This is a guest post by our good friend James Agate over at Skyrocket SEO. James and his team are really informed & active so worth following on twitter & their blog. They are also a really nice bunch! Hope you enjoy the post
Where do you usually look for link opportunities?
The answer to this question often involves prospecting for fresh link opportunities using your favourite tool or digging through your competitors backlink profiles to find some juicy targets to close the natural search gap.
There is one source of links though that often goes completely untapped – our own network (or our client’s network) of contacts.
We all have a network of contacts and your client is likely to have intimate industry knowledge, awareness and connections that you would be crazy to pass up on. Also if you are an agency worker, your colleagues and your employer likely have their own “little black books” of contacts and there is so much potential in pooling your connections.
Every time we get talking to clients about their industry, we uncover masses of useful information, from the blogs the insiders really read to the topics that are key at the moment as well as their CONNECTIONS.
How to leverage your network for link opportunities
Take stock of your contacts
The first step in this process is to appreciate fully your own network of contacts. If you are anything like me they are likely to be spread across multiple platforms and most of your contacts won’t ‘appear’ on more than a handful of these platforms e.g. I have people I know on Twitter that I have never emailed and I have people on Skype who I have never Tweeted and so on.
Here are the main platforms to consider…
- Twitter – you can quickly and easily identify your influential Tweeters using a solution like Mitch Monsen’s (see here). Followerwonk allows you to do this also if you are a paid subscriber. If you prefer to browse or visualise your connections (as I do) you may like MentionMapp which visualises your network.
- LinkedIn – it is very easy to export all of your contacts from LinkedIn to CSV. Another great feature of LinkedIn is the ability to search the network by “Skill” and see the influential individuals in that industry and how you are connected to them, using the Skills search engine. When you find an influencer who you are a 2nd or 3rd connection to, it is worth making a note of that individual for reference later in this process.
- Facebook – I am not a big Facebook user so this isn’t something I have done very often personally. We have used http://www.friendstogmail.com/ in the past though and just skipped the last step i.e. downloaded all the friends as a CSV and worked from there rather than then uploading to your Google contacts. To be honest with you though, as you might expect, more often than not Facebook friends are just personal connections so not all that useful for this exercise.
- Google+ – if you have a Gmail account you can export all your Google+ circles within the same “export” dashboard used to export your contacts (see ‘email’ below).
- Skype/IM – see this post on eHow about exporting your Skype contacts so that you can manually sort and manipulate.
- Subscribers (newsletter/marketing lists) – there are several options here; if you are a MailChimp user and you have SocialPro activated then you can see detailed information and influencer metrics on all your subscribers. If not then there is Fliptop (which acquired Qwerly who supply the data to MailChimp to power their SocialPro feature) still with me? Fliptop is a paid service, but it is very powerful (plus reasonably priced) and allows for CSV upload of email addresses. It then returns all manner of juicy social data on the individual and allows you to see what they look like by pulling in a gravatar pic (useful for conferences).
- Email – Rapportive is useful for manual curation of your email contacts but again, Fliptop is a really useful way of bulk analysing your email contacts once you have them in a one file format. It is really straightforward to do this and all you need to do is navigate to ‘contact manager’ and then there is a nice breakdown of your email contacts by contact frequency and other parameters if you have different groups set up. There is an export option in the “more” dropdown menu at the top.
Organise & understand them
We tend to use a simple spreadsheet to manage this part of the process. Once you have exported all your contacts into various CSVs, it is time to collate these various lists into one and start pruning it a little to get what you need out of it.
I tend to include the following columns:
- Preferred contact details
- Platform or medium
- Site they are involved with
- Important connection
Organise the list into as many columns as feels useful for you, if you have social data from services like Fliptop then you’ll obviously have more data points to organise by. Otherwise you can just have a fairly simple spreadsheet which includes details listed above.
If you are working on this as an individual or a small team then at this point it is a good idea to segment the list into some quick wins, mid-term prospects and long-term targets.
For example, you might have someone you email often who has a blog which you could easily post to almost tomorrow (time depending), similarly a high-value prospect or a “long shot” because they’re a contact of a contact might take a little longer to come good.
How you organise this is entirely your call, some people prefer to do all the quick wins, then all the mid-term prospects and so on. I personally like a mix in each ‘batch’ to give myself the reward of some quick wins with the hard-slog but big rewards of working on high-value prospects too.
- How could we work together?
At this stage in the process, it is time to ask the above question and start making notes on each prospect. Think again who else they might know that could also be useful to you.
Getting in contact with them
The contacting aspect is of course still a challenge but it is nowhere near as difficult as regular outreach based on a prospected list of leads.
The beauty of harvesting your own network for links is that you already have a foot (or more) in the door. That doesn’t mean you should abuse the opportunity though, think carefully about your value propositions – it is more about what you can do for them rather than the other way around.
It goes without saying that contact with your network should usually be via the method they know you from and for bonus points, pick up a previous thread with the contact so that you can help jog their memory without having to go through the motions of reminding them who you are.
How to get your clients to buy-in to this
Let’s be realistic for a moment here, clients may be reluctant to be involved in this kind of exercise; some feel they don’t have any useful connections to offer (they should really let you be the judge of that), some are concerned about the time involved with helping you, others are concerned about privacy.
Here are some of the ways we have overcome this challenges:
- Sign NDAs – we have non-disclosure agreements in place with most of the clients that we work with and whilst this can be frustrating sometimes when you want to (but can’t!) show a prospective client a current project as an example, they are very useful for making the client feel safe about what you are doing.
- Keep them included – a common way for us to work is that the client allows us access their network to do all the heavy lifting and preparatory stuff so that they can go ahead and make contact for us this is often a good balance between making the client feel comfortable and ensuring they aren’t spending too much time doing your job for you.
Let us not forget the “Here’s your fee, let me know when you are done!” kind of client – sadly you may be better off exploring other pastures in this particular case given that you are probably going to have more luck persuading Matt Cutts to share the secrets of the latest Google update than you are going to have pushing the client to be involved.
What other ways can you think of for leveraging your existing network for links? Add your thoughts in the comments below.
My name is James Agate and I am the founder of Skyrocket SEO – we’ve just launched Guest Blogging Track the private email-only service for anyone that is looking to publish guest posts for SEO, for referral traffic or to generate leads.