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The Foundation of a Link Building Project

Things a Business Must Know Before Starting

     
2:12 am on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I'm interested in hearing what you have to say. I do wish to point out that this discussion does not include the topic of foregoing link building. It's about building links in a safe and sustainable manner.

One problem facing a link building project is confusing what works for ranking for something that is good for link building. I did a site review session at Affiliate Summit NYC and noted that the link building for some high quality sites did not match the quality of the site itself. They hired a link builder and they did what they needed to do to fulfill their contract.

Just because something works does not mean it's going to keep working. This is called efficacious link building. The word efficacious means something that produces a desired outcome, i.e. something that works. This is not always, pretty much never really, the best path for a business that is in it for the long term.

Thoughts?
6:48 am on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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One question: how does someone who is not a link building or SEO expert know whether they are getting a really good job or not.

I am sure all of use can spot obvious spam links, but I do not think that is enough. How do we determine that what we have got is the best for the long term.
10:26 am on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Things a Business Must Know Before Starting a Link Project:

      1. The vast majority of "link builders" are bullshi....

      2. The ONLY good link is a link that sends converting traffic to your website. If anyone is telling you otherwise, see #1.

      3. YOU are the best link builder for your business. Only you know where your customers are likely to be and that is where your links should be.

      4. If you are building links for any reason other than getting converting traffic (i.e., ranking better in google) your link building campaign, and likely your business, will be a failure.
10:54 am on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I disagree with 2, 3 and 4. Earlier this year, I built some links for a relative's new business. I dove into the backlink profiles of competitors and in a month's time collected around a dozen decent backlinks. Half a year later, most of those links have yet to refer a visitor (let alone a customer!), but that's fine: the point was to make search engines aware of the presence of the new business's website. It now outranks its competitors on all the important local searches. Re: point 3, I seriously doubt my relative could not have achieved that result, even with a bit of training. Obviously, this wasn't a very competitive market, but that goes for most local markets. It's simply not true that the only valuable link is one that sends (converting) visitors. The starting point for most new customers is often a Google search.

If you want to appear along your competitors in the results for searches that are most important to attracting new business, trying to copy the backlink profiles of those competitors makes for a pretty good start. After all, it seems to be working for them, and you may, in fact, end up with the strongest combined backlink profile of them all.

None of the links are spam, but they don't necessarily match the quality of the business's website either. I still consider it a "sustainable" backlink profile, because the links are OK (related to the niche or locality), and there aren't much better (free) links to be had.

they did what they needed to do to fulfill their contract

That's the real problem, of course, and it ties into #1 in Shepherd's list.
12:53 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It now outranks its competitors on all the important local searches.


A business built on organic traffic from google does not have a sustainable business model. I can steal that traffic with little to no effort using adwords. google can, and does, make those organic listings useless with the flip of a switch.

A business owner (marketing/pr/business development) who is unable/unwilling to do the networking/outreach necessary to build sustainable traffic to their ecom website will starve once the low hanging fruit is gone.

The starting point for most new customers is often a Google search.

That is a fail on the part of the business. A successful business will find ways to get their customers BEFORE google does, not from google.
1:41 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Aren't we strictly talking link building here, though? AdWords is also part of the marketing mix, along with flyers, business cards, posters, events, and what have you. I'm not arguing that link building alone will launch a business (though I'm sure it can, depending on the business). You need to cover all you bases, including the organic SERPs, and my point was that links don't need to send traffic for them to be effective.

There is no "safe and sustainable manner" to build links. There are no guarantees. If you're in it for the long haul, the best you can do is work hard and keep between the lines. When in doubt, don't; it has to make sense for your link to be where it is.
2:34 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Aren't we strictly talking link building here, though?


Yes, specifically, Things a Business Must Know Before Starting.

There was link building before google. Unfortunately, link building has since morphed into an abomination used to try and secure free traffic from google, an abomination created by SEOs and link builders.

If a business is in it for the long haul, they build links to get traffic that converts. If you build links to get traffic, and not to get "rankings", there are no lines to stay between. This is what businesses need to know, build links as they were intended to be, a way for visitors to get from one webpage to another.
2:59 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Hey Shepherd, really good points. I would have to agree with much of what your saying although maybe for different reasons. :P

Links that send traffic are indicative of relevance to the user. A user won't click the link unless it is relevant to the surrounding text. That's textual relevance. Further, the user won't click the link unless there is an incentive to click the link, usually to improve that users life in some way (in business or leisure), even if it's simply to divert them for a few minutes.

