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#SEJThinkTank Recap: Real Link Building in 2016: Scaling Human Effort

On January 20, 2016 Cody Cahill & Amy Merrill of Page One Power joined Loren Baker & SEJThinkTank for an hour-long webinar about real link building in 2016


This week, the SEJ ThinkTank was joined by two of Page One Power’s project managers, Cody Cahill and Amy Merrill, for an informative presentation about how to help clients to build valuable links in 2016. This webinar was sponsored by Page One Power.

The 45-minute presentation of Cody and Amy included a lot of great information about Page One Power’s teamwork approach to manual link building, their collective process, and why transparency lives at the core of building solid links.

Why Link Building in 2016?

Cody and Amy say that link building is still the core of Google’s algorithm in 2016. Back in 2012, link building was just a tactic, but it has now evolved as a core marketing strategy. They also said that great content and social media shares aren’t enough, but great content needs link building for it to work. Link building is essential in 2016, but it is also equally essential that it is done right.

Building Relationships

Just like any marketing initiative, relationship also lives at the core of link building. Effective outreach is its most important aspect, and outreach is relationship building. These collaborations should be built on solid foundation, and should further be strengthened as the project progresses.

Relationship with Linking Partners

It is imperative to build strong relationships with linking partners such as publishers, journalists, niche influencers, and other commercial and government sites. This requires outreach expertise, and value added to all parties involved – the site linking, the site’s audience, and to the site being linked. It should have VALUE FOR ALL.

Relationship with Clients

As in any relationship, open communication is critical to make it work. How you value your ties with PR/Publicity teams, and content development teams are relevant to the success of your project. Transparency, managing expectations, and proper integration with the right channels are equally significant.

Relationship Amongst the Team

Link Building is a huge, creative endeavor, that requires collaboration within the team. Using effective tools to equip the team to carry out their tasks are also as important.

Tools Page One Power uses:

  • Slack
  • Google Docs
  • BuzzStream

Watch the Full Presentation Recording

Want to learn more? We recorded the webinar so you can watch it from start to finish.

View Page One Power’s Slides

Q & A

You talked about internal link building as it related to pointing toward your product pages. Can you talk a little bit about the science behind this? I write content and I include internal links to other pages, but feel like I’m throwing paint on the wall without much strategy as it applies to the “why.” – Kyle Pucko

Amy: When you’re writing content you’ll want to link those content pages to the correlating product pages. Think: “what do I want someone to do on my website?” Sure you want them to read your content, but afterwards, you don’t want them to leave you want to provide an internal link driving them deeper into your site and down the conversion funnel, so for example, if you own a website that provides a taco delivery service ultimately you want someone to order tacos, but if they got to your site by clicking an interactive infographic on the art of ‘taco construction’ you’ll want that page to link to other related content as well as your conversion page where they can actually order tacos.

Cody: I think the why is twofold.  1) internal links are useful for the users of your site (if it isn’t potentially useful, it shouldn’t be there) and 2) internal links are a big (and often overlooked) factor in the Authority/Page Rank of the various pages on your site.  My recommendation would be to identify which pages are that have already earned external links and/or are receiving significant traffic from organic search (check in Google Analytics) and then ensure that those pages include natural, internal links to your important converting pages, again provided that they are relevant and make sense for visitors to your site.

How do you pitch for followed links and get the most out of the partnership to help rank better for certain keywords? – Catrinel Ciplea

Amy: We don’t specifically pitch for follow links. When we are examining a potential target site, we’ll use our Mozbar to determine what types of links are on the pages–if all pages have ‘no follow’ links we won’t want to build a link on that site unless the user engagement is fantastic. Otherwise, we’ll intentionally look to target sites that normally tend to make links ‘do follow’.

Cody: When I’m sizing up a target site, I might check to see if their contextual links are no-followed as a blanket policy (which is a really dumb thing for most sites to do, in my opinion).  If they no-follow all external links, I might still target it, but like Amy said, I would want to make sure it is a site/page that is going to get some eyeballs and potentially some direct clicks or I might pass.

