Link building isn’t right for every single business.
It feels a little weird to say it, especially as someone who has practiced link building for nearly 20 years and wrote an entire book on it!
But it’s true.
More specifically, link building may not be the best investment for a business when it comes to digital marketing spend.
After all, our job is to grow businesses and measure that growth in sales and revenue. If we’re not sure if link building (or any activity) can do that, then we at least owe it to clients to be honest and have a conversation about it.
Putting this to one side, sometimes it may be clear that link building can contribute toward sales and revenue, but another activity presents a bigger opportunity right now. Again, we owe it to clients to talk about this even if your agency or field of expertise isn’t aligned with the opportunity.
There are some very good reasons why link building may not be right for your business. Today, we’ll explore a few of those reasons and ensure that you’re looking for opportunities to drive growth everywhere – not just via link building.
1. Blockers in Internal Politics, Bureaucracy, and Signoff
With most forms of link building, you’re likely to need approval from various people within an organization before you can proceed.
This is particularly true if you’re doing content-led link building and launching campaigns, or using digital PR tactics such as reacting to changing news cycles and reaching out to journalists on their behalf.
Here are just a few of the internal blockers that can get in the way of you getting things done.
Communications and PR
They often hold (and want to keep hold of) relationships with key publications and journalists, leading them to put together a list of them who you can’t contact.
This limits your ability to get results. And in extreme cases, it could leave you with very few relevant publications to target.
Design, UX, and Copywriters
These can be different teams but I’ve put them together because if you are producing any content at all, they are very likely to take an interest in it.
Each may want to have the ability to sign off (or not sign off) whatever you produce.
Legal and Compliance
In some industries, there will be a high bar when it comes to what the organization is able to publish. This is most likely to happen in highly regulated industries such as finance and insurance that have external industry bodies keeping an eye on them.
It can also happen in the healthcare and medical space, where the consequences of inaccurate or misleading content can be real and severe.
Technical and Development
If you are producing content, you’ll need to upload it to your client’s website at some point.
If this is a simple execution such as a blog post, it will probably be pretty straightforward.
However, if you’re looking to upload something more complex such as an interactive infographic, a tool, or a large report, you’re likely to need help from a developer at some point. This isn’t likely to completely stop you from getting things done, but it could slow things down.
How Internal Blockers Threaten Link Building Success
There are more, but this gives you a good overview of some of the most common blockers to getting your job done as a link builder.
That’s not to say that things are impossible, but the combination of multiple of these blockers could lead to:
- Big delays in getting campaigns live and links built, leading to frustration and more importantly, a delay in results being achieved and wasted budget.
- Campaigns that change so much that the original message, story, or core point is diluted or lost completely.
- Significantly reduced outreach targets, leading to KPIs being much harder to achieve and less realistic.
If an organization has these kinds of blockers, the consequences above become very real. This could well mean that content-led link building isn’t right for them until these blockers are removed.
The last thing you or your client want is for these kinds of blockers to stop results from coming in.
It may well be that the organization can benefit from link building, but the chances of being able to get momentum and build links quickly are low and mean they shouldn’t make the investment right now.
2. Little or No Buy-in for Link Building at the Executive Level
This is a tricky one but I’ve seen it happen a few times over the years. The thing with this one is that you can still sell a link building project to a client but you’re basically delaying what may be inevitable – you being fired.
When an organization first starts talking to you about an SEO project and this possibly involves link building, one of the first things to clarify is how they will be measuring success.
Your main point of contact probably has an answer for this which may be one or more of the following:
- Quality of links.
- Quantity of links.
This is a good starting point, especially if they are talking about real business outcomes such as measuring activity in sales and revenue.
However, you need to dig deeper than this and get an understanding of how the wider organization views SEO and link building and its value to the business.
Beyond this, you need to understand exactly how SEO and link building is measured and how far and wide it is reported.
Having objectives and KPIs in place around links, traffic, sales, and revenue is all well and good. But when it comes to reporting, who sees those reports?
Is it just your current point of contact, or do their bosses take a look, too?
The key thing you’re looking for here is evidence that the wider organization is invested in your activity. If they are, then you’ll see signs that involve senior management being involved in things such as:
- The pitch and onboarding process.
- Signing off on budgets.
- Setting objectives and KPIs.
- Asking you tough questions about your process and measurement.
While these can make your life difficult during the sales process, it’s a good sign because it can indicate that your activity will be taken seriously. It’s a valuable part of the wider strategy.
