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3 Experts on Link Development Speak Out

Last year, I asked a bunch of the link development pros to sit down and do an interview on the topic of developing links in regards to SEO Hamburg. What I ended up with as a result was a six thousand plus word tutorial on developing backlinks.

The unique thing about this interview, from my perspective, was that not a single one of the five experts interviewed last year saw anyone else’s answers before the interview was published:

11 Experts on Link Development Speak Out

Question One: If you had 7 days to train a link developer, which concepts would you focus on each day as the most important concepts?

Andy:

Link baiting, link baiting, link baiting. Oh, and social media 😉

Rand:

7 Days, huh? I think I’d spend day one training and talking and days 2-7 giving them actual projects to work on. There’s nothing like real-life experience (especially with deadlines and goals) to get someone invested in link development. Big concepts?

  1. Content first, links second
  2. What others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself, so get some independent referrals to help bolster your campaign
  3. When building manual links, vary everything you can to make pattern detection as difficult as possible – and that includes temporal patterns!

Justilien:

List:

  1. Power of Links – How Search Engine Work & Basic SEO
  2. History of Link Building – Tactics to Avoid
  3. Finding, Identifying & Assessing Value of Links
  4. Traditional Marketing & Public Relations Tactics
  5. Guerrilla Marketing Tactics
  6. Social Media & Viral Marketing
  7. Influence & Negotiations

I’ve written a couple of articles at SearchEngineWatch.com on training link developers: 7 Tips for Training Link Developers and Training Link Developers to Become Marketing Gurus.

Debra:

List:

Day one: Definition of link popularity, the importance of anchor text, algorithmic influences

Day two: How to run, read and use data from link reports run.

Day three: Internal link optimization and how to reclaim links.

Day four: Foundational linking tactics

Day five: Content generation and media tactics

Day six: Social media tactics

Day seven: Paid links, networks, overall review

Roger:

Learn what gets a site banned, understand how visual inspections are bringing sites down, understand how multiple tactics when taken together, can give a negative impression, and understand what the quality evaluators are looking for, and more importantly, what those giving out links are looking for.

Too many old habits remain, even though the reasons for them have long disappeared. For instance, the outdated notion that PR 4+ links are the standard for links, and anything less is beneath consideration has no basis or foundation in a link-building strategy today. Do not pay attention to the toolbar PageRank meter. Even if it’s gray or white, ignore it. Learn the important site evaluation metrics and go by those. In short, evaluate, seriously evaluate, the reasons why you are doing what you are doing, and try to see if there are alternate better ways of doing it. You’ll find new opportunities this way. Above all, ask if it will pass a hand check.

Jim:

List:

Day 1. Learn all about the website, the services, the products, the company, the competitors, etc.

Day 2. Analyze who links to your competitors and related sites and make a list of who you should contact

Day 3. Start contacting sites, proving you’re human and that you’ve been to the sites.

Day 4. Study “the art of the deal”.

Day 5. Learning the best pages to get links from.

Day 6. Learn to create ads that blend in and get clicks.

Day 7. Study Link baiting and create topics for linkbait.

Rae:

I’m going to assume by the fact that they need training that they’re totally green. In that case, they’re working nights too. So, day one is to read Aaron Wall’s SEO book (whose book you should totally order using my affiliate link under this post)from front to back. It is a quick, concise “green guide” for anyone who needs to learn the basics of search engine optimization. This will save me several hours and my breath of explaining the same concepts. Day two is learning to understand why links matter and the basics of link development (presentation was given to a small group of extremely green to SEO folks last summer and has never been posted online before – cheers). Day three would be learning keyword research and how to create angles and write in an engaging/net friendly style (hell yes my link developers write content)… you get links much easier by publishing content that people want to link to once you make them aware of it than getting people to link to the content you wanted to write.

