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Link Building With The Experts – 2012 Edition


  1. Jon Cooper says:

    Rae, you keep hitting this series out of the park! There was no way I wasn’t including this in my newsletter.

    I think it’s interesting to watch the evolution of answers over the years as some practices die and others live on. What used to be deemed as “white hat” and “safe” is now actually the stuff that’s kicking the most ass (Google still needs to improve in some areas, but at least with Penguin they’ve been making progress).

    Well, great job Rae, and wish we saw more of this type of content year round. It’s tough to wait 365 days for the next :)

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Thanks Jon – much appreciated :) … Yeah, the discussions about sculpting and siloing have certainly died ;-) … it’s basically pure marketing at this point, but plotted and amplified to get the best effects in the SERPs. Glad you liked it! I couldn’t do it without the generous contribution of time and knowledge all the interviewees give. :)

  2. Neil Andrew DuPaul says:

    I’m glad to see this series continue with PushFire. Quite timely I might add and nice benefit from the insight these veterans have on all the recent algorithm updates.

    I’d like to know who keeps asking the “Why do links cost so much?” question. :]

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Yeah, the timing was more luck, but it worked out well. As for that question – I can’t say… no one gets to know who asked what. ;-)

  3. Amazing article! I will read it a bunch of times!

    Thanks :-)

  4. Ivan Pena says:

    While some of the answers were designed to create leads for each expert, the information provided is invaluable. I know firsthand, much like many of your clients, how complex the SEO ecosystem is for small business “jack of all trade” marketers and how tough it is to play it safe. This post is already helping me put some structure to our tactics and take a more strategic approach to our Content Marketing. Thank you for this and best of luck to all involved.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Ivan… I wouldn’t say the answers were designed to create leads so much as everyone does what they’re good at – and these guys do links… and so their answers naturally tend to showcase that.

      As I mentioned in the interview – I still own a ton of my own affiliate sites, so I get the complexity… working with a big brand is fun now though, because they’re on the easier side of the types of sites I normally build links to.

  5. Jenny Lynn says:

    Amazing Article Rae! Thanks for putting this all together.
    Great resources & Experts. Nice work!

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Thanks! It takes a LOT of work to pull this all together, but I always find the answers so valuable and intriguing – I can’t not do it. Even an old dog can learn new tricks… like Aaron’s mention of 404’ing any page and creating a new URL for it if it has nothing but crap links aimed at it. It was an awesome “duh!” moment. :)

  6. Awesome! Like the panel. This comes at an opportune time when I’m evaluating inbound links. Thanks, Rae.

  7. Wow quite thorough! How did you get such a great collection of minds? I did like the article especially the question on how the Pro’s build links. Their answers were pretty varied.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Yeah… that’s one of the things I love about the series… no one sees anyone’s answers… so you get the real thoughts from each person, with no worries about disagreeing (not that most of these folks worry about disagreeing!).

  8. Very interesting read.

    Interesting that a few of the panel members were so tight lipped about some of the activities they do to build links.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      We have to be sometimes J… either they then get saturated with others going the same route or if they’re slightly gray, may no longer be effective. But I feel like we give a pretty good “gist” here. ;-)

  9. Great Job Rae.

  10. Greg Shuey says:

    Great write up Rae! I really look forward to these every year. Thanks so much for another killer edition!

  11. Ross Kelly says:

    Great work! Must have took you a lot of effort to get this done! I liked Debra’s reply to question no.12, especially when she mentioned EMD’s. I have heard that Google have decreased the value of EMD’s for ranking purposes, but to be honest, I see a hell of a lot of sites using EMD domains, with poor quality content, and still ranking high (in top 10).

    Anyway fantastic piece of work, very creative way of getting several expert opinions all in one place. Cheers!

  12. Steve Ollington says:

    Thanks Rae, really good stuff… I must admit though, would have been good to get Christoph in as an interviewee too, following his stuff a lot I’d say he would bring much value, unique insights too.

