Posted February 24, 2011 12:05 am by with 10 comments

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This isn’t a hidden fact; link building is the missing piece of most online marketing plans. Onsite SEO and content are just part of the game, but there is no part of code you can change that will have an impact on ranking like good, strong, focused links to your site’s pages. Naturally, link building is the one thing we all hate doing. Most SEOs, when you mention link building, will either groan and put their headphones back on, or just cry. But it is a necessary part of SEO.

So instead of drowning out the part of your to-do list, or bawling, how about we get directions from three of the top minds in link building. I sent questions to some of my favorite link builders and mashed up their answers to give you some insight from those that truly love link building. If you want more after this post, check out some more top minds discussing link building at the Distilled Link Building Seminar in New Orleans or London.

Without further adieu, our link building ninjas are:

Julie Joyce owns Link Fish Media, Inc, a link development company headquartered in Greensboro, NC that focuses on helping clients in ultra-competitive niches all over the world. She also really likes pub snacks.

Ben Wills is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ontolo. While working at the largest SEO company in the early 2000s, he designed and directed implementation for thousands of SEO campaigns. And thus began his focus on scale and automation. While not figuring out hard SEO and link building problems, he road trips thousands of miles a year and rock climbs whenever his body and schedule lets him. Following him on Twitter: @benwills

Brian McDowell focuses on product development and customer success for Conductor. McDowell has designed and built multiple in-house proprietary technologies for natural search and built large in house teams consisting of developers and junior level SEO practitioners for companies such as LendingTree,, Market America and Red Ventures.

Please note that these answers have been edited. If you want to see their full answers, download this Link Building Full Interviews. On to the questions:

You do something most SEOs hate to do, why? (Dear God Why?)

Julie: Haha! Honestly, I really love it. It’s tedious, it’s hell at times … I think it’s quite difficult to do well and that forces those of us doing it to constantly try to think of creative ways to keep going and stop the wall from coming down. There’s something very satisfying about seeing an amazing link … I’ve never felt like that looking at a meta tag.

Brian: It is exciting to measure and analyze specific tactics and techniques in order to get a better understanding of how external factors enhance (or dilute) your SERP positioning. Link building is a science and it takes a lot of effort to do properly.

Ben: Honestly? After 7 years of it, I got bored with SEO. … I realized that the problem of link building hadn’t been solved well and that I hadn’t built an idea I’d always wanted to. Boredom? Cured.

Is there one tool that is completely indispensible to you?

Ben: Ours 🙂 I say that cheekily, but it’s also true. I really don’t like doing the same task twice and so we’ve built numerous tools around each of those tasks.

Julie: Rex Swain’s HTTP Header Check – It’s just so old school it’s crazy, and it’s amazing how many people do not use 301s properly. If I’m building links to a site, I’d at least like that redirect to be in there!

Brian: Tools to help with Automation – hands down. Good SEOs use tools to automate their efforts and become more efficient.

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you first started in link building?

Julie: I wish I’d known how worthless Google’s Toolbar PageRank is as a link building metric. (Amen Sista!)

Ben: It might be a rough road, that I’m not going to get it right from the beginning, and that that’s really ok and might be the best way to go.

Brian: I wish I knew the importance of auditing my investments (both pre and post publish). Audits are used to monitor your link investments in order to make sure your links are live, constructed properly and live in good neighborhoods. Fixing broken links (including internal 404s) should be considered another tactic in link building and not just general maintenance.

If you took on a client looking for link building help, what is the first thing they should know?

Brian: What are the expectations of these sites and what are they using to measure the level of success. I’d want them to know to focus on distributed relevance without a hyper focus on a specific term. Link building takes time and should have consistent and sustained growth. Patience is needed and the amount of time is purely dependent on the competitive landscape for their niche and which terms they are targeting. I’d ask things like:

• Does the customer care about lead generation, online sales, incoming calls or just visibility?
• How quickly can changes be made to the site (important in link building for managing relevance)?
• What analytics package and use of Google and/or Bing Webmaster Tools?
• Is the customer currently using an SEO platform to track and monitor their efforts?