Day four is learning all about the Linkerati and how to develop relationships with other bloggers in the niche they’re working in. Day five would likely be learning the importance of anchor text, how to utilize it for best results when developing off-site links and how to do internal linking properly from within the content they develop for promotion. I’d also focus on how to leverage the relationships they develop to get inbound anchor text changed from other sites if it isn’t optimal whenever possible. Day six would be learning to backtrack what the competition is doing to match their own efforts while utilizing the rest of their training to surpass them. Day seven would include social media training… not on gaming the current networks, but understanding how social media works in general. How to leverage it to build a site audience and how it affects things like universal search.

Todd:

List:

Day 1 – Explain the paradox of PageRank mattering

Day 2 – How to value a link – explain quality over quantity and relevance.

Day 3 – Have them read the masters and ask questions

Day 4 – Teach them where to start with tools

Day 5 – Show them how to write a link request

Day 6 – Create sample ads with them with proper deep links and co-citation.

Day 7 – Let them rest so they don’t jump out of an 8th story window

Eric:

This is sort of another way of asking about link value factors, which I’m on record and have been insulted for saying are over-rated.

Day 1). What not to do the part I Why social voting sites are pointless for 95% of web sites

Day 2). What not to do part II Why mass directory submission is pointless for 95% of web sites

Day 3). What not to do part III Why mass article submission is pointless for 95% of web sites

Day 4). What not to do part IV Why PR chasing paid links are pointless for 95% of web sites

Day 5). What not to do part V Why generalist social bookmarking is pointless for 95% of web

Day 6). What TO DO part I How to identify inbound link targets that will help your site succeed

Day 7). What TO DO part II How to obtain those links once you’ve identified them

Michael:

List:

Day 1 – anchor text, what it is, how to use it to your advantage, when linking in or out

Day 2 – directories, article syndication, and off-site satellite content (ie Squidoo)

Day 3 – Blogs, comments, forums

Day 4 – paid links, sponsored advertising, hosted content

Day 5 – backlink analysis via search engines and tools

Day 6 – review and pulling it all together into what makes links good, bad or useless

Day 7 – take a break and work on something else you need time to sharpen the saw

Aaron:

A day following social media sites and blogs about their favorite hobbies to see what sort of stuff is considered remarkable and link-worthy.

Read Seth Godin’s Purple cow on day 2 to reinforce day 1.

Day 3 would introduce feed readers and tracking blogs. Introduce the concept of personal bias as it relates to passion in organic links.

Day 4 all about looking credible, the power of anchor text, and the value of links from authoritative websites.

Day 5 Rae’s post about when unique content is not unique, and creating a list of 20 unique ideas that can be added to the site.

Day 6 creates linkbait.

Day 7 market it via email.

Question Two: How will recent trends such as personalization and universal search affect the way SEO’s develop and execute link-building strategies?

Andy:

Well, I think any development that improves search relevancy is going to favor “real” citations over faked citations. There’s never been a higher value proposition for going whitehat in your link-building efforts.

Rand:

Not much, honestly, though there may be some vertical search integration systems that reward certain types of geo-targeted or content-targeted links, resulting in additional efforts being focused in those areas.

Justilien:

The focus will change from “getting links” to “getting in front of customers.” Additional attention will be given to more traditional marketing tactics. This could range from hiring a PR Firm (public relations, not PageRank) to get into the news, to promoting images, to creating information videos.

Specific tactics will really depend on the industry since Google currently operates 14 different verticals that could be incorporated into universal search. Obviously, Google won’t be using all of them for each search term. Code search won’t fit in well when searching for “Miami Resorts,” yet maps and images are perfect.

Debra:

The elements driving universal search (video, podcasts, photos, book listings, etc.) provide an opportunity to attract more links from varied sources given the range of elements. These elements enhance the quality of your content and when combined and promoted, increase your ability to reach a wider audience. In addition, elements associated with universal search can be used for specific marketing initiatives such as reputation management. (Tip – create video rebuttals).

