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?