In this installment of expert interviews we had the chance to speak with Ken McGaffin, Chief Marketing Officer at Wordtracker, a company that helps website owners and search engine marketers identify relevant keywords and phrases for their business. Ken has worked in various industries and is an experienced internet marketing consultant. He enjoys giving advice on the industry with his frequent (and free!) webinars and has written down all of his great link building strategies in his e-book Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building. As a prominent figure in the link building trade, he knows what it takes to be successful.
Elise Redlin-Cook: How has link building changed since you first got into the industry?
Ken McGaffin: I first got into link building around 1998, so there have been huge changes in the industry since then. At that time reciprocal linking was all the rage, and the idea of getting quality one-way links was seen as a little bit strange. Now of course it’s essential. There are a few major changes though, that have occurred over the years that I find to be very important today.
First of all, conversion matters. Links are not just for SEO purposes anymore, but for bringing in traffic which hopefully will convert into sales. That for me, is the main reason people should put effort into link building. I believe that people follow links like cars follow road signs, to get well-placed. If you have relevant links, then you should have no problem getting a stream of well-qualified traffic to your site, and increasing the likelihood of someone buying your product or service.
The rise of blogging has also created many link-building opportunities. In every industry sector, you now have a core of top bloggers that hold a lot of weight and power. Therefore, one of the first steps I’d suggest is to find these top bloggers and start building relationships with them. Once these relationships are established you then have the ability to create a whole network of potential links.
I think that link building is a fundamentally a creative process. I personally try to concentrate on “getting links without asking.” That is creating content that is so good, engaging, and useful, that people want to link to it, and want to be amongst the first to do so.
In addition, the rise of social media has also provided fantastic linking opportunities. Social media allows for a more personal way of getting in touch directly with link prospects, and making the whole job of link building much more focused and a lot easier to do.
Finally, there is a new emphasis on online public relations today. For me, I think there are better ways that you can generate high-quality links without having to ask for them. By investing your time and effort into creating great products and content you can then use various tried and trusted public relations techniques to get people to link to you.
Elise: As you mentioned, everyone talks about the importance of being personal in link requests. How do you accomplish that?
Ken: There is no other way to do it than to get personal! Direct contact with individuals is essential if you want to make a pitch. Remember it is people who make links, not websites, so you’ve got to find the person behind the site, the person who will actually write the link for you, and find out all you can about them BEFORE you make a link request.
Social media is such a useful tool in finding out about people. In the past we had to make “cold call” link requests, but now with social media, it has made cold calling a thing of the past.
Elise: So Ken, can you tell us a story about a time you acquired a link in a creative manner.
Ken: I think that link building is a fundamentally a creative process. I personally try to concentrate on “getting links without asking.” That is creating content that is so good, engaging, and useful, that people want to link to it, and want to be amongst the first to do so. So, you will find my bookshelves are packed with books on creativity, advertising, public relations case studies, and storytelling.
Having said that, one time I used storytelling to create a free 10,000 word e-book on keyword research with contributions from nine SEO experts. How I did it was that first I created a fictional story about Susan Webster, an entrepreneur who wanted to sell vegetarian dog food online. It was around 850 words and I tried to make it as compelling as possible. I then sent the story to around twenty SEO experts, and asked them what their advice to Susan would be. Nine of the experts responded with articles of around 1,000 words each. With the help of their responses, we created the e-book based on their answers and gave each of them a nice link to their sites. The end result was a very useful book for our potential customers and of course, many, many links to our site.
That was back in 2005, and that guide continues to bring us traffic and give us links.
Elise: Wow! What a great example. Clearly thinking outside of the box can really pay off. So, knowing where link building has come from to where the industry is now, what would you say are the biggest challenges in link building today?
Ken: There are many challenges today for the dedicated link builder. I think the biggest challenges would be trying to create great content that people want to link to. You’ve got to put the time and effort into finding quality link prospects and separate them from all the others.
Unfortunately, while those quality link prospects are going to be most valuable to you, they are also going to be amongst the most difficult to get. But it’s not just finding the right links it’s also about having good content. Top quality content is essential for effective link building. Yet it’s very hard to persuade clients to invest in creating it. Just trying to use the power of persuasion, on top of quality content and links, is a big challenge in and of itself.
