Build links not (just) relationships

You may have seen a recent YOUmoz post titled “Build Relationships Not Links” by Scott Kivowitz and whilst I thought the post had some merit to it, I feel it warranted a response so here are my thoughts complete with a provocative headline :-)

Big, risky content projects are important, we of course should be looking at how we can attract links and you should be building relationships with key influencers in your market but you also need a consistent flow of good quality links…these three formers don’t necessarily equal the latter – you need a plan that plugs the gap between reality and what we perhaps want to be reality.

Regardless of the noises some SEOs make, you likely need to be proactively seeking links and you need to be doing it methodically and consistently if you want to see improvements in organic search visibility.

Events this year have led to the notion that somehow it is vulgar to be proactively seeking links and rather you should iron your pulling pants, smile and wait for your site to “naturally attract” them.

And yet…every so often I see a tweet from one SEO or another expressing their frustration that a competitor is still ranking with a load of junk links. I’m not advocating acquiring a load of junk links but it does illustrate the point that perception and reality are perhaps not always matched in this industry.

Modern-day link building myths

Directory links are worthless

Ever worked in local SEO? A good directory placement still moves the needle. Granted, we’re not talking about the of 1999 but a solid citation (and in some cases link) in a thematic, targeted directory is great for driving rankings in local SERPs.

Volume doesn’t matter

Spending hours developing relationships might be a smart long term move but it might not always be the smartest way to utilise this month’s SEO budget. Based on our experience across quite literally hundreds of campaigns, you can still drive organic search results by acquiring an applicable volume of links

I can’t stress enough that it is quality over quantity every time , I’m not talking about firing up XRumer as I am sure you’ll understand but you almost certainly need to look at how you can scale your campaign to a certain degree in order to drive the volumes that in most industries you probably need.

Proactive = evil

It isn’t uncommon to see slides from presentations where experts are suggesting that because brand X, Y or Z is attracting links by just being the best company they can be, you can simply mimic their behaviour and you’ll magically attract all of these glorious links. Hurrah! Tell your client to pull up their socks and to start being more awesome and you’ll never have to send an outreach email again….

Sadly anyone who has worked on a campaign for even a mid-sized client in a non-sexy industry will confirm that this is the complete opposite of the truth. Even if your client offers the best product or service, for most it is still a long hard slog to the top. I’m not one of those people who hates on people who do “big brand SEO”, far from it (we work with a couple of major worldwide brands ourselves and believe it or not this has its own unique set of challenges) but to cascade that kind of “wisdom” to people working in different kinds of markets is misleading at best.

Guest blogging is worthless (now everyone does it)

There are so many great opportunities in guest blogging that are here now and will continue to be around long into the future. SEOs are running scared because of Mr Cutts offered his perspective on “guest blogging for links”, not to mention the fact that bloggers are quite rightly tightening up their editorial controls and many blogs aren’t the free-for-all they once were but that’s a good thing. You just need to evolve your methods, up your game (particularly when it comes to content) and seek opportunities where perhaps your competitors aren’t.

Local is a prime example of strand of guest blogging that rarely gets the attention it deserves. There are so many opportunities available to your “local” and “regional” clients to pitch them as the expert to one of the many hundreds even thousands of local community blogs and local news sites that are online today. The local editors love you because they are often facing exceptionally tight budgets so free content genuinely is a lifesaver to them. Your clients will love you because you are putting them in front of a very targeted audience and these are solid links because more often than not the news site will belong to a larger media network.

The corporate blog is another example of missed guest blogging opportunities. It’s not just about the sites that have a “write for us” page.

The future is where it’s at

I tweeted out recently about how I managed to torch an EXPERIMENT site of mine in less than 24 hours by rapidly acquiring low quality links. I’ve been running a similar experiment periodically for a while now and never before has that happened so fast. Google IS getting smarter.

Be mindful of the future but actually ‘be’ in the present as well. Acting too far ahead in the future isn’t (as I’ve said earlier in this post) necessarily the best way to invest this month’s budget. Spending all 15 hours you have for one of your clients getting them one link from a really good site might be good from a branding perspective but what happens if that doesn’t drive much in the way of traffic or conversions? It probably won’t move the needle in terms of rankings either. You might say “Ah, that’s part of the risk reward new era of online marketing” – sure, calculated risks are great for campaigns if you’ve got something else to show the client but I’ve yet to find a client so understanding that you could say “We just spent £xxx or £x,xxx of your money aaannnd we’ve achieved, well, nothing really“… I wouldn’t blame them for where they’ll tell you to stick next month’s invoice.

