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Rules for Linkage Requests: A Dialogue and Case History

7 April 2009 2 Comments

I'm working on a “web site awareness” campaign for Dummies.com, which recently upgraded around video and blogs. My office manager, Tatyana, received an awkward reply from Darren Rowse to one of her pitches. She had used a feedback form to ask Digital Photography School to link to the digital photography resources at Dummies.com.

Darren found our pitch tepid, I guess. So he wrote about it on a different site, ProBlogger, and posted a list of “11 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Being Linked To By A Blogger.” After reading Darren's post, I added four more suggestions to the list. I hope you find this dialogue and case history informative and entertaining.

STEVE O'KEEFE
Former VP, International Association of Online Communicators
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11 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Being Linked to By a Blogger

Written on April 3rd, 2009 at 12:04 am by Darren Rowse

Today I received what seemed like a fairly generic email from the
website Dummies.com. I won’t republish the email (I’m not into that)
but it was a fairly generic ‘could you link to our website’ type email
asking for a link because they’ve redesigned their site. It even
included a suggested link/code.

My reaction was not positive – in fact within a few moments I’d tweeted that I’d had the request and wasn’t overly impressed.

This post is not about Dummies.com – it’s about asking for links.

I have no beef with Dummies – they produce some great books by some
amazing authors. This post isn’t about them. It’s about asking for
links.

You see I get quite a few emails asking for links like the one from
Dummies but they’re not always from big well known brands, they’re more
often than not emails from bloggers. In 99% of cases the email ends up
in my trash folder in Gmail but occasionally I not only read the emails
but I link to the persons site.

Why do some emails generate links and others don’t?

Following are 11 suggestions for those wanting to email a blogger to ask for a link (whether they be big brands or bloggers):

  1. Write something worth linking to – this is a no
    brainer but so many people don’t get it. In the same way you wouldn’t
    successfully pitch a TV news service or newspaper a story like ‘I’ve
    got a newly designed website – it’s got videos’ you’re not likely to
    get much success with a blogger. The best way to get the attention of a
    blogger is to write something useful, entertaining, controversial,
    helpful, informative, intriguing…. etc. Check out my series on LinkBaiting for more ideas on this (particularly the post 20 Link Baiting Techniques).
  2. Suggest a Link to a post not your site – don’t ask
    for a link to your site – suggest that they check out a link to an
    individual page or post that you’ve written. A blogger is much more
    likely to run with a story linking to a post about a specific topic
    relevant to their topic than adding a link to your site.
  3. Develop a Relationship – cold calling a blogger
    that you’ve never interacted with before asking for a link is not the
    best way to start off a relationship. It’s like in real life – would
    you walk up to a stranger and immediately start asking them for favors?
    Get to know the blogger, their blog and let the ‘favors’ emerge out of
    that.
  4. Demonstrate Knowledge of the Blog and Blogger
    building upon the ‘relational’ aspect – use the blogger’s name, show
    that you know what their blog is about. You don’t need to write an epic
    introduction that proves your knowledge – but a polite and not overly
    familiar approach can do you wonders. Also – introduce yourself to the
    blogger you are pitching to. You might feel like you know them but they
    could be in contact with many people – a quick reminder of who you are
    and what you do could help.
  5. Research – sometimes it can be worthwhile doing 5
    minutes of research before you email another blogger. Look back over
    their last few months of blogging. What is their topic? Do they link to
    other blogs? What kinds of sites/posts/topics do they link to? Do they
    interact in other mediums (ie perhaps Twitter could be a better place
    to contact them)? The more information you gather the more able you are
    to tailor your pitch to them appropriately.
  6. Add Value – a blogger is unlikely to link to you
    unless there’s something in it for them or their blog. I’m not talking
    exchanging of money or even reciprocal links when I talk about value
    (although for some bloggers those will be motivating factors) – I mean
    the page you’re asking for a link for should be something of value that
    will actually enhance their blog. I can only speak for myself but I
    know that if someone pitches me a link that I’ll link to it or at least
    tweet the link in a heart beat if I think it adds value to the lives of
    my readers or followers.
  7. Stay on topic – this really is an extension of a
    couple of the points above but it always amazes me how many emails I
    get for people asking me to link to their ‘golf’, ’stock market’, ‘book
    review’ and ‘kids fashion’ sites (they were just 4 requests that I got
    today alone). If you’re pitching a blogger to link to something you
    wrote make sure that the blog you want to appear on has relevancy to
    your topic. For starters it increases the chances of a link, it
    increases the chances of a reader clicking the link and it increases
    the power of the search engine juice that you’ll get from the link.
  8. Be selective in what you promote – we all like to
    think that every post we write is worthy of links from thousands of
    other blogs but the reality is that some are more likely to be linked
    to than others. Pick your very best posts to promote in this way and
    keep your requests to a minimum.
  9. Reciprocate – I want to be clear here that I’m not
    talking about reciprocal links. ‘Link to me and I’ll link to you’
    doesn’t really hold a lot of value in SEO any more from what I can see.
    What I am talking about here is being willing to be generous TO the
    blogger and not just expecting them to be generous to you. Shane Gibson
    described these emails on Twitter yesterday as “we Win you Lose
    invitations” – I think that sums it up nicely. See the relationship as
    being like a bank. You’ve got to put in to get something out. If you
    take too much out the relationship will be bankrupt. I’m not just
    talking about giving the blogger links – you can reciprocate in many
    ways including by writing them guest posts, sending them small gifts,
    sponsoring a project that they’re running, promoting them to your own
    network…. etc
  10. Build on the Experience – no matter what the
    bloggers response is – you can learn from and build upon the
    experience. If they do link then there may be opportunity to deepen the
    relationship in some way. If they respond angrily, you probably don’t
    want to send them links again. If you get silence, don’t take it
    personally and continue to find ways to build relationships with the
    blogger.
  11. Be Link Worthy – let me emphasize this again. The
    best way to get linked to by a blogger is to produce a page or post
    that is link worthy of the link.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
On Tue, Apr 7, 2009 at 11:23 AM, Steve O'Keefe wrote:

