Please Exit The Link Building

by on April 6, 2011 | posted in Scalable Link Building

Please Exit the Gift Shop. Starring Banksy. Watch it.

I’ve never been as irritated with SEO buzzwords as I am now. Each blog post scanned and tweet looked at means another near-certainty I’ll read about paid links, how content is king, SEO is dead, and now, my new itch – link building – is a relevant description for building five links a week. Each has it’s own special place in my quickly blackening heart, and each one draws in me a special ire that adds more and more gray hair to my head with each predictive rising sun. Link building is the least ire-evoking term of the bunch, but nonetheless, the way I hear it talked about and the way I hear it done makes the term – link building – and what it evokes something way more literal than it should be.

Link building illicits the following image in my head: A construction worker laboring a brick of metal, wavering, up a set of stairs, slabbing some cement on the corners, nailing things, sweating profusely, eating from a lunch bin, hating his job, repeating, repeating, repeating. Link building, as it relates to this act of “building”, is the act of manually trudging through an act repetitively, unable to avoid the exact, unending repetition it requires to slab together a skyscraper worth hosting a Fortune 500 company in. Link building is a geek in a chair, clicking send, picking up the phone, surfing mindlessly through the SERPs, spending 15 minutes on an e-mail pitch, surfing mindlessly through the SERPs, spending 15 minutes on an e-mail pitch, turning in his report of 5 links built at the end of the week, being satisfied.

That is link building. I, then, am no link builder.

Look at the following link graphs of the New York Times and Reddit. Do you really think anybody internally there sat back and “built links” for them? Was there any cold-calling for links or manual, grind-it-out e-mail pitches for the SEOs that worked there? No, there weren’t. But they “built links” like the Pharaoh was instructing an army of nine million slaves to hit the e-mail phone lines.

Look, I’m no asshole. I know there will always be manual work to do, especially in more difficult verticals. But my point is that link building, as a term, is evocative of a slow, repetitive grind, of slogging up a hill, of a lack of scale, and that’s an ideology I, as an SEO (not a link builder), can’t stick with. If I run down the street to make a dinner and you tell my friends I walked, I’m going to be pretty underwhelmed with that descriptor. If I’m a Chief Executive Officer and you introduce me to Natalie Portman as an Officer, that just won’t fly. We – you – have to move past a standard that five links a week is acceptable, no matter how high quality and relevant they are.

Link Prospecting

Bad “link builders”, managed and supported by the terrible SEO Managers that love them – go to Google and mindlessly search. “KEYWORD links”. “KEYWORD resources”. Find a contact e-mail. Change keywords, find another e-mail. Random input in the Google toolbar. Check a PageRank or two. Brag about how high the PageRank of their link was. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Can we scale childbirth? If I put nine women on the job can I get a kid in one month? No? Well, at least I asked the question. That’s what good SEOs do. They ask how can you scale until scaling is physically impossible, and they hit the evocative wall of the mythical man month, which is the point where additional inputs don’t create proportional outputs – otherwise described as the point where you can’t just throw more people at the job and expect that the speed will increase proportional to the number of people working on it.

And if your entire day consists entirely of 15-minute e-mail pitches, cold calling and creating 5-row link building reports, you aren’t close to hitting that mark.

Dilbert

Good SEOs know that there is a lot of time loss spent skipping across SERPs and seeing the same sites over, and over, and over again. Good SEOs know how deep the rabbit hole goes – and it’s generally pretty deep. Link prospecting is not a manual act. It’s an act that should be as close to automatic as you can make it – until creative work becomes a necessary part of the equation.

Good SEOs excute link prospecting by:

