An impromptu tweet from Peter Attia regarding the fact he no longer identified with the term link builder got me thinking more about the term “link building” and also about what would we all be doing in 2013 and beyond. With the changes within the industry following the recent Google updates SEO companies have begun to change their direction somewhat.
After a few emails back and forth between Peter and I we invited some of our smart peers to join in the discussion.
Below is the unedited discussion which occurred between the six of us:
|Sean Revell||Don Rhoades||Anthony Pensabene||Peter Attia||Nick Eubanks||Chris Dyson|
1.) Is the term Link Builder relevant today for the work that SEO’s perform?
Personally, Link Builder is a term I find doesn’t justify the work load now involved with the types of work that I identify with.
Link Builder is a bit of a dirty word in some circles as it has connotations with web spam and someone who uses software such as Xrumer or Mass article directory submissions.
I am all for using tools to make my life easier and to help me speed up the process of prospecting for links e.g. finding link research tools, CRM but ultimately a degree of being able to sell & market yourself and/or your client to webmasters is now a very highly sought after skill set.
What that term should be now I guess is open for debate but I do like using terms such as outreach, outbound and community in identifying the work I do.
I agree. There have been several times where I’ve mentioned the term link building/link builder and people immediately recall lower quality strategies.
I’ve even had someone tell me they’ve never used link building as an SEO tactic for their company, because they didn’t believe in it. However, when they explained their content promotion campaigns to me, I realized it was what I considered to be link building.
The term has widened to mean a variation of several tactics, but is leaning towards a bad connotation.
It’s funny how language can change and adapt because of a few articles, conferences and discussions on social media…
As far as I’m concerned building content based links is what we do to help get our client’s product and brand in front of as many relevant, potential users as possible. The link is merely a portal to a better brighter world! If we see ranking increases from the work we do then it’s an added, expected bonus!
The term is horribly limiting in regard to potential actions performed.
Unfortunately, that is something that needs to be resolved with branding and communication by the industry as a whole and on personal service levels (if you want to make more sales).
“We are a link building company.” Cool, me as Anthony (assuming I’m not anyone else that particular day) understands the implications of “link building company.” Talk to my father, who is in a place to make marketing decisions for his employer. My dad fathered no genius, but he is a pretty smart dude. If you want to “link build” for him, you must speak his language. It’s like, I could tell someone I’m in SEO, or actually give them something tangible to work with in their mind’s grasp.
No “link building” is unfortunately a term that has lost some direction due to the changing landscape of the industry (from the inside) and the slang nature of the term (it’s not immediately understood by the client).
I completely agree with Anthony on this one.
Not only is this language siloed within the internet marketing industry, speak with any Fortune 500 PR or Marketing agency and they most likely will have no idea what ‘link building’ is. As Anthony mentioned in one of our conversations about content as it relates to links – successful marketer’s don’t just focus on the links but instead the relationships that should come first.
I personally think this adage changed long before Rand made the point, but the fact of the matter remains, a fundamental shift has occurred. No longer should links be built, and instead the focus should be on what can be done to attract links. This can be done several ways, for example as Jon mentions you can focus on writing content that is topical for the people who are most likely to create links, or as Wayne mentions you greatly increase your chances of getting links by making sure you target and promote to influencers who are likely to link based on historical actions.
To be completely honest I see the term SEO, in it’s purest form, losing steam in terms of relevance as the roles of internet marketers (which has also come to be used almost interchangeably with the term SEO) continues to evolve into a more cross-functional role.
The term link builder is what we might use internally at my shop. Because we know what that means, we get away with using it. I refer to the folks that work under me as the GTD guys. I have seen some refer to their link builders as acquisition specialists or outreach specialists, but I never really cared about the nomenclature, it was always about getting shit done. The term really shouldn’t go away IMO, because I will always have a need for the grunts to scale outreach. Those guys do one thing well, which is outreach. My copy writers, write copy. I know we’d like to think we’re above compartmentalizing, but really it comes down to playing to a team member’s strengths. I make my outreach guys read this post from Ross Hudgens, because I want them to understand the importance of what we’re doing for the client. If they aren’t receptive, they can go home. In the end, I don’t want to do the manual outreach, but if that’s what we can do until the big fish comes along, we need to provide a quality service. The thing we all should remember is that the results we produce for the client are what sets the bar for our reputation as individuals and as an industry. Begging is still a valid technique to me, and that may not give the return I’m looking to score, but it has it’s place. Would I explain to the client that this is spray and pray, of course not. I would show them the value of some of the many techniques that we employ.