Darren,

I am the author of the link request you received. I want to thank you for calling attention to it as one of the most perfect examples of good linking protocol, and add a little transparency to how this all came about.

First, here is the “generic pitch” you received, which I wrote, which Wiley approved, and which my colleague, Tatyana Meshcheryakova, sent to you via the “Contact Us” page at the Digital Photography School (DPS) web site:

On Tue, Mar 31, 2009 at 7:26 AM, Tatyana Meshcheryakova <tatyana.meshcheryakova@patronsaintpr.com> wrote:

Dear DPS,

You have a great collection of Digital Photography resources on your site. I'm writing to see if you will install a link to the new Dummies.com web site? We've redesigned the site around topic-specific blogs and video, including Digital Photography.

I've written some linking text, below, you can copy and use. Please let me know if you would like a small Dummies.com link button and I'll send it as a file attachment.

Thanks for Your Consideration,
TATYANA MESHCHERYAKOVA
for Dummies.com
Phone: (504) 342-4806

HTML Code for Link:
<a href=”<http://www.dummies.com/>http://www.dummies.com/” target=”_blank”>Dummies.com</a><br>
Making Everything Easier&trade;<br>

Wow, we sent a pitch to Digital Photography School (not ProBlogger) asking you to link to the digital photography resources available at Dummies.com. Stupid and irresponsible, I realize. Guilty as charged. Now let's compare the actual pitch you received with your recommendations in the article “11 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Being Linked to By a Blogger“:

   1. Write something worth linking to
We think the digital photography resources at Dummies.com contain decent content and are worth linking to. The content is especially good for *beginners* — part of the Dummies mandate. It made sense to us that a site called “Digital Photography School” might want to link to us.

   2. Suggest a Link to a post not your site
My staff says deep linking is irresponsible, because content moves, and due to copyright issues. Also, you want to use a URL in a linkage campaign that won't change or break, beacuse that results in a broken link on your site, making your site look out of date.

   3. Develop a Relationship
Most relationships begin with a brief email — such as our link request. In fact, you replied to our pitch within minutes. I wanted to reply to you, but Wiley asked me to wait. Today, I decided not wait. Another way to start a relationship would be to post a gratuitous comment on your blog linking back to us in the sig. We don't do that kind of thing. We think it's slimy.

   4. Demonstrate Knowledge of the Blog and Blogger
Well, yes, we did indeed demonstrate that in that short pitch. We used the name of your site in the subject line. We made sure we approached a site that *wants* to document digital photography resources, and we pitched you because we have digital photography resources to share. If your email address had been readily available on your site, we would have emailed you instead of using the generic “contact us” form you provide. In fact, here's some feedback from the family computing guide at About.com in reaction to the same pitch you received: “Steve, At least I know you've done your homework! I will certainly take a look at your new site. If I decide to write about it I'll let you know, but I'm in the midst of a blog series right now, so it probably wouldn't be for another week or two.” Christy Matte, About.com Guide to Family Computing. That was the sort of civil reply we hoped to get from you, Darren — but even your “less than thrilled” reply was a response I was happy with. We got through, you offered feedback, and Wiley needs to hear feedback from a pro.

