A Portrait Of The Perfect Link Builder

If you had the chance to hire a full-time employee to engage in content publicity and link building, what type of person would you look for? What sorts of skills would you want? What personal traits would you value?

As companies realize that content publicity and link building must be a core part of online marketing, rather than just the latest SEO fad, those same companies are faced with the challenge that there’s no consensus or body of research to help them pinpoint the person with the perfect skill set to do that job. Not only that, but the perfect skill set itself is open to great debate. Is link building a technical skill requiring programming or experience similar to on-page content/code optimization? Is link building more related to publicity and public relations, which would indicate the need for a different set of qualifications? And what would those qualifications be? Computer science degree? MBA? MSLS? Member of the PRSA? What about an MBA with a specialty in ecommerce? Can any of them do the job?

By sheer accident I can shed some light on this challenge. Many of you know me from the 14 years I’ve been a self-employed content publicist/link building strategist. But I never set out to become either of those things. I was a former TV and print ad sales guy who decided to go back to Grad school at night in 1991 to study Information/Library Science, of all things. By a few twists of fate, some truly excellent discussion lists, and by being determined to learn every possible flavor of link building (good grief I once had my own web ring), here I am in 2007, an introvert who still gets embarrassed when they introduce me at a conference as an “expert.” Really, how can anyone be an expert in a field that’s still so new and evolving? That said, what is it about my particular background and experience that might help you find the perfect link builder?

There are several professional and academic experiences you’d think would indicate an aptitude for link building. The most obvious is marketing and/or communications. Public relations comes to mind as well. My undergraduate degree was in education, and I got that degree back when nobody had a PC and those that did thought a 2400 baud modem was blazing fast. And all of the disciplines I mentioned above are best suited to a person with an extroverted personality. Link building is often a solitary and downright lonely process. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who likes the spotlight finding any joy spending the day on a keyboard looking for high trust library web sites. Likewise, if you have an MBA, you may find the mundane aspects of link building to be beneath you. Many of my clients have MBAs, and they often ask me how I can stand to do this all day. I want to ask them the same question.

In my opinion, the best link builders/content publicists have two distinct sets of characteristics:

Professionally, they have worked in business, may have also worked in an academic setting, are extremely detail oriented. They can spend long hours focused on a task with little supervision and outside input. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who has a bit of Library Science in their background, rather than just business, communications, or public relations. Library Science indicates a curious and organized mind, and a willingness to work with a quiet diligence for little recognition. Link builders do not need a pat on the back from anyone in order to feel validated. The links obtained are the validation.

Personally, the personality traits of the link builder are far more important than the professional or academic pedigree. What I’m about to write may make you laugh, but I write it in all seriousness. The best link builders will have several of the following personality traits (or flaws, depending on how you see them):

Intellectual curiosity. I don’t mean intelligence or a high IQ, I mean intellectual curiosity, which is totally separate from intelligence. I do agree that you can’t be an idiot and be a good link builder, although the spam my inbox seems to indicate plenty of people are trying to refute that assertion.

Fascination with the online world. How much time do you spend online when you’re NOT link building? If you can’t wait to get off the computer after a few hours of link building, or if the only time you are online is when you have to be, then you are not going to last long. I still find myself forgetting lunch and dinner while I spend lengthy and uninterrupted chunks of time lost in the online world. My wife will call me at 7pm and remind me that I have not moved from my chair in 12 hours.

Sense of humor. The web can be a mean spirited and ugly place, and during the course of clicking hither and yon you will encounter stuff that can make you cry if you aren’t willing to laugh. Then, just when you think you’ve had all you can take, you stumble across a web site like this one, a smile slips across your face, and you can go on.

Eagerness to question authority. The web itself is anarchy, and I mean that in a good way. A willingness to ask why and what if is crucial to your success.

A bit of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve spent 45 minutes digging through pages and pages determined to find a real person’s email address rather than using webmaster@… or an online form. Sometimes when I can’t find a real person to contact at a obviously high value target site I will get angry. If you give up too quickly, you miss the very thing that will assure your success.

A dash of Attention Deficit Disorder. I know this seems to conflict with my earlier comment about attention to detail, but we all know how random the web can be. You start off in one direction and without knowing exactly how you end up somewhere else, often better than where you thought you were going in the first place. The ability to shift gears and follow the scent when it presents itself is absolutely vital. And you must be able to work comfortable with four or five programs running at once. When I’m doing a publicity campaign for a site I usually have open four different email clients, plus FireFox, Netscape, Excel, Word, and Trillian.

One last trait trumps everything I’ve written thus far. Passion. You have to have a passion for the subject matter you are representing, or no amount of any other trait will matter. To put this in simpler terms, I’ve had several clients at large companies who act as though they dread what they do for a living. They wish link building would just go away. To them it’s a job and nothing more than a job. That lack of passion is a real deal breaker when it comes to link building and content publicity. If you’d rather be doing something else, go do it, and hire someone with passion for the stuff you don’t want to do. Passion is also why the small guy will always have a chance on the web.

A can of Red Bull and insomnia don’t hurt either.

Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via EricWard.com.

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  • http://www.danhorton.co.uk danhorton

    The post is so relevant to what I am doing at the moment it took the words right out of my mouth.