I like what Nick just wrote about “cross-functional.” Yes, I think to even think of benefitting a business in just online terms is limiting. For instance, a writer may write something compelling and timely, guerilla marketing on the street corner, handing out copies, inviting receivers to read more online. Depending on the business model of the client, such marketing endeavors may be way more effective and powerful than an online-only one.
It’s about tailoring marketing in time and space. It’s not static; it can’t be to stay effective.
I was talking to Don last night about some recent thoughts. I espied Rand Fishkin and Joel Klettke aka the best-looking man in the world discussing the terms SEO, Inbound, Wu-Tang Marketing Ninja… as well as Jacques Derrida on linguistic deconstruction (maybe I made the last part up).
It got me thinking the language/industry does not reflect the intentions of some practitioners. I like ‘business strategist’ of late; I feel that’s what I want to do, and though broad, everything I want and could help with fits nicely into it.
However, it’s just syllables strung together to form two words. When you think of that word, what do you see?
Do you see me in a ninja outfit, writing posts, studying business verticals, looking for creative ways to better businesses? If you do, that’s pretty funny, and you just made me giggle.
But in all seriousness, we have to communicate first and foremost. Jargon and non-representative terms is fine to debate within the industry; we love it, and will discuss all day. However, clients have many things to do than try and sift through verbiage. Ensure our language easily communicates/gives a picture of what we do.
Bingo! Marketing to me means: Communicating Value, nothing more, nothing less.
2.) Has your (or your company’s) attitude to Link Building changed in the past 6-12 months?
In terms of link building we don’t do the lower level stuff now, not because we feel it’s below us but because we don’t think it will give as good a ROI as doing things ‘properly’. This includes considering both results in the short term and possible penalisation in the long term.
Link building to us revolves around 2 areas:
1 – Creating content that people want to read, share and link too whether it’s on site or off site.
2 – Getting involved in communities socially via blogs, forums and social media.
Whether these techniques get us links or not we feel that it’s a good, long term way of working to build a brand’s visibility.
My perception of link building has consistently changed since my first days in SEO.
There are multiple reasons I think people should stick to the tactics Sean’s referred to. Aside from being better for brand awareness, it also keeps your employees from getting burnt out. Some of the older link building tactics were completely mind numbing.
However, I will always enjoy testing a variation of tactics and seeing first hand what does and doesn’t work.
Link builders like to keep their paladin like appearance and quickly downplay less than spotless link building tactic. This doesn’t mean they’re useless given the right circumstances, but they will never compare to high quality content creation and relationship building.
I’ve seen a change in the last year, highlighted by a higher call for:
- better content creation
- better outreach
Basically, it’s more aligned with traditional marketing. It’s not a “wow” moment; Google just caught up with itself in regard to the opportunities it affords businesses in using its engine.
For years, link building was able to be more automated and scaled, allowing brands to use engines as a rating system, and it worked, and in many cases still does.
Now, brands are like, “fuck, you mean we actually…
1- have to produce something of quality like in the old days
2- be present on the search engine as a diverse entity; we can’t use it as a rating billboard to manipulate no mo
3- need to leverage content/communication to get traffic and actually <strong>deserve</strong> links as a publication/provider of insight or entertainment to receive them
It’s like pirating movies/music on the web.. the window was there for a time.. and now technologies are catching up with themselves a bit, learning how to stay in control rather than be controlled..
I think that’s pretty on point, Anthony. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on content that’s “mostly” natural :) For example, sending free products to bloggers for a review.
