April 27th 2010 marked the launch of Ontolo’s Link Building Toolset, in the works since 2008. The Link Building Toolset uses targeted SEO keywords to find and grade link prospects, saving link builders 80% of the time typically spent on prospecting and qualification. This interview with the creators, Garrett French and Ben Wills, traces their roots in the SEO space and offers some great link building advice!
1) What’s the hardest part of link building for you guys?
Garrett: Creating great content remains one of the hardest parts of link building for me, whether I’m writing ABOUT link building or a clients’ subject area. It’s tough on one level simply because for me content creation involves massive amounts of learning, research, interviews and then finally I get down to writing. And the second level of difficulty comes in actually doing the outreach required to earn the links from the prospects. Even in the link building content space I still have tough time determining whether or not a given topic will be a base hit or a grand slam. This is why on the content side we’ve been leaning more towards expert engagement (eg: group interviews with bloggers) since the contributing experts have incentive to mention their involvement.
Ben: Garrett’s on the creative side of link building and I’m on the programatic/analytical/scalable side. The toughest part of link building for me (which is also the part that I enjoy the most) is breaking down human assessments into programatic assessments. An example of this is our “Potentiality” score, which determines the likelihood that a URL will actually link out to another website. Most people would say that this kind of analysis can only be done by a person. While I agree that every URL needs a human review to be 100% certain to approach it, that potentiality score sure cuts down on manual qualification times for us.
2) So can you tell us a bit more about expert engagement?
Garrett: For me it’s an extension of the discovery I made at WPN – readers like expert answers, experts like exposure and recognition. For the engagement-focused link builder this involves identifying the recognized experts and/or celebrities within a keyword space and then asking them great questions either as a group or individually. The quality of your questions, the topic of your questions and your brand’s existing influence in your keyword space will all impact on how well this works for you.
Ben: I really enjoy three main things about engaging experts for content and link building:
1, The quality of ideation and brainstorming is unmatched. For an idea guy like myself, I love this.
2, When you’re working with known experts, when done in a certain way, there’s a specific kind of social/expert value that’s also transferred to you. Now, this doesn’t *make* you an expert, but if you’re recurrently working with experts…
3, In terms of producing content for a market space, aside from some of the fringe stuff out there, this can be some of the most useful content for learning an industry. It’s how I started, reading top blogs, forums, etc.
3) How did you guys get involved in link building?
Garrett French: My start in link building really began back in my WebProNews days (2001-2004). That’s when I gave links to SEO experts in exchange for their answers to my readers’ questions. The answers helped my readers rank better, and the expert access helped WPN’s brand.
The links helped the experts’ rankings, and the exposure to my readers built referrals and leads. Their answers helped me because they reduced my writing load for the day ;) This is when I really began thinking about how content enables marketers to reach their target audience, and laid the ground work for my content-based link building approach. I met Ben when I moved to RTP to join Andy Beal at WebSourced. After leaving that company I wrote and built links freelance for a couple years and then started working with Ben to help him hone and launch the Ontolo Link Building Toolset.
Ben Wills: I got involved in SEO in 2001, working for what would become the largest SEO company in the world, KeywordRanking/WebSourced. It was my responsibility there to design our services that would then get implemented by each of the client teams.
Every time we asked a client what they wanted more of, it was always link building. The solution we have today at Ontolo actually started from some ideation that occurred (but was never implemented) during those days. When I worked with Andy Beal at Fortune Interactive, we heard the same thing and, for various reasons, never implemented a solid link building solution. After manually reviewing tens of thousands of link prospects and a year and a half into consulting independently – July of 2008 – I decided it was time to really take a crack at link building, which is where Ontolo was born from.
4) What can you tell us about your new tool?
Garrett: Well, simply put, it’s amazing ;) For me it’s a dream come true in that it’s beautifully designed to provide link builders with a steady stream of link prospects based on their linkable assets. This is where I often hit a road block with competitor backlinks… It’s great to know that site A linked to competitor B, but we don’t have any idea of their intent (something Eric Ward focuses on a great deal).
Our tool is well suited for connecting linkable assets with link prospects that are more likely to have an interest in linking. It’s also provides a keyword-searchable interface for digging through link prospects which comes in handy when I’ve got a new piece of content that I’m ready to promote.
Ben: Our number one goal is this: To help you find more link prospects and more valuable link prospects, faster. Our toolset focuses strictly on this. As Garrett mentioned, this moves well beyond (and compliments) backlink analysis. This looks at your entire market and the link opportunities that exist there from links pages and directory pages all the way to blog partners, guest posts and guest publishing opportunities.
Once we identify those opportunities by discovering, indexing and crawling tens of thousands of link prospects per month for you, we also then give you the toolset necessary to wade through the prospects as quickly as possible. Then, behind the scenes, we offer exclusive tutorials, content, and training to help you use the data set as quickly and efficiently as possible so that you can spend more time building high-quality relationships, and less time wading through spreadsheets of prospects.
5) How is the Link Building Toolset different from MajesticSEO and LinkScape?
Garrett: Based on your target keywords, we find and grade a steady stream of link prospects and add them to your searchable database. MajesticSEO and LinkScape provide and grade competitor backlinks. It’s sort of like the difference between a search engine and a directory ;) We see them as highly complimentary sources for link prospects – we’re looking outside the existing competitor link graph, while they’re looking directly at it.
Ben: The main difference is that we are text-based, not backlink based. Where Majestic and LinkScape are restricted to backlinks to a specific URL (which certainly has its uses), we look at an entire industry based on *keywords*, then give you tools to search the full text of each link prospect, rather than just link relationships. This lets you look at 100,000 URLs and find *only* the guest post opportunities in a matter of seconds, rather than having to dig through and manually review tens of thousands of URLs for what *might* be a guest post opportunity.