Link Building in 2011 – The Todd and Jim Show

I’d like to start off this post by saying that I hate, hate, HATE Postini. Unfortunately, my hosted exchange service, Exchange My Mail, uses it and as a result, Postini is constantly swallowing legitimate email.

Soooooo closeHowever, it hit a new all time low a few weeks ago when it threw every single message that Todd Malicoat and Jim Boykin sent me in response to the 2011 link building experts interview to my spam folder.

It was an even more awesome #FAIL as both of them are in my address book and both were replying to a message I’d sent them.

It wasn’t until I had a casual conversation with Todd that I’d figured out that both guys had taken the time to share their knowledge, once again, in this year’s interview – but I’d never received the messages (I’ll leave the cracks about how Google owns Postini and wanted to silence these two link development kings to myself).

Meet the link building interviewees…

With that out of the way, we’ll get on to the addendum (same questions, same pictures) to this year’s link building interview. So, get ready to learn about link development methods and theories from:

Question one…

Over the past couple years Google’s algorithm has seemed to have put more weight on brand (or things that feel a lot like brand) in a way that one can almost view brand signals as a part of the link graph. How does this change your approach to link building & online marketing?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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I’m more happy getting links with the url or the company name as the link text now….were, in the past, I may have only wanted exact anchor text. Branding has also given us more reasons to try to improve social signals via social branding in Facebook and Twitter.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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Brand signals are convoluted just like any other signal in the link graph. There are only a few phrases in any vertical that are non-branded (generic) that have commercial intent that are likely to drive conversions from users moving from informational queries to transactional ones. The best marketers are competing for these transactional phrases that drive business and revenue.

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Question two…

If shares, tweets, likes and +1s become the new ‘link,’ what 3 social-metric building strategies will you invest in (for yourself or your clients)?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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We’re investing in facebook apps and promotions to obtain likes, as well we also have twitter ninjas, working to obtain followers, mentions, and retweets. We also have tools that can click on thousands of +1’s so that’s taken care of…oh…just kidding on that last part :)

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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Off site reputation building is at the crux of link building and social media strategies. I will likely invest in sending tweets, likes, and +1’s to the same selectively keyword targeted pages that I build links to. Social still isn’t as important as the link graph in my opinion, but it may very likely get there. Links have be abused for years, and there are now better metrics for measuring relevance than JUST the link graph. I must begrudingly admit it is pretty amazing and awesome that search engines can now combine the link graph, social signals, personalization, and localization for optimal relevance in search results. It certainly makes website optimization for search more difficult (damn, we can’t just buy links anymore), but I would imagine it’s improved search user experience immensely.

Google’s algorithm uses social, but it’s not trumping the link graph data yet. I’d buy all the above. Links and likes should get the lions share. Engagement and conversion is always the goal with search and social marketing initiatives both. In most business models that I’ve seen, facebook drives more engagement, conversion, and loyalty from customers and brand advocates.

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Question three…

Have you done anything different in your link building because of the Panda Update? Do you think a link from a Panda effected site is worth the same as a link from a site that wasn’t hit by Panda?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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We haven’t done much different link building because of Google Panda update ..we’re always trying to get deep links…but if someone as 10k+ pages, there’s no way were getting all those pages backlinks. Getting a link from a site that was effected by panda I don’t think will hurt you…but it may be worth less now that that page is probably getting much less traffic.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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I haven’t done anything differently, because I think it’s important to have sustainable strategies that aren’t affected by algo updates. I don’t think panda was as much about links as it was about how content and site quality determines traffic from the longtail to a site.

I would assume otherd quit using really low level content and link. I haven’t changed much personally. Trusted link building, and creative content for social media still seems to be the best approach to have search and social strategies that work together in harmonious marketing glory. Don’t try to put lipstick on a pig, and you generally don’t get hit too hard with algo changes. Be honest with yourself about the value your business model creates, or at the very least try to see it from the perspective of a idealistic neo-hippy California nerd. Did you think you really DESERVED your geo + used car rankings for a site that has no real content or value and does 3rd party lead generation?

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Question four…

Given the search engines penchant for link embedded content, are link wheels a viable link building method?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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I believe that many link wheels were filtered prior to Panda, but that they are still viable to some extent.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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Link wheels and other link strategies have always worked. The real irony is that most good techniques were defined poorly and often sound downright mischiveous, and then were abused (presell pages, linkbait, etc.) by snake oil salesman selling air. There is implied risk with any linkbuilding or SEO campaign. It’s important to hedge that risk with top notch content that is distributed in an effective way.