Ben: Link building is the least measurable form of marketing in terms of impact on rankings. No one knows how to value a link right now in terms of search rankings and ROI…the math is simply too complex and constantly changing. Even if you figured it out, it would be irrelevant pretty quickly.

Julie: The first thing we tell people requesting a quote is that we do buy links and that paid links are risky business. We don’t just buy links, but link buying is definitely our specialty. If they are comfortable with the risk and I am comfortable with it, things progress, but if one of us isn’t, we part ways immediately.

What link building technique or source of links do you think is under used / undervalued by SEOs right now?

Julie: That’s a tough one. I definitely have a soft spot for good paid links so I’d probably say that those are the most undervalued types of links. I think there’s an assumption that all paid links are horrible spammy ones on irrelevant one-page sites, but it’s absolutely not true. Really nice paid links that are relevant, don’t leave a footprint, and drive traffic are definitely undervalued.

Brian: The ones I use. 😛 On a serious note, I think infographics are something that not enough people focus on. They require a creative mind, a great designer and a data analyst to work together and produce something amazing enough to be shared. Good infographics have a long lifespan, generate links and references as well as good social citations.

Ben: The most undervalued technique is more of a well-designed strategy that’s consistently executed, day in and day out. We hear a lot about one-off efforts, but rarely about recurring strategies that build on themselves over time.

When it comes to international or localized search, any tips on how to get links from your area?

Brian: Street teams work great. Shake some hands and kiss some babies to get the job done. Network. Is your lunch hour worth a link? Absolutely. Offer to exchange some SEO knowledge and straight up ask for the link. If you do not have easy access to the geographical area, become a part of its community: sponsor events and work with the local news media.

Julie: It depends on where the target market is. If you’re a UK site but you do business all over, I’d not be as keen to suggest as high a percentage of links as I would be if you only sold in the UK itself. I don’t pay as much attention to hosting location … Relevant language links are nice if you’re working in a foreign language. In terms of how to get them, I always go back to the emailed link request. People say it doesn’t work but it works for us (perhaps because we’re offering cash!) For something non-paid, I think there is a massive amount of ideas too numerous to name here, but content and social media would be driving forces there.

Ben: For international, I would say to offer something unique to that area/country and distribute it through well-connected experts in that country. For local? Get involved! There are so many local opportunities from local bloggers to volunteering to holding free local events. I can’t stress enough how much simply “showing up” can help with local link building. If you’re in it for the long haul, “show up” to something new once a week for 3 months. After that, you’ll know better than anyone consultant could tell you what opportunities are out there.

What is the biggest misconception in link building today?

Julie: I’m going to harp on paid links here but I do think it’s that all paid links are crap. Secondly, I’d say that it’s the idea that you can compete in an ultra-competitive niche without buying links. People say it’s possible but no one is willing to step up and point you to an actual example. I can’t really imagine telling a client like that to just write great content.

Brian: That spending time and resources on link building is not necessary or a priority. On the flip side, a great link profile will only get you so far if you have poor site structure. SEO is a hybrid of technical aptitude with a deep understanding of industry best practices and a creative mind for marketing and brand management.

What sites/blogs would you recommend for people looking to learn about link building?

• (Garrett French)

What is the most creative link building tactic you’ve ever seen?

Ben: People might not like it when I say this, but I’d say that negative reviews for that glasses company that imploded late last year was pretty creative. In poor taste and unethical? Yep. Creative? Absolutely.

Julie: I’d have to say that Lyndon Antcliff’s fake news bait was amazing. Not only did he fool people, he divided people, and he got our attention. I like a nice prank anyway so I thought the whole thing was hysterical. The story is still up and look at the backlinks!

Brian: A competitor built a site that had free hit counters before this tactic became mainstream. The hit counter site was clean and actually looked fairly decent. In order to use their “free hit counters” you had to use their code and accept the marketing agreement.

