If the title of this article sounds familiar, don't be surprised. It's been more than 70 years since it was originally published, and in that time Dale Carnegie's mega-best seller "How to Win Friends and Influence People" has earned a spot on the shelf of some 16 million individuals and spent more than a decade on the New York Times best-seller list. While Carnegie's book was written as one of the original "self-help" books, I'd propose that the tenets found within can play a valuable role in building successful strategies when it comes to marketing techniques like link building, viral marketing and even online reputation management.

Link Building

While there's no argument about the value of building quality links to your web site in order to help increase both traffic and search engine rankings, there is often some confusion about the best way to go about doing that link building. Reciprocal or incoming? Buying links or earning them? Using software to manage the process or doing it by hand?

What would happen if small business owners started to think about link building in another way? What if they started to think like Carnegie and to apply his theories to their link building and baiting efforts. With that in mind, let's take a few key points from Carnegie's book and see how they might be applied to a link building campaign.

Tenet #1: Talk in Terms of Other People's Interests

This is a key point that many people miss when it comes to building links. Web site owners aren't going to link to your site just because you want them to, they're going to link to your site because there is something to be gained for them. That may mean that you've made a purchase or a trade in exchange for the link, or it may mean that you've simply offered up content that is of enough interest to make them want to share it with their readers.

Any time that you contact a site owner on your own to ask about a link, you need to figure out what you have to offer that will benefit that site owner. If the most compelling argument you can come up with is "you linking to me will help me out" then you likely need to do a little more thinking before sending off that request.

Tenet #2: Make the Other Person Feel Important

This is basic common sense, but it can be difficult to do without taking too far. No one likes a brown-noser but everyone likes to feel special. Even the briefest of compliments about a specific article or resource available on someone's site can set the stage for a polite link request. If you enjoyed a recent blog post about a topic related to the link that you are requesting, take the time to say so. Doing this also shows that you've spent enough time on the site to actually KNOW that there's a good match. Knowing that someone reads and enjoys their site is a great way for a site owner to "feel important."

Tenet #3: Use Names Whenever Possible

This is one of the most simple, yet crucial steps to link building. Whenever possible, take the time to find out who you are addressing and then make sure that you use their name.

Here at Search Engine Guide we get an enormous amount of press releases, article submissions and requests to talk about or feature a specific product or service. Nearly three-quarters of these requests come in to a generic address like webmaster@ or info@. The reality is that it would take a visitor about two minutes to figure out that the editor of this site is named Jennifer and that her email address is jennifer@searchengineguide.com. The requests that come in from people that can't be bothered to find that information out usually get treated with the same level of "respect" and quickly find their way into the circular file.

Tenet #4: Try Honestly to See Things from the Other Person's Point of View

While this point ties in pretty closely with tenet #1, it's still one that needs to be considered separately. It's very easy to think of link building in terms of what it's going to do for your site, but it's also important to remember that any time you are asking for someone else's time and energy, you need to take the time to see things from their perspective.

Before you send or even begin to craft any type of link request, picture yourself on the receiving end. What are the chances that you're going to jump up and do the dance of joy simply because someone has asked you to take the time to put a link on your site? On the other hand, it's pretty easy to realize that you might feel differently if someone took the time to politely and personally contact you to share something that you would be excited to be able to share with your readers.

Finally, I'll close this section with a reminder of my own personal philosophy of link building. We'll call it...Jen's Tenet.

Jen's Tenet: Link building is really relationship building

Keep in mind that linking is a form of endorsement. One site linking to another is the same as one individual telling a friend about a store, service or book that they recently enjoyed. Just as you wouldn't run into a cocktail party, throw your business cards in the air and scream "tell your friends to buy their next house with XYZ Realtors!" you cannot send out dozens of emails in a single shot asking anyone and everyone to link to your real estate web site.

To build good links, you need to build good will. Take the time to craft relationships via email, blogs and discussion forums. Ask for links when they are relevant and respect their time and opinions when you make your request.

It may take a little longer to build good links this way, but you'll find yourself racking up better quality links with less overall work and frustration than you would if you simply relied on the "email everyone you know" techniques.

In part two, we'll explore some more of Carnegie's principles and the way that they can be applied to a good viral marketing campaign.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

July 12, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > How to Win Links and Influence People - Part 1