  • Doing comprehensive up-front competitive research
  • Grouping all competitors in a list and exporting those backlinks using OpenSiteExplorer.org
    • Compiling all the links in one document by merging all website backlink lists
    • Labeling/coloring links acquired by competitors for explicit differentiation so they can add more links in the future and sort accordingly
  • Creating a mind map of applicable/relevant terms to their websites
  • Grabbing domains up to 100 Google results deep across all connected keyword sets. Adding these to the master link list
  • Using Xmarks.com for keyword searches to compile additional relevant domains to export links of and add to the master list
  • Using Ontolo’s Link Prospecting Toolto export potential search queries for each potential asset type
    • Exporting additional links from OpenSiteExplorer.org using Ontolo’s tool where there is strong relevance/likelihood that there is a backlink list worth exporting (SEOMoz SERP overlay helps)
  • Taking every possible measure to note and sort backlink groups methodically
  • Not settling until an initial master link list numbers in excess of 500k backlinks
  • Removing domain and page duplicates to avoid time loss link prospecting using Distilled and MikeCP’s Excel for SEO guide
  • Sorting methodically using the same previously-mentioned techniques to match value propositions against link prospects
  • When manual contact grabbing is unavoidable, using Google Chrome for efficiency of use. By using CTRL+F and searching for “contact”, fetching a e-mail quickly. As opposed to Firefox, the search toolbar on Chrome is the upper right, making for less time loss when having to scroll from the URL input to the bottom left on Firefox.
    • Using the same “if we have to manual link build” venacular, use Ontolo’s URL Reviewer to open several URLs at once to minimize time loss.

Good SEOs know that the web isn’t static, and for all intents and purposes, is anything but. Good SEOs save a static version of their master link list and reuse it at its original form when it makes sense to. By color coding the original version, they can revisit the list and add to it with fresh links without worry that they’ll end up overlapping previously contacted links. Color coding will do a great job of separating the old from the new.

Good SEOs know when revisiting the backlink list is applicable (and needed), by tracking the backlink growth of their competitors using Yahoo! Site Explorer (the most up to the moment link graph on the web). They use this info to determine when it’s best to revisit competitors’ backlinks, when it’s appropriate to just coast in top rankings, and when current link growth isn’t sufficient to dominate the SERPs.

Good SEOs know that some opportunities are time sensitive, and must be capitalized on immediately. They set up Google Alerts for the most relevant search queries their vertical, add it to one e-mail account, and sort by “week” and “most relevant” to minimize noise. They revisit this account monthly, so time sensitivity is maintained but lots of time isn’t lost meandering through link prospects that just aren’t relevant, so less mind share isn’t lost jumping from query to query.

Good SEOs know the biggest reason for distraction and productivity loss in link building comes when a potential link prospect’s website loads slow. Even if you don’t realize it, I guarantee the time you most waver from your task as an SEO is when a new website begins to load. The pause between ability to act and desire to act causes an area of time ripe to send an SEO off to look at Reddit,  their tweet stream, or some other shiny object. Good SEOs account for this by running parallel tasks to maximize productivity, and/or opening as many tabs as possible to the point of acceptability to minimize mind lag/likelihood they’ll dip into another website or activity as a page loads.

Link Acquisition

Bad SEOs – “link builders”, on the business card, send manual e-mails that take 10 minutes to peel off. They manually find contact e-mails. They think their custom website compliment is clever (“cool link list!”). They believe anything that can be effectively boiled down to as “cold calling” in link building strategy is worth doing.

No, it’s not. Yes, there’s better. Yes, you should be doing it – if you plan on winning. And no, I don’t mean #winning.

Sheen SEO

Good SEOs link build in agencies by:

  • Compiling contact e-mails from their link prospecting master backlink list through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Elance, or other outsourced, low cost sources.
  • Buying cheap content through Textbroker or other content creators, viciously testing quality and then signing on high quality content writers through the service at bottom-dollar prices due to market demands.
  • Working with internal developers to autopopulate e-mail fields with subjects, domain names, e-mails and etc to minimize time loss without increasing the likelihood spam filters will be triggered.
  • Training SEOs to open links in mass to minimize mindshare loss and productivity drips. Instructing them to dramatically lower website load speed by using Chrome and turning off image loading.
  • Creating link acquisition templates that work cross-websites, such as e-mail templates, content outreach templates, code for widget templates, code for infographic templates, and etc.
  • Voraciously building out a black-book of link targets that you have siphoned a link off of or have some kind of warm contact with for use in the future, to be referred back to any time a new link building campaign has begun.
  • Having a go-to set of initial link building practices/directories/queries for every new website that are implemented/executed on swiftly – so the first set of links are the simplest links you get.
  • Knowing that auto-sending e-mails is not the same as automating 90% of the process, and then leaving the 10% to humans who will create 99% of the value.

