Tactical Link Building Insights with Jon Cooper and Brian Dean

By on Jul 29, 2013 in Search | 34 comments

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This week, I had the chance to pick the brains of two of the most creative minds in the link building sphere today – Jon Cooper and Brian Dean.

A week ago, we received a tweet from Dean Gareth Davis about having us three talking about link building. So I guess this post is a sneak peek of how might that go in the future.

I sure do hope that we can do this again next time with the rest (Ross Hudgens, Garrett French, James Agate, Julie Joyce, Eric Ward, Paddy Moogan and Mr. Link Building himself – Wil Reynolds).

Anyway, with no further ado, here are some of our insights on how to tackle link building these days.

1. For agencies (knowing that they mostly work with clients in different verticals/industries all at the same time), what do you think are the best ways for them to scale and simplify the process of link development?

joncooperJon: Scaling for an agency comes down to three things: people, process, and relationships. First, you need to be able to correctly & quickly hire to keep up with demand.

While you don’t want to rush into hiring someone, you need to be able to quickly assess whether or not they’re a good fit; otherwise trying to take on more work at an accelerating rate while waiting for the perfect hire is what’s going to cause some short & long term issues.

Second, you need to have the right processes setup that standardizes most of the repetitive tasks you’ll be performing. The biggest priority is simply having one; it doesn’t have to be even close to perfect, you just need to have something in place so you can start from there in terms of improving efficiency.

Lastly, save yourself some pain & effort and try to develop relationships that you can tap into for multiple clients, otherwise sending out a blast of cold pitch emails each time around is going to be frustrating & time consuming.

One thing I’ve been considering is specializing in a certain vertical (i.e. just health or just real estate) so you can build up those relationships and tap into them for every client, and not just the few that you’ll get within the same vertical (in that case, blogger personas would be a good route to go).

Scaling for an agency comes down to three things: people, process, and relationships.

brian deanBrian: Let’s face it: a campaign for mobile phone site is going to look A LOT different than one for a local landscaping company.

Interestingly, your client’s niche didn’t really matter before Penguin: you could build the same type of links for all of them.

In fact, when I first took on SEO clients (before I really knew what I was doing), all I needed was their target URLs and keywords. Whether they sold business consulting or microwaves, my approach was exactly the same.

Needless to say, those days are long gone.

Because today’s SEO clients need a lot of TLC, I’ve noticed quite a few agencies specialize in one vertical (law, dentists, hotels etc.). It saves them a lot of set-up time. They have guest posting targets, broken link building opportunities, and relationships ready to rock.

There’s no need to spend time searching for “keyword” + “write for us” or “keyword” + “inurl:resources” when a new client comes on board. You already have your pre-prospected targets in an Excel spreadsheet ready to go.

So that’s one way to scale: carve out a niche and focus on client acquisition in that vertical.

The other strategy would be to invest in training your team. If you delegate the bits and pieces of link building to low-skilled staff, you don’t have a “link development team”…you have a backlink assembly line.

Yes, it’s efficient. But it’s not the holistic brand/content development/right brain approach that’s crushing it right now.

I recommend that agencies try to create a staff of Jon Cooper’s, Garret French’s, Jason Acidre’s, and Eric Ward’s.  This caliber of expert can come up with a 100 powerful link developed campaigns within seconds of seeing a new client’s site.

That makes link building easy to scale: you don’t need to spend weeks figuring out the best approach for every single new client you take on. Instead, when you land a new client, the experts on your team bang out a custom, winning plan on day 1.

So that’s one way to scale: carve out a niche and focus on client acquisition in that vertical.

jason acidreJason: I actually wrote a piece last year on Buzzstream on developing advanced processes for agencies and enterprise-level SEO teams, and I believe that those structures are considerably efficient nowadays, especially with the constant changes occurring in the online marketing space.

