Corporate SEO – Link Building by Letter

Posted by David Burgess

There are countless ways of contacting people in search for a link, and in a time when social networking has become the norm – surely there is no place still for the humble written letter? 

What follows in this post is a heart-warming tale from my world in Corporate SEO, of differing approaches taken and lessons learned. In short, a barrage of online charm, bravado and pleading that just couldn’t cut the mustard, which was finally put to the sword by a single sheet of 40gsm headed paper. 

For any self-respecting SEO Consultant, there is no worse feeling than unearthing a true gem of a link opportunity for your client whilst at the same time being utterly powerless to make it happen. This is the archetypal itch you can’t scratch. When acting as an SEO for large corporations however, your skin thickens very quickly as the landscape becomes littered with unclaimed, but untouchable pots of SEO gold. 

Getting SEO changes actioned at large corporation can take years. Even the smallest on-site change can end up joining a year-long development queue, whilst a recommendation to tweak a server configuration can be flat-out refused. This is while your competitors gradually creep closer, magnifying the pain of every missed opportunity ten-fold.

If you really care and your skin hasn’t thickened to the point of complete insensitivity, that true link gem becomes a line in the sand. The site of a battle so important, so valuable, that you must endure the fight until the bitter end. You WILL be victorious.

Unearthing the gem 

Some of the most valuable data for SEOs resides behind the ‘Download all errors on this site’ link in Google Webmaster Tools. The analysis of this data is never pain free, and will become all the more arduous when your client has a suite of domains or sub-domains. It’s a hard slog you will get very familiar with when working in corporate circles.

Download all errors on this site 

Many of our larger clients have their flagship sites built on clunky old platforms which are very hard to manoeuvre, even when you have a willing dev team. Most new marketing and PR advances that require a web presence get outsourced to external agencies who prefer, rightly, to bypass the pain and risk of modifying the main website and to work on virginal sub-domains or even new domains entirely. The TV campaign rocks, and the micro-site looks great, but it leaves us, the SEO Consultants, with palms firmly planted on our foreheads.

The Link Opportunity

The links in this case were on an industry specific, product review site, for the sake of this article we’ll call it ‘’. It possesses a homepage PR6, 50k+ external links and rather more importantly, 100% high relevance to our client. It was also ranked as a Top 10 website for our client’s industry by Hitwise in June 2010.

You can see from the Open Site Explorer image below, that the top pages on the review site had a commanding domain and page authority:

SEOMoz URL authority

All posts on featured tags, including links to 3rd party sites. Whenever certain topics were mentioned, our client was mentioned as one of the retailers and given a ‘dofollow’ brand anchor link. All-in-all our client had over 5,000 links on unique, highly relevant, much-tweeted about and popular posts on this industry bible. SEO heaven right? Wrong!

The Problem

The URL stored in the CMS did not resolve. The site had linked to which did not resolve, instead of the correct store URL in the form of or the homepage of (I hear your sighs).

 Server Not Found - The URL being linked to doesn't resolve

The Line Is Drawn, Let Battle Commence – 9 August 2010 14:25:22

At the earliest opportunity I emailed my client, with a glint in my eye, to inform them of this discovery. With a 40 page site audit sitting firmly at the back of their development queue (and looking like it was going nowhere fast), this was a much-coveted gem. An opportunity for a ‘win’ that couldn’t be ignored.

The email was duly sent: 

Email sent to client about the gem link

26th August 2010 

There was no sign of progress, so based on the fact that this was such a gem of a link – I’d settle for second best. Let’s 301 the non-resolving URL, to the homepage of the client’s sub-domain. Not ideal, as some value could be lost through the 301 and we don’t want to focus attention on a sub-domain, but, better than nothing. As a result, we raised ‘Work Request WR 4521’. (At the time of writing, this still remains in the queue!) 

3rd November 2010

OK, so two days before bonfire night and it’s still all quiet on the western front and awesome value is still flowing to a page that doesn’t resolve. So, to try an alternative mode of contact, I tracked down the editors of the review site on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, then forwarded their details to my client who leapt into action. Emails were pinged, introductions fired and tweets tweeted. Still nothing. My client even reached into the back of his drawer, found his fountain pen and wrote them a letter. Remember them??

Time goes on…

2011, The Year of the Postman

Having arrived back from the festive period with a slightly tight waistband, but with a renewed zeal for battle, I ran through the SEO’s standard, pre-flight checks of rankings, competitors rankings, traffic, conversions, ORM, Tweets and emails for our clients. Then, in a quiet moment I prepared myself for more disappointment as I checked the links on my bête noir.

To my utter amazement, and after cautionary double, treble and quadruple takes, I could see that the review links were now pointing towards the Promised Land. Beautiful links to our client’s homepage, all 5000+ of them. Queue a rather excitable email to my client. Now we had even more than the Ashes win to celebrate (that’s a Cricket mention to the Americans amongst you!).


And his response, which explained the source of our joy:

Links gained, Ashes won

In addition to my euphoria at the links being changed and the value finally flowing, was the knowledge that on every subsequent post our client would get another 100% relevant, brand anchor link to add to their backlink profile, along with a decent chance of some good traffic to boot.

Would you believe it? I certainly wouldn’t have done, but it would appear that in 2011, the link building future is bright, and the future is paper!!

Some of the most important lessons for me were as follows

  • A trained and knowledgeable client who you’ve nurtured and instilled with the importance of these highly relevant relationship-links, is a devilishly powerful weapon.
  • Silence does not mean "no" when it comes to link building. It means "get the kettle on" (or buy a Starbucks) and start thinking about another method of approach.
  • There are no hard and fast rules to link development, other than being polite and persistent in chasing those gem links. The creative cat will always get the cream.
  • Dust off the fountain pen, rip open a new ream of headed paper and get writing!! 

As a footnote, since these links have been changed, the client in question has risen back to #1 for their main keyword – one of the most competitive keywords in the UK. A great start to 2011!

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