8 Lessons from Pickup Artists for Link Builders
By: Ben Wills |

I’ve met one true, undeniably talented Pickup Artist in my day. He was well-worn with a gently-firm smile and eyes that peered with an unwavering presence from three lifetimes of experience into the core of each moment. He saw things in a way that no one else I ever met could see them. And because of that smile, his experience, his loves, his wisdom and the amazing things he could do with his hands, he could paint a Model T truck like you’ve never seen.

Photo by dok1.

Pickup Artists - people who have learned to become exceptional at creating attraction - can be well-compared to only a few groups of people. But there’s something unique that Pickup Artists and Link Builders share: They both aim to achieve their goals through mastering social engineering and, in the end, discover that it’s not about techniques…and it’s not about getting laid or getting links.

While pickup lines and strategy guides certainly help, in the end, it’s about something entirely different.

Here are eight lessons that Link Builders can learn from Pickup Artists.

Thick Skin Goes Well with Deliberate Practice.

Pickup Artists and Link Builders are constantly dealing with rejection. Dozens of times a night, a guy looking to deliberately practice building attraction will get shot down. Likewise, Link Builders are having their emails deleted without consideration, receiving vitriolic responses, and getting link request after link request denied.

This is particularly true in the beginning. You’re constantly receiving feedback from another person and, in the beginning, that feedback is likely to be more negative than positive. Then, over time, you get better. You get higher “conversion rates” if you will. And what this process has to offer is that not only is rejection okay, but that each time you are rejected there’s a lesson to be learned. Maybe some of your e-mails need to be worded differently. Maybe this other sort of conversation style yields a conversion rate of 10/100 instead of 2/100 and you don’t get angry responses in return.

Thin skin leads to worry, uncertainty and a lack of confidence. It comes through in your communication. With thick skin, you can take a step back and begin uncovering the things that are helping you get the results you want.

Rejection is Inevitable. Reframe it to Your Advantage.

Photo by Mrs. Logic.

Rejection is inevitable. With a certain perspective, constant rejection can take its toll. On one hand, creating attraction and building links are both numbers games. On the other hand, there are things you can do to stack your odds in your favor. Even still, rejection will happen and you must be prepared for it. If not? Maybe you should manage PPC campaigns and not pursue link building.

Just kidding, guys. ;-)

The reality is that in any situation where another person's assessment of you and your offer is between you and your goal, rejection can be tough not to take personally. Hundreds of people a week telling you “No. I’m not interested in you or your site enough to link to you,” can be challenging. The good news is that if you keep at it, your luck will shift and/or you’ll learn to better craft your offers to increase your conversion rates.

There’s a classic sales anecdote that relates both to the link building and attraction mentalities in the context of rejection. It’s about a guy who sells door to door and consistently makes only one sale out of 20 people he talks to. That sale, let’s say, gets him a $1,000 commission. He just can’t seem to get over that 1 out of 20. He thinks “Wow. 19 out of 20 people aren’t interested in what I’m offering. I must be pathetic!”

After long enough of feeling down on himself - 19 out of 20! -, he decides something has to change. He decides to try and change his perspective. And this is what he changes: Instead of seeing that 19 out of 20 people aren’t buying, why not consider that the commission, $1,000, is pretty consistently generated every 20 people I talk to? So….each person I talk to is like the equivalent of making $50!

The story goes on say that after each person who rejected him, he would say “Thanks for the $50!”

Note: I do not recommend following up on your unresponsive link targets with “Thanks for helping me get on the front page of Reddit!” Though, I suppose you could…

Perhaps more importantly than reframing a negative into a positive, how do you think your link acquisition rates would improve if the cloud of rejection is lifted from your communication and replaced with the light of grounded optimism?

The Approach is Everything… Until You’re Past it. Then it Doesn’t Matter.

When someone endeavors to learn about how attraction works, one of the first things they learn are all of the different ways to do “The Approach.” Approach anxiety is everything that comes up for you mentally, emotionally, etc, before you even talk to this stranger in front of you. When trying to create attraction, things like “approach anxiety” must be worked through. Not only do you have to work through it, but once the anxiety is gone and the conversation has started, none of that matters anymore.

As a Link Builder there are certain things you have to work through as well…what’s my offer? Why would they even link to me? What kind of subject line is going to get opened? How is this site different than the last site? Should I go with humor? Value? Relating? A soft offer? As a Link Builder the majority of your work happens before you even send out that email. Same thing with attraction; if you haven’t done your homework, you’ll get blown out of the conversation in a heartbeat.

For a Link Builder, the request is everything…until you get a response. Then, you have to switch modes and shift with the tone of the response. After you get a response, the only thing that matters from there is building the relationship and providing value.

Get an Introduction from a Friend.

Referrals. Know someone that got a link on TheBestLinkEver.com? Talk to that person and have them introduce you.

Two girls talking at the bar and you’re interested in only one? (I guess some folks might be interested in both.) Make friends with the one you’re not interested, first. This helps lower socially ingrained resistances to “strangers.”