Aside from getting the right people, and having a system in place where your talented staff can work around with – it’s very important to have solid core principles (on how you approach web marketing)  in which your process/people can stick to or base their actions from – and eventually enhance along the way.

It’s not just about making sure your people know the best practices in SEO/link building, it should be more about them understanding how the web really works (especially with how people consume the web – or the things that make people share and link).

Influence the people within your organization/agency to integrate your value proposition with how they do their work. Like with us, our primary goal for every campaign is to improve conversions, so our methods in link acquisition are almost always aligned with this objective.

Principles drive actionable strategies – and often results to far simpler processes and result-driven actions.

2. Link earning is all about standing out in the competition. So what’s the fastest way to really stand out to start earning high-value links?

joncooperJon: I’m actually against the idea of link earning because I’ve seen far too many great websites, content, and products that “earned” links but didn’t tap into nearly all of the opportunity they could have taken advantage of because it would take some grunt work in terms of traditional link building & outreach.

So understand that standing out (doing something noteworthy) and actually getting high quality links aren’t one in the same; otherwise, we wouldn’t need marketers because the best products & services would always win.

But with that said, there are a few tried & true practices to stand out that are almost universal. The first is simply by finding what the best are known for, and just doing it better. It’s a poor example because it’s from the SEO industry, but I found this to be super popular, so I just redid it to make it even better.

The second is the “be everywhere” approach. Plan a day, probably 2 months out, that you want to be seen everywhere. That means building up relationships with all the bloggers in your industry and seeing if you can get a guest post to go live on their blog on that day.

There’s no set number of guest posts you should shoot for, but aim for at least 10. At the same time, put together at least one or two serious posts on your blog that will wow people ahead of time, and have them go live that day and the next.

Essentially, you want your name to be everywhere, even if only for a day or two.

brian deanBrian: The best way to make a name for yourself is to find the content gap in your industry and fill it with mind-blowing stuff. Your competition is probably too lazy to publish amazing content that blows people’s minds. Their blogs probably bang out boring, useless articles like “5 Tips for …” and “7 Simple Ways to …”.

There’s a place for that sort of content. But it’s not going to make you stand out.

For example, when I started Backlinko, I was entering the crowded, competitive, and noisy SEO space. I knew that I hadto publish amazing stuff 100% of the time if I had any chance of making a name for myself.

And it’s like that for most industries. You need to bring it every single time you publish, especially when just starting out.  The content bar is set very high in almost every single industry right now. If you want to earn links with content, you need to think of ways that you can beat what’s out there on every single level: design, comprehensiveness,utility, UX.

Of course, content alone isn’t enough. The “marketing” part of content marketing is crucial. Another way to stand out is to blitz your industry with guest posts, interviews, infographics etc.

You want to be everywhere your target market is. When they go to a forum to ask a question, they read your helpful response. When they go on Twitter to see what’s new, they see people sharing your new infographic. When they check their favorite blog, they read your guest post. When they go to Google+, they watch your Google Hangout.

If you get yourself in front of your target audience (or the linkerati), over and over again AND impress them with great content when they land on your site, your competition won’t stand a chance.

Content alone isn’t enough. The “marketing” part of content marketing is crucial

jason acidreJason: There are many ways actually, but these are the two that I would mostly suggest people to focus on:

3. Most seasoned practitioners know and understand that the first month of every campaign is the toughest one. In content and link development standpoint, how do you manage your clients’ expectations (or their expected results) for the first month? What are the deliverables that you mostly focus to accomplish on the first month of the campaign and how do you justify these results?

joncooperJon: An interesting solution to this problem was found by a colleague of mine who’s doing local SEO for clients, all in the same competitive space (but obviously different cities).

What he would do is during the first few months, not only is he building up the site and doing all the white hat, long term things needed to rank, but he was always throwing up a second site and doing some grey/black hat SEO to get it ranking early on, and as a result, not only was he able to focus on the long term with his client’s main site, but he was also able to drive business for them in the short term (by the time these sites burned out, his main sites were ranking much better).

