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The myth of volume-based link building

Working at an agency is great for a lot of reasons, but if I had to pick my absolute favorite it would be the insight you gleam from client feedback. Successfully dealing with client questions and assertions is an extremely empowering thing because it helps build a fundamental methodology for framing future discussions with other clients as well as prospective clients that are trying to decide whether to go with you or some other provider.

One of the most common types of client feedback that I’ve gotten over the years has to do with SEO link building, and here’s the general gist of the conversation:

Client: “Your team has only secured x number of links for me this month and since I pay you X number of dollars per month, each of those links cost me X dollars. I’m paying too much per link, so you guys should start securing more links per month”

Us: “Remember that not every link is equal and that it takes time to secure quality links with keyword-rich anchor text.”

Client: “Don’t try to confuse me with your fancy SEO lingo. All I know is that if some is good, more is better, so we should be securing a lot more links. Besides, if you secure more links for me, I’ll be paying less per link.”

Us: “Focusing on the number of links secured as a success metric is not really a good idea. Instead, we should continue to use our time-test method of tying our link-building efforts to increased rankings, traffic, and conversion for the specific keywords that we target.”

Client (this not said out loud): “Yeah, but if I do that, then you guys can clearly show the exponential ROI that your services are providing, which means that I cannot try and squeeze more work out of you without paying any extra money.”

Obviously, not every client has this secret agenda. In fact, very few do. Most clients that ask us about the quantity of links secured quickly grasp the concept of quality vs. quantity once we explain it to them.

However, just in case you’re not clear on the concept, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Most of the avenues for securing large quantities of inbound links have some significant and fundamental flaws. Directory submissions usually result in very poor quality links, paid links can be devalued by search engines in one fell swoop and provide no marketing equity (e.g. they disappear the minute you stop paying for them) and automated methods (blog comment links, forum links, etc) can lead to penalties and even removal from Google’s index
  • Securing vast numbers of inbound links is unlikely to be the best path for building a natural link growth profile, which is what Google’s algorithm seems to prefer
  • Because of the way Google’s algorithm works, a single high-quality link can be far more potent than dozens or even hundreds of low-quality links.
  • There are at least four key factors that determine the quality of a link
  1. the age of a link (how long its been there)
  2. the authority of a link (a link from a New York Times article, which itself has many inbound links from authoritative sites, is much more potent than a link from a mom & pop site with just one or two inbound links of its own)
  3. the relevance of a link (if my SEO posts get inbound links from places like SEObook.com and HighRankings.com they send a clear signal to Google’s search engine spiders about the types of keywords I should rank for)
  4. The anchor text – the literal words that are being hyperlinked – of a link (If I want this site to rank for the term “SEO”, getting an inbound link that has the anchor text “SEO” in it is infinitely more potent than getting a link that simply reads “Hugo Guzman” even if said link comes from a more authoritative site)

Unfortunately, I cannot list specific clients or keywords, but I can tell you that over the years we have been able to secure top rankings for mega-competitive keywords across a variety of verticals for a number of Fortune 500 caliber brands (retail, insurance, and real estate just to name a few). We’ve also been able to achieve similar success for medium-sized organizations that are also battling for similar high-competition keyword phrases.

And in each of these cases, we’ve employed a link-building methodology that values quality over quantity.

P.S. It’s worth mentioned that on occasion I will have a conversation with one of our advanced clients about ways to build massive amounts of inbound links on a monthly basis. There are some legitimate ways of doing this, but I would only recommend it if your company has an in-house SEO specialist capable of properly coordinating the effort so that it doesn’t backfire. If you leave it to your provider and you don’t have an in-house expert to temper your provider’s point of view, you could be led into potentially dangerous waters.

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