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Question five…

You have a client with a site that was hit by panda, but not destroyed. Let’s say its rankings all dropped just a few places, but remain page one. They ask you if it’s possible to regain the higher rankings post panda. How do answer them?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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Yes…but it sure isn’t going to be an overnight process. We run a usability report with recommendations, a content report with recommendations, a clicktale report with recommendations, an analytics report with recommendations, and based on all that, we also do redesign mock ups of pages….I think it’ll be a very slow process “back” but I see no reason why a site that was effected by panda, if they “fix” everything, they should slowly recover over time. We’ve seen two sites recover from panda, but we can’t say if it was anything they did, or if it was google tweaking the algo.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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I would tell them they need to find a way to improve click through rates, time on site, and their user’s experience so users don’t click the back button to the search result. I would mention that they probably need more link building and social media sharing strategies for their long tail pages which they should probably add more relevant quality content to.

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Question six…

Do links shared with shorteners across services like twitter, facebook, stumbleupon and similar services count towards your rankings?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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Yes, I totally believe that url shortners, even if nofollowed, are used a signals…and strong signals if they come from multiple people multiple social areas.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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I would guess that they do in some way. I would also suggest controlling your own shorteners and link equity by setting up a shortner that does a 301 redirect to to the actual page as the optimal solution. Here’s an example: http://mo.am/seo – it’s setup with Yourls.org – which is a really great tool for this. You can also setup your own keywords for redirects which is likely more effective than just random strings of characters like some of the services use.

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Question seven…

What advice would you give a small business owner who could only devote 1 hour per week to link development?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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Only 1 hour per week…um… outsource to someone who can devote a lot more than 1 hour a week…1 hour a week is worthless for a “link building”…. maybe see if they can write something great that can attract links with that time.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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Write more about what you know at a high level. Do something interesting that you’d want to read yourself Spend 20 minutes researching, 25 minutes writing, and 15 minutes telling people about what you wrote on social or via email.

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Question eight…

Is it possible that Google is supplementing link citations with non-link citations as an indicator of a website’s popularity and relevance?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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Of course. I believe that google is already using this in the Local algorthym. If your brand is mentioned, Google probably counts this as a mention (even if it’s not linked). If possible, try to get your brand, and other things to make sure google knows it’s you (ie, phone number, address, persons name, etc).

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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I think finding alternative quality signals to the link graph for use in determining relevance of search results has been of high priority to search quality engineers for quite some time. Using the social graph is an amazing data supplement to links, and will only continue to grow in importance. This said, links are the foundation of the web, and will not be going away anytime soon. We’ll just have more types of Off-site factors.

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Question nine…

With the recent changes to how Google handles links (aggressive filtering), how do you plan a strategy for linkbuilding that is effective without being potentially harmful long term?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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Write great content that gains lots of trusted permanent links.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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SEO’s have been using very remedial tactics for exploiting link popularity for quite some time. It is no surprise that google is filtering these types of links agressively. To truly avoid the risk you have approach link building very cautiously with the intent of satisfying your users. Anything short of that will have some risk involved. Some very simple tactics still work, but involve a lot of risk to a large website. The more remedial the tactic, the higher the risk that it will not be sustainable when it is discovered. If you don’t want to harm your clients, don’t assume you can win a battle of wits with an army of PHD’s on the definition of things like value, quality, intent, and extent. Remedial tactics with the intent of only ranking and not delivering value will always be harmful in the longterm.

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Question ten…

Why are links so &^$%ing expensive?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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I don’t purchase links…but I can tell you that the process of getting links is very time consuming…the better the links you’re seeking, the more time it will take to achieve those links. Great links will cost a lot in time and experience and tools and the expertise to achieve great links. It’s expensive because to get “real citations” it takes time in creating great linkable things, and then the time to promote those great linkable things.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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Links have a high degree of importance for search engine rankings. The right links create the right rankings. The right rankings create the right targeted traffic which in turn lead to more business. If there’s a lot of money to be made from a search phrase, there will ultimately be high competition and demand for those right links, and the price of these links will continue to grow until they become less effective. If you don’t think people are buying links in the realm of finance, real estate, pharmacy and other high dollar verticals you are doomed to fail at competing in those industries. You don’t alway HAVE to buy links, but you definitely have to be aware that other people still are, and probably will for quite some time to come.

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Question eleven…

What percentage of your ranking strategy for a client was “getting traditional type links” two years ago? What percentage of your ranking strategy for a client is “getting traditional type links” now?

