5 Link Building Questions That Make Me Die a Little Inside

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If you offer link building as a service, there are a few questions you hear over and over. They are the questions which, like a hypnotic suggestion, trigger an almost automated response. But it doesn’t happen because you’re a jerk. Well, probably not anyway. It happens because you’ve just said it so many times before that it’s become second nature.

It’s not that they are “bad” or “stupid” questions. At all. They are in many ways perfectly reasonable questions asked by intelligent, responsible people. Most of the time. Occasionally they come from asshats. The issue is not the questions themselves, or even necessarily the person behind it. The issue is that there is still such a pervasive misconception about the entire process.

I’m a geek and I know it. I know that most people don’t understand what it is I do. And I do get excited when I see main stream and pop culture references to ranking in Google or starting an online business. But I also often hear things misrepresented or spoken of in such vague terms it mystifies search engine rankings as almost a black magic. I wish it was that simple. I wish 2 candles, fairy dust and a chicken bone could help me get you ranked. So here’s hoping to dispel some misconceptions.

How Many Links Does It Take to Get to the Front Page of Google?

As many licks as it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop. Or 25 million. Or 10. I’m not really sure. The fact is it’s going to be different. For every site. For every keyword.  Some phrases you can rank for without any back links to the page. Usually it’s a really long and random phrase. But it happens. For major competitive keywords it could take hundreds. Or 10. I’m not really sure. Until I do some research anyway and have an idea of what you have and what we’re up against. It’s all going to depend on the competition for the keywords and the quality of the links.

The value of a link is determined by several different factors. I’m not going to go into them right now. These guys have done a pretty good job. Simply put, there are a ton of different attributes of the link to consider. Some are positive and some are negative, sometimes they outweigh each other or and sometimes they balance each other out, but together they affect the overall value.

All of those variables mean that there are lame links and amazing links and as many shades of gray in between as a hexadecimal chart can contain.  The number of links it takes is not really a number at all; it is a powerful concoction of trust and votes and about 198 other indicators that determine how much credibility and value your site has on any given subject. You’ll get to the front page when acquire enough authority that Google determines you are the most credible, relevant result for your keywords.

Why Can’t You Just Build Links to My Homepage?

Um, yeah. Listen. Your home page is nice and all and I can get SOME links to it…but if you want really powerful links you’re going to need to go the extra distance one way or another. If you want great links to your home page then there needs to be something phenomenal going on. Whether it’s a major promotion, a contest, charity work, news, expert status any of that we can work with. But the operative word is work.  Link building needs to be embraced as a larger part of a marketing campaign and not simply a cheap fix. With creative strategic marketing initiatives, link building gets a lot easier. It becomes about honestly promoting the exceptional as opposed to smoke and mirrors.

Getting great links requires time and skill. Turning to a link monkey saying “bring me links and I will give you a banana” is only going to end in a bunch of lame links and a banana shortage. There should be some great content worth promoting. And the site needs to look professional. Even the best of link builders will struggle working with a site that looks like it came out of the link monkey.

I’m a PR 3 and want to be a PR 5, how many links will that take?

Sigh. Let’s start over. When you say PR 3 you’re referring to the green bar right? Yeah I thought so, just checking. Ok. The thing is Toolbar Page Rank confuses a lot of people. They think, why would Google tell me I’m a PR 3 if they didn’t’ mean it? For the same reason they will NOT accurately show you your back links.

They don’t want to be manipulated. In the past Search Engines were burned by their days of wearing their PR on their sleeve. High PR sites sold their page rank power to the highest bidder. In an effort to thwart that they developed another system of allocating page rank and this time they didn’t show us all their cards.  Your TBR may be a small reflection of the relative power of your site but it is not, in any way an indicator of where you will rank in the SERPS. For any search if you look for it, you’ll discover a site with a TBR 3 out-ranking a site with a TBR 5.  Try not to get too engrossed in the green herring. It’s only a distraction. Focus on building good quality links to help your pages rank. Not just you’re PageRank.

When Are We Done With This Link Building thing?