  13. Jim Rudnick says:

    LOVED this piece…and I know what kind of work this must have been…only thing I’d ever believe that I could add would be to expand the list of experts next time to include real LOCAL experts like David Mihm, Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Nyagoslav Zhekov, Linda Bouquet and Andrew Shotland…

    Or wait…why’nt maybe do a LOCAL links one (citations, reviews, Zagat, Yelp etc) using that list of my own as a starting point…



    • Rae Hoffman says:

      That’s a great idea Jim. I don’t have a local focus (all of our clients are national) so it’s never been a road I travel much down, aside from my guide to SEO for local small business – but that focuses more on the on site stuff and not links. Someone should definitely jump on that ;-)

  14. Robert C - Wholesale Guy says:


    RAND: Become a brand. Seriously. All the signals that Google’s seeking and all the best ways to earn links come from doing, as Wil Reynolds calls it, “real company shit.” That’s the type of link building and company building that we should all be investing in. I think SEO, just like many other tactical positions before it, needs to come from a strategic point of view. The wild west days are coming to a close and as real brands figure out SEO, SEOs have to figure out how to build brands or get left behind.

    End Quote..

    D to the Ditto. Rand is right – and I think that point is not being expressed enough across the SEO universe. You might not become a Facebook – or Pinerest – but the future of SEO – will require that you “go big or go home”.
    Content maybe king – but branding will be the Royal Family in toto..

    In addition, to protect yourself against the rampage of Google’s future “animal attacks” you will have to build a branded – membership type of web property where people pay for your content instead of just “driving by”.

    I made the mistake of getting addicted to Google’s free traffic drugs and my rehab begins now. Never has the phrase the “money is in the list” been more poignant. Facebook has 500 million registered users.

    They need Google why? Bottom line here – you need your own customer base to market to time and again – instead of seeking tacit approval from the Google Gods and keeping their influence to a minimum if possible.

    Google, has, like most companies that have grown to herculean proportions – seemed to have stopped “dancing with the one that brung them”. The general public and the thousands of writers, webmasters, and diligent content providers who have been left at the prom with a smelly bird.

    Even adsense case darlings like AskTheBuilder.com got back handed with a Penguin flipper. Tim Carter, the owner of the site, lamented that he lost about 80% of his traffic due to this weebling wad of bird fats hissey fit. He is all original – all the time. Why is he being punished?

    My own site – which has been around for nine years – has a “page not found” ranking in the top ten for an EMD keyword. I did not participate in any happy, happy, fun time link building or buying schemes. Nefarious black hat, gray hat, magenta hat, negative SEO, nary a scosh..

    I was dazed and confused by the actions Google took. Truth be told, I won’t pretend to know what the wizards of smart over at Google are doing. It just seems that they have programmed their algo to play an extended game of “opposite day”

    They are ranking pure crappola and knocking out the sites that adhered to their “tour de force” of “value to the user content”. This is not your “father’s” Google update. Actually, they should have called this a Walrus update (WARNING: Beatles reference ahead) because it “coo – coo ka-chewed” it’s way through a lot of honest brokers throughout the Internet. No, if your asking, comedy is not my day job – lol…

    On a more serious note, I think the Google Penguin update, at least for me, has been a blessing and a curse. At least I know now that I will concentrate my efforts on building one really good piece of web real estate. I will no longer build multiple web properties where I will ponder about WWGD. (What Would Google Do) with their appearance in their index.

    With Google having discretionary power over the rise and fall of where I can sit in the SE pecking order, I obviously need more ownership of my sales and customers. I know Google can deliver a lot of traffic but they are just too big and have too much control for anyone to depend on for good stewardship.

    They are the SE equivalent of an abusive spouse. They say they will love you, and if you listen, they will shower you with ranking love. But, in the end, they always wind up hurting you. Why anyone would depend on them as a viable business partner these days is beyond me..

    Just sayin…
    Robert C.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      A smart dude named Derek Halpern is a big believer in mailing lists – take what Google gives you for now and get them on a list – so if Google ever decides to disfavor you later, you still have a huge membership list. Like I said, smart dude.

  15. Get Boser and Naylor on it next year IMO :)

  16. Orlando BG says:

    Great piece, read it twice, now I’m late for work… Rand’s “become a brand” sounds great for in-house SEO teams but how does an agency SEO with 8 billable hours a month per client produce positive reports while doing “real company ****” Answer: They can’t. For agency SEOs nobody made the point to encourage your clients who are experts in their industry to create the great content while you work to promote it through quality link building.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Re in house agency teams… that’s always a challenge. We have in house content producers that are amazing at what they do. If the topic is really niche, then we might get lucky and have the client write it – but we make it clear what we will need from them from the door. However, I think the bigger issue in your scenario is a company expecting any type of sustainable, serious link development and/or defensible SEO with an 8 hour per month budget.

