This is my honor and privilege to share the interview with the lady who has been an inspiration to the most of the search marketers, especially the link builders. She owns the link building agency ‘Link Fish Media’ and writes a lot about link building on her SEO blog (Julie is also our monthly contributor in the “Links” column).
Question: You started as a programmer and then shifted to search industry and then started your own Link Fish Media, what made you change your profession from a programmer to the search professional and do you really think it was a wise decision?
I actually was working as a programmer at an IT agency and, because of my English degree, got roped into a vacancy on the SEO team. That agency had its ups and downs and I thought that the SEO department was safer, job-wise, and I was happy to learn something new. I am definitely glad that I switched my career path because honestly, I was never a great programmer. I liked it a lot, but I didn’t live and breathe it the way the better programmers did. I wouldn’t be the owner of my own company if I’d stayed a programmer, either. Of course I really do miss knowing if something worked immediately. Code works or doesn’t. SEO isn’t that simple.
Question: I was reading one of your interviews and the interviewer asked you a question about what your company does and you said “we buy links, we“…. And buying links is against the Google guidelines – so can you please clear your point on this?
I can indeed. Yes, we will buy links if a client is ok with that and if we think that it’s a risk we are comfortable with. We usually work with clients in very competitive industries where the other players are all buying links. That being said, we make sure that the client understands that it IS a violation of Google’s guidelines and that the site can be tossed out of the index if they are caught. We try to go after the same kinds of links that we would if we were not buying them, but cash sweetens (and speeds up) the deal. I never ever try to get a client to agree to buying links. If I detect even the slightest reluctance, I don’t press the issue. We get clients who want to buy links for the most part, but we do have clients where we do it all by the (Google) book. We are very, very lucky to be in a position where we currently have plenty of business, and I am incredibly grateful for that and take it very seriously. I would never risk my business by trying to talk a client into doing something against his or her will. I don’t have the stomach for that.
Question: I tweeted about the interview when I was preparing questions and I got a really nice question from @SEOcopy – she asked, ‘Has link building given way to social media relationships? What are the foundational links based on now?’
That’s a great question! In many ways, I think that it has. If you’re not using social media to build links, you’re way behind. I still think the foundational links of the past are important, but I definitely think that it’s critical to take social media seriously and recognize that some of the social signals can help you rank better and lead to more links. You can also have a higher level of visibility if you’re on social sites, thus leading to more link building opportunities.
Question: Ok, Google recently came up with Google Plus one and there is a lot of noise about it these days. How important will Google plus One be with reference to search engine rankings? (Considering the Google’s previous reputation in the social industry, i.e. Google Wave and Google Buzz).
Ha! Yes considering the things they’ve tried that haven’t caught on, I haven’t been taking Plus One seriously. However, part of that is because I just don’t like it and think it’s highly gameable. I think it will quietly go away. If I’m wrong, I will feel like an idiot for saying that of course.
Question: Now here comes the tough one I guess, what are the three least important link building techniques? I mean that do work but are least important in your list!
That is indeed a tough question. Blog commenting, microsites, and sitewide links. I think that blog commenting can be very helpful when done correctly but that is for profile building in my opinion. I hate seeing someone drop an irrelevant link in a comment. I think that microsites can work but it’s more maintenance and if they become viewed as doorway pages basically, you’re out of luck. I used to love sitewide links and I think they are still ok, but I no longer pursue them intentionally.
Question: Ok, I am asking you because this is something that happens with me many times. Your non-search friends (maybe parents), do they really understand your job or every time you need to explain them what SEO is and how it works?
My parents just think I run a marketing agency and that’s true in a way. They have no clue what I do though. I probably know less than 5 non-search people who understand that we’re responsible for building those differently-colored bits of text that, when clicked on, take you somewhere else. I no longer bother trying to explain what SEO is. I have come to enjoy the confused stares.
Question: For link building, what do you prefer: manual work or you use tools? If you are using any tools, which ones do you prefer or think are the best?
We do use a few tools here and there but by and large, the discovery is all done manually. The emails and phone calls are tedious and I imagine that we could speed things up a lot if we automated bits and pieces, but doing things manually is working very well for us right now. I personally use tools when doing analysis of course, and we have the add-ons and tools to tell us the toolbar Page Rank, for example, or get Moz metrics. I love the SEO Moz tools and I’ve used those the most. I have tried Raven and loved that set as well, and I really liked Link Research Tools when I had a test account. I’ve honestly never tried any link tools that I didn’t like.
Question: 5 qualities of an effective link builder?
- Creativity. If you can’t think outside the box, as much as I hate that expression, you won’t be a great link builder.
- Persistence. Link building is tedious and can sometimes do your head in, but if you can’t stick with it and keep going, you won’t do well. Some of our link builders have really bad days or weeks when no one is responding to them, and some occasionally get insulted for ruining the interwebs. However, they learn to just brush it off and keep moving. Sitting there pouting or slowing down won’t get you any new links.
- Excellent communication and writing skills. Link builders need to be able to grab your attention, state their case, and make you want to work with them. If their emails are poorly written, they’ll get trashed immediately. If it takes them 5 emails to tell you what they want you to do, they’ll lose that link. Obviously when we’re writing content, we need great writers. No webmaster wants to put up a guest post that is badly written. No one wants to link to a piece that’s poorly written. I do have a snobbishness about that and understand that there are many people in the industry who don’t write very well but have good points to make, but I still don’t like it. Ha!