Never. Just…never. Sorry. It’s not a phase it’s not a short term fix it’s a long term process.  You may be able to reduce your link building efforts when you’ve reached a level where people view you as an authority and are actively pursuing your content or making unsolicited references to your site. But it takes time to reach that level. It takes a lot of work, networking, promotion, creation and branding.

So if you’re hoping I’ll say about 6 months of this should get you where you want to be, I’m sorry I’m just not going to.  Plus there are these 2 things to think about. First, rising too fast can lead to a quick, steep fall. And second, if you stop, don’t think for a moment the people around you will. If you decide to take a nap in this race, you’re going to get passed. That’s just how the game is played.

How many links can you get me for $X

My friend Todd has a great answer for this, he says:

“I can build you 1000 links that do nothing to improve your rankings or 1 that does…which do you prefer?”

Ok, I know you won’t be happy with one link. That’s not really the point. It’s about recognizing the difference between quality and quantity.  I totally understand the business side of it. You’re investing money; you want a ball park idea of what you can expect for it.  That makes perfect sense. But in this business, a high number of links doesn’t necessarily directly correlate with a high ROI.  It’s also going to depend largely on the kind of link building you want done.

Different methods yield different results. If you’re really concerned with numbers we can do what we have to do to meet your monthly quota. Or we can take the time to put in the effort it takes to get the good links. I’ve seen the “numbers guys” get it in their heads that they have to deliver some neat, even numbered package each month. But that mentality doesn’t get nuance, it doesn’t process quality. It doesn’t really get link building.  I promise I’m not trying to be elusive or unreasonable. I don’t want you to throw your link building budget away on something that isn’t working. But let’s come up with a measurement that is truly significant to your goals and not a pretense based on an arbitrary number.

There are a ton of other questions that didn’t make this list that are based on old ideas of what link building is. If you really want to see results though, the kind of link building you need is a lot more intensive and comprehensive than just a brief flirtation with attracting links. It’s about restructuring your entire understanding of how link building fits into your over all marketing plan and how it becomes a long-term process. In today’s world, it’s a hand and hand, mind to mind collaboration that represents a true and clear vision of you want to be on the web.

Jennifer Van Iderstyne

Jennifer Van Iderstyne

Jennifer Van Iderstyne is an SEO Specialist at Internet Marketing Ninjas, formerly WeBuildPages. Internet Marketing Ninjas is a full service internet marketing company based out of sunny Clifton Park, NY. You can follow her on Twitter but if you come to the office you won’t be able to find her, because Ninjas are invisible.
Jennifer Van Iderstyne

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  • http://twitter.com/jgiac Jonathan Giacalone

    Nice post Jennifer! We deal with the “How many links can you get for $X” all the time. And like you said, it’s a difficult question to tip toe around, especially with businesses who want to see “something” for what they’re paying. I’d be interested in hearing you expand on your mention about coming up with a measurement significant to the client’s goals. Do you focus more on increases in traffic, indexed pages, etc.? How can you attach a monetary fee to that? And what if you don’t hit those goals?

    • Jvaniderstyne

      Hi Jonathan, I think it will vary based on each client's goals and the quality of their site. You can shoot for a goal number of links, but if the links are really good, the number may be much lower than what a client would like. But I think inflated numeric expectations come from all of the spammy link companies promising hundreds of links. Increased traffic is a decent metric too. And if you don't hit the goals…you make adjustments. That could mean changing strategies, or ramping up the effort you put into the one you are using.

  • http://www.verticalmeasures.com/services/quality-link-building/ @CliqueKaila

    Great post Jenn. Here at Vertical Measures we get a lot of questions like the ones you illustrate in your post. That’s why our team developed a handy infographic. Now instead of just explaining we can send clients to this roll-over infographic. 🙂 http://www.verticalmeasures.com/linktoberfest/index.html

  • Jvaniderstyne

    Hmmm… it worked when I tested it. but thanks for the heads up. you can also reach me at marketing @ searchslingshot.com.

  • Julie Joyce

    I love it. Seriously…if I had a nickel for every time I've been asked one of these questions…ok I'd rather have a dollar for every time.