      Glad you enjoyed the piece Orlando!

  17. quote from Aaron Wall: “Thus, the thing that makes things worse now is that the SEO industry basically has n0 spine, by design”

    Ahhh, this begs the question. I’m dying to know who he thinks designed it that way. Google? Thought leaders? I agree completely with the statement but think it’s a combination of things that made the industry this way.

  18. Interesting that all these years later, the experts opinion still boil down to ‘get links’. This link, that link, this attribute,that attribute, it’s still get links. Though I take exception with the comment about link begging being horse and buggy. Old school link begging still works fine thank you very much, its just that it’s not as scalable as other methods – and thus less likely to be used by SEO agencies and consultants. Link begging can still get you links you can’t get any other way, simply because you brought someone’s attention to your site that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It’s a good technique for small biz/independents because it’s targetted (it’s a lot of work though).

    The whole marketing/brand thing, while I agree with, still boils down to being a proxy for getting more/better links.

    The other thing I noticed that was left unsaid (though I agree with the sentiment) is that content doesn’t mean s*** for ranking. Great content vs. mediocre content means nothing for ranking, unless it’s used to get more links. And great content won’t stop you from getting penalized – no matter how great your content is, if Google decides you bought a link, then they can/will penalize you. Which gets back to the same point again – it’s always and still, all about the links.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Good insights G… and I think it was Aaron who said 80% of your content can be mediocre as long as the other 20% is stellar… that said, there is no better “honey” for the link bee than amazing content. But, you gotta shove it in the bee’s face – promote, promote, promote.

  19. “I’ve still yet to see an example of a truly, 100% white hat site get hit wrongly by link penalties and not recover quickly (e.g., the day-long Seer Interactive ban, though hard to know if that was actually related to links). I put up a challenge to black hats to get my personal website penalized and despite Google Webmaster Tools reporting a growth from a few hundred links to tens of thousands of horribly spammy ones (including a bunch of adult stuff), the rankings haven’t moved one iota positively or negatively, leading me to believe that Google’s got a pretty good system of shutting down the value of spammy links, and only penalizing in cases where they’ve got some evidence that it’s the site owner/marketer behind it.”

    Rand I think that statement is a bit naive to say the least. You say that now as a long standing authority site that essentially parrots what Matt Cutts says day in and day out.
    1st thing when you issue a public challenge like that do you NOT think it is in Googles best interest to “shield the site” at least temporarily to be able to say “see, we are awesome at this”? Of course it is!

    2nd point which you failed to address, what of newer sites that have yet to establish age or authority? They too can start to rank and when your competitors notice you dont have that voice to say “Hey I was wronged!”

    The point being allowing Negative SEO is a bad practice, devaluing a link is one thing, penalizing for that link is quite another!

  20. Hey Rae, wonderful piece and tks very much. Great to see what the ‘experts’ get up to, their opinion on things and how you’ve put it all in one article so you can see the different angles etc. Thanks again!

  21. David / chillibox says:

    Awesome article and interviews. Its a shame that I discovered pushfire and this series in 2012, and not many years ago.

    Thumbs up!

  22. Good summary with some nice diversity of opinion. I tend to agree with the sentiments that Google is really mainly concerned about driving revenue growth. Trying to guess what they’re thinking as a corporation can lead to a whole lot of sadness. If ever there was a time to develop strategies outside of direct backlink building, it would be now.

  23. Nathalie Lussier says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, it was amazing to read different perspectives and great questions to get the discussion going.

    I think it’s like having your finger on the pulse of SEOs. Thank you for all of your contributions and putting it together so succinctly too.

  24. Peter Rota says:

    Amazing article I feel like I have learned more from this post in two hours than I have learned in the past two years. It was great to hear about the ways some of the experts were using to build links, such as local outreach.

  25. José Luis Guerrero says:

    Awesome article. We have been having serious trouble making linkbuilding profitable. We will set up a sistematic test of every single linkbuilding tactic / strategy I read from you.

  26. Adam Beaumont says:

    Excellent Article with a lot of interesting viewpoints from the best of the best. SEO’s have to be more careful than ever to develop a marketing strategy that will not result in negative impacts from googles ever-changing algo. Link building has definitely a lot more planning involved in 2012 and will do for the foreseeable future.

  27. Awesome article and interviews. Its a shame that I discovered pushfire and this series in 2012, and not many years ago.

    Thumbs up!

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