Why No One is Linking to You

Sometimes link builders can work magic — not make-an-elephant-disappear magic, but pull-a-link-out-of-thin-air-for-a-site-that-doesn’t-deserve-it magic. Getting links is, in some ways, a kind of secret art. Unfortunately, by the time many businesses turn to link builders they need way more than magic, they need a miracle.

But hey, miracles can happen right? Sure! With creativity, planning, thought, time…oh wait, no, that’s not a miracle, that’s called doing the work.

The fact is, there are a ton of reasons people will link out to another site, but there are few common reasons they won’t.

No Great Content

This is both the most obvious and the most likely reason a site is finding links hard to come by. It’s great to have the classics; a company history, product pages, and promotional copy. But that’s not really content, at least not content as it relates to link building.

Every commercial site is selling something, they all have products and privacy polices and shipping guarantees. Those elements are to websites what credits are to a movie. Every film has them, but no one goes to a theater to watch the credits. Just like no one wants to link to your sales pitch.

You need linkable content — content that is useful, interesting, or even exciting to attract links. It also means being part of your community and contributing something unique to your niche.

I get how that can feel daunting when it seems like everything you want to say has already been said. So what? Do you know how many different incarnations of the Romeo and Juliet plot this world has seen? Heck, that story wasn’t even original when Shakespeare wrote it.

The point is, yeah innovation is hard, but it’s OK to say something that isn’t new, if you’re saying it in your own voice. Your perspective is different than anyone before you or anyone who will come after. And when all else fails, learn how to collect the work of others and offer it in an organized and accessible way, because that makes for great content too.

No One Knows You Exist

If you got through “No Great Content” thinking “That doesn’t apply to me, I love what I do and I’ve created some great stuff,” then consider this: does anyone know who you are? That’s the biggest problem sites that have great content run into.

Getting noticed online is like trying to be spotted in a giant crowd. Without a megaphone, a flare gun, or a small explosion it can be a challenge to get people’s attention. Even when you do, it can be hard to keep it because most attention spans are so tragically truncated.

Some of the most basic reasons for a business to use social media are simply connection and exposure. Web sites can and should take advantage of the swarms of users on social networks to build a base of people who actually notice when they have something to say.

It’s not super-fast or super-easy to build followers, friends, and business contacts, but it’s also not all that hard. There’s a lot of good advice out there about how to build a Twitter following or get more friends or fans on Facebook, it’s just a matter of a little reading and a lot of follow through.

Aside from using social media, guest posting on other people’s blogs is a terrific way to get your name out in public. By putting yourself in front of someone else’s readership you get the chance to introduce yourself, your ideas, and your site to a new group of people.

If you really want to go grassroots, go ahead an e-mail people one at a time. Just don’t be the guy that sends a generic spam e-mail to a hundred people introducing yourself and raving for 250 words of narcissism. We’re way too far into the Internet age of exploitation for that kind of pitch to work; an opposite approach actually works better. Showing a real interest in the people you’re writing to is best way to make this technique not only worth your time, but extremely effective.

Technical Difficulties

Even if you have great content and a lot of eyes on you, you may still wind up linkless because your site is technically spastic. Broken links, error messages, messy code, slow loading, even pop-ups can be deterrents for new visitors and potential linkers.

In my years of link building, I’ve had a number of link requests rejected because a site wouldn’t load when someone went to visit, or there were annoying pop-up screens or a faulty redirect created a dead end. People have zero patience for technical problems, and often assume the quality and efficiency of a website is a reflection of the quality of the business as a whole.

So if someone is looking to read or link to something on your site but when they show up, you make them wonder, work, or wait, they’ll find instant gratification somewhere else.

Having a well-functioning website is a pillar of SEO in general; search engines and users alike prefer an accessible site. Cleaning up code, reducing load times, and doing away with obstructions and broken links are a great way to keep people happily on your site instead of cursing your name.

A Terrible First Impression

Sometimes, people get the wrong impression of a site right off the bat, and it has nothing to do with technical errors. Appearance and usability can be particularly influential when someone is judging the quality of a site.

There is no rule that anyone has to spend thousands of dollars on a flashy site. But there are certain things that, in general, should be avoided, like overly bright, eye-burning backgrounds, huge or flashing text, and the comic sans font. OK, maybe the last one is just me.

But what’s worse than having a site that looks like it was designed when Prodigy was popular is having a site that makes a riddle of who you are and what you do. The core function of your site should be immediately clear. If you force visitors to feel like Colombo searching for clues about your business, you’ve already put them off balance.

No one wants to link to a site that isn’t trustworthy, even for money. OK, some people will do anything for money, but those links are icky anyway.

Giving a link is like giving a vote of confidence and trust and a lot of people still treat that with respect. Most webmasters don’t want to diminish their own credibility by sending their site visitors off into sketch-ville. Being clear, sophisticated and organized will help convince people that you are worth a link.

A Tricky Niche

If you’ve done everything right and you’re still struggling, your lack of links could just be the nature of your beast. I’m not saying every online poker site needs to fold their link hopes right now, though. But you’ll find that porn, poker, pills, and payday loans (The 4 Ps) and other prickly, un-fun, subjects are starting out at a disadvantage.

First off, self-awareness helps; face your market honestly, accept your hindrances, and look for ways to rise above them.

One way is to go all the way back to where we started: offer great content. Try off-setting controversial subject matter by offering a fair and balanced view; becoming a well-rounded resource instead of a one-sided platform. Gambling sites can address gambling addiction, porn sites can discuss pornography laws, pill sites can talk about healthy living, and payday loans should offer tips on being financially responsible.

Yes, these ideas may seem counterproductive, but when you think about the content of a website as it relates to links, many niches need to find ways of stepping outside of their primary purpose in order to broaden their pool or perspective linkers. Presenting content that offers an opposing viewpoint is a great way to prevent being written off as a link prospect.

Worth is in the Eye of the Beholder

When a link building camping hits a wall, it’s easy to assume the problem is them and not you. But introspection is as healthy online as it is in real life.

Try to look at your site as a perspective linker might, is there great content? Are you putting yourself out there to be found? Is the site attractive and easy to use? Are you approaching your topic in a way that can appeal to more than just a die-hard demographic?

If you can say “yes” honestly, just remember that building links takes time and comes with dry spells. Then, take a deep breath, pour another cup of coffee, and get back to it.

Join us for SES San Francisco August 16-20, 2010 during ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week. The festival is packed with sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, ad networks and exchanges, e-mail marketing, the real time web, local search, mobile, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an expo floor with 100+ companies, networking events, parties and more!

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