Why Manual Link Building Will Never Be Obsolete

Contributor and link building expert Eric Ward discusses why manual link building will stand the test of time, despite popular predictions to the contrary.

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I recently read an article titled, “SEO Practices That Will Become Obsolete By The End Of 2016” on (what is normally) a highly respected site. The author is someone I read and respect, but he made the claim that in 2016, manual link building will become obsolete. He has since edited the article and changed “Manual Link Building” to “Bulk Link Building.”

This seemingly minor edit (which I greatly welcome and appreciate) is actually at the crux of a much larger movement that seems to be permeating the SEO community. That movement is based on the belief that doing anything one at a time, or “manually,” is a waste of time, because the sheer mass of the web and link graph makes it impossible to impact it without resorting to automated or mass tactics.

Wrong. Manual link building will never be obsolete.

I agree that there are many more ways to build links today than there were when the web first caught fire. And I also agree that it is technically possible to conduct mass outreach.

The problem is that quality suffers, and I’m not just saying that as an opinion. I see it every day in my own inbox when people send me link requests that seem so perfectly crafted and personalized, yet you can tell they are not. They were sent in bulk, and worse, they are dishonest. Dishonest how? Dishonest because these outreach emails always say things like

“I was reading such and such on your site.”


“I noticed you are interested in online marketing and wanted to…”

Lies. All lies, and any of you reading this have probably received similar emails and thought the same thing. What a great way to begin your relationship with me — by lying to me. It’s the modern day version of spam; more sophisticated mail-merge with just enough added personalization to make me feel special.

Except I don’t, and it’s not working. We all delete them. Bragging about a 2.5 percent success rate is laughable.

People Still Need People

Certain aspects of the link-building process have already proven to be pointless and obsolete. But one thing that will never change is human desire to connect with other humans, to share, cultivate, curate and collect useful, valuable and helpful pages, apps, or whatever the digital content is, with each other. If that wasn’t the case, there would be no Twitter, which is tailor-made for link sharing.

Real-Life Example: I conducted an outreach project for a large international hearing aid manufacturer. This is a subject that I care about deeply because my 13-year-old is deaf. The client’s goal was to bring attention to their newly relaunched site and content areas — and yes, their hearing aids, and yes, they make money on them. (I get it.)

One of my recommended strategies was to identify hearing/audiology sites, associations, foundations and others that provided curated outbound hearing loss resources/links. Obviously, one of our hoped-for outcomes was links.

See the image below? That page is from the Colorado Hearing Foundation. The specific page is titled, “Useful Websites for Information on Hearing Loss.” And here’s the truth that “manual link building is dead” believers are completely missing: Getting a link on that page is not something that can be automated.

You can't "automate" your way onto this kind of page

You can’t “automate” your way onto this kind of page.

I did the research to identify the absolutely most appropriate websites. More importantly, I had to spend extra time to read the “About Us” or “Our Staff” pages so I could find the person/people who make the decisions about what resources are and are not included on those pages. Sometimes that’s not easy, even when doing it manually. Sometimes you might even have to pick up the phone. That’s right, THE PHONE. Don’t pass out.

And the page above did, in fact, link to my client’s site.

Automation will never find the perfect sites. Automation will never find the exact contact that makes the final decisions as to who to link out to. Automation will never fool anyone into thinking the email you are sending them is just for them.

Sure, automation and scrapers can find plenty of email address, like webmaster@, help@, info@, questions@, inquires@, etc. But emails to those addresses are not being received by the decision-makers. Those email addresses are spam holes.

I did the research to identify the absolute most appropriate websites and more importantly, I spent the extra time to find the person/people who make the decisions about what resources are and are not included on those pages.

I often will even make a phone call to the organization to introduce myself and ask for the appropriate contact name. What a shock: actually talking to a human.

And here’s the kicker: When I am able to find the right person and website, and I conduct outreach as I just described, my success rate is close to 100 percent. That won’t happen with bulk outreach. In my case, I’m only contacting a small set of heavily vetted sites that have perfect-match resource lists for the content/site I’m introducing them to. That’s when success can happen.

But the larger point is, why shouldn’t 100 percent success happen? If you’re representing a truly outstanding piece of content, and you’ve taken the time to reach a the exact person who has already demonstrated they are curating content and links in that subject area, a link is the logical, natural outcome of that process.

The End Game Has Not Changed

This is why I laugh when I hear people say that 2.5 percent success rate on email outreach is considered acceptable. What a joke. Automating outreach is just reckless, and frankly, sad.

The internet is always going to be about people connecting with other people, or connecting with content written by people (sorry, Narrative Science). And while I agree there are many link-building strategies, tactics and techniques that need to die a slow and painful death, the process of one person sharing with another person an incredibly useful piece of content that will resonate with that person and result in a link will never go out of style and will never be obsolete.

I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I can assure you that while the methods for identifying the right people have become more challenging, at the end of the day, the end game is still the same: I need to get in touch with the person who will most likely care about what it is I’m sharing or seeking links for.

That cannot be automated, cannot be replicated, cannot be syndicated. It takes a person willing to roll up their sleeves, with the saavy to identify and connect with the appropriate person who will care about what they have to tell them.

Thank you for allowing me a few minutes of your day.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Eric Ward
Eric Ward founded the Web's first services for announcing, linking, and building buzz for Web sites, back in 1994. Ward is best known as the person behind the linking campaigns for Amazon.com Books, Weather.com, The Link Exchange, Rodney Dangerfield (Rodney.com), the AMA, and PBS.org. His services won the 1995 Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web's 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. In 2009 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes. Eric has spoken at over 100 industry conferences and now publishes LinkMoses Private, a subscription based link opportunity and strategy service. Eric has written linking strategy and advice columns for SearchEngineLand, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, Search Marketing Standard, SearchEngineGuide, Web Marketing Today, and Ad Age magazine. Learn more about Eric and his content publicity and link building services at http://www.ericward.com

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