- Thick skin. Link building can be great fun or it can be just awful at times. Webmasters can be quite brutal about truly silly little things. I don’t like getting unsolicited emails myself, but I don’t feel the need to write the person back with ten paragraphs of how horrible it is to have sent that email. I wouldn’t feel the need to go write a blog post about it but hey, some people must just be really bored. Our link builders have been insulted many times. I’ve dealt with potential clients who have been amazingly condescending and rude to me. You just have to let it roll off and keep going.
- Gratitude. I feel very grateful to own Link Fish and provide my link builders with a way to make a living. I feel extremely grateful to receive referrals from amazing SEOs and other link builders and to write for the sites I write for. I feel honored to be a part of Sphinn. I am happy that business is going well and that we have a waiting list. I value link builders who realize how lucky they are to be a part of all of this. When you’re grateful for what you have, I think you treat people with more respect, and that’s essential when you’re building links.
Question: Impact of social media is increasing day by day on the search rankings; do you think this will decrease the value of traditional link building?
I have thought a lot about that exact issue. I can’t really see a day when Google won’t base a large part of its overall algorithm on links, but I can definitely see social signals being factored in more heavily. When we first started out, we built some truly horrific links. I am mortified when I see some of them. We’ve stopped doing certain types of links that we used to rely on…so basically I think that link building will continue to throw challenges out to us. I like that, as it keeps the mind sharp, trying to adapt. I never expected Twitter or Facebook to take off the way they have, so I’m lousy at predicting the future. We could see a new search engine that has zero reliance upon links, I suppose. If that happens, I’m screwed.
Question: Do you think sentiment analysis of links works? Would love to know the details about it as this is not much discussed topic over the internet!
There are tools that do things like search for negative and positive terms, thus giving you an approximated sentiment analysis. However, I can’t imagine that building a tool that can accurately give you a sentiment analysis would be even remotely possible due to the way in which we use language to joke, etc. That’s a long-winded way of saying that even if we see more sentiment analyses, I don’t think they’ll be that accurate. As we know, machines read text in a logical fashion. Searching for positive and negative terms isn’t accurate all the time. If I say “wow that is some amazing hair!” how would that be interpreted? Positively, I would think, but considering the fact that I am mostly sarcastic, it would be a negative thing to say. I think it’s very important to keep an eye on this though, as it could become a big factor in link building, but maybe in a less direct manner. If everyone links to you with terms like “worst service ever” and “never use this guy” then while I don’t think Google will see you as a horrible person and not rank you for certain terms, I do think that you’ll have a generally negative online presence. THAT isn’t good for link building.
Question: You are, without a doubt, one of the finest search professional in the industr,y so as a specialist in your field where do you see SEO in the next 5 to 7 years? I mean, is there any chance to move and merge with traditional marketing?
You are very kind to say that…I don’t really agree but since you’re interviewing me, I will be polite and just say thanks! I think many traditional marketers will continue to learn more about online marketing, as they’ll have to do so. As far as whether they can merge, I really don’t know. I work with some clients who are old-school marketers but fully recognize the importance of online marketing, and I work with some who constantly have to fight the guys who say let’s do some big flashing banner ads and spend all the money there. I think (and hope) that some of the people who don’t know what they’re doing will filter out but I imagine they’ll just be replaced by others who hop onto the latest bandwagon and proclaim themselves experts. However, what I definitely know is that SEO will never be boring.
Question: Top 3 link building techniques that you think are most important in the coming months and years?
- Social profile links. With kids coming out of high school knowing how to use Twitter better than some of us do, it’s going to be more critical to have a full social media presence. Some people use Twitter and Facebook in the way that they’d have used Google 4 years ago. If you can’t be found on popular social sites, you could end up losing business (and not getting links!) but if you’re there (with actual information, not spammed-up crap just to have the space) you’ll be ahead and of the game.
- Link cleanup. If there are really bad links in your profile, you should take care of them. I’ve only seen one or two link profiles that don’t have a lot of junk in there. I’ve also done link audits and the clients had no idea where those crappy links came from. That kind of thing bothers me. Some link profiles look like crap built on more crap, and when it’s your turn for a manual review, you’re not going to be happy.
- Sharing knowledge. This can come from guest posting, doing interviews, helping answer questions on Quora, and just generally being helpful online. People underestimate the power of being available and willing to help someone out. If you have a reputation for being open and honest and not just out for yourself, you’ll be asked to be interviewed, you’ll get followers on social sites like Twitter and Quora, and you’ll be the go-to person when someone needs an answer. That’s a great way to build relationships, which build links.
Question: As an SEO celebrity, what is your advice to other SEOs and link builders in the market?
You really do flatter me as I am a complete dork. Anyway, my advice is to actually know your stuff and be honest about what you do. I can’t stand it when SEOs pretend to be 100% “ethical” and they’re buying links or doing other spammy stuff. If you do it, you should admit to it. I’d rather have someone fuss at me for buying links than say I’m dishonest.
Thank you Julie Joyce for you time and answering to the questions that I always wanted to ask you!