This is a vast improvement over simple semantic relevance. Some of what passes for semantic relevance is more like wishful relevance. Mexican Travel link from a Mexican Recipe link is not relevant, even if they have a word in common. If you look at the backlink profile of a Mexican Recipe website it's going to be vastly off topic to a travel site. Having a word in common (Mexico) does not make that link semantically relevant. It's not going to be topically relevant. And the proof is in the lack of traffic it will send.

However, Robzilla's experience cannot be discounted. It's an important piece of data. I suspect that local search is a little more loose in terms of links because the algorithm is different. Depending on the niche the barrier to entry is lower so it's a little easier to rank. Links are important in local search but in a different way.

I also agree that a small business is better off building their own links. However that involves significant expense they may not be willing to take on and for some of them, if they find a right partner, it makes sense to hire someone from the outside. Regardless, let's focus on the business that wants to build it themselves.

So far we have some pretty good ideas.
3:22 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Yes, there was link building before Google, but you cannot ignore the fact that internet use has shifted largely towards searching and away from browsing. Noindex your site today and you don't stand a chance; times have changed.

While a link that sends traffic may indicate relevance, one that doesn't is not necessarily irrelevant. For many businesses, links that actually send visitors their way are a luxury; there's just not enough traffic flowing around. Which makes this discussion a little difficult because "a business" is rather a vague starting point.
3:44 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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As you know MB, this is something we have had a lot of experience in this from the business owner point of view, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I dislike that is seems whenever there is a link building discussion it almost always revolves around google and search rankings. There's so much more out there.

So, having put a lot of thought into this lately I've really started to think of link building as a "business development" area, even bordering on "outside sales". Link building as an in-house project, I would put a salesman on it. Someone who can pick up the phone and talk to people, someone who can sell our site as a site that other sites would want to send their visitors to. I would try to make sure they have a business development mindset, meaning they would be looking for other businesses that compliment ours and vise versa. Success, in my mind, is measured by the amount of converting traffic coming from these links.

Now if you build links with the goal of getting direct, converting traffic from them, there are no "lines to cross", no "guidelines", no black/white/or grey hat. You don't have to worry about "no-follows", you don't have to worry about paying for the link, you don't have to worry about relevance (If a Mexican travel site gets 1000 buyers a month via a link from a Mexican recipe site is it a good link?). There is only one question in the flow chart, does the link send us converting traffic yes/no.
3:54 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Noindex your site today and you don't stand a chance; times have changed.

That is an incorrect statement, bordering on fear mongering. It also illustrates my point as to how warped link building discussions have gotten. We get less than 10% of our revenue from google organic (by design), so we would be just fine if we no-indexed our site but that's a different discussion.
4:21 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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So are you guys actually going to discuss:

The Foundation of a Link Building Project
Things a Business Must Know Before Starting

or is this just going to be another
"I'm right, you're an idiot", "No I'm right, you're the idiot!"
type of threads?
.
6:02 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It's not fear mongering, and for many online businesses (particularly on these forums) it's not incorrect either, but perhaps it was a bit of a sweeping statement (like saying a link that doesn't send traffic is by definition "bad"), speaking mostly from my own experience (as you are); of course not all businesses depend on search traffic. What works for one business may not work (or indeed be a necessity) for another, and diversification is always a good thing (see E-Commerce Business Models and Search Engine Dependency [scirp.org]).

However, whenever you talk about "building links in a safe and sustainable manner", you're by definition referring to search engines, so I assumed this discussion was about that. As you rightly say, there are no "lines to cross", no guidelines (or penalties) to consider, when you build links without regard for those search engines. If you can easily afford to lose search traffic, great, but if you can't, or you value that 10%, one of the most important things a business must be aware of is that same set of guidelines put forward by search engines, and to keep them in mind. You don't necessarily have to strictly follow them, but they need to be part of the overall risk assessment.
7:22 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I don't think anyone is calling anyone an idiot Ken. In my opinion there are 2 different ways to look at link building, neither being wrong, just different with different expected results.

A business can build links to improve their search engine rankings.
A business can build links to get more direct traffic.

I've been on both side of the coin, done well with both, from a standpoint of sustainability I prefer the latter. If a business is building links with the goal of getting good, converting traffic from those links they get the immediate benefit of more revenue. A by-product of those links, in my opinion, could be better search engine ranking. If I were a search engine I would certainly be working towards rewarding websites that get quality traffic from sources other than my search engine.
7:38 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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there are 2 different ways to look at link building, neither being wrong, just different with different expected results.

A business can build links to improve their search engine rankings.
A business can build links to get more direct traffic.

OK, but isn't there also a 3rd perspective:

A business can build links to improve their search engine rankings.
and
... to get more [non-SE referral and] direct traffic.

Don't these methods work in concert anyhow, no matter what the builders original intent was?

