A #winning 12 Stage Hustle Process for Link Building
Hustle is so important in social/search that I’ve decided to dedicate an entire category to it. What I want to give you is an actionable process of hustle and how to use it. It’s all very well saying, ‘You gotta have hustle’ and ‘I’ve got hustle’ but if you don’t know how to apply your hustler instincts to any process, you’ll be hustling in all the wrong places, doing loads of hustling and getting nowhere.
Here’s a hustle process that I went through with excellent results. I was working for a fairly large brand, but with just me doing the process, I managed about 1,000 manually built links (which I specified the exact location and HTML of) across about 50 sites over the course of three months. I even got my brand ranking number one in the world for ‘kama sutra’ in the process (200k visits a month). Unbelievable tekkers/good hustle.
#1) I researched my targets
I got into work when no one was there so I wouldn’t get bothered. I started going through a few sites that I’d noticed had some of our videos and images embedded but no links (having good content already certainly makes the process easier). I clicked through every relevant blogroll I could find. Within the two hours before everyone else got in I’d got 50 targets – easy.
#2) I wrote an email template
I went in with the approach that no one could give a monkey nut about placing my links from the off, so I never asked them in my first email. I normally said something along the lines of, “Hey (insert name), I like your site and was wondering if you’d be up for doing some exchanges such as pushing our content from your social profiles when it suits you, we’ll be happy to do the same.” (It was longer, but you get the point). No one can afford to write an entirely bespoke email all the time.
#3) I emailed everyone on my list personally
I often adapted the email template so it was more personal. If I could find out about the contact via their Twitter or LinkedIn bio, then I would put an aside to that in. If they supported Arsenal, I would tell them they’ll miss Cesc Fabregas. Sometimes I didn’t send email at all; I just tapped the people up on Facebook. In all the times I have used this technique, it has never failed to get a response. I once created a thirty strong student writing network out of doing this, but that’s another post.
A process aside – In my research sheet I had the following columns:
The status column was critical. As soon as I messaged everyone I put their status as “Contacted – No Reply” and set the entire rows in orange. When someone replied and said they were up for it, I’d put them as “Partner” in green. No one said they weren’t interested, but if they happened to then I’d put them in “No interest” in Red. Sometimes they’d want a little more detail, so I’d put their status as “Partner – Unsure” in Blue. They always came round in the end. #winning
#4) I responded instantly to everyone who replied
I was at my desk the whole day (as a hustler needs to be), but getting all these replies so easily was so satisfying so I couldn’t help but respond. Of course some people didn’t reply straight away, but they were probably busy. I always asked if they had anything specific they wanted to push in my reply. Note: I still didn’t say that I wanted anything specific from them even though they usually had embeds of our content.
#5) I did something for everyone that replied before they could do anything for me
If the respondent said they had something specific to push, I pushed it. I got it published somewhere. Then I always emailed the relevant respondent to tell them where the link had been published. Almost everyone replied to say thanks.
A publishing aside – I didn’t have full publishing rights, and sometimes I had to deal with journalists who kept ‘forgetting’ to publish the links/videos for these partner sites or whatever. I would run downstairs and see these people personally and watch them do the simple task in two minutes. I didn’t email, I didn’t IM, I didn’t tweet them or Facebook chat them or even call them up. I went to them told them about it and watched them do it. In one case I actually did it for them while they made me tea. If they were at their desks, the job was always completed there and then. No waiting around for two weeks while someone screws about and does nothing that you want. #winning
Thanks to off the dribble.
#6) I messaged all the guys that were still orange
These were the people who still hadn’t replied, yet hadn’t said they weren’t interested. I did this after the weekend (I started on a Friday). There were probably about 20% of sites that hadn’t got back to me positively by this time. In the next two days I’d got this down to 10%.
Bad Customer #1 – On the second round I got some guy saying I would have to pay to get anything from him, to which I took him to the cleaners for infringing image copyright (pointing out the numerous URLs responsible) and insinuated that if he didn’t apply my reasonable future requests, then I’d inform Google and he’d lose his Adsense revenue. His tail was soon firmly between his legs and he said he’d do what we asked. When he said this I linked to his blog from all of our social media profiles. He got some traffic and he liked that. #winning
#7) I did their work.