Elise: Indeed it is. Do you have any insights to the industry that you would like to share with a newcomer to the field?
Ken: Think strategically about link building. It’s a difficult, but a fantastically exciting area to be in. There is a danger of being sucked into the details of things that can overwhelm you, but you’ll make yourself so busy that you haven’t time to think about them. So my advice would be to take a step back and learn what strategy is all about, understand what objectives really are and apply their discipline to your work (read anything by Peter F. Drucker). Do that and you’ll stand head and shoulders above every other newbie.
It’s clear that the link building world changes daily, but keeping a focus and utilizing the right tools can make all the difference! Do you have any tips to add?
One of the first steps to local search marketing is to add and claim your listing in Google Places. This process is fairly simple and you can add your business listing, but occasionally you’ll run into some roadblocks that can make it a little more difficult. One of these roadblocks might be that your listing is already claimed and titled as an “owner verified listing.” If you’re the business owner and you have not had anything to do with Google Places in the past this can be troubling, but there is really no need to worry as this can be corrected.
The first step you will want to do in this situation is verify that no one at your business has taken the initiative to claim the listing. If you’ve ask around and determined that the listing was not claimed by someone at your company and you do not already have an owner verified listing you will want to create one for your company.
Here are the general steps to follow to create an owner verified listing for your company:
It cannot be emphasized enough that you will want to be attentive to detail to ensure that all the information is correct, as the last thing you will want is to have duplicate listings for your business.
Now that you have the correct listing online, go the Google Places listing you want removed. Once you are there, you will then click on “edit this place” to report a problem.
This will bring up this screen:
Select the “Place has another listing” option and provide details in the comment area with the URL of the correct listing and your request to have the duplicate listing removed. You may have to repeat the report a problem if the duplicate listing is not resolved after a few weeks.
Alternatively, you can also utilize Google support for Places, which might address other issues you could be having in claiming your listing.
Good luck and happy listing!
Do you have a story or a tip to share for perfecting the process of creating a Google Places listing? If so, comment below!
Motivational speakers often espouse the virtues of making meaningful connections, putting yourself out there and never giving up no matter the odds. But did you know they could be giving you a link building lesson along with that pep talk on life?
That’s because in many ways being successful in link building mirrors how to be successful in life.
First off, one of the best ways to build links is to forge a connection with the webmaster linking to you. In an ideal world the webmaster in question possesses some connection to your brand to begin with (perhaps he or she went to your school or has used your product) but some kind of a bond can be created through casual conversation. Showing that webmaster that you’re an actual human with some personality can go a long way as you kindly let them know about the value of your web site in a link request.
This is just like how people who sell themselves and create that connection with a hiring manager often have the upper hand for a job or how a student who can make a connection with the admissions board might get in over a student with a superior GPA that just doesn’t possess the same moxie.
In link acquisition, getting a job and receiving admission to your dream school, it’s imperative to make an impression on the webmaster/hiring manager/admissions board. But then you need to pack some punch and have a quality web site worth linking to (or a solid resume) to seal the deal.
That’s not to say you should blindly spew out link requests across the interwebs, just never be afraid to request a link on a relevant site. You never know where your best link of the month might come from.
Just like in the dating world, you can’t fear rejection when building links. Hopefully nobody’s love life involves the multitude of rejections that inevitably occur when requesting links. Nonetheless just like you can’t get too down on yourself when your significant other calls it quits, you’ve got to just move on to the next one when a webmaster tells you: “It’s not you, it’s me.”
There will always be more link opportunities out there waiting for you to give them your heart, and one day you will find that one special link that makes you forget about all the webmasters that said no to you before.
However, you must take care to stay out of bad linking neighborhoods in link building just like you need to stay away from bad influences when navigating through life. In both life and link building you largely are judged by the company you keep.
In link building this means staying away from sites with gobs of spam on them and only acquiring links from relevant, authoritative sites. In life this means finding a good crew of friends you can trust and not getting swayed by mean-spirited people who use peer pressure to get you to take part in activities against your better judgment.
In essence, life is about building quality relationships with the right people. Doing this can lead to jobs, lasting friendships, intimate relationships and everything else that makes life meaningful.