No follow links are part of a healthy link profile, and have value above and beyond the lack of “link juice” so I wouldn’t avoid earning those types of links.

We publish articles in the traditional print press. Should we approach these papers for links on their websites? – Nick Worrall

Amy: I’m going to assume they publish copy in print as well as on the web? If the article is talking about an online service or business it makes complete sense to include a hyperlink.

Cody: Yes, I think it is wise to be thinking about links when doing traditional PR placements.  Very few PR firms in our experience are considering Search when they do their thing, so incorporating that into your strategy now could keep you ahead of the game.  More commonly what we find is that we can follow in the wake of traditional PR teams and grab the links that they missed by reaching out to publishers and asking them to include a link, so there are ways you can leverage past PR campaigns as well.

What do you feel are the most effective linkbuilding tactics? – Brian Fields

Amy: It really depends on the website that is being built to. If you’re a brand with a lot of equity Mention Links are going to be a solid option, but if you don’t have that brand equity and no one is talking about you online mentions won’t be a viable approach. In that case I would recommend a mix of resource page and content link building, but again with a caveat. We believe the quality of links a site earns correlates directly with the quality of the site and their ‘linkable assets’ great linkable assets are top of the funnel content that is information based. A lack of linkable assets really will harpoon your ability to get any type of great link, so if you don’t have any that would be your logical starting place before link building.

Cody: If I had to go live on an island with only one link building tactic at my disposal, it would be off-site publishing links a.k.a. guest posts.  Contextual links to relevant, helpful content published on sites that have an active and engaged audience will always be valuable, and almost any site that has helpful content on-site can utilize this strategy.

Do social media channels have any impact on link building? How? – Agniva Banerjee

Amy: No. Social shares are fantastic but in terms of sheer SEO value there isn’t any at this time. However, social media has impacted the way we link build in that it’s another channel to reach out to people, build a relationship and can be a really great tool for outreach.

Cody: Many correlation studies have shown very little direct relationship between social shares and search engine performance, so like Amy said the primary use for social media in link building is as a relationship building tool.

If you continue to add links to your site using the same guest post site as a regular contributor, won’t it dilute your link juice? – Brian Field

Amy: Excellent question, I am glad you brought this up. When we talk about relationships it’s important to note our experience is at an agency level, meaning we aren’t building links for the same clients to the same sites, rather we have dozens upon dozen of clients that we are leveraging our relationships for. That being said, I would also add if the sites you’re publishing content on are high quality, relevant and authoritative sites and you have a couple links pointing back to various relevant pages on your website that is going to benefit you, not harm you. A top notch example: Your website has a really great resource that the New York Times or a top publication in your niche has cited in piece across their site, that’s fantastic, I wouldn’t say no to any number of those links.

Cody: The value of links from a single domain are somewhat diminished, but there is still plenty of value to be leveraged out of a publishing relationship via multiple links (ideally to different landing pages).  But you’ll want to become a contributor on more than just one site to get maximum value out of that strategy.

How important is it to get links shared on social media? -Taylor Conger

Amy: Ultimately the goal of link building is to drive organic search traffic, so in terms of overall link building campaign goals: not important. However, in terms of an overall website or company goal of ‘get people on our site, talking about our brand, buying our product’ sharing relevant information (links) via social media is never a bad idea–as long as you’re following social media best practices.

Cody: If you are producing guest posts for publishers, it’s a great sign if they get social traction thus driving traffic to the publisher’s site.  This proves that your content is valuable to sites and makes it easier to be republished there, and to get on other sites as well.

How do you scale linkbuilding and acquire valuable links for clients that aren’t implementing much or producing a whole lot of content? How can we leverage current content and media assets to build those valuable links for clients, without clients needing to do much on their end? – Andrew Binkley

Cody: I’d start by taking a full assessment of what content assets you do have, identifying whatever you already have at your disposal and then build your campaign around those assets.  We’ve achieved success in link building campaigns where we only had a small handful of “linkable assets” so you don’t necessarily have to have a mountain of content for link building to work.  Obviously, any site stands to benefit from some level of regular content production, but you can still get solid links with just a few assets.  Moreover, if you are able to produce links + traffic to the assets you do have, you can use that information to encourage your client to produce more content in the same vein.