    I also really, really like the question “Crappy Spammy Link Company X can get me links for this much, so why are you charging more?”

    • Jvaniderstyne

      Thanks Julie and great addition! It's sort of like Saying to a Steakhouse, “Well McDonalds can give me a Big Mac for $3.99…” it all stems from the same general misconceptions, or misunderstandings about link quality.

  • http://www.TacticalMarketingLabs.com BrettRelander

    Good article, Jennifer. If only it were as easy as each of these questions wants it to be. In an era of over the top affiliate marketers, MLM, and the spammers we all love to hate each question really lets you figure out who you’re talking with. These days everyone wants the quick fix and the overnight success, but no one realizes that overnight successes take 10 years. We all need to spend more time reading (the relevant stuff) and educating ourselves on what it really takes to succeed and then, even more importantly, taking the necessary action to begin moving toward your ultimate goal. Weather that means a PR7, 100K followers or $1,000,000.

    Brett Relander

  • http://twitter.com/techchand chandrashekhar

    Helo Jennifer check your contact form 7 plugin,in Avast Antivirus it showing some malware threat with HTML Frame.

  • http://www.hivehealthmedia.com Jarret

    @Adam, you made my day with that comment.

    I did like this article and found it very entertaining too.

    @Jennifer, I’m only commenting because of your wildly entertaining, but generally pedantic and somewhat condescending tone. I can’t help but get mildly annoyed when an knowledgeable SEO pulls out the argument that there are PR5 sites that get outranked on a search phrase by a PR 3 site. This argument is just wrong on so many levels. I’m assuming you made that ubiquitous analogy just to be succinct.

    We all know that there’s no such thing as PR5 website, though SEO Moz suggest that the blog’s homepage is a reasonably proxy for the domain authority. After that, there’s a number of reasons why a lower PR site will outrank one with a higher PR for a search phrase starting with the title tags used. After that, if you’re referring to an individual blog post itself, backlink count and keywords obviously can have a profound effect.

    We also know that PageRank is on a logarithmic scale, so two sites with the same homepage PageRank are not necessarily deemed equivalent. Also, the Google Toolbar is inherently inaccurate due to the frequency by which it’s updated. The last update was April 3, just as an example.

    In short, I’ve written for blogs with various homepage PageRanks and if given the choice, I’ll take the one with a PR5 over the PR3 any day of the week and twice on Sundays if you throw in a banana. 🙂

    • http://sem-group.net/search-engine-optimization-blog/ Gerald Weber


      Just wanted to jump in here real quick and give you my 2 cents on the matter.

      Let's start with your personal attack.

      “@Jennifer, I'm only commenting because of your wildly entertaining, but generally pedantic and somewhat condescending tone.”

      I personally find Jennifers writing style to be very intelligent, well written and refreshing, but hey you are certainly entitled to your opinion.

      “I can't help but get mildly annoyed when an knowledgeable SEO pulls out the argument that there are PR5 sites that get outranked on a search phrase by a PR 3 site. This argument is just wrong on so many levels. I'm assuming you made that ubiquitous analogy just to be succinct.”

      I see lower PR sites outranking higher PR sites for the same keywords all the time. The main point Jen was making here is that so many people get fixated on how high their page rank is and lose sight of the fact that PR does not = SERPs rankings.

      Jen is spot on with this point.

      • Jarret

        Gerald, I wouldn't consider my comment a personal attack given the context of my commenting on my impression of the tone of the article rather than anything personal. I also acknowledged that I did enjoy reading the article.

        I felt that I made a constructive criticism of her comment, “For any search if you look for it, you’ll discover a site with a TBR 3 out-ranking a site with a TBR 5.”

        I'm sure that there are plenty of readers of this site including the post author who know far more about SEO than I ever will. To me that statement is thrown around on blogs far too often. It's also such an oversimplification that it lacks any meaning.

        As I mentioned, there are far too many other factors that influence ranking outside of PageRank. Heck, even the old and abused exact domain match or even keywords in the domain seems to have a profound effect on SERPs. Also, any given site is has the potential to outrank a higher PR site on a single search phrase based on title tags and keyword anchor text in backlinks. That being said, it would be substantially more difficult for a lower PR site to accomplish that across a range of keywords.

