Link Building Sucks! Here’s What You Need To Do About It

After attending the latest SEO Meetup in Arlington last evening, I was inspired to recap and expand upon the presentation and discussion led by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.

  • The Topic of Discussion: Acquiring High Quality Inbound Links
  • The Specific Details: High quality inbound links – from authority websites (think academia, governmental, respected publisher) – require high quality content (think articles, video, widgets etc) designed to be in focus with the marketing strategy of an existing business and its potential customers.

Natural link building. The process of creating something of value, finding authority places to pitch it and being successful in this endeavor.

Nothing sexy. Nothing overly exciting. No presentation accompanied with massive spikes in traffic or voluminous numbers of link building numbers. Buzzwords were not used (even though the term “linkbait” was referenced once, it was in begrudging fashion) and were definitely not needed. More importantly, it’s not what most would consider easy, and natural link building takes time to develop success.

Enge’s arguments for “why” choose this strategy make complete sense, since the end goal is to build a website presence in authority locations, using the most appropriate and recognized methods for building long term link authority. For many business owners, this type of link building will be the cornerstone strategy for their SEO endeavors.

Here’s a breakdown and list of recommendations for small business owners, looking to embark on this link building strategy.

  • Gather Your Content Ideas and Build
    Get an idea of what types of content your customers and website visitors want to see, read and use. Focus on building these assets for distribution and to pitch future link opportunities.

    A specific example was a widget for a real estate client, designed to showcase town information in line with their real estate listings on their web pages. This provides value to the real estate agent, who needs content to enhance the marketability of their listings.

    Beyond widgets, think about articles that solve problems frequently asked in your industry, or tools and reference material people will want to come back to time and time again. Note that in some cases, this resource may never reside on the client’s website. It was written purely for distribution to other online resources.

  • Gather a Short List of Link Targets
    Start cataloging a list of resources that are appropriate for pitching the content you are developing. Search for high quality, authority websites which already have locations (on their website) where the link opportunity makes sense.

    Begin by gathering a list of names, email addresses and phone numbers (yes, phone numbers), among other link building details, where you can begin communicating to, once your content is ready to be distributed.
  • Get Personalized in Your Link Requests
    Once you’ve gathered your list of contacts and the content is ready to be distributed don’t slack off with the actual link requests. Each link request must be handled as an individual request. Here’s a short list of things you want to consider:

    • Use the specific name (if possible)
    • Create a unique and authoritative subject line (nothing generic like “link request” or “hello”)
    • Identify why you are approaching them as quickly as possible
    • Indicate why your piece of content is valuable to their website visitors
    • Unless it has already been established to do so, its best to never directly ask for a link
    • Be professional in your delivery

    Eric noted that many publishers and editorial resources have established guidelines for formats, layouts etc for articles and submissions. If you are targeting these types of resources, make sure your content is in line with existing requirements.

  • Don’t Forget The 2nd and 3rd Tier Opportunities
    When you’re researching your most desired link targets, it’s not wise to just ignore the rest of the bunch. I would recommend documenting and recording as many contacts for link requests as possible that are relevant to your business.

    While you may not spend as much time and energy focusing on these secondary resource, it’s worth reaching out, particularly if you know (through your research) that there is some form of opportunity for receiving content, whether that be articles, press releases, announcements etc.

  • There’s More to Quality Link Building Than Just The Link
    One of the key benchmarks discussed when a link building campaign is initiated is the relationship to overall website traffic. If you’re truly building quality inbound links, not only should your search rankings improve (thereby increasing search referral traffic), but the amount of overall visitor traffic should improve.

    A specific example was a link acquired from a reputable governmental website, which in turn help lead to traffic improvements of over 5 times the original traffic numbers at project inception.

  • Use Social Media Channels To Research Content Ideas
    I was glad that last night’s discussion did not turn into a conversation on social media or viral marketing, but it’s important to realize that high quality content may get picked up in some of these high trafficked social media websites (like Digg, StumbleUpon etc) or bookmarked in notable social bookmarking websites (such as

    Spend some time researching articles, resources and content bookmarked that has succeeded in these networks, for generating ideas that have the opportunity to gain as much online visibility as possible in as many verticals as possible. But leveraging the social media community for obtaining inbound links is a completely different topic of conversation.

Does Link Building Really Suck?
For many people, having the knowledge and focus that there is really one way to achieve high quality inbound links is a boon for their SEO endeavors. For others, it’s a challenge that needs to be overcome. The reality of the situation is that (to coin a title) link building is just harder now than most people expect it to be. If you don’t have the time to invest in generating link worthy content than you need to find ways to scale this endeavor, and/or incorporate it into your existing business strategies for website development and marketing strategy.