Jim BoykinJIM:

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Not sure what “traditional type links” are… they types of links my company gets are very non-traditional…always have been. Anything “traditional” has probably been filtered by Google as “not real votes”.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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Getting links has always been a large part of the strategy. Getting links via inspiration and not negotation will always be the only strategy that is sustainable and acceptable to the Google.

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Twitter asks…

As I did last year, I asked Twitter again this year… “If you could ask some of the best link builders in the world a question, what would it be?” I picked a handful of questions I thought were interesting and threw them in as bonus questions:

Twitter Bird“What is a commonly accepted and taught link building practice that you choose to avoid, and why?”

– asked by @RavenJon

Jim BoykinJIM:

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Many people think they need to get some No-followed links to look “natural”. I think that’s horse shit. If it’s no followed, I don’t care about it. I’d rather have a mention that wasn’t a link, than a no-followed link.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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I choose to avoid the myth that any practice doesn’t work. I avoid using any tactic in bulk fashion without testing.

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Twitter Bird“Is there a lifespan value of a given link, and how does that factor in to value & time to acquisition?”

– asked by @MichelleRobbins

Jim BoykinJIM:

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The links we get are expensive to acquire…but most should be around forever….that actually makes them quite cheap if you had to pay by the month. I know that things like edu links can cost from $50 to $300 per month… and those that you can buy are often “not natural”, not on “teacher” or “library” pages…and often, hold little value… but if a edu library link that’s real is going to your site, and it cost $100 in content, and $200 to promote it, and if that link stays up for year, then it’s really quite a bargain.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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I think links age like a good wine. The value is always there, but they take a bit to realize their full value potential.

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Twitter Bird“WHERE does it make sense to cut corners in the process [of link development] and where do you not dare cut corners?”

– asked by @netmeg

Jim BoykinJIM:

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If you have a spare site to burn, then yea, cut corners…go for the quick down and dirty black hat… fuck google, and make as much money as you can while you can…just don’t cry if google smacks that site….not that I’d ever done that… :)

All kidding aside…where can you cut corners?…we have some tools that help us to be more efficient (tools that help us find contact info, page info, topics to write on, emailing tools, ect) but when sending a link request, the biggest thing is to prove that you’re human, and prove that this wasn’t a mass email…and have good real reasons why someone should link to any content… tools can help you to cut corners, but when it comes to writing a request, you can’t cut corners.

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Todd MalicoatTODD:

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Cutting corners rarely leads to success. Prioritizing high value techniques like infographics, trusted link building, and outreach for links, like, and social validation within the confines of a budget is the best approach to any online marketing campaign.

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And there you have it. I’d like to thank Todd and Jim (and you can too by subscribing to their Twitter handles and feeds) for being so giving with their time and knowledge and for forgiving my spam filter. Please feel free to tweet, +1 and “”Like” this post! And if you missed the rest of this years Link Building Experts post, give it a read. Cheers.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

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Comments

  1. Great perspectives and useful information in this post. Thanks! You have my vote.

  2. These guys seems to know their stuff and plus I went over to check out their websites.
    BTW..I voted for you..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  3. Michael O'Reilly says:

    I like your style Rae…I think I’ll hang awhile if you don’t mind…great info! I left my website out on purpose so you would know I really mean it….do you except old fart groupies?

  4. Thanks Rae!! It is a great post.

  5. Enjoyed reading Jim’s answers. Funny guy!

    I also believe that authentic citations will still be the highest form of vote in search rankings, and it will stay that way for a very long time, given that it inject real trust (authentic recomendation from site A to site B) to both users and search engines.

  6. Awesome interview and Jim, as always, brings the lols.

    “Fuck Google”

  7. Great article – you did well to get so much detail from those guys. I’ve subscribed to your blog and voted for you ;)

  8. Agree with what Jim said about no-follow links. They really are worthless as the owner of the site is actively telling G that they don’t trust the link…

  9. “Don’t try to put lipstick on a pig”~ Todd. Ha, Ha, Ha! That advice alone was worth the price of admission. I get e-mails from a company offering back-link subscriptions and they had three examples of websites, with prices ranging from around $37.00, $57.00, to over $2,500 per mo. I naturally checked out the sites and their Alexa ranking, and the one with the highest subscription of over $2,500 was ranked over 500,000 in popularity on Alexa! Don’t get duped!
    Also, Sugarrae, what is your opinion on Zoho mail? Thank you.

  10. Good questions and clear answers by people who know well their jobs… a tasty article to read.

    Thanks for sharing this very useful (and funny) interview.

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