Free Links: The Three Principles

by Melanie Nathan May 26th, 2009 

Thanks largely to Google; links have become the currency of the Internet. Just like money, links are earned, collected and traded and the more you acquire, the more powerful your site will be. Especially where it pertains to search engine rankings.

Invisible to Google

Without links, your site doesn’t have a chance at being visible in Google when a user queries a term related to your business or service. This is because search engines rely on other sites to tell them how good your site is.

In the beginning, getting other sites to link to yours was easy; you just linked to them and they linked back. Unfortunately, reciprocal links aren’t as effective as they once were. Nowadays it’s all about one-way links.

How do you get a link without giving a link in return though? As a professional link builder, this is the question I get asked the most. The answer is, unless you’re publishing brilliant content that gets linked to naturally, you’ll have to creatively bring your site to people’s attention and learn to sniff out loopholes.

There are a number of methods I use in order to do this but the majority of them revolve around the following 3 basic principles.

Sometimes its as simple as asking:

ASK custom backgroundSometimes you’re just going to have to straight up ask for a link from a website. This can be done via email, contact form or if you know the site owner has a, for example, twitter account, you can connect with them that way.

Here are some tips, when asking via email, to ensure your email at least gets read:

- Do use a domain based email address (
- Do be polite and professional but try not to sound like a robot (i.e. show your personality).
- Do focus on how your services can help fill their visitors needs.
- Don’t use “link request”(or anything like that) in the email subject!!

Getting a site to use certain anchor text can also be challenging. My technique for getting the text I want is to give them ONLY that to go on in my email. For example, consider the following as part of two separate link request emails:

1. I thought perhaps you might consider linking to my antique car parts site (

2. I thought you might consider linking to our site (, which is devoted to the restoration and sales of unique car parts and accessories.

#1 is short, to the point and only gives them one thing to go on for both the url and the description. #2 is wordy and IMO gives too much for them to go on. In my experience, if you use #2 in your email, you’ll get a straight url link or domain name link with that sentence as the description. Something like this: - is devoted to the restoration and sales of unique car parts and accessories.

Whereas if you use #1, your more likely to get “antique car parts” as your link text or at the very least they’ll add that term directly after the link, which really helps.

What I’m saying is, if you give them only the info you want included in the link, you’re more likely to get the text you want. Include too much info and they’ll likely make up their owns minds.

Bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want but at the very least, drop some strong hints.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way:

StubbornSometimes, if you can’t get a site to link to you by choice, there are still ways to get a link from them. If you have to go this route, make a list of link prospects and then explore all the sections of their websites looking for any and all out-of the-box opportunities.

The site might accept user submitted content in the form of an article or review (if they don’t, submit one anyways!). They could have a testimonials page where they publish positive emails they receive.

They may have a forum where you can post a topic or a blog where you can post a comment (don’t listen to those who say a blog comment link is useless. Especially where a recent comment gets you listed on the homepage of a site).

Many sites also use widgets that pull information from other sources for display on their homepage hence getting yourself listed in those “other sources” could result in a lot of nice backlinks.

The point is, not all link opportunities are black and white and there are many viable ways of getting listed on any given site… you just have to look for them and, in some cases, create the opportunities yourself.

Good Deeds & Kindness

No small deed goes unrewarded:

Something as simple as sending a gift or a sample of your product to a bunch of bloggers within your industry can actually result in excellent return. The recent chocolate covered grasshoppers stunt is a neat example of this. As Brent mentions, the fact that they only sent them to 5000 people, also appeals to everyone’s vanity and is more likely to get them mentioned and written about. Brilliant!

Even something as simple as helping another merchant by taking the time to find and record annoying errors on their site can sometimes result in a reward.

Whatever your talent is, use it for other people’s gain. This tactic works because a) you’ve genuinely helped them and b) they now want to repay you somehow.

I like this technique the most as it inspires me to do nice things without being asked and to be a go-giver when it comes to helping out. It doesn’t always result in a backlink but sometimes the rewards are even better than that.


So how do you get a link without giving a link in return?

Sometimes you just have to ask – Link request emails are not dead and you really can get the anchor text you desire. Don’t be afraid to ask for a link just make sure you follow some basic guidelines or your email won’t even be read.

Where there’s a will there’s a way – If you ask and they say no, don’t give up. Look for other opportunities or create them yourself if necessary. By thinking outside the box you’ll discover opportunities where other people miss them.

No small deed goes unrewarded – Being a go-giver can bring many rewards. Try giving something of value first, whether it’s a gift or even help with doing something. The more you go out of your way, the better your chances for a reward.