The content is still completely organic, but at the same time the blogger probably wouldn’t have written about the product on their own.
I don’t like the tactic for link building, though I am not stating it doesn’t work. It’s just, aside from the SEO-related value (mo links, mo juice), I would feel the objective a bit vacuous in regard to ‘providing value’ unless really well done.
I’ll assume the enterprise was to get a link first, and (maybe) provide value second? For instance, if it was a mindless write up on a decent PR would the marketer be like, “Meh. You know what? This is a reflection on the brand, regardless of your good link, and it’s not really presenting value to our consumers. I’d rather you not publish.”
I could see myself saying that, but I also read the print newspaper and hangout at the library…
I might see if, through social media, I could locate someone excitable enough to be an ongoing advocate of the brand.. “A Year in the Life as an XYZ User,” for instance. Actually John-Henry Scherck wrote a good post about that.
It would dramatically decrease the number of links if you’re only leveraging a small group of bloggers, rather than trying the review method, but I think it’s more effective and aligned with marketing.
For instance, (manlove moment) I would much rather have one of you guys endorsing me than 200 “bloggers” who state, “Antony’s writing is is the best. You’ll will want his writing!” #gnawmean ?
Yes, I completely agree. Similarly to what Sean stated, I think it’s a tactic than can hold value when “the link” is an afterthought; instead going after the traffic their dedicated readers can bring in.
Too often I run into product review “strategies” that involve Mommy Bloggers in one way or another. No offense to mommy bloggers, but it’s a blogging niche that’s gotten played out and has lost it’s value. Possibly even in direct correlation with aggressive link builders.
It’s a great example of how a tactic can go through complete overkill and lose it’s real value. Similarly to how infographic links have started to get discounted.
“Now, brands are like, fuck, you mean we actually have to produce something of quality like in the old days” Haha, brilliant point and this makes my job so much more interesting than it was when I first started out within the industry. I’ve talked to so many clients in the past who have had little to no interest in creating anything valuable for themselves as a brand or for the user. Either opinions are generally changing or I am fortunate to work with some cool clients.
“who have had little to no interest in creating anything valuable” – sadly… I can relate
Sean, while I’m addressing you, and in the manlove mood (see above), I would like to be transparent in saying I’ve used your blog as an example to an aspiring business person.
They asked about blog writing as a means of branding/connecting, and I showed them your blog, directing their attention to the playfulness, passion, diversity, attention to readers/visitors, acumen of industry, and overall ambiance. Frankly, it’s fucking awesome.
You, in your own self-deprecating way, really care about providing value to your readers, whether it’s a laugh, a debate, an actionable tip, or just something to get us thinking… I know you will never admit this in public, and perhaps that is part of the blog’s charm.
I understand to be financially industrious, one must somehow offer/expose the value in exchange for money in return, but too many owners think there’s a moment one can stop/fool/trick/scam/be lazy/outwit/be sneaky, or take a shortcut (this SEO campaign will do everything you ever wanted for your business then self-destruct in 3-6 months… #uncontrollablelaughter ).
If one thinks they can “just” in any regard in business, especially in today’s economy/market where consumers think twice or three times about spending, I’ll steer their attention to someone who’s creating ongoing value, and if given enough time, is very likely going to outshine. It’s kind of a “I prove you lost already” #nas moment.
I don’t think there’s a Eureka moment at all in business. It’s continuous. I tweeted earlier..
“provide ongoing value … THE END.”
I don’t follow my tweets much, but this is one I wrote that I really paid attention to…
Ahh, so that’s the reason Chris Winfield got in touch…
I’m with you on that one Anthony, Sean’s blog is a great example of having your own voice/personality that doesn’t fall into the standardised blogging format. It’s unique and has created it’s own community based on the values Sean has defined whether he intended to do so or not.
Yes and no. To Peter’s point this is a dynamic trade by definition, so creativity has always been the name of the game and a huge differentiator when it comes to the level and extent that success can be achieved.
