Lessons in link building: Diversify your portfolio

If you’ve arrived here via organic search looking for stock tips – you’re definitely in the wrong place. That’s some relevancy algorithm you’ve got there, Mr. Gekko. Regardless, there are several similarities between the grinds of link building and the monotony of day trading that quickly “jump” to mind.

  • Neither are ever easy when done well. I suppose you could say that about anything.
  • Both make folks a lot of money without ever having to leave the comfort of their home office.
  • Neither are especially good for your tan.
  • Both benefit from creativity, caution and diversification.
  • Both can cause mental anguish to the point you’re tempted to leap out the window like it’s October 29, 1929.

I’m well aware that last bullet is in bad taste… so apologies right out of the window gate. Perhaps I’m able to justify the correlation because the challenges of link building have pushed me out onto the (admittedly figurative) ledge on so many occasions. The second-last bullet, however, I’d like to delve into more deeply. If you’re involved with this truly fascinating business of ours (online marketing for those of you sneaking in late) please keep reading and maybe even stick around to share your thoughts in the comments.

Gurus, ninjas and warlocks, oh my!

Including the word “Lesson” in the title of this post may seem a little pretentious. Please rest assured, I consider myself aprofessional student of link building, social media and general online marketing… in general. The reason for my genuine modesty is very simple. As soon as the paint dries on one effective strategy, and you think you have it all figured out, a giant Chinese bear comes along and smashes everything to bits. Stop the presses, head back to the drawing board and maybe rustle up some delicious bamboo shoots before things get ugly. There’s no established rule book for link building, social media marketing or any other facet of selling online, really. A frustrating fact for clients and service providers alike – but it’s also what makes this job so simultaneously mission-critical and unpredictable. Remarkably strange bedfellows at the best of times.

People sometimes refer to the 1990s as the “Wild West” of search marketing – but I’d like to suggest the stagecoach hasn’t even left Tombstone yet. The blessing and the curse of search and social marketing is that it’s constantly evolving, and in the grand scheme of things we’re currently witnessing the internet’s infancy. Still consider yourself an expert? It takes more than a made up title to become remarkable in the space – it takes creativity, diversification and a little caution. As a result based in realism, True Gurus are in fact very few and far between. The only Ninjas I want to hear about are likely hucking throwing stars at a moving target on the other side of the world right now. And to the alarming number of people who have stood in front of me with a straight face and referred to themselves as “Social Media Warlocks” over the years – here’s the 20-sided die you’ve been looking for. Now go back to your Aunt’s basement because while you’ve been wasting your youth on Reddit your tarantula hasn’t been fed in 3 days.

Creativity is crucial

Not to be confused with creative (although content-based link building is the best kind, IMHO) creativity in this case refers to one’s ability to see link opportunities where most (specifically your client’s competition) cannot. Picture Haley Joel Osment printing out a competitive backlink report, or something. Ideas for potential link building strategies are readily available by the hundreds via a quick search. Real, tangible examples and case studies, however, are not. The SEO blogosphere loves to speak in vague generalities which is strange – considering the number of us who can apparently cast spells (Warlock humour).

The real challenge is always going to be how to get popular link building methods – guest blog posts, interviews, links from powerful social media outposts, etc. – to apply to your specific client or business. That takes creativity – and it’s exceedingly difficult to conjure, Merlin. Boil it down: collect a small list of tactics you’d like to use for your project. Go through the corporate site looking for inspiration. Speak to your team and collaborate with your client. Inspiration will strike and those elusive solutions will slowly present themselves.

Diversity is the opposite of detrimental

The interwebnets are littered with regurgitated, lazy theories and general misinformation about penalization. There are few things we can say for certain, but one rare unicorn of truth is that you should always strive to make your backlink profile look as natural as possible. And by “natural” I mean “like no concerted, ongoing or deliberate SEO effort is taking place anytime, ever”. Hence – diversity. At every level.

Rotate your methods from month-to-month – blogger outreach in February means it’s high time for HubPages (speaking of Panda penalization) in March. Alternate your target keywords and landing pages on a regular basis. Forgo anchor text in favour of full URLs and branded text from time to time. Lastly, and you might want to be sitting down for this one, stop completely shunning NoFollow links – because a link builder would never bother with one. See where I’m going with that? Your attention to detail and refusal to slump into one or two easily outsourced techniques will be rewarded.

Caution, when consistent, is a cornerstone

Exercising common sense and caution when building links is closely related to the importance of diversity. Keeping your rankings and reputation safe, however, extends far beyond your backlinks. If you want to attract the ire of algorithms and human beings alike by all means go right ahead and use Comment Hut to spam the bejeepers out of a hundred irrelevant sites at once. While you’re at it, farm out content-based link building to offshore teams for whom English is a second language. Tattoo “Quantity Trumps Quality” on your forearm right next to that picture of my Mother (Dude, so not cool). Pretty soon your client will be in dire need of a little ORM – and I probably don’t need to mention that it won’t be your team who gets the contract. Or any other contract. Ever again.

If it seems lazy or low-quality, it is. Outsourced, menial link building is fine in small doses – as long as it’s done in moderation to supplement your overall strategy and doesn’t become the strategy itself. And I don’t care how busy you are – depending on your vertical, some things should just never be outsourced. Figure out what your quality standards are and stick to them. Then it’ll finally be time to stop worrying about the penalization boogeyman and lose the nightlight.

In closing, all you need really need to take away is: “Get creative, play safe and mix up your methods”. And no matter how frustrating a link building project may get – resist the urge to party like it’s 1929. That’s enough out of me – now it’s time to hear from you. Back me up or dare to disagree. Just please don’t mention my Mother as I’m still coming to grips with that tattoo.