Garrett French, co-founded Ontolo, (alongside Ben Willis) a large-scale link building agency that leverages in-house technologies to research, evaluate and acquire targeted, rank-influencing links for clients. Garrett co-wrote Link-Building-Guide.com, also with Ben Wills, which leads motivated readers through the methods and processes of large-scale, crawler-based link research, link acquisition and linker-targeted content strategy. He has also contributed to numerous publications, including Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Guide, Marketing Profs, Search Marketing Standard (web and print), ISEdb, Urban Dictionary and more. This week, I’ll be interviewing him on Link Building Tools.
Elise: What specific tools are in your link building arsenal to help you acquire links for a client who is just getting started?
Garrett: Once we know exactly what we’re building links to – either their linkable assets or assets we create – I do some basic by hand industry analysis to make sure we’re using the right “market defining keywords” in our research phase. Then we conduct prospecting and analysis with the internal version of our new link building toolset. With this data in hand I then use some of our free link building tools that help to speed up the by hand qualification phase… many of these are “prospect threshers” that help to separate viable prospects from the junk.Elise:
Do you employ competitive analysis in your link building strategy for clients?
Garrett: I look at competitors’ backlinks primarily at the page level, not to the entire site. This tells me what the linking market thinks is worth mentioning and sharing. It also shows which pages their paid links point to. YSE is great for this, though I’m not sure how much longer they will be around. On the prospecting side we have run co-citation analysis, then crawled Majestic-SEO competitor backlink data for clients. We usually look outside the existing link graph for link prospects though.
Elise: What are your views on no-follow vs. do-follow links?
Garrett: I think the introduction of no-follow was a weak bandaid fix for Google’s reliance on the link graph to determine value. Plus, by introducing and promoting nofollow Google brought even more popular attention to the importance and value of links… kind of like saying “NO” to kids it only makes people more knowledgeable about what impact links can have on search rankings. With this kind of awareness people will be much more likely to deliberately, consciously sculpt their influence, which will ultimately make the link graph less reliable in my opinion. In essence, I believe nofollow may have accelerated the deterioration of the link graph as a means of determining value. /rant. 🙂 That said, if a no-followed link drives traffic it’s a great link. I try to add a measure of search-influence agnosticism when building links, and focus on metrics like the reach and target audience of the linking site.
Elise: Good advice! How have your link building techniques changed over the years as the search industry has evolved?
Elise: In the past, and it could be years ago or even just yesterday, what link are you most proud of acquiring for your site or a clients site?
Garrett: Typically I’m the content-creator as well as the person conducting outreach, so every editorial link I earn for clients gives me a surge of excitement and pride… I really enjoy adding those inbound linking URLs to the client report spreadsheet 😉 I get especially proud of name-brand links to clients, names that they recognize and respect such as (most recently) Time.com and Make.com. When a client adds an “as-seen-on” image to their homepage, that shows that they really appreciated my work. My proudest achievements though are those links that deliver traffic month after month, and content that delivers LINKS month after month.
Elise: What is your biggest struggle in link building?
Garrett: I struggle most with passing on the value created by all the expert relationships I establish for my clients. Getting conversations rolling, from a cold and dead stop, is tremendously difficult and time consuming work. My clients get email addresses and responses, but I have yet to effectively convey the process and importance of continuing to build these relationships out. This is in part what prompted me to write my link building book (launching June 22nd) – it helps to pass on the core principles we use so clients can continue on the path we start.
Elise: Tell me about what inspired you and Ben Wills to start Ontolo?
Garrett: We became friends at a previous SEO agency (he hired me, actually). At the agency we both recognized the need for faster, more effective link prospecting and qualification. Since we’re both enthusiastically and masochistically drawn to difficult and complicated problems, we decided to start Ontolo. Ben, who wrote the toolset code base, approaches link building from a technological stand point, while I approach link building from the creative/content perspective. Though sometimes difficult, our polarity is often a source of inspiration and discovery as well.
Elise: Do you have any exciting projects that your involved in right now that you’d like to discuss?
Garrett: Ben and I are writing an email course on speeding up the link prospecting and qualification process. It’s a free two week course with assignments that will help link builders get much faster and more thorough. Watch our home page over the next couple weeks 🙂 Oh yes, and as mentioned above we’re launching a link building ebook on the 22nd 🙂
Elise: Are you driven by any great passions outside of the business arena?
Garrett: It’s funny – my passions are what drew me INTO the business arena 🙂 In college I really really wanted to be a writer, so I wrote. That passion for writing lead me to iEntry, where I learned a great deal about writing’s most important component – the audience 🙂 Within my love of writing is a love for learning, research, understanding new concepts and I guess my greatest passion is for that moment of profound insight, whether it’s business related or personal!
Well, this interview wraps up the Link Building Tools Interview Series on the blog. Have anything to add?