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Buy, Borrow, Beg, and Barter: Techniques for Link Development

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 343 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

I’ve quoted this before, but it’s worth quoting again (many more time most likely)

“How do you ask for a link? Asking for a link is about asking if you can do business with somebody. Links are much like currency on the web: If you don’t have a value proposition then don’t bother asking for a link. If you do have a value proposition but still don’t know how to ask for a link you may wish to consider very early retirement.”
 – Mike Grehan – search engine marketing expert

That pretty much serves as the thesis for this article. You can’t expect someone to give you something if you don’t offer anything in return. When you send out a link request, you need to be tuned into the world’s favorite radio station (WIIFM). Answer the first question the webmaster will ask, “What’s in it for me?” and you will have much more success than spamming random people with a slightly modified generic form letter. We’ve all got link requests from some random person: “I see your site is about pigeon farming in Alaska”.I am an underwater basket weaver from Montana, and thought you might like to link to me. Or nearly as bad ¦they have already placed you in their spam-tastic link directory buried 12 levels deep in their site, and they would like you to link back to them in return from your homepage. I have a friend who sends the occasional “your link has been placed” e-mail back to them in return just for fun.

So if you’re not going to go the link spammer route of sending out thousands of e-mails, creating a crappy link directory, and just playing the sheer numbers¦what do you do?? Provide something of value!! It doesn’t have to be of INCREDIBLE value, just something worth while enough for a webmaster to take the time to place a quality link from a relevant link to your website.

In order to understand what to offer for a link, you need to understand what a link is worth. Valuation of links is another whole discussion, but it is critical to understand when sending out link requests. You couldn’t get someone to trade you movie passes for a flat screen plasma TV, and you certainly wouldn’t trade a 2005 AMG Mercedes for a ’86 Chevy Chevette. Understand the value that you are trading for by learning about text link valuation.

Text Link Valuation Basics:

So when you understand the value of what you are receiving, it helps you make an offer that is reasonable to both parties. Text link valuation is a difficult subject because of the indirect correlation of the value to potential search engine rankings. When you understand the valuation correctly, you are at the distinct advantage in the negotiation process. What puts you at the disadvantage, however, is that you are essentially cold calling your potential link host.

The approaches for link development

There are several ways to approach a potential link host. Some techniques are more effective than others with varying degrees of time and finance requirements involved. Buy, Borrow, Beg, and Barter.

I can give you riches: link buying

Offer some type of financial compensation. This is generally the most successful method. People like cold hard cash. Ask an owner if they would consider selling links. Decide what you would be willing to pay and start lower.

Be an affiliate for us: link borrowing

Affiliate programs are a potential way to develop link popularity if you have an attractive program. Have folks put up links now, and offer them a percentage of sales later. Make sure the links are set up through the appropriate type programs that will pass link popularity. Use a mod-rewrite (or IIS equivalent ISAPI filters) and permanent redirects to help with this.

I’m a resource: link begging

Sure you are! If your site truly is a resource (and being a resource to make you money doesn’t count), then you may actually just mention it to other website owners when you write an article or some information of value. If you take this approach, however, you should offer them a bit of advice, insight, or constructive criticism on their site. I am always appreciative when someone takes the time to tell me something that helps me out (like my images don’t show up in IE thanks Dan still workin’ on it). This approach is tough though because it’s been abused with mass mailing.

I can help you rank: link bartering

Offer links in return: perhaps from other sites that you own. The more sites that you own, the more value you have to potentially barter in return. Stay away from reciprocal links when possible. Offer something to them for free. Buy their office pizza. Send them some of your favorite coffee. Give them your software for free. Send them a product for free. Bartering is quite beneficial with other folks that “get it”. Surround yourself with folks that are successful if you want to be successful.


As you can see with these, and potentially many other ways to attract links there are is one common theme: you need to provide something of value. There has to be something offered as incentive to spur the action. Form relationships with folks within your industry. Each industry has an online community that has taken to computers and the internet and adopted the benefits that come with it for their line of work. Befriend those individuals and brainstorm ways you can work together for mutual success. The SEO industry is amazing this way. Despite being in competition with each other, most SEO’s are amazingly cooperative with sharing information and resources for becoming better at what they do. My brother laughs at me listening to me tell nearly every client that I talk to that the paradox of the web is that you have to “give to get back”. I say it over and over because it is true. Altruism has turned into a unique selling point. Just ask the white-hatters who have been selling “ethical SEO” for the last 5 years. Many people have earned great livings through the credibility and accompanying work that came along with running an online community.

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  • Merle

    I just want to tell you how helpful this article has been. Most of the mistakes you’ve
    mentioned, I have made. However, I think I’m finally getting some useful, down to earth
    advice. Keep up the good work!


  • Brandon Hopkins

    Does link bartering still work? I’ve never approached a company offline.

  • Pingback: 20 Link Building Quickies | WebGeek

  • http://yahoo David Stanisic

    I am starting a fairly small company, need 15-20K for start-up, and 4-6mths operating costs. My current position; Everything is basically finished and ready to go to market. Meaning, I paid for everything up to this point, patent, website, initial 1/2 of initial order, positioned my contacts,etc…This person providing the $, pretty much will have nothing to do with the business, nor does he want. He suggested he would like a piece of the pie/business. Hard to place a value on a product at this point, but does look very promising. How much do I give away, 3, 5%After this 1st product, I am immediately securing/pat.applic. another 2-3 products.
    If I choose to keep him around, now from the beginning does that change the value…?