For others though, this approach might not be possible for a couple reasons. First, you’re probably not that good at actually ranking sites with grey/black hat tactics. The second is that it just might not be an option (i.e. because their site is ecommerce and you can’t just throw up a site over night with some textbroker content).

So for the first month, you’re just going to have to suck it up and do things like everyone else; tell the client to focus on the links coming in on a month-to-month basis, and that most movement won’t be seen until at least 3-6 months out depending on your velocity and the level of competition in that vertical.

brian deanBrian: For me, the first month is the hardest because you’re under the microscope. A client that checks his analytics and SERP positions once a week may check once a day during that first month.

One way that I’ve turned the first month into a huge win is by focusing on on-page and on-site improvements. In my experience most new clients tend to make the same fundamental on-site mistakes:

Fortunately, you can usually overhaul their on-site SEO over a weekend. And the next time Googlebot comes around, you have a tightly-optimized site that will get an almost-instant boost. That way, I can tell them: “You should see a slight-yet-significant improvement within a few weeks. As I start to build quality links for you, this will improve even more over time”.

Giving a client some results in month 1 establishes trust and makes them more patient. That way you can do the long-term link development work (relationship building, infographics etc.) without feeling like you’re under the gun.

jason acidreJason: I believe we use the same approach as to what Brian does – we tend to look for quick wins (through technical on-site audits/recommendations) first, as this is the most important part of SEO anyway.

Although, aside from that, it’s also important to at least come up or develop a solid content asset (or help improve an existing one) on the first month of the campaign, which can attract links/traffic (or will be really appropriate to build artificial links to) on the first month (and also over the next few months of the campaign).

The great thing about this approach is that the result will not just yield links (and potential rankings), as the result may also reflect through the conversions that the content asset can help provide on the first month.

It’ll be so much easier to get the trust of your new clients when they see that your efforts are positively affecting their business goals.

4. What link building methods would you suggest to any organization (agency, enterprise, SMBs, publishers, etc…) that are easy to implement and can somehow drive immediate results.

joncooperJon: There isn’t one universal link building tip for every business model and every sized client. If there was, there would be 10x the link building agencies out there. Most of the easy wins are on-site that drive immediate results.

For bigger sites, if the domain authority is there, you can do a TON with internal linking. A good example of this is a very well-known ecommerce brand. Because they already had a lot of incoming links, all they had to do was create a lot of content so they could utilize it for internal links.

So what they did is they made mashups of “Product X vs. Product Y” (even if X and Y weren’t entirely related). The content used for each was the same in every mashup (i.e. Product X content was the same whether it was being shown vs. Product Y or Product Z), but because they were combining the content in new ways (i.e. X vs. Y is different than X vs. Z is different than Y vs. Z) Google was seeing it all as unique content, thus giving the internal links juice (and thus driving some serious revenue in terms of better rankings).

Would this exact strategy still work today just as it did roughly 2-3 years ago? Who knows. But the takeaway is that there’s a lot of opportunity you can take advantage of from an on-site perspective.

brian deanBrian: Here are a few that aren’t necessarily new and exciting, but they work really well and can be applied to almost any industry:

jason acidreJason: I also believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to link building. But there’s one common thing in any industry or type of business – a customer that’s looking for a product, service, solution or information.

It’s just a matter of how you can find these people and how you can demonstrate that you’re the best provider.

I’d suggest to start by looking for discussions (blogs, forum threads, Q&As, etc…) that are precisely about the solutions/products that your clients offer. Participate and make sure that you’re really helping them solve their problems.

Other things that you can also do:

5. What’s in your campaign rule book? Or what are your initial protocols, action steps and goals to be set (for the next 3 – 6 months) when working on a new link building campaign?

joncooperJon: It’s more so of a checklist of different things to run through, just because each campaign is never the same (every site has different advantages/disadvantages, competitors, assets, etc.).