Sean’s onto something as he broaches the topic of building for sustainability beyond pure ROI. This seems to be more the anthem of the day with content marketing becoming the 2012 equivalent to the 2009 mantra of ‘Content is King.’
Don’t get me wrong, links are still important, and as marketer’s (in whatever form that continues to evolve into) we still need to get the eyeballs to make the sales. However, what seems to be a sudden landscape shift to produce better content is really just getting back to basics.
In the past 6-12 months? Yes and no. My strategies are somewhat constant, yet agile. Now that I am doing work for a PR agency, I can’t do personae like I used to at all. This is okay because it forces creativity and transparency. If the client is coming at me about we only want “white hat” links, I ask what that means to them. If their answer has to do with relevancy, I always share this quote from Russ Jones with them: “If the link is good for the user, it is good for Google”. So, yes, my attitude has changed because I get clients to understand the importance of traffic over the importance of ranking. But also, no, because I’ve had great mentors that never guided me down the path of quick easy dollars. Would I still drop comments? Absolutely! But why if it has the potential to “hurt your ranking”? Because the fact is, I don’t leave comments for ranking purposes, I leave them to help other readers find my client. Can these actually hurt my client? Maybe, but I haven’t had an instance of that yet. Maybe I’m lucky, or maybe I never went too hard with anchor text. I read more Julie Joyce and Ralph Tegtmeier than I do the Link Expert Du Jour and I’ve always come out ahead. When Penguin hit, the sites I knew would take a hit, took a hit. While the sites I kept clean and always struggled to take from top 10 to top 3, surpassed the top competitors because they were kept clean from any questionable links (even if I bought some of those links at the client’s request).
I’m with you and Russ on that and have been for a while (#hipster) build links for traffic not Google. When I have written about link building tactics on my blog (and on others) I’ve not always given tips and tactics on links that will pass you a tonne of “Link Juice” but will actually bring you a glut of targeted visitors whether that’s over a short or sustained period of time.
3.) If so what changes in strategy/direction has that meant for you (or your company)?
Well for starters we have brought much of our marketing efforts in-house. The days of passively relying on external vendors for technical marketing aptitude are diminishing quickly. The best SEO companies who have stood the tests of time are those that actively partner with their customers, take a direct interest in the return on investment from search, and remain personally accountable for their clients overall marketing and growth strategy.
We have also begun to focus more on building, not just content but tools (applications) as we have found that there are a large number of needs within the market that we have the expertise and capability to help solve. This is an important part to step back and look at because it means as a company we are starting to focus on providing value to peers (and potentially competitors) within our industry. Sounds crazy right? But these days it’s not about what you know, it’s about what you share. Never before has giving information away for free brought so much money in the door.
I’ve felt the first point you made directly. There are quite a few medium sized marketing and SEO agencies around Austin that are struggling to keep larger clients. Not necessarily from lack of effort on their part. Those clients are just bringing everything in-house.
The larger agencies around here are doing fine on this front, but they’re also very hands on with their clients. This is something that requires just as much effort from the client as the agency.
I think this opens up a great opportunity to start in-house link building/content creation training for clients. I’ve noticed an especially increased interest in this since the penguin update and I, for one, am very happy about it. This gives agencies the opportunity to be more rooted with their clients instead of losing them to an in-house team development.
That’s a really solid point Peter that I hadn’t thought about. Do you have any specific experiences where client training allowed you to not only increase the performance of your campaigns, but didn’t adversely affect your client budget?
That’s kind of a tough one. It depends how you look at it. I’ve had instances where the client hired copywriters in-house as part of the initiative. So in a sense, this increased their budget, but within the in-house end.
For the time being, this is primarily an effort I’m introducing to new clients. Mainly, because clients get skittish when something is introduced that could change their rate. However, the one’s that have taken the leap, don’t regret it. I think something about being more involved in their SEO gives them a sense of control they don’t always have going through an agency.
I think there is great opportunity for counseling other businesses. I imagine it could be hard to scale agency processes when the needs of clients are not the same and changing all the time.
Teaching them to address their needs on a day-to-day basis while taking more of an overseer role definitely seems like a viable solution for a number of situations.
