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What fishing with my dad taught me about link building

Some of the earliest and fondest memories of my dad and me involve weekend fishing trips down in the Florida Keys. There are a lot of aspects of those excursions that are near and dear to me, which is why – now that I have a son of my own – I look forward to taking young Sebastian on his first fishing trip with dad and grand dad.

But the aspect that stands out most to me has to do with a specific technique that is key to becoming a good fisherman of any kind:

Patience and self-restraint.

If you’ve ever gone fishing (and actually caught something) you know that you can’t try and hook a fish the first time that you feel a nibble. Instead, you have to show some patience and self-restraint to make sure that said fish has fully taken the bait. Otherwise, when you pull up on your rod, you’ll likely lose that fish forever.

Note: For those of you that have moral/ethical issues with fishing, I feel you. I’m conflicted on this front, so I don’t fish often anymore. I will, however, show my son how to fish, because I think that there is a very deep emotional and intellectual value that he will take away from the experience even if he doesn’t become an avid fisherman.

Anyways back to the point of all this.

In a lot of ways, this analogy applies to SEO link building as well as general social media influencer outreach. How?

Because I’m firm believer that you have to show patience and self-restraint when trying to establish rapport with a potential link-building partner or social media influencer.

More specifically, you can’t make your first communication a hard pitch for a link, mention, etc. That type of approach is bound to result in an extremely high failure rate as well as the potentially permanent burning of bridges. Why? Because most webmasters and social influencers get pitched all the time and they don’t appreciate being asked for a favor by someone that they don’t know and have no relationship with. Therefore, that hard initial pitch is that extremely similar to that initial pulling up of the fishing rod in that it will likely result in losing that prospect forever.

So what should you do instead? Here are some ideas that have worked for me and my colleagues in the past:

  • Start with a simple introduction. If you’ve found a potential link-building/social target, start by reaching out with a simple introductory email/call that doesn’t actually ask for anything in particular.
  • If you know that they have interacted with your brand in some way (example: their site shows up in your referring site data) send them a “thank you” email to let them know that you noticed the gesture and appreciate it.
  • Instead of asking for something (a link, a mention, etc.) start by offering to come up with a mutually beneficial relationship (e.g. thinking about ways to help them out instead of just asking for stuff that will help you out)
  • Think ahead. Reach out to potential influencers well ahead of any specific campaign that you know is on the horizon. That way, you actually give yourself enough time to develop some communication and rapport that will facilitate your eventual request for a link, mention, retweet, etc.

Webmasters and social influencers aren’t fish. They’re much smarter. Moreover, unlike fishing, your goal shouldn’t be to trick them into taking the bait. That said, the lesson that my father taught me so many years ago still applies.

Show some patience and self-restraint. The long-term social and SEO ROI is well worth it.


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  • http://twitter.com/kkwatson52445 Kristen Watson

    Thanks for this reminder that good link building requires patience. I guess questionable tactics like link farming are for people who also prefer to shoot fish in a barrel…

    • Anonymous

      I like what you did with the analogy there, Kristen. Thanks for chiming in!

  • http://www.organicseoconsultant.com/ Miguel Salcido

    Great analogy Hugo. And how PC of you to throw in that fishing disclaimer! LOL It is obvious that you’ve been working in the big enterprise corporate world for a long time now. You’ve mastered the art of not offending anyone. 🙂

    This seems like an obvious item, but most link builders are either lazy or under and unreasonable amount of pressure from clients to speed things up. The thing that also kills this concept is that the hurried people may not get the BEST links but they end up getting enough with their spammier styles of outreach that its still super effective, alot of the time. And that is based on my own observations having seen boutique teams do outreach right and having seen larger, scaled, teams do it en masse.

    • Anonymous

      Funny you mention that, Miguel. I really am conflicted about the ethical foundation behind fishing and hunting for sport. If I was more sure about my position, I wouldn’t of even bothered to mention it.

      Laziness and pressure/rush is definitely a culprit, which is why it’s important to create a long-term strategic plan for SEO as opposed to just working off a reactionary day-to-day methodology.

      Thanks for chiming in! I’ll work on putting in something that’s 100% offensive next time around, so that you can see that I’m not all that PC ; )

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