After running through mostly on-site things (i.e. is there unique content on these category & product pages), the first few things to do in terms of link building are just going after the easy wins after doing competitor research.

Depending on what we turn up here, going after those links could mean a month of work or 6 months of work. After that, we usually dive into what exact content can we create that we know we can get links to (throwing mud at a wall just isn’t practical; the content we create always has a link focused purpose).

brian deanBrian: The first thing I do is help them create a linkable asset. Here’s the process that I follow:

1. Look at the client’s market and see where there’s a content gap.

2. See if there’s content on their site that could be improved upon or turned into a linkable asset. That’s usually faster and easier than starting from scratch.

3. If they don’t have that, I help them create a linkable asset. I prefer infographics and ultimate guides because they’re cheap and easy to share.

4. I try to get as many eyeballs on the content as possible. That means posting it on industry forums and trying to get it featured on popular newsletters (a massively underrated content promotion strategy).

5. Once the buzz has died down, I pound the pavement with an email outreach campaign.

This campaign usually gets some brand awareness and quality links to the site. Then I focus on some fundamental strategies, like broken link building, resource page link building, and link reclamation.

Once a month or two has passed create and promote another linkable asset. Rinse and repeat.

That’s the initial protocol and action steps. I actually don’t try to set specific goals besides creating one awesome piece of content every month. There are too many variables for me to say: “You will get between 25-50 links from this infographic”.

jason acidreJason: I always start with the goals and limitations (resources, access and/or budget). Because having these parts very clear at the start makes the strategy development and implementation more adaptive.

With that, you can easily identify tasks to highly prioritize and not – and basically focus on things that will really yield results.

My main rule (personally) is to just make sure that each task is relevant and aligned with the campaign’s long-term objectives. That’s why we always do a project briefing (internally) before working on a project.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed and follow us on Twitter @jasonacidre, @pointblankseo and @Backlinko.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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  1. Julian Hooks

    July 29, 2013

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    I love these kinds of posts. It’s always nice to know what people are actually doing themselves. As opposed to just regurgitating industry “best practices”. Thanks.

  2. Christian

    July 29, 2013

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    Fantastic article thank you!

    I really agree that you have to find a niche now, it’s very hard to make a name for yourself unless you do.. Especially in the SEO field.

  3. Emma

    July 29, 2013

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    This really takes time to read, but it is worth every second of it. It is of immense value to see what these people think about the most important SEO questions and issues today.

  4. Some absolutely golden techniques and strategies from Brian, Jason and Jon – clearly 3 of the most astute and creative link building strategists in the business.

  5. Jessie White

    July 29, 2013

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    SUCH an interesting post to read! Love having all of these amazing and talented SEOs on one blog together. I also loved how they talked about how your SEO tactic must change depending on what niche you’re trying to rank for and what you’re specifically working with. Definitely bookmarking and sharing this one!

  6. Kelsey

    July 29, 2013

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    You mention a good point in here… link building is not just about getting your URL on a bunch of different, random websites. The only ones that matter are the trusted ones that people will actually click–quality over quantity!

  7. Grant Merriel

    July 29, 2013

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    Definitely some key insights here into the scalability of link building for agencies.
    Following up with what Jon outlined about ensuring that there is a core process driving every clients campaign is KEY! (as the assets, keywords, content, outreach will all change BUT the process is the same)
    The best way to look at everything in SEO is a core process, when you get down into it, from getting the ball and putting it through the goal posts is always the same – the only things that move are the players.

    With Brian, resource links are still incredible, we are playing around with a lot of ways on how we are requesting them now, as we have seen just a couple of GREAT DA links improving ranks dramatically and I am glad that the strategy has been lost in the ether. (I think mainly because everyone found it too hard or was offering the same incentives and thus quickly became dated)

    What Jason said about ensuring that you understand the ‘access’, ‘resources’ and ‘budget’ is one thing that I have seen a lot of SEO companies miss. Having worked with some and consulted to others, they treat clients paying $1,000 to $10,000 to $100,000 exactly the same way, processes are the same. Instead of building more AMAZING items, they just build many okay items, as they do not access the resources made available by the budget allocated.