One final point: Jim Spencer of JBS Partners asked an important question on quantifying this type of link building effort with the sliding scale of alternative strategies people will recommend for targeting inbound links (blogging, directories, press releases etc). I think it’s important to note 2 important answers to this question:

  1. A comprehensive link building program always contains more than 1 strategy, so being able to leverage multiple tactics for link acquisition is an important point.
  2. Links acquired from content found on authority domains represent what almost any SEO professional would want a client to acquire. This type of link is less likely to experience any decrease in value as a result of the changing landscape of search engine optimization.

Overall, last night’s SEO Meetup was a great experience and contained great discussion amongst the group. If you’re in town when one of these events is going on, I would highly recommend stopping by and spending the time.

Final Final Note: If you are interested in link building and want to learn more, make sure to check out Rae Hoffman’s interview with 11 SEO Experts on Link Development Strategies. It contains 11 questions covering a variety of link building topics such as social media, link training and trends in the search engine marketing related to link building.


14 Responses to “Link Building Sucks! Here’s What You Need To Do About It”

  1. Brian on February 5th, 2008 12:25 pm

    great review of the event. The topic of link building really hit a cord with the seo agencies in the crowd. All trying to figure out how to set expectations with clients on what really can be achieved and what works at a high level for quality link building vs. garbage links.

  2. Peter Davis on February 5th, 2008 4:55 pm

    Hey Derek, good writeup on the event. Next month we’re having an expert lead the discussion on the topic of keyword research. The only thing Eric Enge mentioned that I didn’t agree with was when he said that forums use the nofollow. Some of them do, but not the majority. He might have been thinking blog comments.

  3. Kaj Kandler on February 5th, 2008 6:11 pm

    Interesting review Derrek!
    It was amazing how much Eric shared with us. The quote that stuck in my head is “It is usually more profitable to publish content [and do the proper SEO] than to consult on SEO services.”


  4. Melanie Phung on February 5th, 2008 7:00 pm

    Great tips, thanks for sharing. I’m a member of a couple local SEO/blogger Meet-Ups but I somehow never manage to go to any. :( I’m obviously missing a good opportunity.

  5. Derek on February 5th, 2008 7:58 pm

    @Brian and @Peter – thanks for stopping by and commenting. Link building is such a contentious issue when it comes to time, strategy and expectations. Great topic and great discussion.

    @Melanie – at least in the local meetup here, the great thing is the casual environment and discussion. I’d recommend checking out your local group at least once – you never know!

  6. Angela M on February 6th, 2008 2:20 pm

    Good synopsis. I like how he varied his tactics and attempted to cover a number of items that many link builders miss. And he’s right. The point of link building is to become a recognized authority in several different venues. Thanks again for the write up.

  7. Rachel Rokeach on February 6th, 2008 10:23 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Our site used to do amazing without much hard work until the past 2 years or so when poker & gaming became a fad, others saturated the market making it much harder and costly to do well.

    We just started link building about 3 months ago and work on trying every day. Getting quality links, especially in our industry, casino & poker supplies – is not easy. (We are not looking for links on online gambling sites.)

    How much time would you give the search engines to pick up on the links?



  8. Derek on February 7th, 2008 2:46 pm

    Hi Rachel – that is sort of a loaded question, but here are some ideas/recommendations:

    While you can use standard link queries and register for a Google Webmaster Account to see progress, it’s pretty difficult (impossible?) to determine when the SE picked up the link and made a determination that your site should benefit from a search results perspective. You don’t have access to another website’s reports to see when an SE crawled a page and then try to make a corresponding assessment of the SE jumping to your pages (by way of a link).

    If you have the capability, I would simply suggest reviewing your analytics data for referral information and just keep tabs that way (a previous post on Evaluating Link Results has a great comment from one of the readers regarding this – check out his idea for certain).

    Bottom line – it is highly advisable to keep your own internal records related to where/when links were acquired and what sort of factors were associated to the link (anchor text, type of reference, domain, etc etc). You may not know exactly when an SE gave you credit, but you know how many and what type of links you have.

    Hope this helps!

  9. Tech News on February 8th, 2008 5:44 pm

    Great article, thanks.

  10. Arnie on February 11th, 2008 1:00 pm

    Hey I am part of the SEO meetup in Phoenix. Looks like you had a good meeting.

    Personally I still like GOOD linkbait. Check out my post at:

  11. Searchtroop on February 16th, 2008 2:19 pm

    Excellent analysis. Quality links can be made when time is taken.

  12. Self-Help Ebooks on May 2nd, 2008 11:05 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Link building sure sounds like a tedious process. But, it seems it is very important to upping the ranks. =\

  13. Professional Web Design | Flash Developer | Web Design Romania | Flash Web Design | Professional Website Design on May 10th, 2008 9:07 pm

    So…internal links help you improve in search engine rankings?

  14. picture on August 1st, 2008 12:00 pm

    Great analysis, Thanks.