Why do we overcomplicate link building?

People regularly ask me what tactics and strategies I can share with them about link building.

When I answer, “Well I just search the web for good sites and reach out to them,” I tend to get a lot of disappointed looks and long faces. I don’t have any top-secret methods for finding good linking partners, creating great content or forming a connection.

To me, building links is pretty simple and always has been. It’s just that some parts of it can be tough.

Execution can be tough

While link building is a simple concept, campaign execution can be complex.

Finding good sites takes an enormous amount of time. Researching can take forever, and taking time to establish a working relationship can be highly frustrating.

In fact, the “relationship” part of linking may be the most difficult part of search engine optimization (SEO) I’ve done because it relies on the cooperation of other people.

Link building can be incredibly fun at times and mind-blowingly dull at others. You can’t sit around and wait for links to happen, you have to work hard, keep brainstorming new ideas, learn about industries and their niches and keep coming up with new ideas for content.  There is a clear process I know works well, and I think anyone can do it.

So why do we overcomplicate this thing called link building? Is it anxiety about failing at an important part of online marketing? Is it to make our jobs seem more glamorous? Is it because some of us really can’t build links without using tools, scrapers, spreadsheets and email blasts? I’m not sure. It could be one or all of those things.

Would you click here?

The concept of “Would you click on this link?” is an extremely basic one. I know it can be subjective, but common sense goes a long way here. You don’t need metrics to make this determination, and you don’t need to perform hours of analysis or use fancy tools. You just need to look at the site to see if your link would be a good fit there.

Some types of link building are definitely more difficult than others. Broken link building comes to mind here.

You really can’t just look at a page and see a broken link. Tools are essential to execute this tactic, or you’d be wasting a lot of time.

And yet broken link building is a fairly simple process:

  • Use a tool to find the broken links.
  • Contact the webmaster, propose a different link.
  • Thank her/him when he uses your link.
  • Done and dusted.

What about using content to build links? Certainly, that’s not so easy, right?

Content creation and promotion as a way to build links is not easy at all. This technique takes a lot of planning and money, a great writer and/or designer.

There are a lot of logistics, and coordination can be tough, but the concept behind it all is simple:  create content that people want, and they’ll link to it.

So again, building links is pretty simple and always has been, it’s just some parts of it are tough.

Blinded by numbers

In my opinion, metric blindness can cause problems.

Early on, we made the decision to leave the SEO aspects of link building out of our process and focus instead on finding the best partners.

When we had our link builders focus on finding links to benefit an SEO campaign, we noticed they did not do well. They overthought everything. They’d go for an irrelevant link on a site with great metrics and pass up a relevant link on one with lower metrics.

That doesn’t help anyone.

Consider this: one of my link builders had almost zero experience working on the internet when he came to us. Let’s call him Bob.

Bob had just retired from a long career as a manager the textile industry and was looking for a change, he knew very little about the internet and nothing about SEO.  And yet Bob became a great link builder without needing any tools or reams of metrics.

How? He just finds a site that looks good, sends an email and gets a link.

It’s really that simple.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Simple doesn’t sell,” I’ll agree with you.  Why would anyone want to pay you to do something so simple? Even if simple sells to the client, it doesn’t always sell well to the boss. Bosses want to see numbers and hear it was “hard” in order to justify the fee.

“Doing” simple is easy; it’s just some parts of it are tough.

Burning out

Link-building burnout is very real, and running into a wall creatively is a huge problem.

In my opinion, that’s where the real complications lie. I know link-building agencies that have struggled with this for years and more that tried and failed. Coming up with new link-building ideas is tough. If you don’t keep the creative juices flowing, people get frustrated, burn out and leave.

Keeping people interested and the creative juices flowing is my top priority. In general, it takes a lot to stay motivated and keep your interest up when you’re doing the same thing every day, all day. Brainstorming sessions are a good way to help with this.

Training is also important, especially for new team members. They will have a little downtime, but once they start sending emails and getting positive responses, they realize it’s not that hard.

Eight is the number

Every six months, I reevaluate the time it takes to secure a link, and on average, it has consistently been eight hours.

That doesn’t mean we get a link every eight hours, though. It means we might get one link one day, nothing the next few days, and five links later in the week. But they each take around eight hours to secure.

Trying to figure out the average amount of time it takes to get one link is difficult, but it must be done.  Considering I’ve been building links for years, the fact that it continues to take eight hours is very telling.

The time it takes to get one link remains the same, no matter what changes with Google.

Doesn’t matter if it was eight years ago or now, it still takes a good link builder about eight hours to secure a relevant link. Interesting isn’t it?

A friend recently said that you should be able to build links without using any tools, and I fully agree. If you want to make it complicated, go for it. You just don’t have to. Building links is pretty simple and always has been. It’s just that some parts of it are tough.


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