research for small to medium businesses. Do you think the grassroots interpersonal approach is the best option?

  12. Greg says

    Did competitors link because they were linking to a purely informational page? Is there anything on the new concrete library pages that links to information about repaving driveways, or is it pure, helpful information?

    Did the site start ranking better for “repave home driveway”‘ queries?

    Did you use internal linking to pass pagerank from the new library resource pages to the client’s commercial pages? If so how subtle was this? I guess a competitor would not link to an information page with obvious sales copy or obvious links to sales copy.

    Or did commercial pages rank better simply because the site as a whole had more links?

    Without direct links containing optimized anchor text to commercial “buy now” pages, how much help was it to get links to the separate new library section of the site?

    I guess you see what I’m trying to ask about…. This is a great post and I’d greatly appreciate some additional guidance regarding implementation details.

  13. Paul says

    You can try and butter it up as much as want – but you paid for those links. They were paid links.

    Don’t get me wrong, I give out freebies all the time for links and it’s a nice way for attracting people who arn’t motivated by money, but you can be so niece to try and deny these links were not paid for. They were.

  14. Debra says

    Nit pik all you want :) We didn’t create new content, we pulled hundreds of sources from around the globe in all formats (print, vid, image, podcast, infographic, etc. ) If it was about concrete, the industry, ancillary industries, people in the industry, news, reports, broadcasts blah blah blah……. we used it. Especially stuff the competitors had written – I used it. I made sure the authors said OK or we provided credit links (I’m a little manic about this point) and emailed them when the content was up. We got some links to our stuff as a result of this action and when I saw them in the analytics, I sent a couple of shirts. But the majority of links came from people who liked the content and took part in the promotion.

    p.s. if you click the link I provided you’ll see my images are gone. I know about it and need to fix. Thx.

  15. Jeff Gregory says

    Agreed. If the content was crap, they’d have removed the links the instant the t-shirts arrived. I do have one nit to pick, though. You said, “No article writing/rewriting was done.”

    So, how did you create a resource center without writing any articles? Am I missing something?


    Jeff Gregory

  16. Debra says

    Sorry – but – in the uber competitive world of concrete, no one will link to a competitor unless they really liked the content. And competitors were the bulk of who linked. Those links didn’t go up and then come down, they are still in place.

  17. Debra says

    It can be all of those things but in this case, the client wanted to beef up the ranking for his main dot com so his new home division would also be exposed. My guy focused on commercial concrete which, as I found out, doesn’t depend on websites to sell services. They deal with huge contracts (government, state, local) and builders, etc and used the site as a brochure because, well, everyone does. It wasn’t a money maker for him. But like a lot of people in the building industry, today’s economy has forced them to branch into different services as a way to make payroll and equipment payments. The new “home” division had a different appeal and since my client is in a couple of states, I decided the best approach was one that would appeal to all people anywhere. Homeowners, contractors, builders, suppliers, etc – these were the type of people we targeted. My client didn’t really care about being a thought leader in this case, he was focused on doing something to stay alive. In the world of concrete they all know each already (kinda like our biz) so that was never a motivation. Better ranking for a keyword term that would bring exposure for this new division as a means to generate income was always the mission.

  18. M.-J. Taylor says

    No, Kyle, she didn’t. She said, reprint our content or link to it and we will give you a T-shirt for each employee. However, I don’t think it’s quite buying a link. To begin with, she is providing quality content that deserves a link and then she is offering a t-shirts to reward the linking website.

    The question I would ask: would Google see this as “selling” links, and I think the answer is probably not.

  19. Kyle L. says

    Thanks Debra. It makes total sense, but what I have trouble translating sometimes is the overall goal. Is it ROI, is it thought leadership, links, increased rankings, etc?

  20. Kyle L. says

    But in this case, as Debra mentions, she didn’t say, “I’ll only give you a T shirt if you link to me.” She gave out T shirts as a feel good, and happened to get links. Your definition of a paid link seems to be a little broad and too all-encompassing.

  21. Debra says

    It IS tough isn’t it? In this case I found a need and supplied a source many would benefit from. The resource center continues to be a passive linking magnet to this day because the content is pretty awesome. My client is happy because he’s become a leading source of information for his business, pardon the pun but you could say we made him the “rock star” of concrete.

  22. anon says

    this is still buying links. Give them money, or a t shirt, it’s all the same.
    this is buying links. A shirt for a link.

  23. Kyle L. says

    Part of the issue I stuggle with is convincing the client to undertake a project of that nature. If I may ask, do you have any advice on how to convince a client to undertake a project of the sort you describe?

