As part of this month’s Blogvember I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing Julie Joyce of Link Fish Media. We chatted about link building, blogging and dirty link profiles.
As an SEO blogger would you say it has been valuable to the growth of your own business and what do you think other agencies could do with their blogs to add value to the SEO space rather than just be another part of the echo chamber?
It’s been amazingly valuable for us. We get referrals from other SEOs but the bulk of our clients come to us after reading an article on Search Engine Watch or Search Engine Land, and I am so thankful for those opportunities. While I do occasionally (very, very occasionally) blog on my own agency site, I’ve honestly never put much time into it because it’s difficult to say something that hasn’t been said a billion times, and I almost regret starting to blog on my site. I don’t think that I’ve ever gotten a client out of something I posted there, and when you see referrals from major industry sites like SEL and SEW, it’s hard to put a lot of time into something that won’t generate any business. I also have the SEO Chicks site so that’s usually where I can rant a bit or make Father Ted references. I’ll credit SEO Chicks with giving me a start in blogging about SEO and that led to everything else. (I also love and trust those women like you would not believe.)
OK back to the question about adding value…it is incredibly difficult to produce content that isn’t a respun version of what has been said whether it’s by someone else or yourself. The second something’s new in SEO, there are posts everywhere about it. I would say that my best tip for writing something valuable is to think of how you do things and think of what works for you, and write about that. You’ll get the people saying “this is worthless” of course but I’ve gotten the best feedback on posts I’ve written that laid out a strategy that I actually have used, so rather than writing theoretical BS about the latest Google update that actually hasn’t done much of anything, I’d suggest writing about what you know.
I recall reading some of your posts as far back as 2010, perhaps before, where you recommend the importance of having a “clean” link profile and maintaining it. What tools do you recommend for link maintenance and when you take on a new client do you carry out link audits even if there aren’t any diagnosed penalties in place?
Ha, that’s a funny thing really as it’s definitely important and I have always believed that, but I realize that it is a bit hypocritical of me to say that since I have no problems buying links. However, I will still recommend to clients that they clean up some really horrible links at times, even while we’re buying links. I don’t buy networked links though, or irrelevant spammy crap that I can get for $15 a site. That’s the stuff you want to clean up. I always use Link Research Tools and Majestic SEO.
I usually will do a baseline audit for any new client but if they aren’t paying me for it, they won’t get a copy. I like to know what I’m dealing with and usually I’ll do a lot of digging around in a profile before we decide to take on a new client. There’s no nice way to say this but some clients are either ignorant of what’s been done, link-wise, or they will not be forthcoming about the low-quality links they’ve gotten. I’d be an idiot not to look at the existing links, but I also look at the site, too. If a client has someone handling SEO and the person is competent, I’m happy to just take orders and do my thing. If they don’t, then I feel like it’s my responsibility to identify potential problems even if there’s no diagnosed penalty.
A lot of people know that your team specialise in paid linking strategies, but I also know from some of our chats that you do a fair bit of content led link building too. How do you encourage your clients to create content which is more often communication led rather than conversion led as linkable assets?
That is something that is incredibly difficult for me. Clients come to us for link building and they often don’t want to listen to anything I have to say about anything other than links. My background is not in link building; it’s in technical SEO. I’ve seen the whole picture so I do get a bit irritated when I am pressured to immediately show results based on being given a narrow set of parameters that directly leads to a conversion. I realize that it’s all about conversions in the end, at least for most businesses, but there are so many things that can be done that will improve a site for users and for search engines, and those things have nothing to do with link building in a direct manner. Having a great Twitter feed or a fantastic blog is something that can bring you business, but I couldn’t tie that to a single link that I build, for example. It’s something that raises your visibility which will hopefully lead to the chance for some great links, but maybe you won’t get a link out of a really funny social account. Maybe you’ll get a customer out of it, and in the end that’s better than a link.
The problem is that no one wants to hear that from a link building company known for what we’re known for, which is definitely conducting paid campaigns for the really competitive industries. It’s definitely not all we do, or all we can do, and probably 50% of the time now, we’re recommending that potential new clients do not buy links. We’ve recently turned down a very big potential client because I felt like doing what they wanted was too dangerous. They weren’t willing to consider anything outside of buying some links and doing a bunch of guest posts, and after looking at their profile, I wasn’t comfortable with that.
Getting a link (by any means) is probably the hardest thing to do in SEO. It can often be quite a labour intensive process are there any link building tools your team use to help do any of the heavy lifting?
Our main tool is our truly amazing and brilliant IT guy. (Yes, I mean it that way.) We’ve never used tools for much of what we do. I use them for analysis and when we’re doing a big outreach campaign, I’d be an idiot not to use something like Buzzstream of course, but for the most part we are like Luddites. Our labor is insane. It’s very costly and sometimes it might take us a week to nail a really good link, but I’m proud of how we do things. I see how hard my link builders work and I build links just like they do, so I know full well what goes into a link. Currently the main tool that we use is Evernote, and we use that for brainstorming and for documentation on who is working on what client and what line of discovery they’re using. We’ve sped up a lot of internal processes and fixed a few problems we had and that have drastically increased our efficiency. I like the way we do things and it’s working for our clients.
In an interview earlier this year you thought that Google might begin to take a stance that links in guest posts should be “nofollow”, and this seems to be the case. Do you feel that this could lead to a return to more link building being carried out in the shadows – rather than in public?
I love being even halfway right so that makes me very happy! Here’s something funny: after Penguin, and every time Google makes a big scary announcement about, well, anything, our client leads triple. The conversations may start out with “I don’t want to do anything that violates Google’s guidelines” and then before I can get much out, they’re all asking me to buy links for them.
There’s always link building in the shadows as you say. I don’t see that stopping no matter what Google does, or what people think or believe. Here’s an example for you: years ago we placed a link on a site and a few months ago, that site got a notice that basically said hey you, we know you’re selling links on your site so we’re going to slap you for it. When we placed our link, the site was quite clean but when I looked back at it, I was blown away by the volume of obvious paid links.
So anyway, we get the email saying that our link is going to be removed (which was fine as that client was long gone) and then just a bit ago, we got an email from this webmaster saying he’d cleaned things up and would be happy to sell us a link.
So yes, people will still buy links and sell links. They’ll do whatever they have to do, I think.