We all have that resistance…it’s why you delete most of your link requests and joke about them on Twitter. And it’s why, when someone you don’t know adds you on a social network, you’re less inclined to friend them on Facebook than to follow them back on Twitter. But if you share two dozen of the same friends on Facebook, wouldn't a lot of people be more likely to accept the request? And what if that same person was introduced to you by someone you already know and they have linked to in the past?…

Go Get a Wingman. Now.

Photo by expertinfantry.

There are two purposes to a wingman: To reduce social resistances, and to provide critical and constructive feedback.

Going out to a club with a friend where you’re introducing each other to people you’ve met, or to hold the attention of the friend of someone you’re attracted to, or any other potential uses of a traditional wingman is pretty different than the idea of a wingman in link building. But let’s look at the fundamental purpose, there might be more here than seems obvious.

In link building, a wingman that provides feedback might be another member on your SEO team, another colleague, or another Link Builder you’re not competing with. Having someone you can talk to about your strategies, what you’re doing, the results you’re getting and to also brainstorm new ideas. That kind of person is invaluable in any endeavor, not just link building.

But what about in the context of reducing social resistances and building social proof? It doesn’t really make sense to have your coworker talk to the TechCrunch editor for you. So how would a wingman work here?

Well, I’d like to suggest that the concept of a wingman should be broadened to include anything that will make the target of your link outreach more comfortable with you, a stranger, approaching them with a request. Reframed in this context, what can be leveraged as a wingman changes dramatically.

Here are some ideas:

  • Let other links or press be your wingman. When contacting a TechCrunch editor out of the blue, how do you think it would help your chances if you mention in your email that Mashable got the previous exclusive, the news blew up, and you want to offer TechCrunch the exclusive on this new information?
  • Then how do you get on Mashable? Do you know someone who’s been published on Mashable that could provide an introduction? If so, bam. There’s your wingman. But if not…
  • Your offer becomes your wingman. The right offer will remove any potential social resistance. So what’s the offer? An exclusive? A guest post? A sponsorship? What is it that they really want? Here’s a hint: What do their readers want?
  • If none of those work, the ability to reliably create results and outcomes becomes a possible wingman. Does your company provide a service that lets you do X significantly faster than others? Does it let its users do something that they weren’t able to do before? Is it something interesting enough that their readers are going to want to read it?
  • Testimonials: Did someone influential say something good about your offer?
  • Do you have free tools? Something tangible you can put before yourself that can be judged separately from you? That’s part of why we have our free link building tools at Ontolo…it’s something to offer that opens a lot of conversations.

All of these things rely on some sort of connection or offer or value. You can see that a wingman doesn’t always have to be a person, but it helps a ton.

With building relationships, the old business cliche of “The first million is the hardest.” certainly applies. Getting that first solid relationship or tangible result is always the hardest. But, once you have it, leverage it. Then leverage the other relationships and results that come up. And so on and so forth.

Which brings us to…

You Can’t Get to Third Base Without Going through First. And Second.

Photo by Gamma Man.

It’s a learning process. You have to walk before you can run. And you have to crawl before you can walk. And before you can crawl….well, you need to be born. And before you can be born, your dad has to know how to attract your mom (or vice versa). See? Full circle.

When you’re learning the process of attraction, in the beginning, you’re running through techniques, getting rejected, and getting feedback throughout. That lets you get from one level to the next. Without the techniques stage, it’s too difficult to navigate well enough to get to the strategy stage. And without the strategy stage, it’s difficult to get to the “embodiment” stage where you don’t have to think anymore about all of the tactics or pickup lines, you’ve just become a different person; your nature and unconscious behavior has evolved.

You can’t expect to get on Mashable or TechCrunch or the front page of Reddit in your first month of link building. If you do, it’s probably going to be because of a relationship or a tangible result that had been developed long before that month. And if it’s because of luck, enjoy it and move on, but be careful taking credit for it.

When I was a manager and then director of an SEO department that was over 40 SEOs large (the company was over 150, all SEO/PPC), the first thing I taught people was keyword research. And that’s all they did for at least that first month. If you don’t understand how searchers design their search queries, you can’t truly understand search marketing. And you can’t understand how people design their search queries and ingrain it into your intuition without seeing thousands and thousands of search queries and total searches paired next to each other. It just doesn’t happen any other way.

Along the same lines, new sushi chefs do little more than cook rice and cut fish in their entire first year. That’s it: cook rice, cut fish. Why do you think that is?

Similarly, when you’re starting out link building, you need to do two things: Look for link prospects and contact link prospects. That’s it. Just do that, over and over and over. Learn strategies, but don’t let them keep you from taking action. You won’t be able to use the strategies unless and until you have built experience and constant feedback from link prospects over and over and over.

