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Any SEO aficionado who has ever attempted to contact a webmaster as part of a link-building campaign can attest that webmasters are indeed a strange breed (and deserve an anthropological field devoted to their study). Unless you have a fair grasp of webmaster psychology, you may end up spinning your link-building wheels or worse, squandering your lone chance to cultivate a valuable relationship or acquire a Holy Grail link.

Admittedly, understanding the webmaster’s behavioral patterns and motivations won’t guarantee successful webmaster interaction–I’m sure Jane Goodall had her share of standoffish chimps. The idea, however, is to maximize your chances for link-building success by understanding the creature called “webmaster.” By looking at his website, you can learn about the kind of webmaster you’re dealing with and what you must offer as a worthy exchange for the link you desire.

A profile of various species of webmaster:

nativus-hermiticusNativus hermiticus – Think “geocities” or “angelfire,” these webmasters usually started early on and have continued to maintain their visually unimpressive, yet highly resourceful sites (usually with decent PR because of their longevity). They can be elusive when they forget to provide an e-mail. Typically a friendly species, they thrive on positive feedback about their site, have linked to many, and are easy to approach, provided your site fits with their collection and you give them the pre-built link or html.

strategis-generalusStrategis generalus – The most common species of webmaster, they know their audience and aim to please. They employ minimal to moderate SEO, choosing to focus on design and accessibility. They are generally more concerned about having a quality website than about their site being used for your SEO purposes. Therefore, they can be won over with evidence that your site fills a void in their content. Expect them to look with much more scrutiny at your site than any other species of webmaster. Try to discover why they have already linked to particular sites and position yourself accordingly.

strategis-capitalusStrategis capitalus– These webmasters are all about monetization through sell-offs, affiliate marketing, etc., are familiar with SEO tactics, and own several domains with little emotional attachment to them. They are more concerned about getting link juice from your site than your site’s relevancy. They have a link submission page with reciprocal link requirements and mandated anchor text. The PR on their sites is generally low. You either play by their rules, or you don’t get the link.

bloggerus-amatorialusBloggerus amatorialus – These webmasters are just happy to have web presence and its social benefits without thinking about development, readership, or SEO. That being said, they can be very protective of their templated Blogspot site. They generally don’t link to anyone, except friends, but you can work with that. Develop a relationship over time by faithful readership and comments as a sure way in. If your blitzkrieg approach to link-building makes this unfeasible, just make contact and keep your expectations low.

diglicious-flicktwittusDiglicious flicktwittus – These hyperactive webmasters crave popularity. Their content is replete with social bookmarking dot coms you’ve never heard of. SEO takes too long. They’re always on the lookout for new friend- and follower-cultivation tactics and they only link to “web celebs.” Accept that your link request e-mail will become fodder for their next “retweetable” status update or blog post (maybe you can get a backlink for that). Don’t worry—you’ll feel much better when their 15 minutes is up and their site is down.

Remember that the psychological and behavioral nuances of webmasters are the spice of SEO life. To enhance your approach I recommend a few other tactics to complement your webmaster familiarity.

  1. Quality content. This is obviously the most important. Expect that everyone you request a link from will visit your site. If you don’t have a lot of content or if the content is bland and doesn’t fit the webmaster’s site, you’ve got work to do before requesting a link.
  2. Quality web design. First impressions will be made visually when the webmaster visits your site. Maintain a site that will add visual and professional credibility to their site. Make sure your site looks accessible and engaging before you request the link.
  3. Quality offer. You build credibility and rapport by having something constructive to say rather than “I like your site.” For example, you can run their site through a quick link check, like Xenu’s Link Sleuth and inform them of broken links (conveniently offering a link to take its place). If you’ve established a rapport with a history of blog comments, you may refer them to articles that fit their niche (but won’t likely be linked-to because they’re articles).

The webmaster is only feared by those that don’t understand him. You now have all the necessary knowledge to be an effective webmaster psychologist. Put the knowledge to action and you will successfully tame the wild webmaster and earn your link.