6 tactics to deal with rejection in link building

1357614518_PositiveWhen we launched our training service mid-2012, I wasn’t expecting anything like the reception that we got, with quite a few sessions now completed, it has certainly been interesting to see a handful of questions come up time and time again. To kickstart 2013′s blogging schedule I thought it would be good to cover a few of these common concerns.

First up is dealing with rejection in link building. This includes things like getting knocked back by prospects, getting ignored and getting flak/abuse from webmasters. Building the volumes of links that we do at Skyrocket, I constantly think we’ve seen it all from crazy long-winded rejections to short, sweary emails… each week however, I’m amazed to find more ways my team and I have been rejected. Of course, for all those rejections there’s a lot of acceptances and good stuff and that’s going to be the first tactic I want to discuss…

Slight tangent: To give you some background, I did a brief stint in B2B sales before I got into the world of online marketing and it wasn’t fun getting knocked back, avoided by prospects and heldback by the gatekeepers of key decision makers but it did teach me a lot about dealing with professional rejection. Much of what I learned in that job has helped me as a link builder and subsequently a manager of link builders.

1) Focus on the positives

As an overarching theme, outbound sales much like link building is a numbers game – generally speaking the greater quantity of calls, emails, appointments you make, send, set… the fatter the pipeline and consequently the larger the sales chart at the end of the month. Yes, we have to take things like targeting and prospect quality into consideration in both instances but numbers play a pivotal role.

Try not to dwell on the negative stuff that happens and think about the bigger picture. For every ‘win’ there’s bound to be a few knockbacks – that’s just the way it is.

I know that as tactics go, that’s quite a fluffy one to get us started so here’s one practical suggestion to put this into action:

  • Keep a happy jar – we don’t do this in the office but I do it personally, keeping track of every positive milestone simply by scribbling it down on a piece of paper and adding it to the happy jar. It may sound like a crap self-help-everyone-hug-eachother idea but it is actually surprisingly effective at keeping me motivated and to ensure I don’t forget about all the little things that I’ve accomplished recently but perhaps forgotten about. Consider writing down the good stuff that happens when you are out in the field link building and refer back to it when you’re having a bad day, it may well remind you that you are a good link builder after all.

2) Recognise what the issue is (hint: it probably isn’t you!)

There are all sorts of reasons why a link prospect is saying no, in most cases, it is nothing personal in the slightest, it is more likely to be one of the following:

  • The timing isn’t right for them
  • What is being pitched isn’t a good fit
  • They’ve had bad experiences in the past
  • They’re confused by your pitch and don’t want to be led on
  • They’re busy and it is quicker and more convenient to say no

Understand why you are getting pushed back either through self-reflection AND then use it to improve your performance or if necessary open up some additional communication with the link prospect (see below)…

3) Communicate

Open up some deeper communication with the prospect (if this is relevant), clearly if you get a sweary barrage of abuse from your initial email then it might be best to brush this off and move on. Unlike in customer service where you are duty-bound to try and work with angry people, there’s no need to inflame the situation by continuing to communicate with someone who is so closed down to your pitch – that’s dead time.

That being said if you can elicit what went wrong and steer things in the right direction then you can turn some rejections into acceptances.

I will give you a recent example which was a prospect came back to us with a very polite “No” explaining that he didn’t have the time or inclination to ghost write something on his own website for the benefit of us. Weird to think but outside of our bubble (where the hot air surrounding guest blogging is stifling) some people have no idea what a guest post actually is and what’s involved – this is our fault as the link builder not theirs. A quick bit of clarification and a few emails later and he was happy to move ahead with a post (obviously written by us) – that wouldn’t have happened if we’d dismissed his rejection and moved on. In many ways you need to develop a sense for when something is a lost cause.

4) Try something new

In my post ‘There’s (nearly) always another link opportunity‘ I covered a number of tactics for dealing with the perceived exhaustion of link opportunities, this is another remedy for rejection because trying something new can be precisely the right strategy if you are seeing an overwhelming level of rejection.

Link building is a numbers game but sometimes I guess you can end up playing the wrong sport. It is exhausting playing football by yourself when everyone else is off playing rugby (I think I’ve taken this analogy as far as it can go) so look up once in a while and don’t continue to batter away at something which isn’t working. Know when to call it a day. If you manage a team, keep a close eye on less experienced team members to protect their sanity, they might not have fully developed their ability to spot when shit really isn’t working.

