Thanks for joining us on Thought Leader Thursday today Gab. You’re well known throughout the SEO community, especially for your link building services, and have been featured in mainstream and trade media and have spoken at various tradeshows. Could you share the story of how you got into the field and a little bit of your history with our readers?
I’ve always been into politics, ever since I was a kid. It was something we talked about a lot at home and I just grew up around it. I remember liking that my dad got me an autographed picture of our then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. That was before he was disgraced in the Sponsorship Scandal…
So when I turned 18, I wanted to influence the national federal election, and I decided to start a blog. I read up on promoting sites and ranked my own site for my target keywords in just a few months, plus I accumulated a PageRank 5, which seemed super important. (It probably mattered more then, in early 2006, than now. SEOmoz has done studies showing PageRank as a predictor of ranking is only 3% better than random guessing, which tells you how far we’ve come.)
Anyways, having had success for myself, I decided to start offering the service to others. The rest is history.
Google shook things up not too long ago when they took an aggressive stance against paid links. Do you think this should be a serious concern for the average person who may buy or sell just a handful of links?
If they’re selling links in an obvious way, those links will probably be discounted. The buyers may also be penalized, at least briefly, depending on the broader context of their actions. Allow me to illustrate.
This summer, I consulted with a friend on his African community cultural site for free, so he gave me a footer link with decent anchor text. I asked for that because a local competitor has these links on all his client sites and he ranks for generic terms with sitelinks. Within 1-2 months after I noticed that I wasn’t ranking 1st anymore on a particular brand keyword. It could have been a coincidence, but I think that Google saw that as a potential paid link (offtopic site, footer location). The rest of my backlink profile being clean, and the fact I didn’t get other such backlinks afterwards, is how I explain my first place rankings returning on that keyword.
For people who don’t mind taking calculated risks, what advice do you have to avoid any penalties when buying or selling links?
They should read my 101 tips on how to buy text links.
Besides that, one principle I love is blending in with your niche’s organic link graph.
One final idea I’ve had recently and am looking forward to testing is to buy links to content on sites you don’t own. For example, buying links to a video on Youtube. Make that video valuable, but only a teaser that invites visitors back to your site for the full piece and who knows what results you might get?
For the truly risk-adverse people who don’t even want to consider buying links, do you have any advice for a successful link building campaign?
Sure. Use a hub finder – those are about the best quality links. Thing is, they’re a hassle to build because email addresses on hubs are often out of date, and sometimes it’s not even clear who to contact. I once found that some spammy, viagra-ad filled site was a hub. I couldn’t understand what was going on and how this might be contributing to ranking my competitors. I dug around and found the site was owned by the same folks who ran an escort review site, which was the real source of the links. By going through the escort review hub, I got quality links. [No, this wasn't for an adult client.]
I think this is the kind of stuff Eric Ward does, and I understand his rates. This kind of work is thankless – you’re wading through plenty of crummy hubs and junk, plus the majority of your emails get ignored, and even those that are opened don’t always get your link request accepted.
If you read Eric’s pricing, articles and methodology, the price per link he seems to be charging is about $250 – $400 / link. And that’s because he’s automated lots of it, and probably has assistants doing the grunt work. He’s providing value to clients that’s worth probably $1000 – $4000 / link or better, but the SEO market just wouldn’t support that kind of pricing. Then the same people will blow 100K on one-time PPC traffic when Eric’s links would last them longer and make them way more.. The market is stupid. (And I don’t get why Eric doesn’t make a war chest and become an affiliate, to be honest.)
Can I prove what I’m saying? Yeah, I can. I did this kind of stuff when I was new to SEO. I charged $300 / month at the time and then $500/month. I stopped after a while because my rates had increased and I was spending too much time for too little money. The client’s asked me repeatedly to come back and work for them again. Why? Because 10 months after I stopped working for them, they were still ranking 3rd on their top keywords, ahead of mega-brands with much larger budgets. And they had done no SEO work in the interim.
What are some of the tools that you just can’t live without for your link building efforts?
Creative and critical thinking, footprints. Hub finders if I’m going to do SEO for my own sites.
You’ve probably had more than a few clients come your way after they made a mistake building their own links and suffered a penalty. What are some of the more common mistakes you’ve seen?
That hasn’t happened, actually. I did have a client who decided that an automated reciprocal link trader would be a good idea to implement, however, after we were already working together. He thought this automated directory script was what was helping him rank.
If I can generalize from that, the lesson to be learned is clients should do what they’re good at. Sell their products/services. Let your SEO direct your link building tactics. You wouldn’t tell the builder of your house that you were going to pour part of the concrete yourself, so why would you build links yourself [without asking the SEO if the tactic was valid or not]?
A lot of people new to Internet marketing end up sacrificing long-term results for hopes of overnight success. Can you recommend some guidelines for a long-term, defensible link building campaign?
Hire someone who is passionate about your topic. Have them network all day long with other bloggers via blog comments, Twitter, email etc. Once those relationships are in place, it’s easy to ask for links over and over again (provided you have good content to link to).
Or you can get a link builder like yours truly who will do that, only faster. If folks are interested in hiring me for improving their conversion rates, SEO or link building, they can email Gab@seoroi.com :).