I get a lot of requests from people to link to their sites. Back in the day, we all used to have massive link pages where we just listed all the cool sites we knew about. On a fansite, I actually still have one where I list all the related sites, organized by how they’re related, separated by language, etc etc. Here, though, you see a list on the right of links, broken down into “Websites” and “WordPress” and that’s pretty much it.
The reason is that I subscribe to the belief of contextual links. If a link, by itself, has no context, my reader cannot determine the inherent value of the link. When I write a blog post, I try to put links that make sense inside my post. On my fansite, where I have a moderately sized wiki, I link from the related page to the related site.
Still, when people ask me to link to their site (or to friend them on Twitter/Facebook whatever) my knee-jerk reaction is “Why?” and it should be yours too! You should always ask that when someone wants to network. What’s in it for me? What good will this bring me? Do you write good content? If you’re asking someone to link to you, you had better be bringing something good to the table, other wise you’re an unsolicited request, and no one likes those.
Perhaps this flies in the face of my SEO advice (which is to network), but networking doesn’t mean you should cold-call everyone with a related site and ask for attention. Sometimes networking is linking to people, but it’s also tweeting and working the community. If you have a site about dog biscuits, hang out on the Milk Bone forum and talk to people. If someone has a question about the best biscuits for an old dog missing teeth, and you know you wrote a great post to it, you link to it. “Hi, Bob. My dog is 16 and he’s got no teeth on the right side, I know your pain! I spent a lot of time researching this problem, and hopefully this will help you. Link.”
Look at that! You were nice, polite, and helpful! It’s even better if you stick around and talk to Bob some more, if he needs it. You’re building your reputation in a productive and constructive way.(Yes, it’s a lot of work. If you haven’t caught on to that yet, I also have a bridge for sale …) The most important part is that you told Bob why your link was going to help him. You put up some cred and you didn’t make it too long.
When you think about it, the best way to get people to link to you is to get them interested in your site. The best way to get them interested in your site is to make content of value. Part of having a site with percieved value is having a site that attracts myriad walks of life. It’s a vicious circle. You have to get that foot in the door for people to notice you, and that’s what makes you popular.
How do you get the foot in the door if you don’t want to spend all your time on related sites?
Look. If this was a brick and mortar company, you’d be advertising, wouldn’t you? You’d know you had to network your vegan dog biscuits to all the hippies and dog lovers out there, and you wouldn’t think twice about it. You’d hire that idiot kid to stand on the corner in a gorilla outfit handing out coupons, or spin a sign while dressed as a sandwich. You would spend money and time to introduce the world to your brand.
The Internet is the exact same way. So when you cold-email someone and say ‘Hi, I really like your stuff! Will you link to me site?’ you need to bring your A Game. You need to sell your work, explain to me why you’re worth space on my site, and how come I should read your blog. Just saying ‘I, too, am a blog about vegan dog food!’ doesn’t cut it for the bigger sites. You can’t expect people to spend all their time checking out people they should link to, especially if you’re not already linking to them. Think of it like coming up with a good cover letter for your resume. You want people to read that page and go “Yeah, this cat is cool!”
Your links make or break you, but more important than who links to you is who, and how, you link to others. If you link to every dog site in the world, links from you are worthless. If you’re discerning and link only to the ones that mean the most to you, or are the most like your own site, then you’ve shown the ability to tell the difference between any old site and one of value. You’ve made yourself worth something.
And when you’re there, you won’t need ask people to link to you any more. That’s when you’ve made it.
Just don’t think it’ll happen all in one day.