    When i’m not on the net, I feel I should be, when I am there are so many things to occupy my obsessive streak.

    I’m random by nature and although this sometimes causes problems with lack of attention to detail, it does mean you think of all concepts in different ways to others.

    Link building can be a sole destroying task,epecially if all you get is no thanks responses.

    Working for DaveN I don’t remember him asking about red bull at the interview, not that I need it really. Insomnia does have its plus points at times and the Net is a welcome friend at 3am in the morning.

    Sense of humour is essential I agree, I often laugh in the face of authority which is not always a good thing, but if you never challenge anything nothing will change.


  • http://www.kolbemarket.com BarbaraKB

    Wow. I am feeling quite vindicated today for all the time I spend with my passion: slow but sure link building for my clients’ sites. And your description of the *who* is spot on! I have to admit, I’ve noticed that “touch” of ADD and it’s been a bit disturbing for some of the other work I need to do (like send out reports and even invoices..!).

    Thanks for this!

  • http://www.trulybored.com gamermk

    Good Instincts would be another I’d add to the list. Basically, being able to walk the fine line between knowing when something is innovative and when something is too good to be true.

  • http://www.solaswebdesign.net/wordpress Miriam

    Wonderful article, Eric.

    Passion is something you can’t put a dollar value on. I have often wondered if we linkbuilders are the best when we are working on our own projects that we are the most fired up on. Of course, we give our all to our clients, but when you are personally (rather than financially) involved in a project that you care alot about, it does seem to give you that extra oomph. Does anyone else notice this?

  • http://www.kolbemarket.com BarbaraKB


    Perhaps that is why I have passed on numerous jobs ’cause I could not get too passionate about the site. At times, I even like the organization but the site had no goal or focus.

  • http://www.fatinfo.com billy

    The article makes the link building process oh so depressing. It really shouldn’t be, simply because there’s so many elements to link building that can help you switch up the process when you are bored. Just to point out whats out there includes link directories, articles submissions, blog creations, social network entries (ie squidoo, hubpages), link purchase through brokers, link from your own networks, forum signatures, coop networks, and did I miss any?

  • http://www.seo-web-consulting.com Valerie DiCarlo

    Thanks for this insightful article Eric!

    As I might’ve mentioned to you in the past, I also think musicians have some of those link builder qualities… and seem to make not only good SEOs, but good link builders! ;o)

    Best to you,
    Valerie DiCarlo

  • http://www.seoish.com feedthebot

    Eric great article, truly.
    Sorry Danny, I just couldn’t resist…

    What the perfect link builder looks like

  • http://www.oldschoolseo.com oldschoolseo

    feedthebot – Looks like you need some better hosting :-(

  • eric_ward

    feedthebot – I think I like your article more than my own. And though I know this might ruin people’s perception of me/LinkMoses, I have to agree with every one of your points.

    You wrote…

    “The perfect link builder smokes cigarettes…”
    (I smoked a pack a day for ten years, quit, then ran the Disney marathon. But the truth is I would love a smoke right now, and in my early days of link building the ashes used to burn my keyboard because I’d forget I was smoking…)

    “The perfect link builder drinks alcohol”
    (I thought this was a given? During epic linking work my preference is Vodka and Red Bull…)

    “The perfect link builder is shifty”
    (Yes, but not in a black hat way. It’s more of a ‘make a black hat tactic white’ kind of shifty…)

    “The perfect link builder is good looking”
    (Per my wife, http://www.ericward.com/ewkr.jpg )

    “The perfect link builder inspires”
    (Mostly pity, but yes…)

    “The perfect link builder does not work before noon”
    (Because we are too busy at the bank…)

    “The perfect link builder is a smart ass”
    (GOOD LOOKING smart-ass…)

  • http://seoish.com feedthebot

    Eric that was great,
    old school – what was the hosting comment about though… ?

  • http://www.USAEyes.org LasikExpert

    Yes, a good sense of humor is needed. I laughed out loud when I clicked on the “Link Week” link and received an Error 404, Page Not Found!

    Perhaps you will want to edit that particular link.

  • http://alexfiles.com alexfiles

    Although I’ve worked with online data since the early nineties myself, my perspective is significantly different from the link builder/ publicist’s. Your description gave me more insight into link building than I had before – thanks!

    Also, I think you’re absolutely correct that OCD and ADD are not necessarily antithetical. In fact, it’s been my experience that being a little ADD makes me a little OCD, because I’m just a little nervous that the ADD made me miss something…. ;-)

  • http://syndeomedia.googlepages.com/ Hans A. Koch

    A perfect link builder;

    I wake up in the morning I find an email describing all the link building that has gone on when I was sleeping last night.

    It’s exactly the type of links that I requested! ha.
    Full time linkers are the best.

  • http://www.thearticlewriter.com/blog/ MattK

    I feel the same way. It can be difficult to get things done, but when you finish what you started out doing, then the satisfaction is beautiful.

    Sometimes I do feel a bit ADD-ish when it comes to using the web.

  • http://www.blog.marketmou.com Patricia Skinner

    Hi Eric! Loved your post. I feel that you’re talking about me, so linking should be much easier for me than it is! I’ll just keep reading in the hope that I learn some more. Thanks.


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