        “The main point Jen was making here is that so many people get fixated on how high their page rank is and lose sight of the fact that PR does not = SERPs rankings.”

        Granted, but to diminish its importance is contrary to most SEO experiments and studies that I've read over the past several months. I honestly can't remember for sure, but I read an interesting experiment that was probably posted at SEO Moz sometime over the past month. From their results, for competitive search phrases across a wide range of niches, (for domain home page ranking, not blog post), they didn't find a single site that had less than a PR of 5 and a domain that was newer than three years old. To rank number one for the competitive search phrases they used, most of the sites had a domain home page PR6+ and several years of domain age.

  • http://twitter.com/vinibpeixoto Vinicius B. Peixoto

    Awesome article!

    So true!

    “The issue is that there is still such a pervasive misconception about the entire process.”

    Unfortunately, there are so many people obsessed with the wrong metrics/numbers. They want quantity, PR improvement;
    Quality, trust, authority seem to be simply forgotten.

    • Jvaniderstyne

      It's so true that the quality is so often overlooked in favor of metrics that just look better”on paper” Thanks for reading!

  • http://twitter.com/paddyjkelly Paddy Kelly

    Really, really good article – outlines perfectly the ever-rolling campaign that is meaningful link building as opposed to X amount per month, etc.

    • Jvaniderstyne

      Thanks for the kind words…now if only potential clients would read it…

  • http://twitter.com/warner444 Warner Carter

    Also frustrating is how many people fall for the fast and cheap solutions offered by link hustlers then to have them lump all SEO professionals into the same dung heap.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LWNDYMDBXLZ3QADOS7BK2UPXJU Adam Thumperton

    I like the way you write.

    Let me know when you write a book.

  • Gerald Weber


    As usual a very intelligent well written post.

    Your point I like the most is page rank does not = SERPs rankings.

    It's funny how many people get obsessed by page rank and don't understand that higher PR doesn't mean you are going to rank for jack! 😉

  • http://www.lebseodesign.com/search-engine-optimization.html SEO Lebanon

    OMG so trueee lol

    loved this “How Many Links Does It Take to Get to the Front Page of Google?”

  • http://www.heftelstudios.com Kawika

    Really good article. Most people still don't know how link-building works or helps their search rankings, and you've helped clear that up a little.

  • http://www.webhostinglogic.com/web-marketing/web-marketing-home.html Seo Guru

    Good article Jenny. I love the way you present the facts about those monkeys. Link building process is really hard to explain to those who merely think of their gain and not the process itself. It is a tedious process, period. They must understand that. Now, if somebody will ask me those questions, I will answer them with a link, the link to this article. This will save me time explaining those things to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Sutherland/629623553 Paul Sutherland

    I enjoyed that. People need to realise that quality content is the most important thing. There are no easy fixes and you can't manipulate the system.

  • http://www.adjuice.co.uk/seo-specialist-services.html Ewan Kennedy

    I think there will always be a challenge in this area. A little knowledge in the hands of a client is dangerous and you can spend half your life educating them out of ill-conceived notions. Some trust is required here but I try and aovid link building metrics as the benchmark and focus on rankings, leads and sales.

  • http://blogs.wcnickerson.ca LoneWolf

    One problem that I see is how do you measure the quality of a link? I mean in a tangible way that a customer can understand? What metric can be shown that these 5 links are worth as much as those 1,000 links?

    A consumer sees quantity easier than quality, so how do you show them they're getting rib eye vs Big Mac?

    • Jvaniderstyne

      Great quesiton, there are a lot of factors which go into measuring the quality of a link, the posts I referenced, from Dave Snyder, Stuntdubl and Wiep give some great insight into how to evaluate a link. In general though it comes down to this; a good cut of meat comes from the best part of a cow, so a butcher can explain the difference between tenderloin and top round . Likewise, a link builder should be able to isolate and explain those factors.