Fortunately Neal and Evoke had been going in this direction (yes really!) long before I joined the company. So you’d have to ask him how he’s adapted. I’ve just walked in and made things progressively worse!
It’s been really interesting watching the industry develop over the last year or so with all agencies pretending to remain calm and ‘in the know’ whilst privately trying to develop strategy that actually works. In 2012 we have seen a massive rush to be seen as a thought leader which has led to some very informative and useful posts. I have tried to remember the good, forget the crap, test like a motherfucker and cross my fingers. I think we might be onto something.
I like where Nick and Anthony are going with counselling your clients. Cultivating a relationship with your client this way builds trust. The important thing here is they are who decide our reputation as an industry. They are the ones who we ultimately answer to, as well as each other.
How fucking great is it that you can take a business, build their success, and then they create a job for it? It MUST be what a coach feels like when he takes a kid with raw talent and molds him into a machine who becomes a championship quality player. You’ve created a relationship with a client that goes further than you taking their money in exchange for services rendered. And you create a relationship with an industry peer, who will be in your corner for favors and advice.
If you do this right the student should become the teacher, ask Wil Reynolds. That dude finds the best potentials and makes them capable of doing their own thing. That’s RCS! Realize that we all can do the same, and we don’t need an agency to do it. Educate! I find myself telling clients they need to have financing for their expensive product and that they need to have some of the customization taken out of the process to make it easier for them to make more sales. This is the part of the job where absolute trust is required, even more so than closing the sale with them. And it can be gained by cultivating this type of genuine relationship. I read a lot of talk about this, but I’ve interacted (if not transacted) with some of these game-spitters and haven’t been been more disappointed since I found out that there was not going to be another season of the OC.
Sean makes a good point about testing, if not technique, then thresholds. There is a certain point where you don’t “need” anymore links because they’ll just bring themselves. But where, if at all, does that begin to raise flags of suspicion in terms of quantity or acquisition rate? G has shown they don’t always get it right, and sites that should not have been devalued, were. I think there is room for understanding the balance of what works for the client and what parameters are where. The 80’s and 90’s Boston Celtics were damn good at Boston Garden because they knew their court and all it’s quirks and flaws. Knowing the battleground is just as important as knowing your enemy.
Don gets it. Education is the name of game when it comes to setting and managing expectations. And to bring it full circle, the agencies that are vigilant enough to survive the 5 year window of failure are those that teach their people to fish, instead of continuing to throw fish at them. These are the firms that spend money on education and self-improvement for the future stars of the industry.
4.) What link building tactics are you planning to execute in 2013?
Without completely reiterating my answer to the last question, we are focused on asset creation and refinement. We are looking to develop more reference materials, both in the form of evergreen content (perpetually sustainable content) and a suite of helpful tools.
What works for any industry is the fact that there are going to be common pain points for your customers – that can be addressed with information, and this information is an opportunity for you to provide value in the form of content, that can directly improve the lives of your customers.
This, is creating mindshare that drives business growth. Become a source of information, or better yet, for solving problems, and watch you customer base start to grow exponentially.
Similarly to Nick, my favorite content projects are implementing full resource sections. For example, I’m working in an industry with heavy search volume for specific recipes. We’re implementing a section that offers comprehensive recipe guides for the products offered on the site. This way when people land on the site for a recipe, they have the option to print it or just order the ready made product. This allows us to be a resource as well as a vendor.
Being a resource on the web can have tremendous benefits. It keeps users returning and as long as you keep them happy, you also gain their trust. Having a fan base that trusts you over your competitors will keep you on top.
We have also begun to implement some Q&A sections within our resource libraries to put the content creation power back in the hands of our audience. This works well in 2 respects; the first is many times our audience members are knowledgeable and happy to help others when they have helpful information. Secondly, this gives us an opportunity to directly engage with our end-users, building on top of our brand, establishing mindshare as a reference, and encouraging them to come back if they need more help in the future. The bonus is user-generated content means it’s less we have to create :)
Nick, I think user generated content is always great. As you said, it’s less content you have to create. However, I know a lot of businesses can be a little weary of taking that leap in fear of derogatory content. They can instead hand check everything, but that’s something they have a hard time managing.
