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Interview with Link Building Expert Barrie Smith

Murray Newlands sits down with link building expert Barrie Smith from Receptional to talk link building and SEO strategies.


Barrie Smith of ReceptionalBarrie Smith of Receptional

Barrie Smith is an experienced link builder, having worked with Receptional for almost nine years. He has worked on numerous successful SEO and link building activities and was the driving force behind the campaigns that saw Receptional nominated at the UK Search Awards for the past two years.

I recently caught up with Barrie to ask him a few questions about link building:

What tools are you using in 2013 to help identify target backlinks?

Majestic SEO is certainly the best for that and is my most used tool. Not a day goes by that I don’t use our Majestic SEO account. This tool is perfect for finding out where your competitors are getting their links from, the number of times they’ve built keyword-rich anchor text links for specific keywords, and the trust and citation flow metrics give you some insight into the value of each link.

I’m not sure how I would survive in link building without Majestic SEO. Or certainly wouldn’t know how to rank and increase traffic to my clients’ websites without it.

Once you have identified the links you want, how do you go about asking for them?

As in email requests, phone calls and networking? You’ve got to give them something worthwhile in order for them to want to link to you. Both parties need to benefit. What I find unfortunate is that this often translates to money and certainly before Penguin there was a good amount of time where it was the one with the most money who could almost buy their way to the top of Google, or at least close to the top. It wasn’t quite as easy as that, but some companies with low quality websites, a lack of flagship content, and sometimes even a lack of a good product, were able to rank on Google buy purchasing lots of links. In some ways, link building is easier these days for us ethical digital marketers who didn’t get caught up in unethical methods to rank in Google.

I think the Penguin algorithm update has stopped a large part of that. I’m sure there’s still plenty of link purchasing going on but I think that people’s ethics have changed since the update. A lot of marketers understand they need great content, have a good marketing strategy and a useful product if they want their business to be a success these days.

I still receive emails with people wanting to do “three way exchanges” and reciprocal link building—the only time these emails don’t get ignored is when I publish them in a blog post highlighting what not to do in basic link building tactics. I cannot believe people still do this!

And why do you think people still use black hat techniques post Penguin?

To get rich quick? An attempt to beat the system? Maybe they don’t know another way? In any job there are people who try to take shortcuts. Why? They think they can get them to the top with minimum effort; they’re lazy.

We’ve seen in the Payday Loans results that these methods, at least up to May this year, were working. And of those underhand methods used, people made a lot of money from it. There were 201,000 searches for “payday loans” when I came across an affiliate site using shifty techniques to rank #1 for the phrase. That site remained in position 1 for a few days, redirecting to a payday loan affiliate—I’m sure he made a few ££ from that. And if you don’t know any better, or you’re greedy, desperate for money, whatever, then you’ll have no shame in doing this.

It all comes down to the individual I guess. Do you want to make your business or your money from doing something ethically with a future-proof strategy? Or do you want to make your money by  begging people  to use your business by any means necessary?

In the past, Google’s results have been littered with trash; trash that has used black hat techniques to rank in Google. I see fewer and fewer junk results in Google these days, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re doing a good job with filtering.

Do your clients rely heavily on Google traffic?

Yes and no. I still like to rank my sites and my clients’ sites in position 1 on Google for their key terms, but believe it or not, there is still lots of traffic and potential conversions to be had from Google traffic!

But relying on Google results to survive is a risky game. Think of it like this—what would happen if your rankings were to vanish?

You can use Google to help build your brand and ultimately brand building is probably the most important thing for a business’ survival. Ranking at the top of Google results means people see your brand.

With a number of our clients Google is the biggest referral of traffic. For some new clients that don’t rank in Google to begin with, we’ll look to get creative from the start and bring them referral traffic [example below].

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, External Sites are all good places to drive relevant traffic from.

Does Guest Posting still have value in 2013 and going forward?

Yes, for sure. Google+ and authorship makes guest posting stronger than ever. If you’re a contributor to big sites and ones that rank well in Google, having your face next to your post in the Google results is fantastic exposure for you and/or your business.

Don’t abuse guest posting; posting on one site with a single keyword-rich anchor text link and then jumping aboard to another site to do the exact same thing, and then repeating the whole process time and time again. To take a quote from Google’s guidelines on Link Schemes;

“The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results: ~ Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.”

You’ll get more benefit out of being a regular contributor to relevant sites. That way you can build your profile, build relationships with the readers and by doing so build your trust and following.

If you’re including relevant links into your posts (not necessarily keyword-rich anchor text links) you have potential to drive lots of traffic directly from them.

And which link building technique is way past its sell by date?

Posting spam in forums for links. The same goes for comments.

These appear to be done mostly using automated tools these days. You’ve got to be nuts to be doing this manually in 2013 I guess; going through the hassle of signing up to a forum then to find a post with no other external links in to drop your comment in. Urgh, what is the point?

There’s limited if any value from links in forums, mainly because the pages are so deep down and have no value to give. But also if you’ve successfully built a spammy link in a forum there’s a good chance 10 other people have. Or 100 bots—or 10,000 bots for that matter. Do you want your link associated with Viagra, casinos and porn?  I didn’t think so…

Comments are much the same. If you’ve found a site that allows DoFollow links in the comment section, there’s a good chance spammers and bots have done the same too. And once again your link will be placed amongst them.

On top of that, there really is limited value from a ranking perspective given from forum and comment links.

What are the best linkable assets?

Product and content. If you have a product people like then people will naturally talk about it and link to it–provided you’ve done a good job with marketing. Having a good product makes it easier to promote. Having a product people like makes it easier to sell.

Creating good content can attract links naturally as well as being able to put in front of people’s eyes and persuade them to link to it.  I recently went to a football match (or “soccer” to the American audience), wrote a report on it and got cited by a national newspaper. In fact, I’ve created a few football pieces that have been cited by newspapers and sports broadcasters where I haven’t even contacted or persuaded the journalist to cite me. That, I think is a good example of “naturally great content.”

Images are another linkable asset. Although traffic doesn’t convert directly from these in my experience, but the links and shares have their benefits.

What role does Google+ Authorship play in link building?

Author rank and Rel=”Author” are becoming increasingly important. Having your author photo appear in Google next to your content and posts on external sites is helpful for brand exposure. If your photo keeps appearing in the results then it improves your chances of searchers recognising your face and increasing the amounts of clicks through to your content.

Also, for people who have you in their circles, content you have written will be pushed up in their search results. Not a bad way to rank your content eh?

If you haven’t setup your Google Authorship today I would certainly recommend doing it as soon as possible.  My colleague Zoe-Lee Skelton produced a step by step guide to help you with that.

To go about building your authority, start engaging with authoritative writers/bloggers. You can do this by linking to their content, commenting on their blog posts and via social networks–Twitter is always good for this.

Category SEO
Murray Newlands CEO at Murray Newlands

Murray Newlands FRSA is an entrepreneur, investor, business advisor and speaker. Newlands is also an adviser to the Draper Nexus ...

Interview with Link Building Expert Barrie Smith

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