Good SEOs link build on a website by website basis by:

  • Determining market size of a potential superior-content outreach plan (widget, infographic, externally hosted content)
  • Weighing likely ROI on an X over Y scale for where X is market size and Y is the approximate strength of the content you’re offering where X=Y is 100% link acquisition. If the number isn’t close to 1, and is closer to 0, abandon “linkbait” campaign.

Good SEOs know that sending 400 e-mails in a row isn’t a sustainable activity. They set a standard number of e-mails to send in each burst, then stick to that number when sending outbound requests to reduce burnout and also make the process maintainable. They know this as it comes to the people they manage, too, giving them an assortment of non-time-sensitive tasks to maximize morale and productivity. They also know that distraction can also be a burgeon of productivity, and as such promote reading external content and using Twitter to take breaks from the e-mail sending grind.

The pressure to build five links is on..

Link Reporting and Maintenance

The act of link building itself is only a small part of the process that informs getting more links. In order to make the link building more scalable, you must have more time – and that means less time spent reporting and maintaining metrics. When reporting is minimized, more time can be spent acquiring links instead – the stuff that actually moves the needle. If you’re not working for yourself, though, there’s not much you can do – reporting must be done. And even if you are working for yourself, certain metrics must be maintained to maximize efficiency.

Good SEOs execute link reporting and maintenance by:

  • Using auto-reporting tools like Raven SEO to automate link reporting, ranking reports, and link data so manually inputting page-level link data never occurs.
  • Evaluating the data auto-generated by Raven to compare link acquisition, anchor text, link value and other variables to determine proper adjustments to budget, anchor text minutiae, and overall SEO strategy.
  • Manually (or automatically if you can build something out) tracking link growth of competitors and own websites using up-to-the-minute data from Yahoo! Site Explorer. With this data, making approximate on-the-fly decisions on link volume required to compete, and then adjusting strategy accordingly.
  • Also, utilizing Yahoo! Site Explorer (or now Majestic SEO) data to track upcoming competitors, noting when they stop and start link building, and when it’s necessary to ramp back up or tail back link building efforts according to competitor link growth. Taking note of volume of links to important internal pages, as well as competitor subpages.
  • Noting when rank changes happen, as Yahoo! Site Explorer doesn’t track links on a per unique linking domain basis. By looking at aggregate link volumes of the adjacent websites when rankings change hands, an approximate “trigger point” can be created so you can determine points at which link building must be resumed if you have a solid hold on #1.
  • Visually representing Yahoo! Site Explorer data in graph format for quick dissection. Reevaluating competitors below you monthly to uncover “sleeping monsters” doing heavy link building.
  • Verifying employee productivity without micromanaging by creating unique user accounts on reporting software and evaluating on a week to monthly basis from there, as trust accrues accordingly.

Good SEOs know that meetings are most often the antithesis of productivity. They take every action to minimize reporting and meeting time, while still retaining the benefits having intelligent peers and superiors evaluate data provides for overall SEO strategy – as well as the residual benefits to overall motivation and team morale.

Exit Link Building – Enter Scalability

Hopefully you’re entering this paragraph with the thought that your five link a week strategy, now, just isn’t gonna cut it. I say “scale” so much that it now illicits laughs in my office, and I’m pretty sure that means I’m doing something right. If scale isn’t in your day to day vernacular, you probably fall into one of the following pools:

  • A) You’re not doing very well monetarily
  • B) You’re not ranking well
  • C) All of the Above

Scalability is the reason programmers are rich. Lack of scalability is the reason you, as a representative sample of the SEO world, aren’t. I’m not saying we should drop the idea of “link building” entirely, because I don’t really have another word to replace it, and trying to get the term link building replaced is like asking The Vatican to rename itself “Ross’s Provincial Palace”.

It’s not gonna happen.

However, I am hoping we can stop accepting five links a week as a successful volume, and that we can move beyond the idea that link building means  “manual” – to move on to something better, something more scalable, and something that will make us filthy stinking rich.

  • http://tomharari.com tomharari

    Ross – yet another fantastic post that I will need to re-read after work! Since “link building” is so passe’ these days, I’ve heard the new term is “link development” – sounds so much more proper.

    In all seriousness, it’s one thing to bitch and complain. It’s another to lead by example and spell it out for people the way you constantly do. One of the reasons I keep coming back to read your posts and why when people ask me what SEO blogs I read, I turn heads by dropping your name!