How do you tackle these issues?
I may begin exercising Harry Potter owls, or teach chimps to write Pensabene rather than Shakespeare (not really to compose client work, but to entertain me while I compose client work.) No, but I had to take this to silly town (at least) once. (I care about your entertainment readers.)
I’ve been doing a lot of research lately for brick-and-mortar stores, and it has made me shift focus a bit to the actual transaction stage. I know, as a marketer, I can’t turn water to wine, but I do take great interest in interactions.
I think the “we need to figure search engines out” phase is over. There is a call for understanding and leveraging, while adhering to rules. “Secret” or black applications, though I’m sure exist, will have less of an impact and more of a risk attached.
I think a return to traditional sentiments, getting into the mind of the consumer and psychometrics, is more important in helping brands in the near future.
Also, snap bracelets are coming back. I still rock my #Mozcon bracelet on occasion and get complimented every time.
How will things differ in 2013? Client wise I suppose the aim will be focussed on the same areas but smarter, cheaper and faster. One of my favourite parts of my job is reading people’s ideas and redesigning them to something that I can use with Evoke or our clients. There are a lot of smart people out there, helping me improve, for free. I’ll continue to use the same resources and aim to keep improving next year :)
The things I’m planning for 2013 surround scaling processes that allow our clients to obtain links such as automation and outsourcing of low level tasks to reduce costs. No I’m not talking of article spinning or any of that crap – what I’m saying is what have we learned in the past 6 months and how can we make that quicker, slicker and cheaper.
Make your marketing budgets go further by repurposing your content and spreading the message and utilising resources further than just a blog post, whitepaper or video embedded on your site.
I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that broken links are going to be a major source of intelligent link building for me. There are too many sales/conversions being left on the table. With the right tools, you can find all the damn links you could want. I have a hunch that repaired links could be deemed more valuable because they serve a purpose to the user. I bet I’m not dropping a clanger if I said I would not be disavowing a goddamned thing, ever. That’s not for me to decide, that is for the the user to decide.
If that link got 2500 visits a month, I want those visits, and the 2500 people obviously wanted it to go somewhere. You better pry open those trunks and get those amps. Eubanks calls it right with addressing pain points with your content. That is what those in the lawyerin’ business call compelling. Calling bullshit on the snap bracelets though, Pensabene. You can get your pockets flipped for that shit around here.
I agree with Nick and Peter about the impact of UGC can provide, I just have a hard time selling it to clients because they are uptight about putting themselves out there. Even with ultimate trust, it is not easy to get them to understand how safe it is and how effective it can be. Even getting them to agree to asking for reviews is sometimes impossible. I think that may be from the client having something they want to keep unknown by the general populace of the internet. Some even understand they get to control what UGC they publish, but told me they wouldn’t feel authentic if they did it that way. Yet they do exactly the same thing on facebook, which doesn’t bring much traffic to the actual site. I’m sure it’s a pitching mechanic that needs work on my part, but WTF?
Peter and Don, it’s true – this is a touchy issue. In my experience you need to make sure you insulate yourself from liability from UGC, and there is really only 2 ways to do this; either you are a content conduit or a content distributor. Each has it’s own set of specific nuances and liabilities.
A content distributor is a website that is responsible not for the claims of the individuals, but for any copyright or trademark infringement that may occur, which implies heavy moderation, think SEOmoz. A content conduit by contrast is a site which is not liable for the content on it’s site, but also does not moderate it’s content, at all, to avoid liability for what it’s user’s have to say and any rights they may infringe upon, think YouTUBE.
Sounds like if your client has concerns over time constraints a solid strategy may be to find topics within their vertical that warrant discussion and contain strong opinions, set up a separate, non-branded website, and let their audience supply the content. How they use this information has limitless possibilities from 3rd party advertising, to surveys, or other social media engagement strategies to drive them cross-channel.