  24. Dave says

    Well, feel free to do it again. I am a disabled veteran forced to change careers and I am getting into art. I have a blog, and the hits are climbing slowly. I could use a little pro bono love, so swing on by and take over.

  25. Debra says

    No, I didn’t pay for those links, the people who linked to the resource center did so because they liked the content not because they were getting a promotional shirt. I used the shirts to get their attention, the links happened because of the quality of the content I was promoting.

  26. Debra says

    Haven’t you paid for these links via shirts? Paid links not always means cash.

  27. Debra says

    No, you’re right, there were costs around the tee shirts but would you believe the biggest expense with this promo was the shipping? Seriously, we all need to buy stock in Fed Ex. ;) Since we couldn’t use logos, I could buy plain beefy tees and only used one color ink. Big savings. I didn’t scrimp on the quality of the shirts, didn’t need the client to come off looking cheap so we bought Beefy T’s. I bought boxes, tape and wrapping paper in bulk from a company called ULine, we filed the orders as a way to keep costs down. (Keep in mind my fee and the cost to run this promo are an expense of doing business and tax deductible.)

    I’ve paid top notch experts to write white papers that cost more than this whole promo. If you want good links and positive exposure, it’s going to cost you. Sorry to be blunt but that’s how it goes :) Thanks Miguel.

  28. Debra says

    LOL, actually a lot of things popped into my head and out of my mouth during this campaign but I keep in mind my kids read this blog so I have to keep it clean ;)

  29. Debra says

    Thanks Dave and totally agree with you. I knew building the resource center (or concrete library as we called it) was a good idea and a necessary one, I just couldn’t find the hook to promote it. I will admit to using free shirts as a giveaway in the past but still, I read a lot of magazines before I found an angle I thought might work. You’re a good friend, thanks for your tweets, G+1 and commenting here :)

  30. Dave Oremland says

    Debra: I’ve particularly struggled with this issue for years. I partner with people in operating a group of different businesses in different markets. While in general they have little in common, one thing they do have in common is that they don’t lend themselves easily to social media andcompetitors are brutally competitive/not likely to send links your way.

    Your methodology in this example is priceless and brilliant, I might add. My biggest take away from years of working on link building for these industries is to think outside the box in a number of ways…..and yes “the non-technical stuff” still works.

    The first critical aspect is a great idea. The second part is implementation. The 3rd part is spreading it.

    Really terrific article. Thanks.


  31. Gus Ferguson says

    “what the he’ll am I going to do here?” … I’ve come to love the moment that this thought pops into my head as it’s always the precursor to something good. It’s not giving up at that point that separates the pros from the part-timers! Very nice campaign… Thanks for sharing!

  32. Miguel says

    You had me at the title! LOL
    But this is a great creative promotion in a totally dry niche. Nice work. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to SEO. The ability to think outside the box.
    I do have a question, you mention that this did not cost much but I’m seeing costs everywhere. T-shirt printing and shipping, your hours (can’t be cheap), and hours from the business owner. To me at the end of the day it seems like it still cost a decent penny.

  33. Debra says

    I agree Leo, a little creativity is a good thing. Most search marketers I know don’t come from a traditional marketing background I like do, they’ve come into the business from the design or IT end of things so they don’t have marketing experience to draw from. I’m not technically inclined but I keep up with what’s working and hire people who are. The reverse isn’t always the case, technical practioners don’t typicaly hire people with traditional marketing skills becuase they don’t think about traditional strategies, it’s not how they’re wired and they don’t have the experience to draw from. Balance is key :)

  34. Leo Dimilo says

    You know, Debra, I have been telling people all along that they don’t necessarily have to rely on pre-fab link building tactics in non-social markets and that all it takes is to think outside the box. Creativity can do a link building campaign some good. Most search marketers, for whatever reason, choose NOT to believe it.


  35. Debra says

    Thanks Sally. I almost didn’t take this account after sitting through the initial consult, when I saw there was no social media involvment, few content drop opporuntities and limited publicity outlets I thought “what the hell am I going to do here”? But I have a promotions background so I knew the concept would work, I just had to find the bait to dangle on my hook. In all, that’s what took the most time, coming up with an idea to make the process attractive to people in this niche.

  36. Sally Mellinger says

    LOVED THIS POST! I always love hearing about creative link campaigns. My favorite thing about working in SEO is the freedom to think outside the box, come up with a great idea, and try to make it work. It’s always so satisfying when it works…but even better when it works well.

    Thanks for sharing your success story!

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