.
9:59 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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As I said:
A by-product of those links, in my opinion, could be better search engine ranking.


Don't these methods work in concert anyhow, no matter what the builders original intent was?

If you build a link for the direct traffic and you do not get better search rankings you still have the direct traffic.
If you build a link with no other purpose than manipulating the search results, you may or may not get better search rankings, if you do get better search rankings you still may get penalized and end up with nothing.

If you're going to build links why not build them with the intent of getting immediate results (direct traffic)?
11:04 pm on Aug 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If you build a link with no other purpose than manipulating the search results,

I didn't say one should.

I said that either way one can lead to the other.

Building for traffic could well help serps. Building for the serps could well help get non-se links and traffic.

Apparently we don't it the same way. OK, that's fine.

.
1:16 am on Aug 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I consider just about all my promotions to be part of my link building strategy, because people can only link to your site if they know it exists.

If you're promoting your site in well-targeted ways, over time it will accumulate links here and there that you didn't specifically ask for. The quality of links "from the wild" will vary a lot, but having them in your profile will help to balance the links you actively cultivate.

Be conscious of canonical URLs. SEO-wise you'll get more mileage out of a page's link popularity if it's focused on ONE version of the URL, not split between variant URLs that lead to the same content.

People making links often just grab whatever is showing in the address bar, so make that as consistent as you possibly can so fewer variant URLs get into circulation.

Also give thought to future-proofing. Try to structure your URLs so they won't ever need to change. If you ever do need to change URLs, be sure to set up appropriate redirects, don't just leave the old URLs to break.
6:59 am on Aug 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I consider just about all my promotions to be part of my link building strategy, because people can only link to your site if they know it exists.


There is a lot to think about there. Some might not know buckworks' background and their accomplishments, but I do. Those are more than words of opinion. They are words of experience. Thanks for posting those thoughts, much appreciated. :)

Thank you for everyone else who has contributed to this discussion. I really want to hear more. I value your opinions, quibbles and questions. What do you think is the foundation of a link building project?
11:52 am on Aug 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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A business can build links to get more direct traffic.



As a business owner who has all the other bases covered, this had been my approach. 1 click = 1 client = 1 paycheck. So, considering relevant traffic could come from anywhere, which, in its purest sense means putting your link in every directory, blog, forum, pr outlet and anywhere you can find that will let you post a link. It worked. I got traffic from all over the place, but this was nothing compared to what came from search. Luckily, i have yet to be penalized. Maybe because of the shotgun approach?
6:41 pm on Aug 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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The ONLY good link is a link that sends converting traffic to your website

I think this comment should come with a two part disclaimer:
1) your site must be among the very best in its niche, and your pitch perfect to gain such 'free' traffic, or
2) you buy (Google) Display Ads (and I have yet to find a cheaper source of PPC traffic than AdWords, let alone AdSense/AdChoices)

What is in it for the site owner you want this converting traffic from typically?

People making links often just grab whatever is showing in the address bar, so make that as consistent as you possibly can so fewer variant URLs get into circulatio

Awesome tip. I'm off to add canonicals to every page on every site I look after :)
6:48 pm on Aug 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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What do you think is the foundation of a link building project?

Unless you're buying traffic, a really, really good website. Something to link to. I'm working with a 100% web-based reseller for local services and our aim this year is to put better content online than the final provider, so that our pages about their business are better than their website and answer questions theirs don't. We hope that with this (and a bit of begging, swapping and bribery) we can get a stronger local presence.
1:34 pm on Aug 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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What is in it for the site owner you want this converting traffic from typically?


Typically, as with all business development, there is an exchange of value. That exchange could be money, cross promotion, good will.

As Buckworks points out, a website will naturally get links "from the wild", these links will be good, bad, and indifferent. And yes, natural links can be good even if they do not send traffic. However, if a business is going to spend money, time, and resources "building" links the task should be looked at through the lens of business development with the goal being direct revenue from those relationships. Link building for search engine ranking is not sustainable. But of course, "link builders" don't want to discuss this because building links for search engine ranking is the low hanging fruit. It's not easy doing the outreach and relationship building required to build quality, revenue generating links but in the long run it is well worth it.
4:58 pm on Aug 9, 2015 (gmt 0)

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My experience (with UK location-based) SMEs has been that buying traffic nearly always seems to be a bit of a Catch 22 situation. It's been rare to find a site that appears to have the ability to send traffic to a client that doesn't place a value on that traffic in excess of the CPC in AdWords for a term the client could bid on instead. And - unlike AdWords - where you can open an account with 5 and pay for one visit at a time, websites that offer display advertising usually want a substantial amount up front and hardly any offer a free trial (even 48 hours).

