What kinds of people make the best link builders? Well, that’s as hard to define as what kinds of people make the best leaders or parents or circus clowns. Because really, that answer is going to depend entirely on who you talk to and what kind of link building you want done.
I’m sure there are people who prefer semi-lobotomized drones that can cut and paste, and don’t ask questions. But I respectfully disagree with that philosophy. I believe the great link builders are motivated by the thrill of the hunt and the rush of the score. They find honest satisfaction in getting quality links for a site, knowing that the work they have done will make a difference. Everything else is just dangling carrots.
The idea for this post was actually inspired from a comment on last month’s column asking what I recommend looking for in link builders. Trying to answer the question in one paragraph was tough, so I decided to give it an entire article.
SEO Vs Marketer
I am certainly not the first to delve into this topic. A long time ago I read a post from Rae Hoffman, and in it she says “I don’t hire link developers… I hire Marketing Specialists in the rough.” I love that. If you are looking to hire link builders this is must-read. Even more recently, here on SEJ Ben McKay gives “Homage to the business of link building” asking the only question older than the chicken or the egg quandary: are link builders SEOs? For me, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.
Link building is part of a bigger SEO machine and also part of a marketing campaign. That sort of departmental ambiguity makes it hard for people to determine exactly where to place their link builders. The problem is if you think only about links from a technical perspective, you are really missing the point. Links are votes; you want to be voted prom queen because people like you, not because you stuffed the ballot box. Of course if you completely neglect the technical aspects of link building you can miss opportunities to leverage your links into something really powerful. I often find that my favorite link builders are those that manage to find a balance of both.
SEO + Marketer =
That’s why I think the most important thing to look for in a link builder is someone who understands the big picture. I know that’s kind of vague. But the best link builders truly “get” how links fit into helping a website on all levels. In a heart beat, they can distinguish a great link from a mediocre link. They ignore the easy ones that will only serve to pollute a link profile. They know how to turn a no into a yes, how far to go and when to cut their losses. Link builders of this breed have an understanding of why links are or aren’t given. It’s that insight that drives them to just “know” what fits where and how to appeal to people. Your link builder should find perpetual inspiration in their cyber-travels. If you have a link builder who seems to be constantly saying the words “I have an idea” unless the next words have something to do with training goats to drive go-carts, then you’ve probably got a keeper.
Here is a short list of some of the other skills I find make for particularly strong link builders:
Creativity – People who are creative see unique angles, and possibilities. A link builder who can innovate on the spot is a real asset.
Resourcefulness – It’s nice to have little link building MacGyver’s running around. They’re the guys who can make links out of two nail files and a pair of salad tongs. It’s always beneficial to have someone on staff that is bounding over obstacles and creating windows when the doors are bolted.
Keyword/computer skills – This is just straight up logistics. People that can type fast, know their keyboard short-cuts and can maneuver around the screen at a rapid pace are generally strong contenders for any computer based jobs. Link building is no different. It also helps if someone can scan a web page quickly, whether it’s written content or search results. Oh and smart searching skills are pretty handy too.
Personality – Do you really MEAN that winky face or is it just perfunctory? Sometimes it shows. To me, this is another major area that separates the best from the bots. Ingratiating yourself to someone over the web is a challenge. People with bigger than life personalities can’t help but have that spill over into everything they do, including talking to people about links.
Communication Skills – Speaking of talking to people about links, communication skills are among the most important talents a link builder can have. If someone can write well and speak articulately, you have a winner. Sometimes sheer quality of writing can make the difference between no links and all the links you’ll ever need.
An instinct for reading people – Link building is the sort of a job where the ability to “read” people, even through a computer screen, is a highly valuable skill. A link builder who “just knows” how to approach someone, what to pitch them and how to develop the relationship, is pretty much priceless.
There are a ton of other qualities that can be valuable, like patience, adaptability and a thick skin. But what is the ultimate link building skill?
Leadership. – Imagine having someone who has all of the skills above AND the ability to train and bring out the best in others. Give them a cookie. Give them a raise. Give them a summer house in Cabo, but whatever you do, don’t let them go.
Finding the best link builders really does come down to the results you want and the kinds of people you value. Personally, I like thinkers, because it’s the thinkers that are changing the world and revolutionizing the industry every day. Someone who is smart and really “gets” both the SEO and the marketing sides of link building is truly unstoppable.