Over a decade ago, I was introduced to the intriguing game of link building for the first time. My very first task was to create a few dozen splogs on freehost domains and to link them all together with exact match anchor texts, so it’s suffice to say that a lot has changed during the past ten years. Most of those freehosts have disappeared… :)
During this time, I think I have learned quite a bit about link building, SEO and marketing in general. Most of this can be boiled down to just seven key learnings, which all are pretty much ‘basics’.
1. Always be honest
To everyone! To your clients. To link targets. To Google. To yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with crossing Google’s lines every now and then, as long as you’re being honest about it. To your clients, that you’re putting their sites at risk. To yourself, that you’re really giving your clients value for money. To Google, that when you’re filing a reinclusion request, you accept the consequences of your grey hat tactics, instead of denying that those advertorial links had been purposely un-nofollowed.
Also be honest in your link requests. Stating that “you’re an avid reader of website X” is somewhat hard to believe after you’ve just misspelled their name (happens regularly). And while we’re at it: things like “if you use this anchor text, we will both benefit of the relevance”, “I will provide you with free, high quality, relevant content because I like your site” or “no, me paying you to link to my page isn’t against Google’s guidelines” are not principles of persuasion – that’s lying. Stop doing that.
2. Place yourself in the other person’s shoes
The amount of link requests, PR-pitches and other link-solliciting emails I receive every day is rediculous, and I’m not even a journalist! However, the vast majority of these emails is about as relevant as a portable cassette player in 2013. Not even a little bit.
I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration to state that, if the sender would have placed him or herself in the shoes of the recipient for just two seconds before hitting ‘send’, over 90% of all link request emails would never have been sent.
What would you do if you received the email? Would you delete it straight away? Then don’t send it.
3. Get rid of your toolbars
Metrics like PR, TF, MR or WHTEVR can definitely help you to determine the value of a page or site, but should never be leading. The amount of comments, the quality of the content of the website or the thematical relevance cannot be measured by a toolbar (AFAIK), but are – in most cases – more important than any abbreviated scale from 0 to 10.
Try finding potential link targets without looking at the Alexa ranking, Domain Authority or anything similar every now and then. You’ll be surprised to see what sites you’d normally have discarded straight away, but now turn out to be decent targets.
4. Never assume
You can learn a lot from following smart folks on Twitter, reading SEO blogs or even attending Google Webmaster Hangouts, but don’t take these tips and advice as the truth. Question things that are seemingly common sense, or unknowable.
There are many excellent studies and tutorials out there, but always try to take it with a grain of your own salt. Things might work out to be different for you – online marketing does not work in an IFTTT-format, unfortunately.
5. Say ‘thank you’
Has someone linked to you or mentioned your client in a positive way, regardless of whether you’ve asked them to do so? Make sure to thank them. Send them a short email, give them a call to say thanks, or maybe even send a gift as a token of your appreciation.
It’s polite to say ‘thank you’ when someone has done something nice for you, but it’s also a great way to create goodwill and to build a solid network.
6. Think ahead
There’s one ground rule in link building: no matter how effective a link building tactic is, there’s always (ALWAYS!) a dumbass who will ruin it for everyone.
Infographic link building, guest posting, broken link building and (for some) even getting advertorial links have been very effective link building tactics, but have become drastically less efficient due to overuse.
Now that guest posting has become main stream, lots of blogs now have rate cards for publishing guest posts and infographics, making them the ideal target for lazy link builders of low quality websites. That’s not a good development for those who have just put all their eggs in the guest posting basket.
When you find a link building tactic that works, you shouldn’t be thinking “Awesome! How can I exploit this tactic in the most easy and most profitable way?”, but “Good to know that this works. Now let’s find another tactic that works!”.
Think ahead, and always look for new techniques, new tools, new approaches or other ways to distinguish yourself from your (or your client’s) competitors.
7. Take some time off
Spending 10+ hours a day staring at a monitor isn’t good for you nor for your clients. Get away from your desk every now and then. Some of the best ideas occur when you’re not doing any real business – when you’re doing groceries, taking the dog for a walk or just talking to someone else about ‘offline things’.