I work as an in-house SEO and currently our blog is on a subdomain. We are trying to get our Web Devs to implement a blog on our actual ecommerce website, but it hasn’t happened yet. It will eventually happen, but I’m not sure how to go about link building for our ecommerce site if our blog is not on that site. How do you recommend going about link building? – Rebecca Terry

Cody: A couple options here.  1) do you have any potentially linkable assets that are on the main domain that isn’t the blog?  If even an asset or two match this description, I’d focus my efforts there.  The other option is to go ahead and start building links to the sub-domain blog even though it hasn’t been migrated yet.  You can acquire those links now, and then when the time comes to move it over to the main domain, if proper 301 redirects are put in place, most of that link equity will remain when you move it over.  In the meantime, building links to the subdomain blog content that includes internal links to your converting pages should still benefit the main site.  I do recommend migrating blogs from subdomains to the main domain, but it isn’t the end of the world if the blog exists on a subdomain.

What are the types of content that you will find successful for your linkbuilding projects? – Ron Medlin

Amy: Information based or educational information–and not that surface level stuff that’s a dime a dozen but a piece that actually has some ‘meat’ to it.

Cody: In general, longer form content seems to produce more links than shorter pieces (which might play better on social media).  If it is content that addresses questions/pain points that your prospective target audience might be asking, then all the better!  Visual aesthetics are also important, which doesn’t mean that every piece of content has to be graphically brilliant, but it needs to look a little better than mere “words on a page”.  Of course it varies wildly based on your niche, etc.  Identifying other content within your niche that has proven to be popular and has earned links is a great way to go guide your own content creation.

What do you think about incentivized communications? (e.g.offering review product, promo codes, etc in exchange for sharing information/providing links (with appropriate no follow tags of course) – Christian Collett

Amy: That is one route that could result in more brand visibility for you, I think it depends on your goal–are you trying to increase brand visibility or drive organic traffic?

Cody: I think quid-pro-quo link building has its place; it seems that only those sites that really scale that up too much are the ones that get in trouble.  Keep in mind that the link still needs to make sense and offer value to the users of the linking site.  If it does, I wouldn’t necessarily worry about mandating the no-follow tag (again, unless you are really doing that at scale, which I wouldn’t recommend)

Should link building be outsourced or should it be done in-house? If outsourced, how do you know if the person is doing white hat link building and not doing anything to get my website blacklisted?Paul Jones

Amy: Either could be a good options depending on your budget, resources, training capabilities etc. If I were looking to invest in link building I would evaluate companies based on their philosophy and ask pointed questions about how they earn links for clients. Ask to see examples of the types of links you might be able to expect and get a solid understanding of their process. If they can’t speak to these things, or are unwilling to that’s a huge red flag. Other red flags will make themselves apparent in their philosophy, links or process as you discuss it. Finally, how are they planning to report their work to you? If they can’t or won’t show you their work, there’s probably a red flag reason.

Cody: The downside to doing it in-house is that link building is hard and takes a while to master.  So there’s going to be a ramp up period before your in-house team is producing at the same rate that a great agency partner would.  If you are outsourcing, you need to make sure you select an agency that is transparent and gives you access to all the details of your campaign.  If the agency is not in the habit of sharing links acquired, outreach approaches, sites being targeted, strategy, etc… then I’d run!

What is your take on guest posting and sponsored posts? – Ben Shemesh

Amy: High quality, relevant content written to benefit the web and readers will never go out of style. Content written for the sole reason of getting a link that serves no greater purpose is the bane of the internet.

Cody: I love guest posts when done correctly.  It’s an effective strategy and adds value to the web.  Sponsored posts, can be valuable from a branding perspective, but I’d only do those on super high authority, high traffic sites that are specific to your niche and may lead to direct conversions.  Sponsored posts probably aren’t going to give you a whole lot of SEO value because those links are almost always no-follow.