In the same way these relationships can help link builders build links that lead to an equally fruitful existence at the top of the SERPs.
In this installment of Expert Interview we had the pleasure of reaching out to Todd Malicoat to discuss various topics on the link building industry. Todd (aka stuntdubl) has over 10 years of experience in internet marketing and 5 years experience consulting on search marketing management at an executive level. As the SEO faculty chair for MarketMotive.com, Todd leads a comprehensive online marketing curriculum. He’s been an active international conference speaker on various online topics, at events such as, Search Engine Strategies, Webmaster World Pubcon, Search Marketing Expo, Affiliate Summit, and Dreamforce. Todd has also developed a process to find, negotiate, and purchase undervalued websites like CollegeDegree.com. This proprietary process for identifying and redeveloping web properties is the foundation for Todd’s current and future ventures. He also created the KOB analysis which is a formula which can be used to evaluate the cost vs. benefits of a particular keyword phrase for use in campaign planning.
As a thought leader in the online business world he has been named among the top 50 Most Influential Marketer’s of 2008 and 2009 by Invesp.com, and named Top 40 Most Influential in Search Marketing by GSInc.co.uk in 2007. He has been cited by Inc. Magazine, The Sydney Herald, Website Magazine, The New York Post, Infoworld, and many other media outlets on search, reputation management, social media, and other web related issues. Todd also runs a blog that covers all areas of web traffic acquisition called Stuntdubl.com – that echoes his mantra of “Getting hit by traffic…not cars.”
Elise Redlin-Cook: Hi Todd! So tell me, how has link building changed since you first got into the industry?
Todd Malicoat: Link building has changed a lot over the years, mainly due to the volume of unsolicited requests, and the fact that webmasters are becoming more educated on the value of a link. Unfortunately, the web has become a rather jaded place since, as webmasters, we’ve had to delete hundreds of “will you link to me” emails. It seems that everyone and their brother want to get a bit of link boost juice poured into their site.
Elise: A jaded place you say… That’s an interesting observation since it seems that everyone today is talking about the importance of being personal in link requests. What’s your take on this and how do you accomplish that?
The most important aspects I find useful in creating personalized link requests include, finding the webmasters name, describing something on their site to prove you actually researched it, finding a common ground (like being a webmaster), and figuring out what you can help them with in return (like fixing a broken link). It’s really the same kind of process you would go through if asking someone you know face to face. It’s about relationships and the give and take.
Elise: Speaking of personalized requests, can you tell us a story of a time you acquired a link in a creative manner.
Todd: I’m not sure how creative it is, but I’ve often given an hour or more of free consulting to get a link from a relevant high quality website to one of my sites. It’s cliche, but creative content will always be the best approach for acquiring links, and people will rarely share their stories unless they want those links to stop passing value.
Elise: What do you believe are the biggest challenges in link building today?
Todd: The biggest challenge in link building is having a highly linkable value proposition and making it easy for people to link to you. Your website has to have something that encourages or incentivizes people to link to your website. If you don’t, you are stuck buying or begging for links. Begging for links is a difficult proposition, essentially due to the abysmal response rates of jaded webmasters.
Another big challenge in link building is convincing the upper management of a company that links are necessary to bottom line sales. It’s difficult to quantify ROI on link building campaigns, but good companies know it’s essential to top in search rankings, which turns into real world dollars. Teaching management the value of a link is very important to building a successful link campaign. You can’t build links without a budget for it. Wiep Knol has also created a great guide to the link value factors on his website.
Elise: You mentioned that if you don’t have good content you might be stuck buying or begging for links. What is your take on paid links?
Todd: I think almost ALL links are paid for in one way or another. Purchasing links has become a moral gray area that is muddied by the size of your brand. I’ve always defended the right to purchase links, which has unfortunately gotten me classified as a “Blackhat SEO” at times (I’m not). I’m a competitive realist, and I realize that regardless of your stance on paid links, the web is a capitalist economy. The act of buying text links for higher search rankings is inevitable. It is very difficult for a search engine to quantify intent, and even when they can, we get into another sticky area of search engines making moral decisions (like not allowing the sale of term papers via adwords).
