What are my Link Builders Doing? Stay away from Snakes and Ladders

by on November 3, 2011

Clients often don’t want to deal with or don’t understand what their SEO agency is doing when it comes to link building. Many of them will just ask how much will it take to achieve position X for these keywords. If you are working with a high flying agencies like Distilled, Branded3, then you are in the best of hands and will get a lot more guidance around your strategy. But for a huge portion of clients who cannot afford those rates, they often have to take a lot more chances and often get placed into a game of snakes and ladders.

Your results will suddenly shoot up, only to slip back down again as a bunch of your low quality links get hit at the same time. You are then on a merry go round of agencies until you hopefully find the right one.

What Can I do ?

As a client you need to have some idea of where the links are coming from, even if it’s just having the SEO agency or consultant describe the strategy and type of sites they are targeting. Google loves a natural link profile, with lots of variety (they also love shitty link profiles with no variety, which you will see in the next post) so you should also request examples of the links getting built month on month. You may not have time to look through them all, but it’s good practice to do this during the initial months and ensure you are happy with the work.

What Should you Expect from your Link Builders

First of all, you don’t need to know every detail and the value of every single link built to your site. When you receive a link building report ensure the links match up to the strategy agreed upon. Have the links reported under each category specified in the strategy doc. You did agree on a strategy right? Oh your guys didn’t say anything to you about strategy, well:

Link Building Road Map

It’s best to have a one pager that describes where you are going to get links from. For example, this could be something as simple as:

1. Guest Blog Posts: We are going to target people in the X niche and try get 5 guest blogging opportunities per month

2. Articles: We are going to repurpose 5 informational posts from your blog into 15 articles and submit to directories

3. PR Releases: We are going to do one high value PR release per month around your products or events

4. Directories: We are going to submit your site to 10 relevant directories per month

Although you can’t expect a complete strategy for free, you could pay the agency for a days work to put together a document that contains some competitive intelligence and a rough strategy. This may be a little more cost upfront, but you can decide if it sounds right, instead of paying out for a project with no idea of what is going to be done.

What Should I Look out for ?

If you have asked for a relatively clean profile then you should keep an eye on a couple of key areas to ensure your link strategy is on track. I should add, if you are in a competitive industry, you may need all kinds of tactics, but they should be described in your strategy doc with competitive insights into why you need to adopt aggressive tactics.

Keeping it Natural

Building links to your site is supposed to be natural looking, basically people/other sites voting for your site because of that awesome product/service/content you offer. Your anchor text will no doubt vary as people link to you from a wide range of content and sections on their site. You will also receive links from a wide range of sites in your market, different root domains, different IP addresses and hosted on a wide range of different servers.

So for example if your link builders comes back after 3 weeks with 3000 links, all exact match keywords and from the same C-Class network of random blogs, you may want to ask them how are these are being acquired. “We have a link network” they happily reply … is that in your strategy doc ?

Tip: SEOChat have a nice little C-Class checking tool where you can enter a bunch of links and check where they are from. A lot of networks will be hosted on the same C-class, but some smart link networks won’t so it may not show up anything.

If you have a lot of links coming from a network, this is where you get into snakes and ladders, up you climb to the dizzy heights of top 3, but once the network is slammed, back down you go.

Tip: Link networks are great for building secondary links to things like PR releases, articles, guest blog posts, link wheels, profile etc etc, which link directly to your site. Better than having them point directly to your site.

It’s All Relevant 

Keeping links relevant is another must right? Well I beg to differ from a lot of people, irrelevant links really do work. I have proven it by buying dropped domains and points links at sites. The dropped domains had no relevancy to the site it was linking to. With that being said, relevant links are still better in terms of the equity they pass on and the actual traffic you may get from the link, which is often not discussed. It’s also better from the perspective of staving of Link Decay. Having a link from an active site ensures the benefits may last longer.

If you get a bunch of links from sites that have a lots of general content and appear to be about nothing – you are more likely to see those links devalued. Ask your agency how they propose to build relevant links, have they put something in your strategy doc?

Links From Reputable Sources

There are many SEO factors included here, links from different sites will carry different values. You don’t need to get bogged down in the value of each site, you simply need to ask yourself a question, are the sites linking to you legit, do they offer real value to web users? You can normally tell pretty quickly if a site has real user intent or is just being used to link out to a bunch of random sites.

For example if you are receiving a link from a site with only a few pages but covered in random links on the homepage then you may want to question that links value to your site. Remember that advice your parents gave you as a kid “Stay away from bad neighborhoods :) “

Checking their progress

This next part is going to be a little time consuming, but remember, your website is often your business, so it may be worth it.

You can track their progress by using the following:

1) Raven Tools

Raventools is an overall fantastic tool for SEOs to track anything from SERP positions to adwords campaigns. One of the awesome features is the link manager. Simply get your agency to submit csv files in the format Raven asks and bingo, complete visibility on what links are getting built.

3) SEOmoz

SEOmoz will give you detailed stats about the links pointing to your site. Other great features is the ability to see anchor text percentage and the amount of unique domains they are building links from. Finding this info takes about two minutes but it gives you an immediate overview of your progress.

2) Google Docs

Or you can ask the agency to track all links in a shared Google Doc.

If you have any other questions on what you should be looking for in a link building team, just add a comment.

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