About 8 years ago, I was offered a job in door to door sales. I thought it would probably be the scariest, hardest job I could ever do. So I took it. I figured if I could spend a summer selling coupon cards to strangers on their doorsteps then I could probably do anything.
I was right. I learned that selling anything door to door pretty much sucks. But I also learned that being positive and resilient is an asset in any line of work. Hell, my door to door sales pitch even helped me get hired to my first SEO job. Link builders can pull a lot out of a sales person’s bag of tricks; here are just a few of the ones that have proven true in my experience.
Have a Great Opening, and a Killer Pitch
As a door to door sales person, or a Jehovah’s Witness, you can literally see when you’re about to have a door slammed in your face and you’ve lost a sale. We don’t get that advantage through a computer screen, which is why it’s all the more important to have a great opening and a killer pitch. The best sales pitches are always the ones that don’t sound at all like sales pitches. They don’t sound practiced, or canned or pushy. They sound like conversation, they sound like logic.
Going into a link request is no different. Whether you believe in establishing a relationship with someone before asking for a link, or trying to consummate the relationship from the initial email, your best case scenario is a great opening line and a game plan. In an email your opening is a Subject line. Making the Subject line unique and compelling is as important to link building as a descriptive title tag is to SEO. From there creating an email that will get read and responded to is the ultimate goal. It needs to be honest, human and it should probably employ a few other sales techniques.
One trick we used in sales was to always tell every prospect that you “only have a moment to talk”, this creates urgency and, lets them know you don’t plant to annoy them all afternoon. Your email should be quick as well, don’t write a novel’s worth of information about your site, your asset or your personal life just keep it short and to the point.
Include only the essential information, and of course a human connection which can be created through simple observation.
Take Cues From Your Environment
When I was standing on a doorstep, I always used the few interminable seconds waiting for someone to come greet me to assess the environment for an “in”. Sometimes it was a dog house, a child’s toys, a well groomed flower bed, a Yankees flag. There was always some piece of information that could help me to establish a rapport. I also discovered the more honest the association was, the better. People tend to know when someone is faking it, and insincerity can be a deal breaker.
Link builders can do this with even greater ease than a door to door sales person. We didn’t have the luxury of hanging out on the porch for half an hour looking for common ground; we had a minute, tops. When link building, sometimes it can be as simple as using someone’s name, or as elaborate is discovering that you and your link target both share a passion for Hemmingway. Whenever possible take the extra step to build a connection. Remember no amount of kinship makes up for touting a piece of crap. You should have a link worthy asset and a legitimate reason that you think your link would fit on this site. Hopefully your reason is better than “I’m supposed to send out as many emails as possible for my minimum wage”. Use what you learn about someone on their site to create your email and be brief, be personable and offer a reasonable explanation for why their site would make a good home for your link.
When you’re selling an item door to door, they tell you the first thing to do is get the item in the target’s hands. It’s called creating ownership. The idea was that holding something increases the sense of possession, and once someone believes something belongs to them, they were supposedly more inclined to purchase it. I got my products handed back to me enough to know that’s not always the case.
However, the trick is still valid and useful. In link building we can’t physically put something in someone’s hands, so instead we must get inside people’s heads. People like linking to places that mention their site, it enhances their own credibility. It’s not about you, it’s about them and how they benefit. That’s why award badges, particularly awards given based on actual merit rather than arbitrary or transparent link baiting schemes, can be so successful.
Crossing the threshold from virtual life into real life by creating a tangible connection to a site is another method of creating ownership. Debra Mastaler’s Passive Links article gives a great example of that. She created ownership on two levels, ownership of content, and ownership of a new shirt.
Also, allowing people to break news can help them feel ownership of something new. People enjoy being the one to introduce something new in their networks, even if they did not create it themselves. Being the first to share a great new viral video is a coveted spot among any circle of friends. Helping someone to be that guy can only help you.
Re-Cover the Same Territory
When you are going through any given neighborhood at noon on a Wednesday most people answering their doors are elderly, unemployed, or homemakers. The majority people are at work. Which is why as a rule, you always make a second pass at any given territory, once during the day and once again in the evening. In link building, the end goal for re-covering territory is the same, to pick up anything you missed on the first pass.
That that doesn’t mean harass someone who turned you down, or didn’t answer you. But sometimes, if you find a really promising website, it may be worth following up an initial attempt to make contact. Perhaps you were ignored, and a little extra nudge could get you noticed. But don’t stand there on someone’s porch ringing their doorbell for 15 minutes just because you can see them watching Wheel of Fortune through the window, accept that he’s purposefully NOT answering the door and get on with your life.
For the same reasons you might revisit the same house in the field, it’s worth re-visiting specific searches. Things may have changed. Real-time search, news, blogs and the constant influx of new information create new relevant link opportunities every day. Something this week may be relevant to something you did 6 months ago. Re-covering the old territory in the future can also reveal something that wasn’t there the first time around
It’s also smart to run the same searches in different verticals, news, images, scholarly documents, etc. With so many different methods of distributing information, exploring only the one leaves several unexplored.
It can be easy for a link builder to become fixated moving forward. Descending, harvesting, feeding and moving on like the Aliens from Independence Day. But a good site or a good contact should never be wasted simply because it doesn’t fit the goal of the moment. Keeping a log of contacts which fall under the heading of “not now, but maybe someday” ensures you always have a well of un-tapped resources.
The last, and most important take away from the world of door to door sales is universal and it applies not just to link building, but life. Be. Brave. When in doubt, go for it. Never be afraid to ask for a link, trust your instincts and believe in the value of what you are offering. In the field, you could easily spend 8 hours getting kicked off of porches and at the end of the day you’ve spent more on gas and lunch than you took home in cash. In the filed there was something they called “negging out”. It was an expression we used when someone lost their positive attitude. You could see it in their face, and their posture and you knew, that too many “no’s” had taken its toll. Whether you’re link building, or just trying to survive the struggles of day to day life on planet earth, with faith, courage and resilience anything is possible. Trust in the numbers game, if you keep trying, sooner or later in a sea of no’s there will be a yes. In the mean time wear the blinders of a thoroughbred and be fearless.