This is a post from one link building nut to link building nuts everywhere. You know who you are.
Link builders love building links — most of the time. But there are lots of reasons to hate it, too. If you hate link building and you’re a link builder, you’d better take a serious look at what’s going on inside your head before you develop a more serious condition. Think of this as a free counseling session.
If you’re reading this and you are not a link building nut, you’re welcome to tag along. If you’re one of those “just give me more quick-and-easy links so I can sell more widgets” crazies… these realities might sting a little bit. Sorry. But don’t worry — there’s some good news too.
Here are a few reasons I hate link building from time to time.
1. Business Owners Want Crummy Links
No matter how hard you try — no matter how persuasive you are or how many case studies you use — some business owners are still attracted to bad links. Usually, it’s a numbers thing. (“I want XXX links every month, guaranteed!”)
Even after wearing myself out explaining the brave new world of authentic, high-quality link building to these decision-makers, I’ve still been told, “We want 1,000 links a month, even if it doesn’t help us or may actually hurt us.” (That’s about when I walk away.)
Mindsets don’t change overnight!
What to do as a link building practitioner: Don’t give in. It may seem easy to go back and get some old school, quick-and-easy links just to please your client with some meaningless numbers. But at some point, you will be called to account for that waste of time, whether it’s next month when traffic flatlines or next year when there’s a penalty to deal with. Even worse, you will be looking behind instead of pressing ahead to develop new skills you’ll need to continue to thrive as a link builder in the future.
What to do as an agency: Continue to educate clients, customers and the general public about what “good” links look like, how they should be earned, and how our thinking about link building must continue to evolve. This education process will never end. There will always be misleading ideas to correct and new people to bring up to speed.
When talking with clients, go beyond a vague explanation and show them real-world examples and their impact on key organic metrics. Don’t stretch the truth, but instead carefully isolate the impact of a natural link building campaign as best you can. For example, when able, pause on-page work and focus on link building for a given time period so you can show how those links led to a lift in relevant traffic.
2. What Worked Last Time Probably Won’t Work This Time
If this doesn’t drive you crazy, I don’t know what will. Have you ever put together a killer link building project that paid dividends and then some? Clearly it worked, so it only made sense to rinse and repeat, to try that same campaign again with a different resource or new client, right?
Did it work again? Maybe somewhat. Most likely a lot less. But probably not at all.
Link building isn’t a one-size-fits-all arena. I’ve seen some really sharp minds get lucky in link building and then waste a whole lot of energy doing the same thing over and over, hoping to get lucky again. Sorry, buddy; that might not be the best use of your time.
What to do as a link building practitioner: Avoid the trap of thinking certain templates do work and certain templates don’t work. This applies to most things, from email templates to templates for entire link building campaigns. It’s easy to grab somebody else’s link building template and even easier to reuse templates from the last project, but are you tracking response rates and success rates?
To become a better link builder every day, focus on broader principles and trends. Link building doesn’t work because you wrote a great template. Link building works when you have crafted a meaningful pitch, identified the right target audience and communicated effectively.
What to do as an agency: Agencies can foster strong link building teams by encouraging the same concepts. When big link building wins are scored, celebrate the team member(s) that made it happen. Ask them to demonstrate how they did it, but ask them to focus on the pitch and the research & development process they went through to get there, not just the email template they used. Your team pays close attention to what you celebrate!
3. Scaling Is Really, Really Difficult
“It’s really hard to do big and good simultaneously,” said Paul Graham in his Inc 500 interview (he is the Y Combinator founder and is called a “start-up guru”). He was talking about how difficult it is to effectively tackle large, complex problems. “If you try to do some big thing, you don’t just need it to be big; you need it to be good.”
The same sure applies to link building, especially if you are trying to get “a lot of links” (which is probably most of us). In the link building world, “scaling” typically means sending a whole lot of average-ish link building pitches to a whole lot of people (who end up really annoyed) and hoping that 2% will actually respond this time. Well, bigger isn’t always better.
What to do as a practitioner: Examine your expectations when it comes to scaling. Do you really think you can go from 1x to 100x overnight? Or even 1x to 10x? What is a realistic expectation when it comes to scale? Big leaps typically lead to lots of headaches and in the end, failure. Focus on improving steadily every day to be more stable, more effective, more efficient, and less stressed. In a few months, you will have “scaled” by working smarter, and you’ll be pretty excited by the results.
What to do as an agency: One of a PR firm’s greatest assets is its relationships — the connections that agency staff have with journalists, news anchors and editors. Are you leveraging your link building relationships in the same way? You should; and be sure that you have systems in place to retain and nurture link building relationships for future opportunities.
4. Business Owners Still Just Don’t Get It
No matter how hard we try, some CEOs, marketing managers and small business owners still just don’t understand. Even after 6 months of traffic improvements, conversion rate improvements, and new business for them, there can still be a need to re-educate.
What to do as a practitioner: If you work directly with clients that potentially don’t understand the value of your link building sweat and blood, be very transparent from the beginning. Don’t just show them the links you earned at the end of a reporting period and hope that they get it.
Let them see that you are cramming hard, day in and day out, and educate them on the process of how you are building links. Hopefully, they will learn the value of link building by seeing it in action — but at the very least, they will understand that what you accomplish is hard-earned.
What to do as an agency: Be very careful when selling “link building only” services. You are much better off running a holistic SEO campaign with the ability to speak to all aspects of a company’s online marketing initiatives, including social media, marketing messaging, content marketing, site design, etc. The broader the influence you have on a project, the better you are positioned to demonstrate and deliver value.
Go Forth And Wash Away That Hate
We all hate link building from time to time. Some of us even hate link building ALL the time. I say it’s time to wash away that hate and learn to love again.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.