Personally, I think there should be some disclaimer given about soliciting links based solely on PR. Toolbar page rank is now “for entertainment purposes only” and is a very poor metric for measuring link juice. Mozrank from SEOmoz, or proprietary indicators, are much better for judging how valuable a link will be to your website.
Elise: A great link mixes high PR/domain strength with relevance. If you could only choose high PR or relevance, which would it be?
Todd: As any good SEO would and should do, I will often choose one over the other based on the circumstance. Relevance is important for specific terms, so I would always take a relevant link from the site in the number one position for the term I’m targeting, over a link that has higher PR. That is assuming they are at least relatively close in terms of link popularity value.
Elise: With the dance with Google that all link builders do, how do you foresee this niche changing in the future?
Todd: Link building will ultimately just become a function of the public relations department and the responsibility of those in charge of advertising. It will increasingly become the elephant in the room that everyone knows is important, but is rarely discussed. It will just become a part of other marketing and advertising projects
Elise: Do you have any insights to share with a newcomer to a field?
Todd: There are some amazing resources to learn SEO these days. You don’t have to learn from lots of different forums and blogs anymore. There are places to get up to speed quickly. My personal favorite is Market Motive Internet Marketing Training (because I’m involved of course), but I highly encourage people to read and join SEOmoz and SEObook as well. There are lots of other great resources and places to learn the important aspect of search and online marketing. It’s really a great field that still has huge opportunities for growth and advancement, so congratulations to new folks on finding a good place to be.
As Todd suggested, there are many great and helpful tools out there to help new or old members of the industry. The key is to not be afraid of the industry, create meaningful relationships, and use your best skill sets to move you forward in the internet marketing world. Have any other great link building tips to share?
It’s a widely publicized fact that Facebook is a dominating power in the world of social media. The “Golden Globe winning” social networking site certainly has found its way onto the worldwide stage. As brands and marketers we’re at the mercy of Facebook when attempting to use the portal as a means to attract and engage fans. One way of gaining traction on the site, however, is through search.
Sure you might be thinking, “Why would you even care about Facebook search?” Surprisingly, Facebook’s search share has increased, so take notice. Users ARE indeed using search throughout the site to the tune of 2.7% of all US searches – comScore reports. This number seems pretty darn insignificant when making this disclosure to SEM and SEOers but in the broad scheme of things Google, with 64% of search share, can’t facilitate what Facebook can: brand engagement.
Facebook search consists of mostly information not spidered by search engines (except of course for fan pages and a few other items inside Facebook). If you’re spending a large chunk of change on Facebook for brand engagement then it would behoove you to start thinking about how best to optimize for organic visibility too.
Over the summer the folks at the aimClear blog put together a study about Facebook internal search and in November updated their information with a second post after all the Facebook changes to search happened. What they discovered was quite interesting….
One of the most important areas to rank is: the AutoComplete box generated after you start a search query. The AutoComplete box ranks according to:
This is pretty similar to Google’s old “Suggest” functionality. In the case of Facebook the personalization factors supersede the search volume of the terms it seems, which differs from Google’s old “Suggest” feature.
Many of the factors taken into consideration for the “AutoComplete” box are similar in Facebook’s organic search results. Personalized factors are extremely important in “All Results”, but also important are total “Likes” of a business page, status updates with search term, and web results. In “People” searches aimClear discovered that there seems to be more of an emphasis on a keyword match in both network and location. In “Pages” searches it seems Facebook has a bit of progress to make. Clunking up organic search results are the usual Fan pages, but in addition are Place pages, Community pages, and some web pages (not on the Facebook domain). aimClear’s study found that, consistent with other areas of Facebook search, the results are very much affected by personalization factors. Some of the observations from the study include:
Their study also examines “Groups” search, “Events” search, “Apps” search, and “Web” search as well. Consistent throughout is the emphasis on personalization. Many of us already know that the more fans you have “Like” your page is important, but in search it’s even more so important. That one fan can effectively enhance your overall exposure in Facebook search in an exponential fashion.
The study done by aimClear is certainly a great post for social media marketers as well as SEM/SEOers looking to rank in Facebook search.
Have you done your own testing with Facebook search? What have you found?