Relationship-Based Link Building Guide

Relationships are the new backlink. Now that black hat SEO has all but died with the Google Penguin update, the SEO community has fallen back in love with old-school link-building tactics. And relationship building may top the list. After all, the best link is — and always has been — a link from a related authority site. And the best way to get a link from a high-caliber site is to build a legitimate, non-transactional relationship with the person that runs it. Here’s how.

Identify Influencers

Every industry has its leaders. And if you can get on their radar screen — and offer them something of value — you should have no problem getting a link from them. But first, you have to know who they are.


FollowerWonk is a nifty program by SEOMoz that quantifies Twitter influence. Important for our purposes, you can find top influencers in your niche in just a few minutes of digging.

Just head over to and sign in using your SEOMoz account.

Once you’re signed in, click on the “Search Twitter Bios” tab.

And enter a keyword related to your niche.

Sort by “Social Authority”.

And add the people you think are a good fit to a spreadsheet.

Repeat until you feel that you have a solid list of some of your industry’s top dogs.


Topsy is a search engine that ranks content based on social shares. And it’s another awesome tool for finding industry leaders. Generally, content that’s shared the most comes from authorities.

Go to Enter a keyword related to your niche.

On the results sidebar, choose “Last 30 Days.”

And see if you find any new people or sites that you didn’t notice using Followerwonk.

Add that person to your spreadsheet.

Twitter Following

Finally, take a look at your influence list and see who they follow.

Head over to one of your influencer’s Twitter profiles. Check if they have a selective number of people that they follow. This will give you your industry’s A-listers.

First Touch

Now that you have your list of contacts it’s time to get your name on their radar screen. Many people make the mistake of “cold emailing” a site owner and asking for a link or guest posting opportunity. A more subtle (and effective) approach is to use what’s known as “First Touch Contact.” All that means is that you initiate the contact without asking for anything right away. Keep in mind these aren’t one-off contacts. You may need to reach out subtly but consistently for weeks before you really get imprinted on their brain.

Blog Commenting

One of the most effective first touch techniques is to leave a thoughtful and insightful comment on their blog. Make this count: you’re posting something on their property so make sure you’re contributing something of value.

Ideally, you’re one of the first to comment. To get dibs on every new post subscribe to your influencer’s RSS feeds. I really like Google Reader, which organizes your favorite blogs and can help you stay in touch with the people you’re looking to build relationships with.

First, head to And sign in with your Google account:

Click the “Subscribe” button.

And type in the name of one of your influencer’s sites.

The reader will automatically show the latest posts from the blogs you’ve subscribed to.

Once you see one you think you could add value to, head over to the blog post:

And leave a comment that the author would appreciate.

When the blogger sees a comment like that, they’ll remember you!


Twitter is another awesome place to engage your influencers. However, many people come on too strong and try to grab attention. Instead of replying to every single Tweet, strategically choose which tweets you reply to.

Tweets that get you the most “brain imprint” are question, poll, or help tweets. These are tweets where the person is actively soliciting a response. In other words, your time to shine.

Here’s a question tweet example:

Respond truthfully.

And you’re on their mind (at least for a second).

Google Plus

Google Plus is a great place to get in touch with industry mover and shakers. And because it’s less crowded than Twitter, your message has a chance to stand out. First, find the person that you want to get in touch with.

Add them to your circles.

And post a comment.

See how I was the only person to comment on the post? That would never happen on Twitter or Facebook.


As long as it’s complementary, authentic and not-pushy, an email is a fantastic way to make a direct connection with top bloggers in your niche. Remember: at this point your goal is simply to get them to know who the heck you are. And there’s no better way to do that than getting into their inbox.

Here are a few different email templates you can use to get noticed:

  • The “I Love You, Man” Email

In this email you’re just sending the blogger a message to let them know you appreciate their work.

  • The “That Post Rocks!” Email

This email highlights a specific (preferably recent) piece of content that you found particularly amazing.

  • The “I Don’t Get It” Email

Here you’re simply reaching out to them with a legit question about something you’ve wondered about.

Follow Up With Value

Once you feel that you’ve spent enough time and energy getting to know them, it’s time to get your link. Obviously, asking them out of the blue for a link isn’t going to work ­— you need to give them a reason to want to link to you (Remember Persuasion 101: “What’s In It For Me?”).

Guest Post

A high quality guest post is one of the most straightforward ways to get a link. In fact, a guest post is a match made in heaven: your blogger target needs high quality content…and you need a link. And because they already know you, offering them a guest post isn’t going to come off as transactional or needy.

To make sure you don’t get shot down, check to see if your target tends to accept guest posts.