Even if the rejection isn’t overwhelming i.e. you’ve had some success in the past, it really doesn’t hurt to try a new approach – look for a new niche to explore, build a different kind of link, write a new pitch, change the time of day you send emails.

5) Swap projects with a colleague

This is a particularly useful one, and a tactic we frequently utilise. A fresh pair of eyes and a new pair of fingers working a campaign can do wonders for camaraderie and campaign success levels. Although I’ve not got a firm percentage success rate, I would estimate that over 80% of campaign issues, frustrations etc are resolved just by swapping accounts around. It is simple but very effective.

Just make sure however that the other team member is fully briefed on client expectations, we don’t want them suffering as a result of the swap.

6) Put the campaign on ice for a few days (if you can)

Park a campaign and come back to it if you can. I can honestly say that I struggle with this one particularly when it comes to client campaigns, I am like a man-possessed, ignoring all reason and ploughing on regardless and that’s because we run to very tight deadlines which wherever humanly possible we try to hit but if you have the luxury of a few days to a week to pause the campaign then it is well-worth doing, it gives you time to think. I’ve started doing this on a few personal projects, and just keeping it in my mind whilst I go for a walk rather than getting frustrated at my desk has been enormously helpful.

You may like to use just one of the above tactics or a combination of them. If you are looking for some additional reading then I can recommend this article on Entrepreneur.com which was meant for sales people but is just as applicable to link builders.

I’d be very interested to hear any of your thoughts on and tactics for dealing with rejection in link building, please add them in the comments below.

9 Comments

  1. avatar
    Rob Duckers January 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    Here’s one I’ve started to use for guest posting/trying to get interview coverage and being rejected —ask whether they’d like to join the client’s affiliate program. This does depend whether they were initially “sweary” or not though…it’s working well so far.

    Thanks for linking to that entrepreneur.com article, was good reading.

    • avatar
      James Agate January 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

      That’s a great idea Rob – nice way to ensure you get something out of the interaction even if it wasn’t what was originally intended.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. avatar
    Anthony Pensabene January 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    good thoughts, mate – i would’ve reckoned so..

    I really like your idea about letting a colleague or mate look over the tactic or discuss strategies – very akin to Gaz’s idea about letting a peer look over rough copies before publish.. i think it’s very easy to get stuck in one mindset, especially if you’re in the same mindset yourself (same time of day, same setting, preoccupied with something, etc). This also leads in to the last suggestion of letting time pass… creatively, that’s one of my favorite ‘tricks’

    • avatar
      James Agate January 8, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

      Good to see you on here again sir. I didn’t know you American’s used the term “mate” :-)

      I think you’ve been spending too much time online with us Brits!!

      I couldn’t agree more, creative exercises really need a great deal of time where possible. Nothing worse than being forced to deliver something exciting on a relentless schedule…

      James

  3. avatar
    Michael January 8, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    Nice post – I can relate to a lot of this and your skin does thicken in time. For me, the worst thing – and I’m a bit loathe to admit this – is coping with rejection when it is your fault. There are times when you do just get one shot and I kick myself when I realise I would have been better served taking a different approach. Still, there’s always another link!

    • avatar
      James Agate January 8, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

      I know what you mean Michael – I think we all have an outreach email we are embarrassed about or something we could have done better but you can kick yourself or you can pick yourself up and move on – I prefer to do the latter and not dwell.

      The way I look at things like this is that you never “had” them so you don’t need to worry that you “lost” them if that mindset makes sense?!

      Thanks for reading!

  4. avatar
    Matthew Barby January 8, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    James, I love the idea of the happy jar! Working within SEO can make you feel like you’re suffering from bipolar disorder. You can spend weeks and weeks, even months trying to put together something and then it fails. When that happens, you seem to forget all the previous success that you have ever had.

    What I always try to make sure I do is to keep a spreadsheet with every link prospect, the interactions that I have had with them and then the reason for success or failure. Can be a great tool to distribute through the company and a valuable learning resource. Thanks again, James.

  5. avatar
    Patrick January 9, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    Great post James – those are some great tips, for a moment there I thought you were going to give psychological tips on rejection :)

  6. avatar
    Thomas January 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    James, I’m off to set up a happy jar :)

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