Are You Setting The Right Link Building Expectations?

In the world of search and online marketing, we talk a lot about the evolving landscape, particularly when it comes to link building. Tactics that work one day can stop working with the switch of a Google button. Tactics that you think are legit can suddenly be deemed a “link scheme.”

Link Building Expectations

On top of that, there’s so much misinformation out there that the thought of just explaining link building can be daunting.

Now factor in your clients. 

  • How much do they know about link building?
  • How much do you tell them?
  • Do they have a full understanding of what’s actually required to obtain high quality links?

When it comes to setting the right link building expectations, you not only have to take into consideration client knowledge, you also must look at how you’re selling link building to that client.

Here are a few common scenarios:

Link Building As A Service

When selling link building as its own service, there is full accountability. Clients need to be completely aware of what you are doing and they need to see where those links are being built.

Julie Joyce, owner of Link Fish Media, says that not only do many of their clients come to them strictly for link building, they are often charged by the link. That means monthly and/or weekly reporting, complete transparency in how links are being obtained, and program measurement.

How does one quantify success in a program like this?

According to Joyce, that can really vary, but the key is to understand what the goals are going in:

“Clients all have their own different ideas of what constitutes success. Some like to look at rankings and some are more concerned with traffic. Some care more about whether the links we build actually bring them any business. Some are happy knowing they’re doing something to keep up with their competitors.

Basically, if a client is happy with our work, they’re happy because they like what we’re doing and not because we feed them stylized reports that mislead them into thinking we’re doing something magical.”

When offering link building services, know what the objectives are and be open with the client. How many links can the client expect? Where will you be focusing? What issues do they need to be aware of, if any?

By providing this information ahead of time, you set yourself and the client up for a good relationship and a successful program.

Link Building As An Integrated Approach

integrated link buildingFor many of us, link building has simply become integrated into our overall online marketing efforts. According to Erin Everhart, Director of Digital Marketing at 352, “Link building fits into everything — SEO, social, content marketing, even email — so it’s just a part of what we do.”

Indeed. Much of the content we create at my company is generated to build links and drive traffic. Social media strategies are designed to drive shares and get people talking about a brand. These are in essence link building tactics, and while we don’t sell these as separate “link building services,” it doesn’t mean link building should be ignored when talking to clients.

According to Everhart, even though they take an integrated approach at 352, they do still track and report link building efforts (for the most part):

“We track internally with Raven for anything that we actively get ourselves (1 to 1 link building, like broken link building or resource listing). We’ll report these to clients on a monthly basis. [However]…For larger campaigns where we try to attract links organically, we won’t report specifics.”

As for measurement, Everhart says they are much more focused on traffic and conversions versus rankings or link quantity:

“We’ve stopped tracking rankings with the occasional reporting from Google Webmaster Tools… We also don’t guarantee any number of links each month. Too many variables in that, and it’s just not scalable or feasible.”

Offering link building as part of an integrated approach? Make sure the client knows that while link building is not a separate line item on their invoice, it’s something you will be doing.

Most importantly, be open and honest with your clients about where links are coming from and help them understand the benefits that can come from a great piece of content or fixing those broken links.

Link Building For Big Brands

Big Brand Theory

For many big brands, link building may not seem like something that’s even necessary. After all, there are PR teams, massive advertising campaigns, and increased overall brand awareness. That doesn’t mean link building doesn’t happen, it just can occur in different ways.

According to Ryan Jones, Manager of Search Strategy & Analytics at SapientNitro,

“Most large brands aren’t too concerned with it [link building]. They know links are important, but they also know that their job is more about making it easier for fans, customers, and press to link to the site, and less about active link building.

For example, when we release a new product, people will talk about it. It’s our job to ensure that we have content on the site at the time of press releases and news mentions, that our internal linking structure makes that content easy to find and link to, and that we’re working with the social and PR teams around what content to promote and how they should link.”

What’s important to note here is that link building doesn’t have to mean just outreach. There are often a number of technical elements that go into the process. In fact, according to Jones, “One of my biggest projects this year involves minimizing the amount of URL changes we make from one product cycle to the next, in order to help us preserve link authority.”

Building links for a big brand? Make it clear to the client upfront that web development changes will be needed and figure out a process. And don’t be afraid to get to know the client’s PR and social teams. They can be your biggest asset in capturing links from high quality sources.

Don’t forget about measurement. According to Jones this can come in several ways:

“I like to look at things like unique referring domains to show quality links that are sending traffic.  Also, I’m not a huge fan of ranking reports, but I do like showing the impressions graph from Webmaster Tools with significant SEO initiative dates marked on the graph. Then the client can loosely see the impact and how long it took to realize it.”

Final Thoughts

Setting client expectations can be hard in any industry, but when it comes to link building, there are quite a few variables to consider. Just remember, the key is communication.

