Real link building requires sales

Want to build links? Jon Ball advises you to put your sales hat onThere are a lot of buzzwords right now in SEO such as ‘link earning’, ‘inbound marketing’, and ‘relationship building’. But the truth is, successful link building requires sales.

The simple fact is that if you’re going to spend time creating quality and linkable content, you need to spend an equal amount of time outreaching that content – which is really just a form of sales. Basically, you’re selling the concept of the content and pushing for a specific result – further sharing.

There’s an internal movement in the SEO industry to rebrand from a technical field to a marketing sub-department. I support this in part—it’s a natural fit, and increases the power of SEO—but I believe the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. Specifically, I’m talking about link building.

With the release of Penguin (and more recently, Penguin 2.0), Google has changed the face of link building. No more can SEOs go out and build 100 quick links and expect to see positive results. Now, links need to be authoritative, editorial, and more than anything relevant.

Many SEOs struggle with this new link building, and are afraid to aggressively pursue links.

And that fear is a good thing. We shouldn’t be building links like they were built in the past. We need to keep in mind Google’s guidelines, because if recent years have taught us anything, it’s that eventually punishment will come.

But that doesn’t mean link building should be left behind.

Baldy said, link earning is too passive. Building content and authority and hoping for links is a result of trying not to anger the Google gods, and it’s erring too far to the left. ‘Link earning’ leaves too much to chance, too much to hope. Creating great content deserves promotion, in the form of sales as well as marketing.

So, if you’re really trying to get some serious link building done, put on your sales hat.

Marketing vs. Sales

Inbound marketing can earn links. Unfortunately, it’s a spray and pray approach. Instead of targeting your efforts, you create great content and market it to a large audience hoping something sticks to the wall.

Link building is sales. You’re vetting a specific target audience, approaching them on a one-on-one basis, and working to acquire a link. You’re actively working for each specific link.

Although there are no guarantees, link building as a strategy will produce far more results for 99% of sites over inbound marketing.

That other 1%? They’re the sites that have established authority, credibility, popularity, and have a large amount of eyeballs on everything they do. Something that doesn’t happen overnight. Or even a year. Just ask Rand Fishkin how long it took to grow SEOmoz (now Moz) into an inbound titan.

A quote from his AMA on earlier this year:

“We had to flee an office space we were renting at one point, because we couldn’t afford to pay the next month’s rent. Matt (Inman, who was the first real programmer we hired) and I traded off who was taking paychecks home a few times (that sucked). Gillian didn’t take a paycheck from ~2001 to ~2006.”

You can’t help but to admire Fishkin’s bootstrapped success. But will his business model work for everyone? I’m not so sure.

Real Link Building is Sales

The very essence of link building is sales – we’re basically selling our website, directly or indirectly, to other webmasters. We’re convincing them that the site is worth sharing with their audience, and that their audience will appreciate the link.

Indirect sales can work if you’ve already built trust, brand, content, and popularity. Which means, of course, that the majority of sites on the web have to rely on direct sales if they really want to build links.

A direct sale within link building looks something like this:

  1. Consistent creation of quality content
  2. Marketing to the public
  3. Pursuing leads
  4. One on one outreach to a specific site/webmaster (warm lead)
  5. Selling both the site and content (product)
  6. *Negotiating the link (sale)
  7. Closing the sale (link acquired)
  8. Nurturing the relationship

*Please note, I absolutely don’t mean paying for a link. Negotiating a link can take a variety of forms – including the placement, anchor text, specific page, content exchange, interview, etc., etc.

That’s what real link building looks like. As much as it would be nice if you could simply stop at step number 2 – marketing your content to the public – and see the links roll in, sadly that’s very very rarely the case.

Instead, let’s take a look at a real example of link building.

Link Building in the Real World

First, let’s take a look at a common example, a guest post.

For the sake of contrariness, let’s say you’re starting from scratch, with no contacts and a relatively fresh website.

Of course, you’ve spent time making a great website that’s useful, user friendly, and an overall betterment to the web (right?). Now you want to share it with the world, drive traffic and build great links. In order to do so, you’ve decided to contribute across your industry and build links in the form of guest posting.

Here are the steps you’d take:

1)  Compile a list of target sites you’d like to contribute to and receive a link from

  • Make sure they’re relevant to your industry
  • Make sure they have the authority and traffic to justify time investment
  • Make sure they’re open to communication and contribution


2)  Begin the outreach process. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Social media engagement
  • Commenting on their blog or community websites they’re also contributing to
  • Directly emailing (don’t forget to follow up if at first you don’t receive a reply)
  • Web form (try and avoid this – web forms receive terrible response rates)


3)  Build trust

It’s not enough to simply outreach – you need to establish trust. Often this takes the form of honest communication and thoughtful interaction. Ask an intelligent question, praise their website, find common ground.

4)  Negotiate a link

Once you’ve introduced yourself and (hopefully) had some positive interaction, it’s time to negotiate the link. Ask appropriately, based upon your previous interactions. In the case of guest posting, mention that you have an idea for an article and if they’d be interested in seeing it and sharing with their audience.