As for personalization – With toolbar browsing and search history data being incorporated into the search results as a way to augment organic link mapping, link builders need to find a way to use this data to locate the influential sites people are visiting. Keep a close eye on your stats programs and what’s coming back under search options like “similar pages” and query refinement suggestions to find additional/new/different websites to draw links from.

Roger:

Definitely changes the game in terms of converting featured universal search blocks into feeders, the old piggyback SEO strategy in order to gain links for traffic. So in that sense, it’s reassessing the reasons for obtaining a link. YouTube ranking? Build the videos and promote them into the SERPs. News ranking? Write some press releases and get them into the news, that sort of thing. I see the Universal search effort as an opportunity to get more positions into there. People involved with Local search have been dealing with this for a bit longer, and it’s only becoming more intense. Seeing what aggregator sites are featured in Local search than getting aggregated with a link. However, some of the Universal Search components are short-lived in the SERPs, as the news blocks. Yet they’re good for traffic, which falls into the links for traffic approach.

As far as personalization is concerned, I think it’s going to make some site owners consider the value of their content more, the usefulness of it, and most importantly thinking of ways users can share your content with friends to solidify blocks of people coming to your site and influencing the SERPs of friends who haven’t been to your site. Recommendation algos could play a part, so wrapping your mind around getting friends to visit may be one part of it. In terms of links, this might cause a reassessment of strategy, to go back to links for traffic. This is theoretical though because it’s still a bit off.

Jim:

I don’t think it will change much, if anything, as far as link-building strategies.

Rae:

Smart SEO’s won’t have to adjust much because they’ve been marketing their asses off anyway and saw things like universal search coming. Smart SEO’s have become and are becoming overall online marketers, forcing their link development strategies to get wider and more creative and at times, a side effect of an overall “marketing plan”.

Todd:

These trends may minimize the overall effectiveness of link-building campaigns, but despite the declining value of return on investment for quality link hunting, links will remain an important algorithm variable for quite some time to come. The impact and cross-referencing of links as a variable reference to other data will be the important piece of the puzzle. An example of this may be using clickstream data (from toolbars, personalization information, etc.) as VALIDATORS for link popularity as a variable. This means that if you have 100 new links to your site, that the clickstream data had better support that level of growth or your site ranking may be dampened. This, of course, is all completely speculative and is only one example of how this type of data MAY be used.

Eric:

In the short term, it’s a spam fest, with only the real leading edge folks getting any short-term value from it. Over time, it will become much more useful to more and more sites, and actually spark a nice new round of creativity as folks create media elements they wouldn’t have before.

I can see a ski manufacturer choosing to create technical videos on the ski manufacturing process that they might not have ever created if not for the consumer video search potential. Today, nobody has. Let’s see what the same search yields a year from now.

Michael:

Google seems to be embracing personalized search the most, but I’ve never talked to a “normal” person who wanted it or thought it was good or helpful, the most reaction I ever got was a lukewarm “hmm that’s cool” followed by a “wait a minute does that mean they are watching me”?

I love universal search I think it provides the opportunity for sites that may not have authority on their own to leverage things like google maps, youtube, or other sites to drive traffic.

Aaron:

As Google’s house content fills up the search results ranking in the top 2 or 3 organic listings (after Google’s house content) will be like ranking #5 in the past. So you need to submit YouTube videos and put yourself in other verticals as well.

Personalization means that you need to get a following. Real editorial sites with frequently updated content will replace thin affiliate sites as a more profitable strategy.

Question Three: Reciprocal links work. Do you recommend it and how is it different today? If you don’t recommend it, why not?