    Great post and keep it rocking!

  8. Nice conversation Guys. All of you made your damn awesome reputation in SEO industry by doing a lot of shit. Case studies, Personal Experience and proven strategies that you personally developed. Btw, When are you launching your Xight-Interactive website Jason?

    Keep on rocking \m/


  9. Zenelia

    July 30, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Really great post…very much informative and got a lot to know from the experts…really it was wonderful experience to go through the thoughts share by you guys..
    Very helpful and informative one

    Thanks for sharing

    Keep Posting

  10. From one expert to another. Nice! You also shared some good insights regarding how to tackle link building these days. Keep us all posted on your future ideas and let’s see, I might be following your ideas and advices.

  11. Adam Roseland

    July 30, 2013

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    These guys are studs!! Great post and tons of information. Could you imagine having these all these guys doing linkbuilding for your website? That would be ridiculous!

  12. Yuri Wong

    July 30, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Well, great post ! It takes me sometime to fully understand what you great guys talking about here. There is not an universer tactics which fits all of the cases in SEO, different niches need different strategies. Thanks for sharing !

  13. James

    August 2, 2013

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    Great post from the two of you. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on your other posts from now on.


  14. Ashutosh

    August 3, 2013

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    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for sharing such a detailed post that takes into account some of the most important aspects behind link building. Yes, content is the entry pass but we need much more than that and we have to put in our efforts. I find that building a brand with the help of interactions is one of the best ways for the bloggers at large.

  15. Spook SEO

    August 4, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Great post! I’m with Brian on creating a linkable asset and checking if the site has contents that could be improved (or maybe needs to be improved). The thing is, it isn’t really a good idea to look out and try to get others to like you or link to you if you yourself isn’t worth linking. These two tips can help make your site link worthy so giving this ample amount of emphasis is important.

  16. Muhammad Ali

    August 4, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Great and Fantastic post thanks for sharing it !

    i am decided to share this post with my bloggers friend :)

  17. Anthony Epperson

    August 5, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Oh, for me it’s just about time to learn something about link building! I’ve just started exploring SEO and came across this topic. Thank you for sharing!

  18. You mention a good point in here… link building is not just about getting your URL on a bunch of different, random websites. The only ones that matter are the trusted ones that people will actually click–quality over quantity!

  19. Chris Fare

    August 9, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Amazing insight from the pro’s of SEO! Many thanks for sharing the golden techniques, most people would have kept it for themselves 😉

  20. Steve vargerson

    August 13, 2013

    Post a Reply

    This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us

  21. Jay

    August 13, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Great article!! You have shared many good ideas here. From the basics to the top of the pyramid!! Thanks for sharing

  22. hiren

    August 17, 2013

    Post a Reply

    nice article i totally agree with your points.each and every time i learn something after reading your post. thanks for sharing.

  23. Ron Marek

    August 26, 2013

    Post a Reply

    As a hire seo contractor I know all about the first month being the hardest, the trick is to listen to the clients demands and communicate things that you will not be able to do, don’t promise anything because you cant control google updates, however make sure that you are the best at wat you have applied to do.

  24. Noman Ali

    September 5, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I do always follow Jon tips regrading link building most of the time, and it works for me, this time 3 experts at one place. I have a question here when someone leaving a link, will DA focus? most of the time newly born web have zero DA but in future they shoot in DA just because of daily updates and content value. WHAT should be the procedure to selecting the DA?

  25. Abhijit Gupta

    December 26, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Good post on advance link building. I like your post. Using your link building techniques that we may use to get good results from our website. Thanks for sharing this information with us. Keep it up.


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