  • http://dejanseo.com.au/ Dejan SEO

    Great article – I found myself in the description of the brick layer.
    So the conclusion of the article is that “Content is King.” ;-) lmao

  • http://twitter.com/krisroadruck Kris Roadruck

    Ross my man you nailed it down to a tee. Link-Begging as I call it “dear webmaster can I has link?” is a complete waste of time. Anyone making a salary to produce 5 links a week is fleecing their employer.

  • http://explicitly.me rishil

    Holly shit. EFing awesome :)

  • Dan

    That is an awesome post Ross, nice one fella

  • Vlad

    That’s why scraping and blasting are the top “linkbuilding” tactics and always work: because you can automate and scale :P

    • http://www.thedan1984.com/ The Dan

      Most blasted links fail to have longevity in most cases – or if you use certain software that does it in super-bulk, usually the links are of poor quality or become irrelevant rather quick.

      I still feel that having a few high quality content pages, pushed into the eyes of the right crowd (on Twitter, Reddit, Digg, Facebook, wherever your “right audience” is) is going to be the best way to gain links. Creating unique or high quality content (link bait) is definitely one of the leading ways to gain links and always will be.

      • http://heliumseo.com.au Greg

        Link bait based on high quality content is just to restrictive for most small mum and pop businesses. i.e..What is anyone going to link to my plumber client’s website for? “Oh what lovely pipes you have, ‘heres a link for my friends to see’”. Do I need to go on about the huge social buzz his plumbing website is generating?

        Right audience – hmmm?

        • http://.neomam.com Danny

          I don’t agree Greg.

          Yes, some markets are perfect but most required content bridging. Using a bit of creativity you find content that can fit any market – even your mom and pop plumber website.

          What about:
          9 Toilets Fit for a Geek
          14 Toilets You Can Eat Out Of
          10 Pipe that changed the world

          or even an Infographic…

          How safe is your Toilet [Infographic]

          With a bit of creative thinking.. you can dream up linkbait/content marketing ideas for any market.

  • http://www.jeremywebb.com Jeremy Webb

    Ross, great article. A real bit of sanity writing in the crazy world of link building. It made me feel less guilty for revealing my Google App Script method for short listing a Google spreadsheet full of URLs for potential link candidates based on whether they looked “interesting.” And maybe emailing some of them. Automatically. (Published here: http://www.distilled.co.uk/blog/seo/building-your-own-scraper-for-link-analysis/)

    I’m sure the writing is on the wall for old skool link building, and strategies like those you mention are the only way forward until the point that User Generated Signals outweigh Link signals.

  • http://seochristopheryee.wordpress.com Chris Yee

    Ross – another amazing and informative post. I literally LOL’d at my desk when I read “can we scale childbirth?” Haha…pure genius.

  • Jay

    Inspiring post Ross. Any SEO that stares at the SERPs wondering why they are being outranked needs to read this post, to understand who they are up against :)

  • http://www.seerinteractive.com Napoleon Suarez

    Hey, Ross. This is great. I’ve been at this for about 1.5 years now and I am starting to run into scaling issues. Many of my issues come from my lack of programming and excel knowledge. I think many (if not all) of the people reading this post will agree with you, but it will be the rock stars that actually take the time to pick up a book and dedicate their time to learning. Either that, or the link building duties will be segmented to include managers, strategists, developers and your worker bees that handle the traditional “link building” duties.

    *side note*

    I totally feel you about your wrestler/NFL aspirations. I tried to be in the music business for a strong 10 years and I felt like I wasted that portion of my life when my peers were doing major things. I soon realized that my creativity and hustle from trying to make it in music translated very well into SEO. Now, I am in Phila and enjoying every minute of it. I’m sure a lot of the same was true for you. Thanks again for the inspirational post.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Thanks for the comment Napoleon. I know there is some residual from my NFL efforts, but I still think I would have befitted more directly if I was in the internet game from the very start. Everything we work hard at in life is going to help us in the long run, but I believe if we had stuck straight with one thing we’d be even further ahead. I’m not sure if that’s the case with you, and I know some of the things I learned in football/creative writing helped me “leapfrog” others, but there is still some time loss there.

