The Inhouse Link Building Group Interview Project: 14 Answers

by Aaron Bradley on September 29, 2010

in SEO

I've taken the unimproved SEO Skeptic temporarily out of hibernation to answer the 14 questions posed by Ontolo's Inhouse Link Building Group Interview Project.  I hope you find my answers informative, and I look forward to seeing the responses of other inhouse SEOs as they are produced.

Day-to-Day Link Building Questions
1. As an inhouse SEO, what are your top 5 most important link building tasks and responsibilities?

1. Link Targeting

You're going to be most successful – and most efficient – pursuing links that are actually useful, so developing a list of solid link targets is essential.  When you know what sites, or what types of sites, you're targeting you can adjust your strategy to maximize your chances of success at generating links from that target cluster.

2. Campaign Strategy

Once you've mucked through or dismissed the link building 1.0 options – paid links, directory listings, article submissions and so forth – you're forced to get more creative.  And even some of the (relatively) more recent techniques like using infographic link bait or leveraging the social media halo are very difficult to get right.  You've got to be innovating all the time and, if you have a link-building team, ensure you provide an environment that fosters innovation.

3. Getting Linkable Stuff Made

SEOs are fond of saying "content is king."  In link building this might be phrased as "linkable stuff is king."  It's a subtle distinction, but something can be linkable (or link-generating) without being great content.  But one way or another you're never going to have a stellar inbound link profile unless there's some stellar stuff on your site.  Pushing different content projects, securing budgets, liaising  with those involved are all crucial to success.  It's all fine and well to offer a free ebook on your site, but somebody has to, you know, create an ebook for you.  In my experience if you're not constantly pushing for those resources and following up on progress, the linkable stuff you need won't get produced. The more competitive the industry the more stuff you need to keep up with the joneses, such as supporting cross-channel media campaigns, or heaps of video.

4. Link Maintenance

Preserving your links can be as important as acquiring new ones.  As difficult as it is, you need to try to reclaim links.  But mostly what I mean by link maintenance is internal housekeeping, tasks like ensuring URLs are migrated with single, proper redirects, and that link target URLs are canonical.  Link maintenance also means making sure nobody in your shop mucks about with URLs without telling you – more than one SEO has seen long standing link targets suddenly 404.

5. Internal Communication

One of the advantages of link building inhouse is that your SEO or SEO team will be communicating with different units in the company.  Or they should be if they want to ensure link building opportunities won't be lost because they didn't know about them.  Like when the CEO booked an appearance on The View and nobody thought to tell you.

Day-to-Day Link Building Questions
2. What, if any, link building tasks would you be comfortable outsourcing?

That depends on your available link building resources.  With a team of any size, pretty much all link building tasks can be handled inhouse.  For outfits with just one or two people covering off all SEO tasks (most), including link building, outsourcing may be a necessity.  However, I think it is important to build your own link targeting strategy inhouse, even if actual link outreach is outsourced.

Day-to-Day Link Building Questions
3. How much of your time is spent on link building related tasks on a day to day basis?

In my inhouse jobs it has varied from "almost no time" to, perhaps, up to a quarter of the SEO's team time (in aggregate).  Despite the importance of link building, it's all too easy to spend one's time on other SEO tasks where it is easier to make progress, even if the long-term results are not as beneficial.

Link Building Tool Questions
1. What are your top 5 most important link building tools?

1. Google

Querying Google to identify potential link targets is, of course, a fundamental link building task, making Google the most indispensible of link-building tools.  I've also started to use the Ontolo Link Building Query Generator to structure Google queries.  While Bing isn't entirely off the radar, Google with its predominant market share remains the leading engine to mine.

2. Internal Analytics

Knowing where your traffic is coming from can provide valuable data on two fronts.  First, referrer metrics can help identify linking sites where the link relationship can be improved.  Second, it can help identify what types of sites are providing you with tractionable links, allowing you to focus your link prospecting on categories of websites from which you should have – all things being equal – an easier time acquiring links.

3. Google Webmaster Tools

The link report in Webmaster Tools provides a wealth of data that can aid you not only in improving identifying link targets (as per the internal analyics tactics described above), but also in determining site-wide link distribution.  That is, Webmaster Tools can help identify which deep linking targets are strong, and which require more link love.  It's disappointing, however, that Google only provides a sample of links to a verified site.

4. Yahoo Site Explorer

Historically, Site Explorer has been invaluable in providing a snapshot of the link environment for any given competitor's site.  It remains to be seen how Site Explorer will evolve (or whether, in the long term, even survive) once integration with Bing is complete.  One can only hope that Bing will evolve its own equivalent, or start to feed Bing data into a future Site Explorer.

