A Link Building Tactic (On The Back Of Brand Equity)

link brand build

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Over the last few years, SEOs have been talking about relationship building as a concept. We’re often reminded how link building is becoming digital PR. And with that, I’ve been pitched more and more by big brands looking for a collaboration of sorts, using a different spin. Note: This is not new by any stretch, but I’m writing about it because it seems to be a current trend.

The pitch goes like this (from an actual email in my inbox):

Hi there,

[Name removed] here from the marketing team at [Brand].

I really agree that content needs to have meaning to make an impact! It’s no secret that social media is a major way customers interact with brands; it can present great opportunities for business growth — if you know what you’re doing. [The rest of the slightly personalized email removed for privacy.]

So how do you leverage social media to interact with your customers? What do you do with your profiles to connect with your fans, and how do you respond to critics?

Let me know if you’d be open to sharing your thoughts, and I’d be happy to discuss more details with you!

Some interesting things here.  First, the email took some steps to personalize, using mail merge or maybe something like the powerful Pitchbox.  They didn’t have my name, so I got “Hi there”.  But, they did customize the email to speak to one of my posts, All Your Content Doesn’t Matter Without Meaning. As the writer of that piece, I immediately picked on the reference within the first line of this email. Finally, they closed the email asking questions. This email is intended to be their first touch – meaning, they wanted me to write back to continue the funnel. And what better way to do that than ask a question? To “bait me” if you will, and pander to my massive ego. These questions, however, weren’t well connected to the theme of my piece. That threw me a bit, but as I soon found out, they were leading me down a path.

I’ve gotten a few of these emails from big brands for the Greenlane blog. I’ve also seen more and more of these coming to my colleagues and clients. It’s awfully similar to what all smart SEOs do (my agency included), but with a few specific twists.

If the hook hits your fishy cheek just right, you might respond with the hopes of working with a big brand on a piece of content. Co-branding possibly?

I bit the hook:

Hi [Marketer]. Thanks for the email. Happy to share thoughts – are you thinking of a collaboration?

I can see it now. A great co-branded piece with my experience appearing next to this mighty brand name! This is a big-time, Billy boy!!! You’ve made it. You’ve gotten on the radar of a major brand. You’re a contender!

Then the response came in (sharing as a graphic – I’ll explain why moment):


A major let-down for me, but maybe a huge win for others. I was hoping for a different kind of response – this has some problems for me.

First off, one sure-fire way to let your recipient know that this is a boilerplate email is to use different fonts and point sizes.  Take a look at the image above – the first, second, and remaining copy are all different. Pro-tip: Don’t do that! Want to show a recipient that they’re only a number? Show them a bad copy/paste job. My rule of thumb is to check your emails in good-old clunky Outlook.

Second, while I would have otherwise been jazzed about the prospect of a cool collaboration with a known brand, it quickly becomes apparent this isn’t really about collaboration at all. Instead, I’m being asked to write something on my site, with the hopes I’ll link to a resource on their site. I’m left feeling a bit heartbroken over what could have been.

However, others may not feel the same. Some might jump at this opportunity. Some may sit down, get inspired by the linkable asset, and write the best piece of their career. For some, exposure through a high volume social channel might be very valuable. While this particular email failed to make a relationship with me, it could still be creating some level of scalable link building and mindshare through others.

Just To Be Clear…

I’m in no way trying to “out” a tactic. While this isn’t new to me, I’m happy to share it for all. It’s really just another spin on what SEOs and link builders have been teaching for years. I’m also not trying to knock the tactic. Granted, this campaign could have been done a little better in my opinion, but if your client (or employer) is a larger brand, this tactic certainly has some weight.

I do like the idea behind the campaign. I do like the attempt at personalization and the idea of nurturing the lead. This might be one of the only ways to scale link building in our more “digital PR” era, as long as it’s done with a little more finesse.

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Bill Sebald

Bill Sebald

Managing Partner

I've been doing SEO since 1996. Blogger, speaker, and occasionally teaching at Drexel and Philadelphia University. I started Greenlane in 2005 to help clients leverage search marketing to hit business goals. I love this stuff. Visit my profile page.

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