      I don’t regret it or dwell on it, but it’s something I am fairly certain about – and also feel as though I haven’t lost *that* much time as to not be able to make it up.

  • http://twitter.com/melanienathan Melanie Nathan

    Spoken like a true link builder! ;) #awesome

  • http://twitter.com/daveminchala Dave Minchala

    Post of the week so far.

    I know from experience that templating and automating is a big big deal but the caveat here is the more you automate, the more tempting it is for staff to turn off their brains. You mention checking productivity on a regular basis but the bigger you are and the more complex your automated systems get, the more important QA becomes. Then there’s the question of how do you automate THAT potentially massive time-suck? What’s been your experience with QA?

    I think the first person to figure out fool-proof scaling will absolutely become filthy stinking rich. ;-)

  • http://www.thirstypony.com Dave Pye

    Exit the vague, regurgitated generalities. Enter the tangible workflow examples. I love posts like this. They are very rare – well done.

  • Dave Sottimano

    Straight to the point, no filler :)

    Here’s a question for you, in the sentence below do you mean good SEOs Mturk the content of the outreach emails (outsourcing copy), or do you mean that they use the turk to compile the link list (aka push buttons).

    “Good SEOs link build in agencies by:
    Compiling contact e-mails from their link prospecting master backlink list through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Elance, or other outsourced, low cost sources”

  • http://www.alldent-zahnzentrum.de Franz der Zahnarzt

    Wow, what a post. Very harsh but brought to the point.
    I believe we have to rethink our link-building strategy.
    Thanks
    Franz

  • http://www.springboardseo.com Matthew Edward

    Holy scalable babies Batman!

    Detailed how-to posts like this one that go beyond criticizing the how-not-to’s are hard to find. Fantastic job, sir!

  • http://www.seospecialties.com Jeff Loquist

    Hey Ross,

    I was wondering if you could go a little more in depth about the following:

    “Good SEOs link build on a website by website basis by:

    Determining market size of a potential superior-content outreach plan (widget, infographic, externally hosted content)
    Weighing likely ROI on an X over Y scale for where X is market size and Y is the approximate strength of the content you’re offering where X=Y is 100% link acquisition. If the number isn’t close to 1, and is closer to 0, abandon “linkbait” campaign.”

    I think I am understanding, but when a colleague asked me about it he had me second-guessing it.

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    • Ross Hudgens

      Let’s say you have an infographic that targets mommy bloggers pretty broadly. You know that market is 1000 people. You know your content is strong to whatever degree. Even if it’s only OK, you have a decent chance of getting some good links based on a huge market size – so you don’t have much to fret about because the market size is so large. If, however, you make a infographic that targets mommy bloggers with twins, that market size shrinks to 10 people. That better be a really strong infographic in order to justify the resources inputted to create it.

      Basically, if you have linkbait that potentially appeals to 100000s of people, you’ll probably have success no matter how bad it is. But the more narrow you go in your market target, the less likely it is to succeed, and is thus much more risky.

      The main lesson is to create outbound content that appeals to the widest market size, but still maintains strength/appeal to that market – you’ll get the most links that way. This, of course, is often easier said than done.

      • http://www.seospecialties.com Jeff Loquist

        Great! Exactly what I thought. Thanks, man!

  • http://docsheldon.com Doc Sheldon

    Great post, Ross! Cuts to the bone, here and there, but no less valid for it. I’m not much of one for tools, having always preferred the manual route (perhaps because I’ve never made the effort to really use the tools extensively), but you give me food for thought.
    Which is the point, isn’t it?

  • http://www.themarketingpill.com Marc

    Wait. Wait. Listen for it…link building is just REALLY savvy online marketing and leveraging social media. Nuff said.

    Never was a fan of manual link building. I’d rather gauge my eye out with a dull spoon.

    • http://www.themarketingpill.com Marc

      …or gouging it out would be even better :)

  • http://www.brianalexflores.com Brian Flores

    Ross, your description of a link builder is the absolute truth!

  • http://www.litigationandtrial.com Max Kennerly

    With increased scale (really, increased delegation) comes an increased need for management / oversight and increased fixed costs. Not to say that it’s a bad thing entirely, just that service businesses on the cusp of scaling more should also consider if they can instead (or in combination) increase margin by better limiting / targeting their clientele.

