Build Links Backwards

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What would you do for a link you really wanted? Would you beg? Plead? Pay? Stand on your head? Kill a man? Ok, if you’d do the last one, stop here, and reconsider your life choices. Everyone else can keep reading.

Content creation starts in a ton of ways; research, conjecture, tequila, current events… ideas come from everywhere. But it often ends with making something you think is awesome, promoting the hell out of it and hoping it gets links. But, just to shake things up, why not throw the process in reverse and build links backwards?

One of the things that inspired this post was something Wiep Knol wrote a couple of years ago in a post about Authority Links he said, “Contact websites and ask what they’re looking for.”

Wow, what a concept.

Instead of trying to create something that MIGHT appeal to the masses; why not create something that WILL appeal to a few?

Yes, this is not the fastest approach to building links. If you’re looking for speed and quantity, it’s your turn to quit reading. Congrats though, you made it slightly further than the sociopaths. For you, there is a barely literate guy with an automated program who can build “100 high quality link to you site today”, he’s got exactly what you think you want.

However, if you’re willing to spend the time it takes to get a high quality link, and yeah that one was singular on purpose, then this method might appeal to you.

Here’s the program, ready?

  • Find Great sites or great pages (one specific, strong page you want to be listed on)
  • Make contact
  • Have a conversation
  • Do the work
  • Get the link.
  • Ask for promotion.

Ok, now here’s the long version

Find Great Sites and Great pages

Here are some ideas of what qualifies as a “great” site

Relevant blogs with a large following – Look at the blog’s subscriber base, social media following and the number and quality of the comments on the posts. These are some indicators aside from just blog’s back links that will tell you if it’s “worth” writing for.

Educators that have websites – College professors and school teachers in particular tend to be very busy and probably have a thing or two they wish they could reference but don’t have the time to create themselves. They might consider it very generous on your part if you offered to do it for them.

News Outlets – Aside from reporters that are always looking for a story, I don’t know about your but my local paper actually has several individual blogs on their website. A great way to get on a newspaper site is to get in with one or two bloggers. Radio, and television can be similar, particularly the local stations. It might be easier than you’d think to get in touch with a local on-air personality.

Professional associations – These websites often link out to other sources of information. And often there are several different groups which could be relevant to an industry. The trick is to hunt down the person who makes the decisions on what gets linked to.

A Site which could send traffic –Yes this is vague, but finding a site like this means thinking like your customers. Any kind of an informational website discussing your kind of product or service that could send a lot of qualified traffic your way would fit in this category.

Make Contact/ Have a Conversation

After you’ve pinpointed the site or sites you want to target, make contact. The key is to sound like a normal person not like a pushy, sketchy, marketer. Basically, pretend you’re not a link monger. So, you may need to suck it up and read or listen to something they have done. Have an idea of who this person is.  Is this mildly stalkerish? Eh, only slightly, but in a totally non-threatening sort of way.

Open ended questions can be useful, but you might want to be a little more specific than “So, what would you like to link to?” Don’t make this person do your brainstorming for you. It helps to have a few ideas already bouncing around your head. Something like:

Hey Name

Read/saw/heard your article/news story/radio segment on “blah blah”. Insert intelligent comment or observation here.

I was wondering if you might be interested an article about [Insert an idea]


I was wondering what kind of research or resources you wish existed on the subject of [Insert subject]

I’m thinking of writing something in that area and would love your feed back about what you think would be worth linking to and sharing with your readers/viewers/listeners/.

Another option is to send out a brief survey to a number of sites that you want links from, to find out if there are any common interests in terms of topics. The keyword here is BRIEF though. A few loaded questions on specific topics should help you get what you need, and now you have a group of people who feel invested in the process, which helps increase the likelihood that they will link to the finished product.

Do the work

This is the hardest part. But there’s no way around it. Block out a few hours, grab a hot pocket, and dig in. Before you know it you’ll have created something you’re actually proud of and become a mini expert on a new topic. For bonus points whip out some of your new found knowledge at a party this weekend.

Get the Link and Ask for Promotion

Once you’re done, contact the person who inspired the creation. You might even want to credit them at the end of your piece. Offer gratitude for the help and let them know that the resource was created because of them and that you hope they like it enough to link to it. Unless you really dropped the ball on the “Do the Work” part of the process, you stand a really good shot at getting the link. Don’t forget to throw in a request for a quick tweet or a “share” on a social bookmaking site if they really like it.

Déjà vu

If parts of this sound sort of familiar, it’s because there’s a lot of over lap with the process of finding guest blogging opportunities and writing the posts. The only difference is that you get to keep the asset. Rather than giving someone a terrific article that picks up back links over time for their site, your site reaps the long haul benefits.

If the whole process seems way too time consuming, consider this before going back to your usual template. Cheap, worthless links aside, the value vs the expense of these links is worth it. If you were buying a link, links of this quality could potentially cost hundreds of dollars, a month, in addition to the cost of the time to find the contacts and negotiate the deal.

When there is a site whose link juice you crave like a Klondike bar, go after it. But be smart about it and you may find if you give them what they want, there’s a really good chance; you’ll get what you want.