  • Know what your client knows
  • Be open with how your services work
  • Set goals based on their wants and needs
  • Set and discuss what the client can expect

What other tips do you have for setting the proper link building expectations?

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

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


About The Author: is the Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing Associates, a B2B Internet marketing firm based in Boston, MA. She has been in the search industry for eight years and loves all things Internet-related.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • baldjake

    Great point Casie. I find that half the battle with clients is educating them. Have you created internal documents to show and tell clients what they can expect?

  • Casie Gillette

    We are pretty open about what we are doing and our proposal typically covers what they can expect. It’s really just an on-going conversation vs anything formal. That being said, when we do a link-specific campaign like an infographic, we’ll let them know where we’ll be reaching out to, and report on where links came from. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jim Samuel

    As a client who has recently switched SEO agencies, I can tell you that the sure way to lose a client is to not explain what you are doing, not provide meaning measures, not account for the time you are billing them for and to act as if link building is a magic science that the client cannot understand. All that does is build mistrust and a feeling that the agency is not doing what it is billing for.

  • Steve Sharp

    Curious to know how your link building these days other than passive link building with content and social sharing

  • Steve Sharp

    Curious to know how your link building these days other than passive link building with content and social sharing

  • Brett Dixon

    Good post! The bit I liked most was:

    “Much of the content we create at my company is generated to build links and drive traffic”

    That’s the definition of Link EARNING and how the Google Webmaster Guidelines recommends it’s done – afterall it’s the natural way to get links by choice.

    I don’t get this:

    Julie Joyce, owner of Link Fish Media, says that not only do many of their clients come to them strictly for link building, they are often charged by the link.

    I’d like to know how that works exactly and not fall under a “link scheme”. Are they creating kick arse content and then charging by who links to it? In that case, what if they get 100 links (for example) to a piece of content?


    Are they unnaturally building links and charging each?

    Only one of those two examples conform (either to the word or the spirit) of the Google Guidelines.

    Really, isn’t all of that irrelevant? I believe it’s our job to stop clients obssessing about numbers of links, rankings and even traffic – it’s the bottom line that counts most so in my experience, if a client see’s clear improvements where conversions / profit is concerned then they won’t really give a damn about much else.

  • Casie Gillette

    Definitely Jim and in talking to each of these link builders, the one general consensus was that everyone is completely open and honest with their customers. Transparency is key.

  • Casie Gillette

    Thanks for the comment!

    I think that Julie could probably give you a better answer but I can tell you that she made it clear they work to build natural links and they are very open about what they are doing with their clients. A quote that wasn’t included, “We don’t do anything the client doesn’t know about”.

  • Casie Gillette

    The majority of our link building does come from content creation but you have to get that content out there and you have to create brand awareness. We do a lot of outreach ranging from unlinked brand mentions to guest posts, and we even help our clients find relevant blogs to follow and comment on (not necessarily for link building purposes but more “relationship” purposes).

    Erin wrote a great post on here last week about old tactics and the new ways to do them…we still do those.

  • Brett Dixon

    To be fair though, chances are clients won’t necessarily know what’s right or wrong or what constitutes an “unnatural link” or a “link scheme” I’m not saying for a minute they are doing anything against Google Webmaster Guidelines but I struggle to understand how you can charge by the link for a link that occurs naturally? Unless they are charging for outreaching or promotion of content to attract a link from a targeted site perhaps?

  • Matt @ Nicheoutreach

    It’s great to be able to show clients links that you are willing to stand behind.

    At NicheOutreach we’re trying to make this easy, by making it simple to make white hat blog comments in an efficient way, spreading the word of the brand and building links at the same time.

    Let us know what you think!

  • juliejoyce

    If we charge by the link, it’s for a link that we have actively pursued. We might write custom content in order to specifically have it posted on a site and that’s one link, or we might buy a nofollowed link, or we might ask for a link and get it. We might do a guest post and that’s one link. We might buy a followed link and knowingly violate Google’s guidelines. If we create content designed to naturally attract links and it generates 100 links, that would not be a case where we charge for each of those 100 links.

    Plenty of people violate Google’s guidelines and do so happily. As Casie says in her response, we don’t do anything that hasn’t been discussed with the clients, and that includes a clear warning of risk.

  • juliejoyce

    “…they are often charged by the link.” Often is the key word here. As I say in an earlier comment, if we are specifically identifying a site and getting a link there, no matter how we do it, we’ll charge that on a per link basis. If we get links in other ways, we’ll charge in other ways.

  • Henley Wing

    Hey Julie, what would you say would be your most popular tactic for outreach and getting links these days?

  • Anthony J. Alfidi

    I set the right expectations by doing all of my own link building. I won’t outsource this vital function to other SEO marketers whose efforts may pose problems for me later.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide