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?