What is the best way to remove low scoring backlinks from Webmaster tools?Nick Worrall

Amy: I guess I would ask, what do you mean as low scoring and how are you evaluating them? Obviously not all links pass the same amount of ‘juice’ but a link that passes a lesser amount isn’t a bad link. I would caution you to not remove links unless they are spammy and an actual detriment to your website. If they are just lower authority they are still helping you out, just to a lesser degree.

If you have actual spam links you’re going to want to use Google’s disavow tool in Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).

Cody: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that low authority (low DA links) equals “toxic” links.  A healthy natural link profile is going to contain a wide mixture of linking root domains, from new low authority sites to the big white whale links we celebrate so much.

Like Amy said, if you have manipulative links in your profile, you might want to manually remove them and/or do a disavow.  Even disavowed links will still “show up” in Search Console though.

What would you say a good ratio is between outreach and links?Kerry Sherin

Amy: We’ve found it typically depends on the link building tactic. With pure resource based link building we see a conversion ratio around 10%. With content we see a higher conversion rate around 20-30%.

Cody: I think 10% is good barometer.  If you are converting at a lower rate than that, you might consider tweaking your outreach approach and/or face the fact that your content isn’t as linkable as you may have thought.

Is there a certain number of outreach call or email that a person should aim for per piece of content?Kerry Sherin

Cody: I don’t think there’s a magical number of sites you should target for a specific piece of content.  I think you want to find as many targets as you genuinely think would want to link/share the piece and outreach them all (over time).

How many links are appropriate in your content?  Can you have too many or too few?Kacey Rask

Amy: Both Cody and I have a background in journalism and we subscribe to the belief that you should use links to cite sources, provide additional information and generally include a link if it’s going to be helpful to the reader. The too many or too few links can be an issue any time you are including links ONLY because they are a client or you ‘have to’. If the only link in a piece of content is to your client I recommend re-evaluating the content from the standpoint of your intended audience and as a reader–what links would the reader benefit from? The reverse is true too when you’re adding in numerous links, if they are helpful to the reader go for it.

Cody: We don’t subscribe to the theory that you want to manipulate Page Rank by only including your one link in a piece of content.  While it is technically true that one link in a popular article is going to pass more “Page Rank” than a piece with four or five links in it, but if you are writing guest posts that only contain one link, it’s going to stand out like a sore thumb, it isn’t taking the reader into consideration, and ultimately you’ll get fewer great links with that approach.  PLUS, the other links you include in a piece give you an opportunity to create a healthy “link neighborhood” which is something Google algorithm likely takes into consideration.

How do you recommend pulling in these departments when they are obviously operating independently, and are not part of the SEO conversations? For example, social already has a content calendar and is not willing to work with our campaign’s efforts and does not answer to the SEO contact. – Christian Collett

Amy: That’s a tough one, I think the answer varies based on each scenario. Not knowing too many specifics about your situation a good option is to start with the ‘why’. Communicate why you want to integrate, the value for the company and the pros and cons to the situation.

Cody: We hear this all the time.  It’s a big problem in organizations where SEO is still considered shady or something that the computer geeks in the back room dabble with, but not a “real marketing” endeavor.

I think your best bet is to try to educate your colleagues and be patient with it.  There’s a tremendous amount of content on the web about SEO and how it fits in with other marketing channels.  I’d start by sharing that type of content (Moz is a great place to start) with your other internal teams.

I think the other option is to convince upper management of the value being wasted by the failure to integrate your campaigns.  And if your SEO team is not communicating and working with your content teams, I can assure you that you are losing value by being so siloed.

What are your thoughts about crafting an effective subject title?Brian Fields

Cody: Trial and error.  Test different things out and go with what works best.  Above all, be a genuine real person and let that be shown in your outreach, subject line and body included.

Which would you say are the top 3-5 linkbuilding tactics that are still working for 2016?Catrinel Ciplea

Amy: Mentions, resource links and content links.
Cody: Broken link building, the skyscrapper technique, guest posting, leveraging existing PR efforts for links.

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#SEJThinkTank Recap: Real Link Building in 2016: Scaling Human Effort

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