    In my business, it’s like the choice between having twenty lawyers and fifty support staff doing 2,000+ car accidents, or having a half-dozen lawyers and fifteen staff doing 200 malpractice cases. Totally different animals, each capable of high or low profits (or failure) depending on the management strengths of the leadership.

    • Ross Hudgens

      I think the first part would be better said by omitting the word “scaling”. It’s scaling , I guess, but it’s poor scaling. Scaling, as I define it, is growing by doing more with less. Eventual management is of course necessary in any scaling procedure, but those that scale efficiently don’t need 50 link builders to power their website, no matter the size. The better you scale, the less management dilemmas come into play, and the less stress you have to deal with.

      I do agree that certain thresholds/service industries just can’t handle massive staff, as they tend to eventually lose sight of whatever characteristics made them big in the first place and end up providing diluted offerings. Very few good, giant SEO agencies truly exist.

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  • http://www.greenmarketing.tv Lorna Li

    Fantastic post- you’ve taken link development to a whole new level. I really appreciate your tips on efficiency and workflow. That being said, do you see diminishing returns with manual link requests, even when you are leveraging the above mentioned scaling techniques?

    Webmasters get so much spam these days, even if you have better prospecting tools, an army of mechanical turks and a more efficient way of categorizing links, I’m amazed that manual requests still work. It almost seems like for all the trouble this is, it’s easier and as effective to go the article directory / mini net route.

    Am also curious you mentioned “Labeling/coloring links acquired by competitors for explicit differentiation so they can add more links in the future and sort accordingly”

    Typically how do you categorize your links?

    Cheers,

    Lorna

    • Ross Hudgens

      I think diminishing returns are inevitable in any vertical because the vertical is only so spacious – if there aren’t that many relevant websites to contact, more time will eventually be spent finding new ones. Which is why it’s so important to code your URLs so there is no overlap when you partition them over each other in the future. I generally categorize all at once by color for dating purposes -and by “blog”, “links”, and “resources” in the URL. These are the four most generally useful categorizations, at least in my experience.

      Due to small vertical sizes in certain areas, it is likely you will have to go with more general links or additional tactics over link begging – but if you are meticulous about how you compile a link list, you can reduce this as much as possible. And yes, link begging still works. It really, really works – you just have to match sending e-mails efficiently with a strong value-add – whether that’s externally hosted content, domain-hosted content, or otherwise.

      On the opposite side, I am fairly certain that article directories don’t work at all now – they used to at least be *part* of my gameplan, but when Panda hit, it seemed insane to continue submitting there – as almost every article directory got dinged algorithmically. Have you seen any differently?

  • http://www.greenmarketing.tv Lorna Li

    Hearsay from the darker side: “Article marketing is alive and well”

    Low level links from directories & Web 2.0 pages are so much easier to get, but they shouldn’t be your sole strategy. I find it interesting that some websites whose link portfolio are primarly from sites penalized by the Farmer update have actually IMPROVED in rankings after Panda. Get that.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Interesting – well, thanks for the tip. Maybe I’ll resume using them for a few sites as a test.

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  • Dan

    Bad SEOs practice “link building”, that generates unscalable and poor results (or inefficient).
    Good SEOs practice “creative marketing”, that generates links, traffic, leads, branding, etc…

  • http://linkmasters4all.wordpress.com LinkMasters4All

    Link Building is not that bad as its made out to be. All the sites that have become popular today and have high PR’s started small one day with tedious Link Building Campaigns.

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  • Onder Hassan

    Whilst being a complete amateur compared to the seasoned pros and being in the game for just over a year now. I’ve started to see major flaws in SEO which may have been overlooked by many SEO’s in the business. As Ross cleverly stated how the rabbit hole goes deep. The further deep you go, the more distorted you will get over the grand scheme of what we’re trying to achieve in the first place.

    From my perspective not getting too deep yet, i truly believe the the best form of SEO will always be one that doesn’t require much SEO in the first place, because what will essentially drive the site, is quality of content and complete transparency.

    Why do sites like Tech Crunch and Lifehacker do so well? It’s purely their quality of content that does it.
    Google hates SEO’s…FACT!