  • http://www.datadrivendigitalmarketing.com Data Driven Marketing

    Great article – it's nice to hear people continue to mention that the sheer number of links is not what matters. The focus has to be quality. Maybe if enough of us keep saying it, the universe will listen?

  • http://www.optimise-firstfound.co.uk Andy Nattan

    Great work Jennifer. I hear the “when will we be done” questions all the time. I guess it's just because SEO is different to most other services. You woudn't accept the same sort of vague answers we have to give from a printer or radio advertiser.

  • Trip

    Funny stuff! I've always gotten around the Page Rank question by pointing out that the co-founder of Google is Larry Page and Page Rank was named after him and that it has absolutely nothing to do with what SER “Page” your site sits on. Of course I get into a little more detail, but I'm sure you get the point. Most business owners have no idea what they're talking about in regards to Page Rank so this answer usually gets them to stop worrying about it and allows me to help them focus on more important aspects of their marketing strategy.

  • http://www.constantclick.com JeanPierre

    Jeez, I could just copy past this article into questions I get from leads every day. Thanks so much, do you mind if I send this to my clients in an email blast?

  • http://www.webtalentseo.com Oliver at WebTalent SEO

    Link building is always viewed as a project and not an ongoing strategy. People need to know that SEO is a long term process not a one time action.

  • http://www.palatnikfactor.com Pablo

    i love it. great job in making these questions have entertaining answers, really. clients need to understand this BEFORE engaging in seo and link building…if not…these questions are sure to come your way.

  • http://www.seoconsult.co.uk Jon

    Great post, quality not quantity. Links are easy to find, but getting one that's in the right context and from the right site is the tricky part. But in the end it's worth it.

  • http://www.linknami.com/ Linknami

    For me the question is: Can the link send targeted customers my way? Yes or no. If the link comes from a related site and is followed, thats an added bonus but thats not my target.

  • http://www.seoconsult.co.uk Ray Lam

    Brilliant post. It's comforting to know that someone else is getting the same soul-destroying asinine questions as I do. I'm new to the world SEO, coming from many years as a software engineer. It's these kind of questions that makes me want to go back to my past life as a code-monkey in a 4 x 5 basement cuboidicle.

  • http://www.leemarriott.co.uk Lee Marriott

    Wow great post Jennifer, some of these question make me chuckle I've heard them so may times they make me laugh now not cry 🙂

  • http://www.emarketing-egypt.com Waleed

    Tank you and good post

  • http://twitter.com/JewlOfTheLotus Julie Cameron

    Great stuff here, like most SEOers – we get these sorts of questions all the time and it's always nice to see how others respond. You've definitely give me a few ideas!

  • http://www.mantywebdesigns.com Jill Manty

    Oh, this would be hilarious if it weren't so sadly, heartbreakingly true. I may print this out and anonymously mail it to all of my clients, future clients and possibly just random people who own a website and may or may not ever ask these questions.

    A related but not strictly link building question is the overall, “How long will it take for you to get me ranked?” Before they've even committed to a budget. Or a plan. Or anything.

  • Frank

    Understandable, valid points, Jennifer.

    However, as a paying client I expect one thing for the fee – results. Measureable results. Namely, higher rankings for the agreeded upon targeted keywords within an agreed upon time frame. If that's not happening, what's the fee for – just trying?

    What's difficult for me to determine is what's a reasonable timeframe and investment to evaluate the success of the SEO hired? Look at results in a month, 3, 6? At some point one has to assess results as wow, acceptable or lousy. What time frame is fair and reasonable to evaluate this?

    What's considered success – rankings went up 2 or more postions on over 50% of the target keywords within 60 days? Other measurement(s)?

    I know — it varies. 🙂 I'm not expecting exact formulas – just a good, general basic guideline of what to expect when hiring a link builder. Any comments or suggestions, greatly appreciated.

  • http://bestdogbeds.blogspot.com Dog Beds

    I can see why these questions could make you die inside. But we've all been at that stage where knowledge is lacking. The bottm line is a lot of good hard work goes a long way, and a bit of research will pay dividends too!