First, look for guest post guidelines or write for us section:

If you don’t find one, see if the blogger has accepted guest posts in the past using these search strings:

  • “guest post”
  • “post written by”
  • “guest author”

Some, like in the example below, even have a category for guest posts:

Now it’s just a matter of writing something up and sending it over.

Improving Popular Content

Most leading bloggers are leaders because “good enough” is never enough. They always want to push the value of their content higher and higher. If you can somehow make their content better than it already is, you can sometimes score a link in return for your help.

To show you an example, a blogger created a spreadsheet to keep track of Pat Flynn’s backlinking strategy… and was rewarded with a link:

Think of ways you can do the same.

First, head to the blog and look to see if they have a “most popular posts” area on their sidebar.

Think of ways you can add value with a:

  • Interactive tool (hard to say “no” to that)
  • Expanded guide
  • Video
  • Downloadable checklist
  • Custom design (like an infographic)

Updating Old Content

Most high-profile bloggers are hectically busy. And chores like updating old posts —even popular ones — can sometimes fall through the cracks. If you can find a way to quickly update their existing content, they may just reward you with a link.

There’s no shortcut to this: you need to go through their old posts and see if there’s a way you can add value to it.

First, find out when the blog started by checking out their copyright date:

Then head to Google and use the “site:” search operator.

Sort the results so you only see the site’s oldest pages.

And start the date from December of the year the site started to a year or so later.

Now go through the results and see if there’s anything that needs updating. Look for posts with lots of links or that discuss fast-moving topics (SEO, Pinterest).

Here’s a post that fits the bill: lots of outbound links and about Twitter (a platform that changes all the time).

First, run the page through Screaming Frog SEO Spider (you can download the program from: to look for broken links.

Copy the URL into Screaming Frog.

Hit the “External” tab.

And sort by status code.

Looks like quite a few broken links!

Including Connection Timeouts (usually dead sites)

And 404s (missing pages).

While this may seem like broken link building at first blush, this is actually a completely different strategy. Instead of letting him know about the broken links and suggesting that he adds a link to your site, you’re actually going to find him or her replacement articles for all of the broken links:

Imagine how grateful he will be that you saved him all that time and energy! Remember: don’t ask for a link. If he links to you, great. If not, that’s cool too. Now you’re in his good graces so that when you can offer something of value again, he may link to you.

Streamline Using BuzzStream

BuzzStream is a cool paid service that can make finding and tracking your online relationships a bit easier.

First, go to and sign up for a free trial (credit card required):

Add the Buzzmarker toolbar to your browser:

Add your site’s URL:

There are a thousand and one ways to use this tool, but I’ll show you a few of the most powerful.

Easily Find & Collect Contact Information

You found a site that you’d love to get a link from. Great. Now how do you reach out to that person? The Buzzmarker tool actually finds and collects contact information for you.

Just go to any page:

And hit the Buzzmarker button on your bookmarks toolbar.

The tool will automatically find any contact emails or URL of contact forms on the site:

You can also scrape whois information for sites without clear contact info:

And it adds that contact info to the form:

Manage Relationship Stages

If you’re doing outreach to dozens of blogs, it can be hard (if not impossible) to remember who you’ve contacted. With BuzzStream, you can easily keep track of what you’re hoping to accomplish from each relationship… and how far along you are.

Visit the site you want to get a link from and hit the Buzzmarker button again.

This time, fill in details about the site and your goals.

Choose a relationship stage.

And add a task.

Now scroll to the bottom of the page and hit “save”.

When you log into your BuzzStream dashboard, you’ll notice that the site’s been added to your “websites” list:

If something changes, click on the entry and change the relationship stage.


Prospecting is a shotgun approach that can land you a few otherwise-overlooked gems. This tool scrapes Google results for the keywords that you enter and automatically finds contact information and social media accounts.

Hit the “Websites” button at the top of your BuzzStream account area:

And click the “Prospecting” button:

Enter keywords closely tailored to your niche. Generally, sites that are ranking on the first page for competitive keyword are the most powerful (and most challenging) places to get links from.

Click “Save”.

The tool will take a while to search and bring back the results. To find your results, hit the “Prospecting” button and choose the profile you created earlier.

If you see a site that looks like a good link prospect, hit the “Like” button.

And it’ll be added to your prospect list.

While these sort of general search strings can work for prospecting, it’s usually going to show you your competition (that may be reluctant to link to you).

You can use some advanced search strings within the tool to find more targeted pages and sites, such as:

  • allintitle:resources + keyword
  • write for us + “keyword”
  • keyword + “guest author”
  • keyword + “suggest resource”