Jennifer Van Iderstyne

Jennifer Van Iderstyne

Jennifer Van Iderstyne is an SEO Specialist at Internet Marketing Ninjas, formerly WeBuildPages. Internet Marketing Ninjas is a full service internet marketing company based out of sunny Clifton Park, NY. You can follow her on Twitter but if you come to the office you won’t be able to find her, because Ninjas are invisible.
Jennifer Van Iderstyne

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  • Adarsh

    Most of the time, it is difficult for the site owner to reveal what they are looking for. Once I contacted darren rowse regarding ideas that I could have for guest post. He answered in simple sentence

    “If i have an idea, wouldn't I be writing about it???”

    Well, this is true for most cases. You just have to spend a lot of time analyzing what the buzz at the site is at the moment. Then you can write a post when you want a link. This way guest posting would work.

    I once wrote a compelling article and shared it with top bloggers. Some of them did not respond, while some replied. One blogger was honest with me saying

    “Loved your article. But I cannot link to it as it may directly affect my product sales since you are giving away something free and that which I charge for”.

    If course his product has much more power packed information, but then this is free and why did he regard me as a competitor? isn't value to the readers your number one priority?

  • Steve

    You are right. There are websites and even blogs who would love to publish great articles written by others. Establishing relationships with others is so important. It's possible to help each other like you say!

  • Andrew

    Great advice. Thanks for the article.

  • Heinrich

    Thank you for the great post. Most people look for quantity over quality when they build links. This approach does not always deliver positive results. It is far better to build quality links with a higher value and to build relationships in the process. Some webmasters will not assist you and you may need to try a couple of websites before achieving success. It is still worth the while!!

  • Mike McDonnell

    It is all about creating connections on and off line. Often times it the one connection you make that seems not to matter that makes the biggest impact.

  • cheapdunks

    Brand Belt

  • Jo Gatford

    It seems that the internet is getting smaller – people (ok, companies looking for more leads) are suddenly more interested in personal relationships rather than spreading themselves thinly across the whole web. So maybe we'll go full circle, from the internet 'killing' social relationships, to reconnecting the fat cats with the little guy…? I hope it's the way forward, anyway. Thanks for the article – it's nice to hear a view that isn't all about spamming yourself all over the place.

    • Vanetcetera

      I think that's a great thought Jo. I like to think of the internet as bringing people together and actually cultivating relationships. In a way the web really can be an equalizer as you say.

  • Internet Marketing Service

    Love the tip on contacting educators that have websites. It's all about approaching people with “What can I do for you” instead of “What can I get from you”.
    Great job on this post!


    • Vanetcetera

      The real trick in link building is finding something of value to offer. Otherwise it's just link begging.

  • Nigel Burke

    Getting the best links takes a lot of work but that hard work pays off in the end!

  • Bill Sebald

    For a lot of brands, this is one of only a few ways to do link building effectively. Yes, it takes time, but that's something a link builder needs to bake in. The hope is that that one success can outweigh a few failures.

    I also agree, Hot Pockets help ease the pain.

    • Vanetcetera

      Thanks Bill, the best link building is a slow process but it's so worth it. I like the Philly steak and cheese hot pockets myself

  • David consultant

    Well done. This is time-consuming, but you know you get one great link out of it. One? No way – if you've found one quality site interested in linking to it, chances are you can get several more.

    • Vanetcetera

      Great point David, especially if the piece is really good and/or the person you write for is influential 🙂

  • alanbleiweiss


    I can't believe I never thought of this concept. I guess that's why I've always left the serious link building to others whenever possible… because I'm a total dweeb when it comes to this area of our industry 🙁 but then, that's why you're here!

    • Vanetcetera

      Why thank you Alan! We all have our specialties I suppose, the thing you can get really excited about is the thing you'll probably be the best at.

  • Briana Ford

    I think this is a good way to get some legit, hard earned links. Doesn't hurt to ask.

  • Sarah

    Very well-written post! I love an article with humor and personality (as well as useful tips).

  • Adrian

    Amazing post. Up to now I asked friends what they would expect of a specific website but they are not interested in all subjects.
    I think by asking other website owners you actually also do something really usefull for the masses. My only problem is that those things can be really time intensive. 🙂

  • VietChristian

    Thank you for the article. Yes, there is no free lunch but hard works. I remember it was easy to exchange a link ten years ago.

  • VietChristian

    Thank you for the article. Yes, there is no free lunch but hard works. I remember it was easy to exchange a link ten years ago.

  • Orlando Web Design

    I don't know what it is about contacting other companies and asking for a link but it really isn't what I want to be doing. Fear of rejection, maybe. Making it reciprical, ummm don't think my manager would dig that. I have no quams if I am requesting a link exchange for my own sites or blogs but for a company that isn't mine! I am all for building relationships and networking but for a client, thats a different story. Convincing a local business owner that someone elses website is going to be attached to theirs makes me cringe. But there has to be a level of understanding with the sites being complimentary I guess. Thanks for the ideas and I would live to see a post on approching clients with the idea of linking to industry related sites. Thanks