What to Look For in a Link Builder

SMS Text

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.

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... Read Full Bio
Jennifer Van Iderstyne

Latest posts by Jennifer Van Iderstyne (see all)

Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Jill Kocher

    Circus clown is easy: Go for the fear factor. But with link builders … run away from the fear. I agree, the thinking linker is the way to go. QUALITY! Not quantity. Best when you can get both of course. I die a little inside whenever I hear someone brag about the link drone service they just hired.

    • Jvaniderstyne

      Absolutely, quality is key. One great link builder can be more beneficial than 100 sending spam emails, that don't really care aobut the client. I too feel really bad for the people that choose to learn this the hard way.

  • Psychobel

    Anyone who can train goats to drive go-karts gets a front page link from me!

    • Jvaniderstyne

      LOL if I figure it out… you will be the first person I call

  • Frank Adams

    I totally agree with you. In whatever kind of work, it always pays to hire staff that does think. You might get into an argument on some aspects but it is a healthy exchange of views to make the project better.

    • Jvaniderstyne

      Great comment and I completely agree. And it amazes me how many people would prefer to surround themselves with yes-men than someone who challenges them to make their ideas better. Without people, to ask questions and offer a different perspective, nothing new would ever come to be.

  • web & graphic design

    Communication is probably the most important features of a good link builder. You don't want to have someone speak for you or your company as if they don't know what they are talking about, or sounding like they are just trying to spam your website.

    • Jvaniderstyne

      So true! I'm always surprised at how people fail to think of link builders that way. In fact, you may even have given me an idea for next months post… 🙂

  • Acai Max Cleanse

    If you want to hire a Link Builder, you need to understand the game first.
    You can find cheap link builders all over the internet, however the ones with great quality are sitting at the top!

  • zigojacko

    Great article, you're quite right with your thoughts. Most of it comes with experience and over time, those that can grasp real and worthwhile link building (and there are many that can't, even some of the larger SEO companies) just “know” whether a link from a certain page will prove valuable and can estimate how difficult it would be to rank for a term.

    I'm hiring a new member of staff for a general admin role soon although want to be able to pass some minor link building work their way from time to time but with little to no SEO experience, it's going to be interesting to see if I can develop them as an effective link builder. Maybe I should point them to articles like this one on their first day.

  • Patrick Sauriol

    I agree with Jennifer that the best linkbuilding people are both creative and compelled to figure out the solution to problems (i.e. sleuthing). To be a good linkbuilder you need to be part CSI, part inventor and a great listener too. Rock stars shouldn't apply (sorry Lady Gaga).