As a very important part of the search marketing mix, Link Building is both a cornerstone of SEO and a more than ever dynamic & changing field with a very high demand, and small amount of seasoned professionals.
Link building includes the practices of link buying or paid link advertising, linkbaiting, press & blog relations, and social media marketing. With hundreds of companies offering link building services out there and the major link builders such as Jim Boykin turning away business, how can you choose a quality link building agency?
Here are eleven different things to consider when speaking with, choosing or comparing link builders.
1. Diversity in Linking : When looking for a link building service, make sure that they do not put all of their eggs in one basket. Some services only specialize in directory listings while others concentrating specifically in blog posts. Some only buy links by the month, some only distribute articles or press releases, while others only practice reciprocal linking.
Look for a company or contractor who can offer a bit of everything because if your link builder is locked down in one style of linking, that means your site is associated with only one style. If they’re linking for only Google, what about Yahoo and MSN?
2. Cutting Edge Linking : Directory links and reciprocal linking may have worked well years ago, but what is the link builder doing now that addresses both current and future linking and search rankings attributed to linking.
If they are active in the blog, commenting, bookmarking and social media market, chances are the investment you make in link building over the next year will payoff in the future. If they’re link building in the past, your rankings and backlinks will not payoff in the future.
3. Responsibility in Linking : Ethics in web linking is a key variable in selecting a linking partner and touches upon diversity and cutting edge linking.
Is this link builder going to talk the talk and not walk the walk?
Can they put their money where their mouth is?
Or are they going to take your budget and sink it into a linking campaign which will bring you hundreds of /directory/links/links4 based links, comment spamming or guestbook attacks which will harm not only your link building, but your company’s reputation in the long run.
Recently my blog was bombarded by spam links for a company who’s CEO I know fairly well and normally runs some very organic and smart linking campaigns. Seems like they outsourced some blog linking which led to obvious comment spamming.
I and other search bloggers could have outed this spamming, harming the company’s reputation in the industry, but chose not to. But what happens when the company is yours and the blog belongs to someone else?
4. Responsiveness : Will you be able to reach your link builder once you sign your contract and pay them? If you have questions associated with their linking, will they ever respond to you?
Customer service and responsiveness are key decision making points when outsourcing anything, from programming to SEO. Make sure your link builder provides you with a phone number, email and possibly even an instant messaging username. If they’re not getting back to you or taking the initiative to contact you themselves (either the contractor, owner of the company or your project manager) while negotiating the contract, then chances are you may have a problem contacting them during the process of your linking initiatives.
5. Connections and Reputation : Where did this link builder come from and who do they know? Most good SEO’s have a history and connections. Look for their profile names on forums, blogs they contribute to, or past employment history via LinkedIn.
If they’ve been in the SEO industry for a long time, their experience should reflect upon their work. If they contribute thoughtful and useful content to blogs and forum threads, then they should put equal thought into your link building campaign.
If they have no track record online and a questionable employment background, you may want to look for someone else.
If the contractor is still in University, don’t let this hinder them too much, Neil Patel and Andy Hagans are two big time link builders who made a name for themselves while they were (are) still students.
6. References : Who have they worked with or worked for in the past? Most SEO’s sign Non Disclosure Agreements with their clients, but some list client portfolio’s on their sites.
Ask your link builder for their work history, past clients and possible references. Chances are they will supply them.
Also remember, one aspect of building trust with your outsourced linking provider is how much do they tell you about their other clients. If they’re sharing too much information about their past or current clients with you, they may share your information with other clients or your competitors in the future. So a tight lip on client portfolios or client work from a link building candidate can speak millions in terms of what they can and will provide for you, and how open you can be with them about your company.
7. Links to their Own Site : One way to judge the work of a link builder is by doing backlink checks to their own site. If they are good link builders, they should have good backlinks.
Try searching on Yahoo for “link:domain”
Are they linked to from authority sites or social media sites? Do other SEO’s link to them? Or are all of their incoming links from directories and sites that they own.
Checking their backlinks can help you judge the value and worth of a link building company.
8. Pricing : Link builders can offer all kinds of pricing plans, from a price per link, to monthly link renting, to working on retainer. Some link builders offer permanent links for a set price, while others rent link advertisements for a monthly fee.
Find out their pricing plan and other pricing alternatives they may offer. Some link builders may work month to month, while some require a full year’s commitment.
If you find a good link builder, you may want to sign them on for a whole year and not month to month, because someone else may come along and gobble up all of their bandwidth for the next 12 months, and they may drop you in a heartbeat as a client. Then, you’re looking for quality link builders again (and finding this article again on Google).
Review pricing plans and which ones both work well for your company, your linking contractor, and yourself.. because the last thing you want to do is explain to your boss why you lost a good link builder because you did not want to commit to a long term contract.
9. Link Ownership : Going back to responsibility and pricing, how ethical is this link builder and who owns the links?
If they are taking your company’s money to rent links by the month, and you end your agreement with them, will they then flip the switch and eliminate your links?
Are they linking to you from their own interlinked sites under one hosting plan, or are they linking to you from sites owned by decentralized and separate webmasters? A permanent link is a permanent link. Be sure that the link builder understands this and their webmaster contacts do also.
10. Intangibles : Trust your gut when contracting a link builder. If they know the industry more than the algorithms, their linking may be incredibly natural and more beneficial than ranking for the now.
If they stress social media more than linking, they may be a better contractor for Social Media Marketing than Link Building.
What’s your first impression of this person? A strong and trusted relationship can go a long way, and you never know where you’ll be working in two or three years when you may need to hire a link builder again. Will they want to work with you again?
11. Expectations : If you want X number of links per month from niche sites, any site or any blog from link building, let your link builder know so and listen to their reaction.
If they try to talk you into more targeted expectations and more focused link building, this is not pushing back, they’re just speaking from their expertise. In the long run however, make sure that expectations are set and remember, link building is not ALL of SEO. So if the link builder does not use keyword rankings as a success metric, this can be a good thing. Links are links, and not the overall end factor of SEO, instead part of the mix.
Getting expectations on the table before signing the contract will make the link building outsourcing process incredibly smooth across the length of the relationship.