Columnist Julie Joyce explains how clients' and other stakeholders' involvement can greatly improve the success of your link-building campaign
I’m one of those people who thinks I can usually handle things by myself — I don’t need or want anyone’s help. It’s been tough for me to let go of that attitude when it comes to link building, but I’ve been doing much better lately after realizing that it really is beneficial to have more involvement from various people.
Sometimes that extra involvement has been kind of forced on me. Sometimes I’ve had to beg for it. But all in all, I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that the best links we get these days come from working together with the client, their own internal teams and webmasters.
The who and the why
First of all, let’s think about who should be involved in a link campaign and why.
PR: They’re (hopefully) naturally good at getting the word out about the business, but they also can teach you a lot about how to pitch an idea to someone. I’ve also found that in many cases, PR people can find some great opportunities that I’ve missed because we just go about things in a different way. I’m of the mindset of, “Would I click on a link here?,” whereas they are of the mindset of getting coverage. There’s a happy medium, I think.
SEOs: While any good link builder can analyze a link profile and keep the link momentum going, SEOs are needed to do all sorts of things (to overgeneralize). They’re needed to do redirects for old pages, to make sure there are no major technical issues, to figure out how to deal with duplicate content and more. I started out as an SEO generalist and did technical SEO for a bit before getting so involved with link building, and I can tell you something: it takes a lot of time and effort to build links, and there is no time left for doing much else. I’m happiest when my clients have a great SEO or SEO team, as I can trust them to let me know how things are going.
Outreach specialists: Link builders, in other words, but this sounds less controversial. Finding a great place for a link is only the very beginning of the link process. Outreach specialists are a lot like PR people in that they know how to pitch, they know how to connect with webmasters, and they know how to build relationships that lead to links. We’ve had dozens of outreach specialists over the past few years, and it was obvious when one was really, really good. You’re not going to get a positive response unless your outreach specialist is awesome.
Content creators: We do create content ourselves for a few clients, but after working with a few companies who gave us content that their own teams created, I realized how much better it was. No one writes as well as someone devoted to a business or a topic. Content that took very little effort is not going to lead to good links. Content that looks amazing is going to lead to good links if you can get it in front of the right people.
Business owners: You have to respect the input of the business owner, as they’re the ones concerned with the bottom line. I’m a business owner, so I always appreciate that the work I’m doing affects another business. I want them to know what I’m doing, to understand the process and to feel comfortable coming to me with ideas or information. Business owners have asked me some truly crazy questions sometimes, and I love it because it makes me realize that maybe I haven’t been an effective communicator, or maybe I’m going down a path that isn’t valuable. I love it when they speak up.
Developers: As a former developer, I have the utmost respect for programmers. I’ll be succinct here and just say that it is never, ever, a bad thing to know the developers of a site and be on their good side.
How should you all try to work together to best benefit the link campaign?
Nothing creates an unnatural backlink profile quite like having one person, and one person only, building links for a site. As far as I know, all of my current clients are building links in various ways, and my company is only part of the overall link dev campaign. I don’t mean that I’m happy when a client is buying 1,000 PBN links a month, of course, but I do like it when other teams, both inside and outside the client’s company, are at least thinking about link building. Even with members of my own team, they do things completely differently as they think very differently from each other. We usually have a team lead for each client, but that lead is almost never the only person working on the account. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and I want to capitalize on that for clients.
Even a team is biased and unable to see potential issues. I love it when clients are so clued in about link building that they can spot something we’re missing. I spend a lot of time making sure that my team are considering all of the guidelines when building links, and when that gets really busy, it’s great to have the client point out something that we failed to consider. Maybe we’re focusing too heavily on one part of the site. Maybe we’re overtargeting a certain niche in our outreach. Just like it’s hard to find your own typos, it’s sometimes hard to see the mistakes that you’re about to make.
Run things past someone else, and argue the points. I always ask, “What were you thinking of doing?” when I say “no” to something with my team, if I think it’s clearly a bad fit. Many times, when they fight me back, I realize they are correct. Sometimes they back down and realize that I’m right. I think this back-and-forth keeps us all on our toes.
Get feedback from other teams first… and get them to provide it after links are built. We have really changed how we do things over the past year. Our previous process usually involved a “just let us handle it please” approach. Now, we’re in touch with clients constantly about links. What do they think about this site? How would they feel about this page linking to that page? Sometimes the clients don’t want that level of involvement, so when they don’t, we do like to get feedback. What links do they like? Which ones would they have preferred we didn’t build? One client recently said, “Here is the best link you have ever built for us. Can you do more like this?” It was a link that was over a year old, but wow, having him say that was pretty fantastic and helpful for future direction.
Always do analysis. We do it sometimes, other teams do it other times, depending on what the client wants. I don’t care who performs it, as long as someone’s looking at the full picture and running numbers on the link profile.
Include webmasters. They know their site better than you do, and they know what their audience wants. If you’re set on specific anchor text, and they don’t think it would fit the content, ask what they’d use instead. We’ve gotten some fantastic links when we asked for webmaster feedback.
If you take nothing else from this post, just remember that you will never be as clued in to a business as the people who own it, work there every day, know its ins and outs and depend on its success. Involving them is good for everyone.