Andy:

A normal linking “pattern” will have a small percentage of links that are reciprocal. So Google’s not going to penalize you for that (that is, for having a small percentage of links that are reciprocal). Link when it makes sense for your visitors and when it sends you good traffic. Don’t go overboard. And don’t read advice on this topic from before 2005 😉

Rand:

I don’t recommend the “let’s trade links” emails or the pages with long lists of “link partners.” However, I certainly do recommend getting links from sites that you link to and vice versa. I think the patterns the search engines look for to discount reciprocal links try to test for unnatural linking, and oftentimes, interlinking between blogs and sites is one of the most natural processes on the web.

Justilien:

I don’t personally use reciprocal links because my focus is on the harder-to-get, one-way links. However, reciprocal links are natural, influence rankings, and are part of a “natural links profile.”

For clients who want to do that aspect on their own, I encourage them to offer links from within their content pages and to be very selective about choosing partners.

I also stress the need to avoid link software since many of these tools leave footprints or unhealthy linking patterns. Keep it looking natural and use reciprocal linking in moderation.

Debra:

The power behind reciprocal links lies in the control you have to dictate the anchor text and where it points. I don’t recommend reciprocal links as a solo linking tactic, but it can be part of your overall link mix without issue. We’ll swap if it’s the only way to get a link from an authority site.

Roger:

Some light link reciprocation is fine and makes sense in many ways. As I mentioned above, you may want to ask if it will pass a hand check. For instance, aggressive reciprocation, such as linking back and forth to another site in a related industry from your navigation bar may not pass a hand check, so in that case, you may want to no-follow the links so that you’re doing it for the targeted traffic and sidestep penalty issues altogether. I would like to emphasize that the test for 2008 is going to be, will it pass a hand check?

Jim:

I recommend that a small percentage of your backlinks should/can be reciprocal if they are highly related. I don’t recommend getting on “links pages” designed for “traders” though. I don’t think google is a fan of counting links from the links page.

Rae:

I feel like I’m beating my head into a brick wall every time this topic comes up. No one listens… “but, my competitors with a nine-year-old domain and tons of one-way links because of self-reinforcing authority whose reciprocal links are five years old on other nine-year-old sites rank!” – no shit sherlock… but maybe it’s due to the surrounding circumstances and not the face value reciprocal links. Reciprocal links have their place in a marketing plan… some of our sites have reciprocal links that weren’t “traded” – we linked to them and they eventually linked to us or vice versa due to quality and traffic. Reciprocal links are natural in moderation. Reciprocal links pages, automated programs… let them die in peace. New sites have different rules than older sites. Develop traffic people… develop traffic.

Todd:

I find it cumbersome to beat dead horses. Reciprocal links are sometimes natural. If it’s natural, you can have recipe links. Don’t get carried away. Peanutbutter.com should always link to Jelly.com – the world wouldn’t be right if they didn’t link to each other.

Eric:

Reciprocal links absolutely positively DO WORK, so long as the motivation and impetus for the swap in the first place had nothing to do with search rank and everything to do with relevance.

If these two sites want to link to each other then it’s ludicrous for any link builder or consultant to tell them there’s no value in it.

On the other hand, if Garth’s Body Piercing site wants to swap links with Gertrude’s Cribbage Boards site because they think it will help their search rank, then they are either both idiots or were sold links building services by idiots.

Michael:

Sure they still work, what doesn’t work is the incredible foot printable recipe directories and pages everyone added to their sites a few years ago. If I get a link from the New York Times tomorrow, does anybody really think the value of that link is going to drop by any meaningful amount if I link back to that page? Of course not. Look at things like blog carnivals, they one huge interlinked reciprocal linkfest, but the content and structure are completely different than the old style of link exchanges, so there’s still value. When this interview gets published I am absolutely going to link to it.

Aaron:

I think I value my time quite a lot, so on that basis, I have not relied too heavily on reciprocal links for a few years. I find it is generally cheaper just to create link-worthy content and then spend the former link exchange begging time just asking for one way.

I reciprocate if needed on key links, but I think most reciprocation does not have much of a positive ROI for me unless it is much more than a link swap…like a true business partnership.

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