While discussing article details such as content, length, angle, etc., don’t forget to mention that you’d like a link back to your site in the post. Communicating clearly and up front prevents any ill feelings down the line and gives you the power to negotiate up front. Will they give you a link in content? A branded link in the bio?

5)  Deliver and Close

Once you’ve negotiated make sure you deliver in a timely manner. Closing the sale and securing the link is more than just simply emailing over the article. Ask for feedback. When will it be posted? Promote it through your social media channels. Thank them for their time and the opportunity.

6)  Follow up

Finally, don’t get a link and disappear. Nurture the relationship; drop them an email from time to time commenting on the industry, their site, your shared interests, etc. Often the next link opportunity comes through the contacts you’ve already made.

Characteristics of a Successful Sales/Link builder

I’ve employed a few successful link builders in my time, and I’ve found that it truly helps to share a core set of personality characteristics with salesman (salespeople?), which help them thrive in the link building world.

A few characteristics I always look for when the time comes to hire, outside of technical knowledge:

  • Natural charisma
  • Optimism
  • High energy level
  • Naturally friendly/open personality
  • Social intelligence
  • Problem solving
  • Persuasiveness
  • Determination
  • Competitiveness

All these traits definitely have value in the link building world. They’ll help empower link builders to pursue their job successfully, and make them resilient to a harsh reality faced by both sales and link builders – rejection.

Link building is a hard pursuit, and can be a rather thankless job. Having the built in drive to succeed and secure links is very similar to the desire to close a sale.


At the end of the day, link building requires sales – or at least a close approximation to it. Simply marketing your content isn’t enough. Real link building requires dedicated members going out, finding targets, and outreaching in a personal one-on-one environment.

The process is already naturally parallel to a sales position, so don’t forget to look for key sales characteristics when finding professional link builders.

What do you think? Is there anything I missed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


About the Author ~ Jon Ball

Jon Ball is VP of Business Development for Page One Power. Jon specializes in the implementation of highly effective link building strategies for clients across the globe. In his previous life he was a professional portrait photographer, and still passionately pursues photography. Page One Power is a link building firm that focuses on relevancy and transparency.

You can connect with Jon on Twitter at @pageonepower.

photo thanks to Denise Krebs (mrsdkrebs)

Save 15% on the SEO Copywriting Certification training – just use coupon code SIZZLE. The coupon code is valid through Sunday, July 7th. Happy 4th of July!



9 replies
  1. Andy Nattan says:

    Superb article, and I agree 100%.

    You’re right at the move to content marketing being motivated primarily by fear – I’ve seen lots of threatening emails from Google on various blogs, and they don’t tell you which links are a problem.

    So we’ve ended up with a headlong flight away from traditional linkbuilding towards content marketing.

    Which I’m not complaining about – I write content for a living, so I’m happy as larry. But it is a bit daft to completely abandon outreach-based linking.

    And your guide is very useful. I’ll be passing it around the office later.


  2. Thomas says:

    Hi Jon, you’re right there was a seismic shift in the field of link building after the Penguin update of april 2012. The emphasis has shifted more towards sales.

    I believe Penguin was a change for the better, now the emphasis is more on publicizing content rather than how many links can be secured for $XXX.

  3. Jon Ball says:

    Andy- I’m glad you found it useful and I’m glad you enjoy producing content. Content marketing works very well for some people working toward certain purposes. We all love great content. Best of luck with your future endeavors and thanks for reading.

    Thomas- I couldn’t agree with you more. I think Penguin has been helpful as well because there’s less spam now. Not as many people are buying links on a large scale. Thanks for reading.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Great article. You nailed it on the head. I’ve adopted the approach to link building you describe in your article before Penguin/Panda. It’s very time consuming and requires more effort, but is the way it should be. Great comparion to sales…because that is exactly what it is. The personality traits are spot on as well — I would say “Determination”, “Persuasion” and “Problem Solving” are probably the most important. And although similar, I would even add “Perseverance”. Those qualities seperate the noobs from the pros when it comes to link building.

    Again, awesome article.

  5. Marc A. Donald says:

    Nice Article! I want to add a small tip concerning link building: Avoid guest posts. Have a conversation with webmasters and know what kind of articles that’s related to your business that they want to put on their website.

    This is much better than sending a random guest post that has no value and will get the webmaster to delete your email request instantly.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Link building is strategic marketing with the primary goal of links. Link building is about going out and manually promoting your site to others with worthwhile platforms, intelligently. It’s hard work that demands social prowess; an odd mixture of sales and marketing. […]

  2. […] Link building is strategic marketing with the primary goal of links. Link building is about going out and manually promoting your site to others with worthwhile platforms, intelligently. It’s hard work that demands social prowess; an odd mixture of sales and marketing. […]

  3. […] Link building is strategic marketing with the primary goal of links. Link building is about going out and manually promoting your site to others with worthwhile platforms, intelligently. It’s hard work that demands social prowess; an odd mixture of sales and marketing. […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.