5. Open Site Explorer

In the paid realm, Open Site Explorer – along with complementary SEOmoz tools – offers a wealth of solid and easily-understood link data.  Open Site Explorer is a noble heir apparent to Yahoo Site Explorer.

Link Building Tool Questions
2. What are the most valuable tasks or functions of existing link building tools that you couldn't live without?

The ability to show backlinks from other sites with some modicum of accuracy is obviously important.  Put another way, I can't live without good link data pertaining to competitors' sites.  There's multiple methods of examining your own link environment, but few (the two Site Explorers come to mind) that can provide competitive analysis data.

Link Building Tool Questions
3. What are the biggest let-downs of link building tools you have used or currently use?

The inability to export complete link data sets.

Inhouse Link Building Campaign Design Questions
1. If a fellow inhouse SEO asked for help in developing a link building campaign, what questions would you ask them?

What are your link targets, and what are your link anchors?  What is the basis on which you plan to identify categories of sites, and specific sites within those categories, to target?  What do you think the primary impetuous for those sites to provide a link to you, and is it realistic to think that the identified impetuous is adequate?  What on-site assets do you require in order to maximize the chances of acquiring links for this campaign?  How might other members of your SEO team (if it exists) and other units in your organization benefit your link building efforts?

Inhouse Link Building Campaign Design Questions
2. What link building tactics work better for inhouse SEOs than agency link builders? Why?

Leveraging social media for link acquisition can work better inhouse than externally, because there may be more time and resources available to develop meaningful interactions (which can take weeks or months).  This is true not only of social media, but also of campaign marketing and public relations, where your marketers have built relationships they can potentially leverage for links.  Inhouse you can afford to spend time developing long-term relationships, because those relationships – even if on the surface personal in nature – are ultimately company relationships.  This is not to say there are situations where agencies can successfully build relationships, or leverage the relationships of other inhouse units effectively, but that there is a least a potential advantage in being on the ground with the full company team.

Inhouse Link Building Campaign Design Questions
3. As an inhouse SEO, what link building techniques have you found that scale (if any…)?

Partnerships can scale very well.  That is, a structured relationship between you and another site or sites that results in links being generated to target pages, such as content provision (rather than deprecated methods, such a reciprocal link exchanges).

Internal Credibility and Influence Questions
1. Can you describe techniques or tactics you've used to grow your internal trust and credibility with colleagues?

In regard to link building specifically, you need to demonstrate the value of links.  The notion that links are important to a company's bottom line will remain conceptually vague until you use metrics to demonstrate that importance.  Correlating acquired links to observed increases in keyword rankings and search traffic goes a long way to building credibility for link building programs and campaigns.

Internal Credibility and Influence Questions
2. How do you get colleagues to perform tasks related to link building?

The most important impetuous to get colleagues on board is to identify any and all successes that they've had with link building.  If a colleague has managed to generate a link, send them an email so they know.  And copy others on that email, both to highlight the importance of link building, and to bring those who might not be enthusiastic about link building into the fold.

Internal Credibility and Influence Questions
3. How have you grown your colleagues' ability to identify and act on link opportunities?

Direct education is an important vehicle here, especially when providing training to different marketing units.  On a case-by-case basis you can also help put links on a colleague's radar by ensuring you provide an analysis of linking opportunities as part of your SEO review of new campaigns or projects.  And, again, pointing out and praising earned links – even if unsolicited – can aid in encouraging colleagues to replicate the behaviour that resulted in the acquisition of any given link.

Internal Credibility and Influence Questions
4. What metrics do you use to convey link building success to upper management?

On one hand raw link data, like the change over time in the number of links reported by Webmaster Tools, the average link value for pages within a cluster.  But raw counts can be somewhat dangerous, and certainly can be gamed, because quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality.  So metrics that correlate earned links and an increase in search-derived traffic to link target pages are at least as important as link counts.  And however much it might be this metric has (rightfully) fallen out of vogue, I'll bet big bucks that many inhouse SEOs still produce link reports that feature a PageRank field. :)

What Crucial Questions Did We Miss?
1. What questions did we leave out? What are your answers to these questions

How do you ensure that continual progress is being made on link acquisition?  Nothing is easier in the realm of search engine optimization than to put off tasks that are difficult, time-consuming and take a long time to produce observable results – which pretty much describes link building.  Accordingly, link building needs to be structurally incorporated into SEO planning, including ongoing tactical action items that ensure that links are being built on a continual basis.

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