   5. Research
Here's our 5-point criteria for pitching a site: 1. It must be alive (recent content), 2. It must not be a link farm, arbitrage site, fake site, etc. 3. It must match the topic of the pitch 4. It must have a logical place for the link (i.e.: links to outside sites) 5. It must have an email address or web form for contacting whoever controls the links on the site. In this campaign, we visited and rejected 80 sites for every 20 that met this criteria. In a recent campaign for an entrepreneurship site, we had to visit 100 sites to make five pitches because so many high-ranking sites are link farms. That's research.

   6. Add Value
I asked Wiley if we could offer reciprocal links. They said no. Eric Ward, the father of the web site awareness business, says that you should avoid offering reciprocal links or sites that ask for them. You only want to pitch sites that pride themselves in documenting everything available online in their subject area. Still, we submitted the list of all the sites we pitched to Wiley and suggested that their bloggers review these sites because our research showed they are linkworthy. That's what we call starting a relationship.

   7. Stay on topic
We pitched three verticals for Dummies.com — those we thought had the strongest content for *beginners*. That included digital photography, home improvement, and Internet basics. The pitches all focus on those verticals and are sent to portals that mostly pride themselves in documenting these verticals. We are nothing if not on topic.

   8. Be selective in what you promote
See the response to 7, above. We pitched our three strongest verticals where we at least have some how-to video and a blog. That's what the pitch says, that's what the site delivers. You might consider these resources modest, but beginners often want an easy in. That's the Dummies brand: Making Things Easier.

   9. Reciprocate
You could have been nice about our pitch and responded with, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and we would still most likely have reviewed Digital Photography School on the Dummies.com digital photography blog because it is a good resource. Now our review will look manipulative. Nonetheless, Digital Photography School is a good site. We think people should go there.

  10. Build on the Experience
That's what I believe I'm doing right now, right here, today. We are all learning about linking today. You, me, your readers, my readers, the folks at Wiley and Dummies.com.

  11. Be Link Worthy
Yes, we think we are linkworthy. We may not be the right site for advanced users, but for people looking for a soft entry into digital photography, the Internet, or home improvement, we're linkworthy.

Finally, I'd like to call your attention to a few other features of our pitch, which aren't on your checklist, but should be:

12. Don't Pitch Anonymously
The pitch came from a person, not a bot. She actually works at the firm her email address points to. Tatyana is her real name. She's representing Dummies and says so in the pitch. There is no bullshit in this pitch.

13. Never Attach Anything to a Pitch
Notice there's no graphics, no logo attached, no rich html — just a bare text pitch? We ask if you want to receive a graphic button. We never send attachments unless requested.

14. Keep It Short!
If you can't get to the point in one quick screenful, don't bother. There's no hype, no fat in this pitch. That's why you read it. No one wants long pitches. Come to the point and put the reader in control of the next step.

15. Provide Alternatives
We put our phone number at the bottom of the pitch. It's our real phone number. Spammers do not do that. We think it's important to provide multiple ways to reply, complain, or engage.

Look, everybody's got a site of some kind. There is an ethical way to pitch them. You and I have just outlined how to do that. The campaign for Dummies.com has been painstaking. I am grateful that you have shown that our pitches are second to none, that they actually get through to decision makers, and that they result in productive dialogue like this.

With Thanks & Best Wishes,
STEVE O'KEEFE
Author, “Complete Guide to Internet Publicity”
Executive Director, Patron Saint Productions, Inc.
Office: (504) 342-4806  ~  Fax: (504) 342-4157
Web: http://PatronSaintPR.com
E-mail: mailto://steve.okeefe@patronsaintpr.com
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2 Comments »

  • Anonymous said:

    Steve, you know I love ya, and respect all you've done over the years, but…that particular link request included a couple strategic choices that I would not have used. Given that you and I are probably the two longest tenured link builders on the web, we should turn this into lemonade together :)
    Eric

  • Anonymous said:

    Thanks for the input, Eric. The pitch should have used Darren's name, and we should have tried to find a personal email address for Darren. We do for most people we pitch, and Darren's is findable. We could have done better. Interesting case history.
    STEVE O'KEEFE

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