Our buddies over at Ontolo recently posted questions for SEOs/Linkbuilders and I felt obliged to respond. I think I missed their deadline, but as someone who likes to keep things transparent, this was still a great exercise to lay out what we do and how we do it.
Getting to Know You
How long has your agency offered link building services?
Since our inception in 2008.
What does your agency do to build links ie: what’s the range of your agency’s link building offerings?
A little bit of everything. We create and promote content, good ol’ fashion link requests, create linkbait, niche directories, PR, guest blog, create video (that damn video production degree still lures me into this once in a while) and probably some other things I can’t remember at this time of night.
How have your link building services changed since you began offering them? Since Panda?
We’ve gotten more sophisticated clients as we’ve gone along, so we’ve had to create more sophisticated campaigns. We’ve partnered with more developers to create better widgets and tools and we’ve increased our writing staff and spent more and more time planning out and creating content that targets niche audiences. Since Panda we’ve really had to focus on building authority for some of our clients a bit more than we had in the past, though that was usually a big piece of the puzzle in most instances so we’ve largely stayed the course with good results. As Search Engine Land brought up recently, we have found ourselved consolidating or just cutting content on some sites as well.
Do you offer link building as a stand alone service? Why/why not?
Yes and no. I can’t tell you a site that we haven’t done an initial on-site audit for. Sometimes it’s minor, but we still refer to the general package as SEO because our small and medium business clients use that vernacular, and usually they need at least that initial audit. But in many cases, 99.9% of our time spent after that audit is nothing but link building. Did I answer that question? I feel like I didn’t. I should probably drink caffeine.
Link Building Campaign Design + Execution
How do you determine what link building techniques/efforts/campaigns to use for a given client?
Once we determine our basic keyword set, we compare our metrics with the top performers across our keyword set (Ontolo’s SERP Dominator tool is a big help for getting started here). We do some competitive research to see how they’re getting links, generate a list of client assets, do some brainstorming and then map out our initial strategy and start handing out tactical assignments.
Can you share how you structure your teams to execute these tactics?
Well, we’re a small shop, but one thing I will say is that we’re moving increasingly towards more and more specialized roles. Depending on the tactics, we’ll try to have someone act in the PM role, and then work with a writer (or writers), a PR person (who runs the gamut of outreach, social media and good ol’ fashioned PR), and usually a grunt or two (usually interns who perform a lot of the tedious tasks). As needed we link up with developers/designers. There’s some overlap with clients here obviously, since we’re a shop of 9-11 people, but this is the general concept.
How do you find link prospects (sites/pages you engage with) for your clients? How does this change from client to client?
Search queries, competitors, co-citations (I did a blog on using Open Site Explorer and Ontolo for this a while back), our client “homework sheet” and client interviews. Depending on the industry, sometimes this requires almost no work. Other times, we have to almost invent prospects because either the client has already exhausted all of the low hanging fruit and any other obvious targets. This is when we have to try to build bridges to nearly relevant content (and when we usually come up with our most outside the box ideas).
What link building processes do you use for SERP impact? What have you done to make these processes more scalable or repeatable?
Isn’t this the Colonel’s Seven Herbs and Spices? Well, I’m going to hold this a little close to the vest, but the biggest thing for us is to develop content ideas that appeal to easy to find authority sites (regional or niche .edu and .govs in particular). Beyond that, any crafty way to land anchor text…As far as scalable, for us this has been the biggest challenge from 2008 to now. Trying to create step by step templates for prospecting and execution has been helpful, but the truth is, getting skilled staff who are comfortable going off script from these templates and using them as general guidelines is where you really want to be.
Effective Client Management
What questions do you ask to qualify a prospective client for your link building (or SEO/marketing) services?
If we’ll have direct access to necessary resources at the company (marketing/PR/IT or whatever the project requires). Working with clients who don’t understand that they’re part of the process and a major contributor to our success (particularly for very technical industries) was something we ran into often in our early days. Fortunately we’ve reached a point where we can more confidently say “no” to clients who don’t have the infrastructure to help themselves succeed. Beyond that, we really need to know what their goals are and how we will be measuring success.
How do you get clients to perform tasks related to link building?
This has gotten increasingly easy with clients as we educate them and set the expectation that they will be contributing. We actually have added to our contracts a sign off where the client lists our various contacts for the project just so we can refer back to it if necessary, and it really helps shine a light on the importance of their participation. When we’ve gotten that done, we just ask. In more difficult circumstances, a nice carrot to dangle is by name dropping sites you’re trying to get links from, or by mentioning that a major competitor is beating you because they have already accomplished what we need them to contribute to.
What are your actual, tangible link building deliverables? How have these changed since you began offering services?
We’re amazingly transparent. Our reporting is a combination of Goal metrics/link metrics/rankings/traffic reporting and we’ll even include all of our link building outreach if they request (though after getting one of these reports usually the clients’ eyes roll back in their head due to the amount of data and they never ask to see it again). We offer everything but usually trim it down to fit the most important metrics for the individual clients. This has been the one thing that’s changed the least for us since we started the company.
Link Building Tools
What tools does your organization use the most for link building (project management, discovery, etc…)?
Here’s a list off the top of my head – Ontolo, SEOmoz, Majestic SEO, Google Docs, Excel, ClockingIT, various link checkers, Google, Yahoo India (please never leave me linkdomain:), Blekko, Bing, YouTube, social media, gmail, Linkedin…
What link building tools – or tool features – don’t exist yet, that should?
The SERP analysis tool that SEOmoz discussed recently. Oddly enough, we were in the beginning stages of developing something similar and then they went and topped my idea. Jerks! Thanks Rand…In all seriousness, we’ve got a couple useful tools in the works that I’ll announce soon. Sorry for the mystery, but I have to keep this under wraps for now.
If you were advising a new agency on developing a link building offering, what questions would you ask them? What advice would you give them?
I’d ask them how this was going to be different than existing offerings? To be honest there are so many excellent ones out there right now, and I haven’t even tried them all yet so I may not be the most qualified person to answer this. From the ones I’ve tinkered with they seem to be good at either prospecting or working as a CRM type system, but not both. If anyone knows something that combines Ontolo’s tool with a slick CRM type platform I’m all ears…
How do you learn/find/discover new link building techniques?
Read. Google Alerts. Dig back through old marketing ideas. I have seriously gone back to marketing materials from when I was getting my MBA and tried to figure out how I can take old concepts and relate them to link building. It’s 1am and as soon as I’m done writing this I’m going to dig through more link building posts and jot down new ideas for clients. It never ends, nor should it. That’s why I like this business.
How do you arrive at pricing for your link building campaigns?
Based on the client’s goals and timeframe, in addition to the tactical elements we foresee, we base it on our estimated hours for those tactics. This seems remarkably simple, but it has always worked for us. The only hiatus from this general rule is when we come up with some outside the box tactics mid-campaign that require significantly more hours, in which case we’ll pitch to the client and if the accept amend pricing on a one time or ongoing basis as necessary.