I do occasionally find a website that will accept a one-off payment but these tend to be run by enthusiasts - and that sort of website seems to be getting rarer and rarer, or harder to find - or perhaps both.

Anyone care to share any tips on (a) the types of sites that have worked for them and (b) how to find them? :) I've always found it a long hard slog.
10:27 pm on Aug 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Getting back to the foundation:

I would agree with all of buckworks' points.

I would also add that making the site easy to share through various social media is one form of (nofollow) link building that can lead to "enthusiasts" creating "real" links to the site.

On the other hand, it MIGHT be a double-edged sword; if it is SO easy to create (nofollow) social links, will people be inclined to create links that pass page rank as well?

But either way, the better the content, the easier it is to get links, in general.

Sometimes "best content" is just something controversial, or is something that may not be the most in depth, but may just raise intense emotions about a subject (which I guess is kind of the same as controversial?).
4:22 pm on Aug 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I was recently on a site review panel at Affiliate Summit East with Adam Riemer, Kenny Hyder, and Scott Polk and issues with content that tended to have no usefulness was an issue with several sites we reviewed. The content part can be tricky.

I am not certain that controversial or click-bait content that is social media friendly is a good option. That kind of content tends to be, literally, useless to site visitors, without any usefulness or utility to site visitors. An argument could be made that entertainment or amusement is useful for sites that are in the CPM business. But if the site is ecommerce then there is little to no usefulness for driving sales because the content isn't anywhere on the research/sales arc. This has always been what was wrong with viral link strategies. Always.

Viral link strategies are useful to a link builder because it satisfies a quota. But social media friendly content tends to attract topically irrelevant links and that's not good for site publishers. This aspect of viral links has always existed. It's never been good for the site publisher because they are not the kinds of links that drive the right kind of traffic that has something to do with selling products. I can think of several big brand ecommerce sites that went all-in with viral link strategies and they never achieved satisfactory rankings and to this day continue to be an afterthought to consumers. Why is that? Because the content was without use, useless to all except the link builder.
7:31 am on Oct 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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This has always been what was wrong with viral link strategies

I saw a (very funny) parody video just the other day that was poking fun at people wearing a fictitious brand of gym wear to do anything but exercise. I noticed that it was marketing for (or was at least being appropriated for clickbait by) a fitness centre. I struggled to see exactly how that would generate business in either case. Links from PR and marketing blogs, yes. Temporary influence on Social Media analytics, yes. Anything that would create a desire in a potential customer's mind to find out about membership? No.
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" I struggled to see exactly how that would generate business in either case. Links from PR and marketing blogs, yes. Temporary influence on Social Media analytics, yes. Anything that would create a desire in a potential customer's mind to find out about membership? No"

]
That's the SEO industry selling snake oil. They do it wholesale.

Stupid consumer says I hear twitter/facebook/viral/social media is a big deal. SEO company wants to look like they're on the edge, sells the heck out of some crap services. Client pays money, gets no return.

If SEO companies were honest as an industry, they'd admit that their social media efforts are generally failures.

The fitness center would have been better off setting up a PPC campaign and local seo. Not as sexy, and harder to sell up front I'm sure, but more likely to actually yield results.

If I'm running Geico or General Electric, and measuring brand recognition and conversions across mediums, some of this stuff might be useful - but for the rest of us, most social media and viral traffic is just a trap that the SEO industry propogates.

Oh, and yes, I tried viral traffic. Paid an expert seo company who knew how to do it, and had the perfect viral bait, and it got a bit of traction. I went in with my eyes open just to test it, and sure enough, got some links and a bit of traffic, but basically it was crap with a capital C. No buyers, nothing longterm. Waste of bandwidth. It's not true in the specific always, but it is certainly true in general.
3:52 pm on Nov 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I don't 'do' Social Media but I've tried to educate myself about the what's involved and I try to stay in touch with developments. I've spoken to a few clients who want it, or want my advice on whether to get someone to do it, and have always asked them four questions:

1) what do you want to achieve?
2) how will that help you?
3) how will you go about doing this?
4) how will you measure how successful you are?

Usually no-one gets past number 2 because the answer to number 1 is invariably 'more likes'. If the answer was something like 'grow my mailing list' or 'promote my freemium product' then I can see ways that Facebook could be a useful channel, depending on your niche.
4:32 pm on Nov 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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O/T - Not Link building Related (in terms of SEO)

I know some local professional contractors who work for professional contractors (i.e., in essence, they are sub-contractors), and there business EXPLODED once they started getting likes on their business pages from their targeted demographic.

Yes, it's a different animal than SEO, but SOMETIMES more likes CAN translate into more business.
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