    This further proves my point with their recent Panda update, and this is set to only get worse when they further strengthen their algorithms which will eventually make SEO and ‘manual link building’ completely impossible to achieve in the long term.

    So the only solution is simple: Engage with your audience and give value!

    If you’re looking for the future of SEO, it doesn’t exist. Become a market leader and watch your profits slowly grow.

  • http://www.locallighthouse.com Evan

    This article is excellent. Thanks for the in-depth analysis of your perspective on link building. I will definitely start utilizing some of these techniques!

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  • http://www.chotrul.com/ Mark Carter

    What not to do, and what to do. You couldn’t ask for more. You’ve given me much food for thought in your post – thanks so much for your generosity in sharing all this.

  • http://www.wrightimc.com Minh Nguyen

    This is a great post. I think you did in a sense redefine “link building” in your video with Tom Critchlow for white board Friday… “Relationship Building” something along those lines.

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  • http://www.thesussexseo.co.uk David Hawkins

    Great post, your candour is refreshing. I think whenever you’re looking to scale upwards you better be super creative about it – there seems to be a correlation between an increase in scalability and an increase in risk. (From the perspective of Google).

    The reason people flock to blackhat seo after all is because of the sheer scalability in many of the tactics. (It’s easier than staying clean!)

    Great article.

    Dave

  • http://seoessentialsolutions.com Pamela Ravenwood

    Thank you for taking the time to compile this very revealing and helpful post. As a result of it, I have decided to become a subscriber to Raven Tools. I didn’t realize how nice of a tool it was for link building and monitoring not to mention all the other tools it apparently has and that I now need to learn to utilize.

    I will also look into Amazon’s mechanical turks to compile email addresses – having glanced at the site, I think it will take some time to determine how they work exactly. Maybe a future post on this???

    Thanks again,
    Pam

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  • http://httpL//listdummy.org Banes

    You offer a different perspective and refreshing view of what link building is. Although I agree with most of what you are saying, your basic premise is research, research, research. Most smart link builders do this anyway.

    Although you do offer some added tools to add to my arsenal. A good site to bookmark.

  • http://listdummy.org Banes

    Oh! I forgot to mention that using Yahoo! Site Explorer to find competitors backlinks is not the best method. It doesn’t give a complete listing, although its a good starting point. My suggestion would be SEO Spyglass.

  • http://clickarticles.net Varghese David

    Whenever the examples of big sites are given, it is mentioned that they have good content. It becomes easy for the big sites to attract traffic as they have created a network of link building users unknowingly who link to these big websites day in & out. For a new publisher starting out with a blog or a website, it is difficult to sustain without manual link building even if they start off with publishing good & original content.

  • http://www.verticalmeasures.com Kaila S

    Great post Ross. I totally missed this one when it came out but am so glad to have found it now. I agree that as link builders we must look at the whole picture not just putting in the work to get a few links. I find it is often hard to bring all aspects of a marketing department together to see the value of links and how exactly they are building links already through their online PR efforts, their social media marketing, etc… Getting them to wrap their head around the whole picture and then work toward the greater good is quite a full time job!

  • http://www.verticalmeasures.com Arnie Kuenn

    Ross,
    So there was a buzz in our office today over your article. I was asked about 4 times if I had read it yet. I finally took some time to do so. Nicely done.

    As you may know link building has been our primary service for several years now. Five years ago it was actually pretty easy and we managed to scale fairly well. But in today’s environment it’s tough sledding. We have managed to focus on “link attraction” for clients and that scales pretty well. We still have a team that develops links every day using many of the tools you listed above, but more and more of our activity is centering around content for our clients that attracts links.

    Your post took a lot of effort. I hope those “link builders” out there who read it and use it, appreciate what you just did for them.
    Arnie

  • http://www.first10marketing.com Arjun Rajkumar

    Just wanted to give you a big shout out for this quality blog! Have forwarded this and recommended it to a few people already. We are based in India, and as most of our clients are also based over here – there is a tendency to apply smaller, less-scalable SEO strategies as the results are positive even using some less scalable and manual SEO work, due to less competition than say similar industries in the US. However, ‘scalable’ SEO is much more interesting to do personally, and has so many more benefits for the clients. Reading your article only made me more determined and conscious on the benefits of it. Thanks again, and look forward to your new blogs!

    Arjun

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