How to organise & nurture your high-value link prospects

I can’t stress enough the importance of categorising link opportunities and spending a proportionate amount of time developing that link relative to its “worth” in the context of your campaign.

After all, you wouldn’t send your entire sales team to close that “one-man outfit” sales prospect. You might like to give everyone the same treatment and feeling of importance but practically and financially it just isn’t realistic. The same is true when it comes to building links because it’s the people who do the linking, this is a people business and we have a lot to learn from the sales professionals of this world.

That’s why it frustrates me to hear people include generic tips in their outreach blog posts like “Prime the prospect via social media” before reaching out via email…hmm, not always. It just isn’t necessary. Why do more than is required when you could achieve exactly the same thing with less time and less effort.

It might irritate you that that I’m encouraging you to treat people differently but I assure you this is purely in the interests of efficiency – nothing personal.

Internally we categorise link opportunities as follows:

  • Useful
  • High-value

If it isn’t useful then its crud and we don’t get paid to build cruddy links.

A useful link to us is typically a website with a fair sized audience, some decent metrics and is otherwise fairly good quality. It meets our standards and requires some effort on our part to secure but it isn’t going to take a tremendous amount of “creative” thinking.¬†For these types of opportunities, we systemise the process.

How you categorise will depend entirely on your campaign objectives.

But what about your high-value prospects?

Is it possible to systemise the relationship building and acquisition of these types of links? And how might we go about it?

I recently wrote a guest post on the Raven Tools blog which covered 7 steps to better client collaboration using their CRM tool and if you are working with a client collaboratively on a link building project then you might find that post more useful.

However if you just want to get stuck into some high-value link prospect categorising and closing…

Here is a (a copy of) the Trello board we use to organise and nurture our high-value link prospects through to the point of close.

You could use any workflow/task/CRM tool or a spreadsheet but I find Trello really useful and usable because it is very visual and once set up you can drag and drop each prospect (as a “card”) between each of the phases in this process. It helps us to structure what is normally an unstructured process without letting anyone slip through the net.

It isn’t perfect of course and even with mountains of effort some prospects, no matter how hard you try, just aren’t going to convert. At least with a bit of structure in the process, for every high-value link opportunity that goes awry you still have other irons in the fire.

The Trello Board Explained

We tried to make it as simple and flexible as possible so there are just 4 “lists” or stages:

  • Targets
  • Added, awaiting opportunity
  • On the radar
  • Ready to pitch


Your prospects enter the funnel

However you do your link prospecting, you’ve probably ended up with a spreadsheet of opportunities, some contact details and some metrics. Once you have done your sorting according to potential value, it is time to add the high-value ones into Trello.

To add them in just ‘Add a card’ and start entering details.

Information that we always include:

  • Who they are
  • What they do
  • Contact details (if any that we have for them)
  • Social media profiles
  • Quirky fact (you never know when you might be able to make a connection with someone based on their hobbies, passions or obsessions – building links is a people business and human beings don’t always just want to talk about work!)
  • Action items (see below)

Additionally, if you work anything like me, you’re probably constantly spotting link opportunities even when just casually browsing the web. This is where the ‘action items’ come in because I might add a prospect via the iPhone app when I’ve just read an article and come across something interesting – these action items like “find Twitter handle” means I can research the prospect in more depth next time I’m back at my desk.

If you need more targets; get to know your industry, identify opportunities that don’t fall onto your plate via the usual methods.

Added, awaiting opportunity

The holding bay for your prospects

Once a prospect is in this list they are the ones you are actively watching, waiting for the right opportunity to strike up a relationship.

It’s easier than you might think to keep in the loop with a prospect without getting overwhelmed.

Our favourite social media site when it comes to outreach is Twitter, as it’s made for conversations. You could organise all your prospects into a Twitter List and stalk them that way but I find Twitter Lists a bit too public for this purpose.

My preferred method is to create an RSSmix of the various Twitter streams and get one email a day using Blogtrottr (or your RSS delivery/reader tool of choice). You can then scan what’s going on in their world in a productive fashion without it overwhelming your own overflowing Twitter stream. Bear in mind that Twitter>RSS isn’t 100% reliable since Twitter switched off support for RSS back in 2011 but we find this workaround to be fairly stable and useful.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Questions and requests
  • Frustrations they’re having (emails, taxes etc) – common gripes
  • They’ve shared something that genuinely interests you
  • Non-work talking points – remember that quirky fact you noted down earlier in this process

There’s lots of ways you can begin a relationship with someone without ever mentioning the words “link”, “guest post” or “request”.

On the radar

Nurture the prospect

There is unlikely to be an authentic opportunity to move straight from your initial contact in to the relationship you’d like to develop where links, content and opportunities are free flowing.

That’s why there is an ‘on the radar’ list where you can move prospects who may have an awareness of you e.g. “you are on their radar” but they may not know all that much about you, they might not really have an understanding of what you do or what you are good at.

At this stage, you can be a bit more forward with the prospect:

  • Compliment them (sincerely)
  • Share their latest blog post and draw comparisons to your own
  • Mention them in your latest blog post or guest post and tell them via Twitter about it
  • Comment thoughtfully on blog post of theirs
  • Ask them their opinion or thoughts on something (particularly effective if you’ve answered their question previously).

The aim here is to move the relationship forward not secure the link just yet so keep things really fluid and aim to strengthen that bond and the familiarity they have with you so that when you make your pitch they’ll at least be opening your email.

Ready to pitch

You’ve got yourself a hot lead

One of the most challenging aspects of this process is knowing when the lead is hot enough to be pitched.

We’ve found that there are two clear approaches that work here:

  • Slowly Slowly Approach – i.e. invest a lot of time into developing the relationship before even considering the pitch.
  • Ride the wave Approach – a quick series of interactions followed by an immediate pitch.

The approach you should use will depend upon the individual prospect, for example; you may find a prospect that is really active on social media, could well be swamped by email so you might not be able to ride the wave because by the time they’ve got to the top of their inbox and your message, they’ve forgotten all about your interaction. In this case the slowly slowly approach might be more effective in developing a stronger and longer lasting relationship with the prospect.

That being said, some individuals have a much leaner inbox and so you can quickly ride the wave to secure a link and develop that all important ongoing relationship by moving straight from the social media warmup to the email pitch.

There’s no hard and fast rule here and you’ll have to get a feel for the individual and also your own operating style. I tend to be a more aggressive (and quite frankly impatient :-) !) so my preferred approach is to ride the wave and see if I can successfully pitch the prospect as quickly as possible. As I said earlier in this post, why do more than is required if you can achieve the same result in less time with less effort?

One Comment

  1. avatar
    Anthony July 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Thanks for this James, thorough and well thought out as always. What would you recommend if you are targeting websites/blogs where their posts are written by in-house contributors and guest contributors and you don’t get the chance to nurture the main person in charge? Do you think contacting a contributor is a good choice in this instance if you have formed a relationship with one?

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