After getting all these forty “Partners” I researched their sites more thoroughly and saw where our images and video were placed. I noted down all the URLs and then in the next column I wrote a sentence down which included two HTML links back to our site. In some cases there were near 50 pages of content where a partner had been using our stuff without permission.
A copyright aside – Your images are being used all over the web – are you really going to try and have them removed? Forget it. Too few people care about image rights or even the threat of prosecution – DMCA requests from the off are completely ridiculous (unless the site is clearly making money out of your content only) – what’s in it for you? This person could have been using your stuff for years and if you get them to take it down it will do nothing for you. Don’t get them to take it down, get them to put links in it – you’ll go shooting up a search engine. #winning.
#8) I requested they link us back
Finally I said I noticed they had some stuff on their site that I’d like them to attribute (the 8th step in the process!) and sent them a note with the spreadsheet I’d built in the last step. If there was a ton of links for them to do, I said I’d ensure I sent them a load of traffic and links in exchange so the tedious manual work would be worth their while. This is when it really pays to have a strong social media presence, because you can pay people to do the dog work in in a couple of Tweets/Status Updates. A lot of people didn’t do it straight away, so I hustled them. Some people said they did it all, but when I checked, some of the links were missing, so I hustled them. Some times they wouldn’t respond so I sent them a ton of traffic and let them know about it – then they responded. All of them did what I requested – not one sheet got wasted.
Bad Customer #2 – One guy really didn’t like it. He said his boss had told him no because, ‘Every time we link back we lose traffic.’ I explained that most of the articles where I wanted links were old and would get no visits anyway. He didn’t relent. I guaranteed he wouldn’t lose traffic because I’d send him a ton through a link dump. He didn’t relent. I asked again. He didn’t relent. I sent him a long email explaining my situation and that he was infringing copyright by using our material without my permission and that my request was entirely reasonable – I could use lawyers if I wanted to, but I wouldn’t (insinuating threats as a last resort can certainly work), and I requested I speak to his boss on the phone directly. It went on for ages – six weeks of backward and forwards – I would send emails to him when I was in the pub and my companion was at the bar. I just wanted those fricking links and the more time I spent, the more worthwhile it got. Eventually, one day when I went to work, all the links were up. I sent him as much traffic as I possibly could and said, ‘If you ever send that much traffic to me through these links, I’ll send you a video of myself eating a tri-cornered hat.’ I couldn’t care less about how much US traffic he could send me anyway, I was after the UK search visits. #winning.
#9) I created relationships
I would regularly email people seemingly out of the blue and ask them if they wanted anything specific. If they ever said yes I’d get what they wanted posted. By this point I’d hunted most of them down on Facebook and befriended them all. A couple of birthday’s came up – I sent them an email that just said: ‘Happy Birthday (NAME)’ and nothing else. They both replied instantly and asked if I wanted to push anything. On both occassions I thanked them but I didn’t have anything. Check out Keith Ferazzi’s Never Eat Alone – he is a daddy networker and his section on birthday calling should be required reading.
#10) I used relationships for further gain
Now two months were down the line and there were still some orange guys on my sheet – the ones that hadn’t replied. They wouldn’t get away from this. I messaged one of my partners who I saw clearly had a relationship with these orange guys and asked if he could provide me with additional contact details. He did. He also provided me with the direct contact details of two major publishing players in my vertical which I would have never been able to obtain anywhere else. I messaged all of them, changed another round of orange into green and had the two most important sites in the vertical on my sheet, also in green. These guys were so big one link could send us 40,000 visits in a day.
#11) I maintained a distribution network
By now I’d done so much for these all of these guys that they’d almost do anything I asked. I kept it reasonable and every video or press photo pack we created (about one a month) I sent them it and embedded a link to further relevant content in the HTML (it seemed so obvious, but this post came along if you need further assistance). I told them to let me know if they posted it and I’d ensure we’d return the favour. I always did. They always did what I asked.
#12) I recorded everything
All this hustle was great but unless you keep your spreadsheets tight you’re going to lose track of what you’re doing pretty quickly and make mistakes. I made sure all links were recorded in a sheet and status updates/links built the other way were also recorded. When I had this I could report back to my business the value I was creating, and also know which partners were actually doing stuff in return for my rewards. I was pretty happy with most of them.
Thanks to Michelle Barsi on Flickr