Low-rent linkbuilding always wins

I think everyone at some point or another has been a little skeptical of the “new way of doing things”.

Google certainly isn’t perfect and we’ve all got plenty of examples of crazy SERPs that make the ‘good guys’ look like liars but you certainly can’t play fast and loose with your client’s link profile (that’s never been cool if they don’t understand and agree to the risks of whatever it is you are proposing).

More often than not low-quality linkbuilding only wins in SERPs where the competing websites (or rather their SEOs) have done little more than a bit of on-page SEO and written a “great” piece of content. Google still relies heavily on links and the folks that rank recognise this and act accordingly. Granted, some people take this to extremes and spam the heck out of a particular SERP but you can often outgame these kinds of guys with a more sophisticated strategy. Whether you choose to attract, proactively gather or a blend of the two, a site still needs links to rank.

It won’t be long before I will be publishing an interview I did with one of our clients who operates in a very spam-heavy sector (finance) and we’ll be discussing how he’s managed to come out on top by working with us. It’s going to hopefully be a good read with some juicy details and will “prove” my point that low-rent linkbuilding doesn’t always win.

Finally I wanted to say a quick thank you to Chris Gilchrist from HitReach (makers of the Link Building Toolbar – if you are going to be building links then this tool will save you oodles of time and hassle) for giving me the nudge to get a decent photo taken. We have the photographer booked for this week so expect to see the about us page updated very soon.


  1. avatar
    Rusty October 15, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    James, great piece here. A lot of myths do get bandied about but at the end of the day people shouldn’t change their strategies based on a couple of blog posts – especially if their methods are working well! It is easy to get lost in the fog that a lot of noise creates.

    I also agree that whilst looking to the future is great, you shouldn’t do it whilst turning a blind eye to the here and now.

    • avatar
      James Agate October 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      I’m glad my little rant of a post wasn’t completely wasted then and at least someone else can agree with my sentiments :-)

  2. avatar
    Teresha October 16, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Finally a down to earth logical seo post! I wholeheartedly agree that not all sites are ebay and amazon and thus just attract amazing links!!! I’ve been link building since 1997. There are definitely more avenues to get links now than there were then but at the same time it’s harder to get noticed or to get your outreach emails/tweets/etc… read and taken seriously. So no building these fantastic relationships doesn’t cut it – the guy might only have one site but you need 20 links from different sites – can you really afford to spend a week nuturing a relationship with the webmaster of each one? I dare say clients are not going to look kindly on that sort of expediture.

    Anyway enough with the rant, great post.

    • avatar
      James Agate October 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

      Hi Teresha,

      Thanks for your comment. I obviously touched on a sore point for you as well then :-)

      I think it is so important not to forget that the web is evolving and we all need to change what we do to match the changing behaviours of consumers and our competitors – it doesn’t mean the last thing (in this case link building) has dies, it just need to evolve a little.

      Thanks for reading


  3. avatar
    Adam Chronister October 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Great post. I find it humorous how trigger shy people are these days when it comes to link building whether that be from directories or from guest blogging. The key is to just be smart about it and avoid being spammy in nature.

  4. avatar
    Iain October 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    As much as I loathe linkbuilding for its lack of scalability once you get to a 20:1 client:team member ratio (probably before that actually), it is apparently still an absolutely valid strategy. I do think that we need to be careful though. Very careful.

  5. avatar
    George October 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    It’s refreshing to see an SEO specialist that encourages us to use directory links. So many others say that these links are dead, but the reality is that getting links from niche-specific directories is a golden opportunity. Sure, you won’t find these valued directories so easy, but Google is our friend and they’re worth the effort.

  6. avatar
    Keith Paulin November 3, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    I loved…

    “Tell your client to pull up their socks and to start being more awesome and you’ll never have to send an outreach email again…”

    …nearly wet myself laughing. Nice riposte and reality check…same with…

    “We just spent £xxx or £x,xxx of your money aaannnd we’ve achieved, well, nothing really“… I wouldn’t blame them for where they’ll tell you to stick next month’s invoice.”

    Looking forward to catching up on Monday.

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