I’ve attended all 4 SMX Advanced Conferences and if someone were to ask me who gave the most memorable presentation that I saw, I would absolutely answer Jay Young. Google’s stance against paid links was very much a flashpoint of controversy at SMX Advanced 2008 for Jay to get up in front of his peers (w/ Matt Cutts in the room) and forcefully advocated in favor of buying links at a time where it was extremely risky to take such a public stand. Jay’s name disappeared from my radar until recently where I discovered he was married to one of my social media BFF’s Julie Joyce. My wife and I passed through Greensboro this summer and hung out on their front porch for a bit and the Jay Young I chatted with that day could not have been more different than my impression of him from his SMX Advanced presentation. Since Jay isn’t visible online in the same way that Julie is, I thought he’d be a perfect person for an e-interview…
1. Please give me your background and tell us what you do for a living.
Hi, Todd; thanks for the invitation to do this interview. My background is pretty varied but that seems to be the case for all SEO professionals. My formal education was in English Literature and Classical Archaeology. I know, practical right? I came to work in tech through exposure to geographical information systems in the early ’90′s and wound up working as a systems administrator in the late ’90′s. I had picked up a fair amount of SEO knowledge from assisting the SEO department at the company I was working for back then in their development and execution of certain technical strategies that would be highly frowned upon in this day and age. My wife Julie had taken a position on the SEO team at that company so when I was asked to fill the other position on that team I jumped at the opportunity. We’ve been doing SEO together in some capacity ever since. The link building concentration and subsequent creation of Link Fish Media was purely accidental. Sadly, like all good stories in the SEO world, the details are bound by an iron clad NDA.
2) When most folks complain about how bland and boring search marketing conference presentations are, your appearance at SMX Advanced 2008 was anything but. Can you talk about why you addressed the link buying issue so directly and the reaction to what you said?
That really did cause a stir didn’t it? I was trying to make the point that marketing is all about risk, and if you’re not willing to risk something, you may not ever be that successful. If I had to do that speech over today, I think I’d still make that point but I’d be a lot less blunt about it. Some of it came out of my reaction to all the bad press about blackhats, link buying, etc. back then. Things have calmed down now for the most part, so while you’ll still see people arguing about techniques, it’s less vitriolic. My background with link buying was in a very, very competitive industry where everyone bought links, and I wanted to buy BETTER links. No webmaster would have given me a link for free. They all required money. It did annoy me to be doing that because I felt it was the only thing I could do, and having to read people talk about link buyers like we were the scum of the Earth. I’ve learned to accept the prejudice a bit more over the past two years.
3) Please talk about how buying links has changed in the last couple years…both algorithmically as well as the acceptance / non-acceptance in the marketplace.
Algorithmically, I think there have been changes that could easily discount links from sitewides, footers, things like that where you have a link on every page of a site. Two years ago that was something we did, and something that showed results. Now, if I see that in a link profile, I immediately want to fix it. I think Google continually hones its algorithm so that they can take care of spammy links and discount them, so we’re seeing other tactics stop working well that used to work beautifully. I do like the fact that they try to take care of this algorithmically rather than manually, and it’s always fun to try and figure out what they’re discounting.
Two years ago the clients that came to us were the notorious ones that could risk everything. Now, we’re getting more and more clients who simply want to get ahead in the game. Now we get people who want us to work with them on all sorts of sites, not just pills, porn, and casinos. I think there is less of an acceptance of paid links in some ways, particularly by other people trying to rank well, and more acceptance by clients who realize that even though it goes against Google’s guidelines, if done really well, it can be fantastic for their site. I see lots of SEOs complaining about sites buying links and outing them, which I find to be very distasteful, but I also know that there are some SEOs out there who are involved with paid links themselves in some way but they’re still happy to denounce the practice.
4) I imagine you have clients who ask you to buy links for them without appreciating the risks & as well as clients who perhaps should consider buying links perhaps without knowing that is available to them. How do you handle each case?
Whenever we get a prospect, we immediately disclose the fact that we specialize in paid links. We do other types of link building, but our current business model is shaped around that for various reasons. We do full disclosure about the risks. We definitely lose a lot of potential clients in this way, but there’s no way any of us could sleep at night if we were doing something that a client wasn’t comfortable with. Many clients actually come to us after working with other link builders who haven’t done paid links, and they’re interested in what we can do. We’ve also turned down a few potential clients who were ok with the risk, because we weren’t ok with the risk for them.
5) How do you build links for a site that perhaps doesn’t have enough going for it to deserve the sort of links it needs to rank well?
We offer cash. Ha! Actually, we have never had that issue so far. Before we take on a client, we analyze the site and the niche to make sure that we could do a good job. If the site sucks, we can’t do a good job, so we wouldn’t take on that client. We’ve had situations in which the sites were horrible and we have said that even with good inbound links, you still need a lot of work, and you could do x, y, and z to help…but people don’t always want to do that. They view links, particularly, paid links, as an easy way out. Links are never a one-stop solution.
6) How should a webmaster approach another webmaster for a link where a prior relationship doesn’t exist.
This is the kind of thing that our link builders do nonstop all day, as we don’t work from inventory, we crawl the web to find good sites that we’ve never worked with before. We review the site and if it meets our needs, we’ll simply send an introductory email stating our purpose. Sometimes our response rate is 50%. Sometimes it’s 2%.
7) Linking is an SEO task that seems to be frequently outsourced. How can someone evaluate a potential outsource partner both prior to the engagement and when measuring results?
For someone to do paid links, you’d probably have to go on reputation alone, as I don’t know of anyone who does paid links who is stupid enough to talk about their clients. We have nondisclosures with all of our clients and cannot, and would not, give out examples of our work. Therefore if someone comes to us, it’s usually through something they’ve seen or heard. We do occasionally get referrals from existing clients.
If you’re evaluating a company who does non-paid linking and there’s no risk involved for disclosure, I would ask for examples of the work and maybe a client testimonial or two. However, I think that the best way to evaluate a link building partner is to simply try them out and see what they can do. We’ve had clients where we felt confident and had very little success, and we’ve had the opposite. Sometimes you just don’t know how it will go until you try it.