What I particularly liked about this hit counter site was the fact that they ranked #1 in PPC for many niche keywords and often times they were the only result. They were effectively buying clicks for people to put the hit counters on their site. The real cash cow here was that the hit counters came with a link to their many properties in multiple ways. Some links had keyword rich anchor text, some links were exact URLs and others were brand names. There was also the existence of image links with great alt text and titles. These links were distributed across a wide population of unrelated pages and the tactic was fairly effective for a long period of time.

I loved this approach since they were effectively attracting amateur webmasters looking for a free basic analytics tool (tracking visits). While something like this wouldn’t work well today (not that people aren’t trying) the reason I loved this was that it embodied the creative nature of link building in a new and unique way.

THE AUTHOR: Kate Morris is an SEO at Distilled. They are running two link building conferences – in New Orleans on 25th March and in London on 18th March. The focus is on actionable tips and tricks so if you need more links, these events are the places to be.

  • Hi,

    Nice information.

    I really thankful to you.

  • ya, link building is very effective today. it is powerful tool, in cress your site in the right way

  • Link building requires extensive, clean, fresh data. The hardest part about building links is wading through old, dead links in out of date maps of the web. If you are going to do link building, then get yourself the best data you can and save yourself a ton of time and money.

  • I’m usually not a big fan of interview pieces, but this one is definitely worth reading and sharing.

    Well done, Kate!

    P.S. Most people hate some of the more tedious aspects of link building, which is why it’s such a great niche to work in (especially if you develop a methodology to automate and/or delegate efficiently).

    • Thanks for the compliment Hugo, that means alot. This is all the interviewees though. They are all rockstars, for real.

  • Yay! Thankyou for the mention Julie – great piece enjoyed every word.

    Nice to see im not trusted with a link though (Good move in most cases 🙂 )

    Also pub mix FTW

  • Link building continues to baffle me more than any other aspect of SEO and online marketing. This post is absolutely brilliant and I’ll be checking out the recommendations and following the links within the post for probably the next few days lol. Great stuff, and thank you!

  • John

    Great read for sure! A couple of interesting observations/takeaways in this article though:

    1) LinkFish is obviously all about paid links – yes these have worked for years and still can, but to scale for a provider they typically based on a network that has footprints — we all know what’s starting to happen w/ the Google hammer &/or the fear they’re putting in paying clients OR confidence they’re breathing into spam reporting/outing. Julies quotes were honest & I don’t majorly disagree with some of the answers, but doing it right in the face of Google’s public crackdown? — interesting approach but not one I’d be taking.

    2) Conductor USED to be one of the biggest link builders, especially in the enterprise market and they all but avoided direct link building answers in this interview. Understandable I guess since they just completely ejected from the link building market ( + paid links network busted) — It was just amusing how the answers kept going back to on-page/architecture, or better yet, avoided off-site linking (I do think Brian’s answers were very strong but he must’ve had a gag order on link answers). How did Conductor get to the Inc5000 list anyway? Uh, Paid links. Do the math ($10.4M 2009 revenue [via inc500 listing] + conductor says it currently has 100 searchlight clients (SEO platform). We can assume their revenue was higher since 2009, but even at ’09 levels, the math would suggest each client is spending $8,500/mos for the platform, which of course is not the case. That’s a huge ding in revenue being lost to the linking business!

    Both of these are just highly ironic themes in this interview, considering the timing and recent industry news in the past 2 weeks.

    I thought Ben’s comments gave good perspective. Ontolo pumps out some strong content and I’ve heard really good things about their link research tools.

  • Great article Kate thanks for putting it together! Loved Brian’s last example (the traffic counter) and totally agree with him. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking like that is the only way you can make a significant impact , especially with Google and Matt Cutts being in such a bad mode lately. Any attempt to “force” rankings via questionable linking will hurt you, now or later. That you can count on.

    Thanks again!

  • Really great interview, got a great insight on how link builders work 🙂