Chapter 8

The sales process: selling a link building campaign

Selling a link building campaign can be quite tough, especially now that link building is far less of a commodity than it used to be. Years ago you could sell link packages that guaranteed certain numbers, certain keywords to target, and the timescale in which they’d be completed. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned, it isn’t as simple as that anymore.
The problem is that link building isn’t always predictable, and it isn’t always that tangible. Yes you can see that a link exists, but it isn’t as simple as seeing a link one day and seeing a bump up in rankings and traffic the next day. Link building can often take a bit of time to take off, particularly in competitive industries or for new websites that don’t yet have a link profile.
There are a few principles that I think are worth bearing in mind when it comes to selling a link building campaign:

  • Identify the business goals and how link building will help reach these
  • Don’t focus on the links, focus on the goals
  • Speak the language of the potential client
  • Identify early what your contact cares about
  • Try to avoid selling one-off pieces of work – focus on the long-term

You’ll notice that these aren’t necessarily just applicable to selling a link building campaign – they can apply to selling just about anything. That is kind of the point, though. You shouldn’t sell a contract based on building x number of links and having that as the deliverable because:

  • You’re putting yourself under extra pressure to deliver a fixed number of links. When this happens, you’ll naturally let your quality control slip. Having targets is fine and can be a great motivator, but you shouldn’t compromise on quality.
  • It is hard to predict how many links you can get, unless you’re willing to buy them – you’ll find yourself guessing how many links you can promise to deliver. This isn’t how to make a difference to the client’s business.
  • The deliverable should be valuable to the client’s business, whether that value is revenue, leads or something else.
  • Executives and directors may not understand links as a metric, therefore they will struggle to understand how you have delivered value to their business, even if you hit the number of links you promised.

Identify the business goals and how link building will help reach these

It really isn’t all about the links. Links do not pay the bills or your salary – unless you sell them, but that is another conversation!

You can build all the links you want, but you really aren’t doing your job if those links don’t help the business earn more money. If you sell a link building campaign without even bothering to address how a successful campaign will help the business hit their goals, I think you’ve failed.

Imagine for a moment that you sell a campaign where the target is to build 20 links a month for three months. Now let’s say that you hit this target, and, at the end of the three months, you go in for a meeting at the client’s office. At this meeting is the head of marketing, who is the boss of the SEO professional who hired you and agreed on the target.

You say that the campaign has been a success because you’ve hit the targets that you agreed upon. The head of marketing is happy and asks how much extra traffic this has brought to the website. You may have to admit that is hasn’t brought any extra traffic, but defend yourself by saying you did what you were paid to do and hit the targets.

The head of marketing then asks why you would set a target that, even if it was hit, wouldn’t bring extra traffic (and therefore potential for revenue) to the website.

This is just one example of why selling a contract based on links alone is a bad idea. In this scenario, imagine you’d also been asked to show a 10 percent increase in organic and referral traffic at the end of three months.

Would this have changed your approach to the work? Would it have made you focus on building a different type of link? It should! You are being forced to focus on the metric that matters to the client, which is exactly what should happen.

Link building isn’t the deliverable – it is a means to an end, which should always be a metric that matters to the client and makes a difference to them.

The problem with selling one-off link building work

Sometimes when a potential client comes to you, they may want a one-off piece of work rather than an ongoing, retained contract. This is perfectly understandable from their point of view, particularly if they’ve never worked with you before. However, it isn’t ideal for you because, as we’ve discussed, link building can take a bit of time to kick in and start having a noticeable effect. So if you get into a contract where you have a one-off piece of work lasting a month, you probably won’t have much time to get going and impress.

It also doesn’t give you a lot of time to get to know the client’s business and really figure out the best way to approach getting results. With such a short time period to work with to get results, it can be tempting to take short cuts, which may mean you won’t be doing what is best for the long term.

Try to sell a minimum six-month contract if you can but give the client a break clause if they want it. This break clause works both ways, which also gives you a way out if things aren’t going well. By getting a longer commitment, you’re also reducing the pressure a little. You can work on a few link building campaigns. If one doesn’t totally take off, then you have time to work on others that can make up for it.

If you want to go into a bit more detail about this topic and see some examples, read this Moz post, where I talk about links as a method to hit business goals.

If you really have to sell a one-off, short-term project, then the focus should be on you doing what you said you would do. Admit that in the short-term, you may not see a big increase in rankings or traffic, therefore you should be measured on your activity rather than the impact. As long as you can agree that the activity is the right kind of activity which will impact traffic at some point, then this can work well.

Kicking things off: questions to ask yourself or your client

Whether you’re an SEO consultant working for a client, in-house working for one company, or doing your own SEO for your business, the first place to start is by asking questions. If you aren’t the client, then this can form the basis of a kickoff meeting, the point of which is to listen and get as much good information as you can that allows you to plan and execute a good campaign.

This step also plays a crucial role in the next part of the process. This is when you find out what assets, USPs, and resources you have available to help you get links.

A kickoff meeting is a time for you to be quiet, sit back, let your client (or your boss) do the talking, and listen. Absorb everything you can because this is your chance to truly understand everything you need to in order to get the project moving.

Also remember that the point of a kickoff meeting isn’t to provide instant answers. Don’t put yourself under pressure to give a full A-Z of your plan and the strategy just yet.

Here are some questions to ask the client that I’ve found to be useful in the past. I’ve split them out to generic questions that should be asked, no matter what project you’re running, and specific link building related questions. and they can apply to most types of websites and industries.

Generic questions to ask:

  • Can you give us a quick history of example.com? Why does example.com exist? What is its purpose?
  • How exactly does example.com make money online? What are the key revenue drivers?
  • Can you tell us about any previous or current SEO work?
  • What does your typical customer look like? Any specific demographics?
  • What are the goals of this SEO project? How are we being measured? What would a successful project look like?
  • Who owns SEO internally? Who are the key stakeholders?
  • How do we add the most value to example.com during this project?

Link building specific questions to ask:

  • What resources do you have that may be link-worthy? Content? People? Cash? Product? Data?
  • What internal resources do you have to help with content creation? Designers? Developers? Writers?
  • What does the sign off process look like for content creation?
  • What PR activity is there currently?
  • Have you engaged in any link building activity before? What was it? Did it work?
  • Have you ever outsourced link building or engaged other agencies? Can we see reports of what was done? Note: this can help a lot with cleaning up bad links!
  • If you could choose any websites for example.com to be featured on, what would they be?
  • Where do your customers hang out online? What kind of content do they like to read?
  • Why does your business or website deserve to get links?
  • Is anyone else currently carrying out SEO or link building activity for your website?

There are many more you can add that are specific to you and the client, but these alone should give you plenty of information to get going with.

Clarifying the business goals and how link building will help reach these

Again, it’s important to identify and work toward the goals of the business. Ideally, you’ll have done this at the sales point. Even if you have, now is the time to clarify them and start to build solid ideas that you can implement to hit them.

If you didn’t identify business goals at the sales point, now is definitely the time to address them! Speak to the client in detail about this so that you’re fully aware when you start to come up with link building ideas. This means that you can shape your campaign to fit with the goals and increase your chances of hitting them.

Importantly, you need to make that crucial connection between building links and hitting business goals. This will naturally make you focus on getting certain types of links or engaging with the right kind of people, as opposed to blindly going off and building links just to say you’ve built x number of links.