Once you start forming your own strategies and ideas, test them immediately and fail early. One of the best lessons I learned was when I wrote a script that crawled Google search results, crawled the individual result pages, then sent an automated email to any addresses on that page. I sent well over 100,000 emails in just a couple of days. How many responses did I get back? Less than a dozen. And most of those were not positive. On the upside, the client’s domain was blacklisted on just about every email blacklist you can imagine. Clients love that.

In all seriousness, I learned one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned: you can’t automate the human elements of link building. Similarly, if you’re simply running through pickup lines, it’s just not going to work. Your personality, your you-ness, needs to show through. People like people. People want to work with other people. And people want to work with people they know, like, and trust. If your first contact isn’t personal and individual, you’re simply not going to get nearly as far.

Jerks and Spammers. Ethics Abound.

To report paid links or not? To tell that girl over there that “The Cube” routine is being run on her or not? You really, genuinely like and respect this girl, when do you stop doing the “techniques?” You really, genuinely like and respect this site and what it stands for…do you still buy an in-content link? How many lines is it ok to use during the attraction process? How many donation links can you buy before your “donation” becomes disingenuous?

Wherever you go, there will be jerks…people who knowingly try and get as much from other people without giving anything in return. The “Bad Apples” or “Players” or “Black Hats,” if you will. There will also be people who are simply misled and are doing the best they know to be right without fully understanding the consequences. There will always be moralists who see everything as cut and dry, and you do and don’t do this or that because it’s right or wrong. And there will always be the relativists with a kind of awareness to decide that there’s no right or wrong. And then there are the individualists who believe that ethics are personal decisions and statements because that person is the one who has to live with their actions and consequences of them.

So what’s the right position and what should my ethics be? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that for you. No one can except for you. And it’s ok, because whatever you decide now can also change.

My own recommendation from my own experience? Start on the conservative side and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Start there, then think things through.

Becoming a Better Link Builder.

Photo by Faith Goble.

The Pickup Artist community has a bad rap. So do Link Builders and SEOs. We’re all comment spammers, you know? Much of the press seems to enjoy painting SEOs and Link Builders as manipulative, conniving, shady, unethical and immoral folks who run rampantly and wildly through the internet, gaming everything they can.


It’s true. In the entire community of Link Builders, there are Link Builders of every kind.

Likewise, there are people in poor taste and disrespect in the pickup community. But there’s a segment of that group of people - people who simply want to understand the dynamics of attraction to improve their lives and relationships - that go unnoticed and undiscussed. These are the ones that, in the end, discover that it’s the quality of their own lives that they’re looking to improve, not the number of notches on their bedpost.

In the link building community, I believe the vast majority of us are in this to do it well and to do it in a way that we feel is right and that we feel good about. I believe the vast majority of us are here with the objective of genuinely contributing our strengths of understanding the complexities of marketing, social dynamics, and online interactions to benefit both businesses and consumers alike. I believe that we respect our customers and the customers of others. And, while I understand that we sometimes stumble along the way, I believe that in the end, our goal is to become the best Link Builders possible.

In that process, we may come to acknowledge that link building isn’t about the perfect link request template. It’s not about the newest prospecting query. It’s not about a new automation tactic. Those things are great and can be effective, but they don’t bring us fulfillment.

I believe that, in the end, it’s pretty simple. The most successful and most fulfilled Link Builders are those who have learned how to provide the most value to the most people and causing the least amount of pain to the least amount of people. Links are acquired every day without requests. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of links created each day come from no solicitation at all. Those links are happening because of the cumulative effort that a person or group of people - a company, organization, etc - have put towards providing something remarkably valuable out into the world for others to appreciate.

Wherever you are in the process, revere it. You’ve come far and you may still have a long way to go.

Enjoy the ride.


  1. 8 AWESOME Lessons from Pickup Artists for Link Builders

    It took me some time to become the calloused bastard that I am now as a link builder. I’ve learned to take things in stride and to use a rejection constructively. It is good to go back, review what could have been done better, and, if there was an opening, how to improve upon that in the future. It is like this with anything though! Link building is definitely no exception. Using this methodology has made link building much easier when doing outreach. I’ve been trying to increase my “hustle” (Thanks, Distilled!) skills. Instead of accepting the rejections head-on, thank the link prospect and see if there is any other way you can help that person or get a link on their site. There are too many times when we as SEOs forget that the best links are going to require relationships.

    I definitely agree with you on the importance of the approach. Each Lady Link is different and might not respond as well to, “I’m not wearing any pants.” We have to adapt. Let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.

    The wingman strategy is not something that I have tried out yet! It sounds like I may have to use some better networking and improve upon my circles. Your “you can’t get to third base without going through first. And second” point gave me a good laugh because I immediately thought of paid links as hookers. Maybe, I’m in the SEO gutter now!

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it. It gave me a few laughs, and it was a neat way to look at the way we can link build!

  1. The reality is that in any

    The reality is that in any situation where another person's assessment of you and your offer is between you and your goal, rejection can be tough not to take personally.

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