If you don’t see signs like these, yes, it may make your short-term life easier — but it’s almost certainly going to pose problems further down the line.
These problems can occur when the organization starts to struggle and activities are looked at more closely.
Typically, senior executives will begin looking at activities and where the budget is being spent and start to make decisions on whether to continue with them or not.
If this happens, do you want to be in a position where you’re starting from scratch in convincing a senior executive that your activity is valuable to the organization?
I wouldn’t – I’ve been there!
I’d much rather be on the front foot and have this conversation knowing that the executive is already aware of the value of the work I’m doing and needs some help to show that it’s worth continuing.
Bringing this back to the core point, if senior management are not remotely bought into (or interested in becoming bought into) your activity, then it may well be a sign that the activity isn’t right for them.
It can also make it much harder to get things done.
Ideally, you want understanding and buy-in from other departments and leaders so they can help remove blockers.
Again, it can be hard to act on this kind of information during the sales process because you can sell a project with the full knowledge of these potential issues. It’s only further down the line that things may go wrong.
But at the very least, you should probe into these areas to learn more and understand what may go wrong later.
Ultimately, if an organization is at the point where senior management does not understand or value link building, then it may not be right for them to invest in it.
Education is needed and this education may well come via real projects that you deliver, but you should be aware of this from the start of a project and treat it as a trial of your services.
3. The Website That You’re Working on Is Technically Flawed
Another scenario I’ve been presented with over the years is where link building has been outlined as a requirement, but the technical aspects of the website in scope are under par.
In situations like this, links will simply not be as effective as they could be. Whilst you may see a greater uplift later when technical issues are resolved, you’re not going to see the value from your work in the short- to medium-term.
Years ago, building enough links would paper over technical SEO cracks or content that wasn’t good enough. Now, these fundamentals are table stakes and will be required just to get you into the game.
If you don’t have them, links alone are unlikely to save you.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to only work on websites that are 100% technically perfect (is there even such a thing?).
It does mean that you and your client can’t turn a blind eye to technical and on-page SEO issues. These must be owned by someone, whether that’s you as part of your scope of work or an internal team.
If there are serious technical issues with a website and no one is owning them getting fixed, then link building may not be right for the business. They are likely to see more value from getting this technical debt fixed and prioritizing that.
Both technical SEO and link building can happen at once, but try to avoid entering into link building if technical SEO is being ignored.
Leading on from this, avoid making predictions on what objectives you can achieve without knowing who is in control of technical and on-page SEO.
Link building can move the needle a lot but if technical SEO is an issue, you shouldn’t be held to targets where such a big part of the puzzle isn’t in your control.
Either you need to look at technical SEO too, or you need to be confident that it is being looked at and prioritized elsewhere.
4. Your Link Building Activity Won’t Make a Dent in Their Link Profile
Finally, this one is a little bit less common but is worth mentioning.
Sometimes, you’ll get a large brand coming to you who is either well known in your country or well known around the world.
You may ask yourself – why do they need link building?
Most domains, no matter how big the brand, can benefit from link building. But if a domain is getting a large number of links naturally just because of who they are (think: Apple, Amazon, Coca-Cola, etc.) then will you be able to build links that will make a difference to them?
Every time Apple releases a new product, they get links. Not just that, they get links directly to their product pages and homepage, exactly where you want them to go.
In cases like this, content-led link building (and other techniques) are not likely to move the needle for Apple.
If this is what they’re asking you for, then link building isn’t right for them.
The focus here would need to shift toward scalable techniques and enabling them to own SEO and link building internally and integrating it across departments.
Essentially, it needs to become part of work that is already being delivered so that more value is generated from it.
I’ve said no to working with a few very large, multinational brands over the last couple of years because of this. They almost certainly could have benefitted from link building, but being who they were meant that they generated a lot of links anyway, so our approach needed to change.
Unfortunately, this change wasn’t possible so we had to let them know we couldn’t pitch for their project.
Saying no to working with someone is hard, and you’re not always in the position to be able to do this.
But it’s a reality that more agencies need to recognize because you’re only setting yourself up for failure later on if you ignore the signs of link building not being right for a business.
During times when a big focus is on ensuring that your team has the environment to thrive and succeed, we need to put as much emphasis as possible on setting them up to win rather than failure.
So don’t always assume that link building is right for everyone. Look for the signs that it may not be. Do what you can to overcome them early, to keep them from becoming issues later on.