Of course if this is all too much work, you could just focus on pumping out amazing content if that’s easier 😉

Melanie Nathan

Melanie Nathan is a veteran SEO consultant and founder of CanadianSEO. She has a particular passion for authority link building and the use of authoritative content to attract links.

SEO Canada

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17 Responses to “Free Links: The Three Principles”

  1. Backlinks are like business contacts for us online business owners. They bring us traffic, targeted traffic, and will increase SE ranking. However, it is extremely important, that the sites linking to our site are so called quality sites.
    These are appreciated by the search engines and by our readers.

    You had a great post!

  2. I think the one where you say you just have to ask is spot on. Sometimes you get turned down and other times you will not. You definitely do not want to have to give a link so you can get one in return. Otherwise, you'll give other people tons of links.

  3. Cool Gifts says:

    Great tips. I am frequently trying to find ways to build links. It often times seems impossible. You're right though, if there is a will, there is a way.

  4. Jeremy says:

    I personally stopped just asking sites for a link. Most of the time the success rate was just far too low. You really need a useful site for this to work well.

    Another thing to know when building links is that you should try to vary things as much as possible. The more natural those links look to the search engines, the greater the chance that they will help rankings more. If you go get 1000 links that all use the exact same text it does not look natural to search engines. As a result they may give less weight to those links. I like to vary the anchor text, as well as the strategy used to gain those links. Search engines may decide that they want to suddenly make certain types of links count for less. So diversification prevents any drops in rankings due to algorithm changes.

    Just focus on regularly getting more links on a somewhat consistent basis. The more trusted the site, the more weight that link may have.

  5. Zack says:

    I'm going to try your #1 example and try my luck. I'm having difficulty getting links for our corporate site that has little content other than through press releases, directories, article sites and social bookmarking. Occasionally I'll run across some good do-follow blogs or forums, but I've had little success asking for links.

    Keep writing posts like this, I'm always up for learning new link building tactics.

  6. An excellent post with excellent pointers on how to generate links. I would say that it's impossible to create first class content ALL THE TIME. I think it's really important to be able to generate links from other sources

  7. The grasshopper stunt reminds me of some link pitches I received when I was running a big apartment hunting site. The ones that got my attention never came via email. Eventually, that was handled by customer service, and link requests that they got were ignored.

    But if someone took the time to research the site and know who I was, then contacted me via Linkedin or guessed my email, I'd talk to them. A key part of link building is a game– you have to forge a new path to the cheese.

    Also, I'd strongly recommend making 2 attempts to reach your prospects before giving up. Everyone is busy and just because they don't respond doesn't mean they aren't interested.

  8. Hussainiat says:

    Yeah i think if some one wants page rank he should also get back link .. back links are the real way to get page rank and boost your traffic and earnings … and do follow blogs are the real source of getting traffic

  9. venkat says:

    backlinks to quality sites will very valuable in terms of page rank and bringing traffic.

  10. Excellent post, most of my life is compiled of link building daily and I agree with this advice whole heartedly.

  11. Some pretty god link building tips there, agree with most of what you say.

  12. You have written a great guide for link building Melanie still I would like to highlight few things I have noticed while building back links to my website:

    1. If you have not still ranked by Google or your site has PR-0, people will not take your site seriously and your link exchange efforts will not give most of it.

    2.If you are looking for links through forum posing and blog commenting the biggest hurdle you will find is “nofolllow” in links. So it is advisable to make sure the forum or blog do not use this tag in outbound links.

  13. Chris says:

    I agree with Joel, a daily itinerary of link building tasks is an excellent way to go about building those backlinks. I found when I first started working from home that it was all too easy to get distracted everyday and my routines went to pieces. I could get to the end of a day and realize I'd achieved nothing. Now, I have a set daily schedule to write articles/posts, comment on blogs, research new ideas, read emails etc… Setting aside that 1-2 hours a day to link build really helped me.

  14. I'm not sure if it's a good idea to tell people to ask site owners for linking to their sites. A lot of people spam contact me for that, and I hate it.

    I promote what I like with my own will.

  15. Will says:

    I'm not into asking other sites for links. In the past when I've asked for links it's been very tough. I don't think people want to be bothered with it anymore unless you're really helping their business.

  16. Great article. I checked out that chocolate covered grasshoppers thing. Definitely a fantastic idea. The downside though is that sometimes it's tough to convince a client (or yourself) that something like this will work. I mean, 5,000 people receiving chocolate covered grasshoppers is a lot of money down the tubes if nobody talks about it. Any tips on selling ideas like these to clients?

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