Not Another Marketing Podcast
OPINION: We Need To Talk About Backlinks

This episode is an opinion piece, we’ll get back to the interviews in a couple of weeks.

I’m always being asked about backlinks during my training sessions and there’s so much missinformation and confusion about the topic I though I’d put together a short podcast explaining what I think backlinks are and the best way to build them.

I’ll also explain why I think SEO Agencies are the worst people to build links….. this will get some Tweets!

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

During the podcast I mentioned a Twitter Rant (sort of) that I had some time ago and I managed to find the link to an SEM Rush link building webinar that I mentioned.

Transcript (edited for clarity)

We need to talk about backlinks. I promise this isn’t going to be a long podcast. It’s not going to be forever and ever, I promise you. Fairly short. I’m not going to have a rant either, I promise. I’ve got this big postit note in front of my monitor at the moment saying “Don’t rant”, because I do have a little bit of a rant every now and then about backlinks because backlinks… It’s a horrible topic to talk about whenever you talk about SEO and anything like that.

To be quite honest with you, I don’t believe that generating backlinks should be a part of SEO. SEO agencies shouldn’t get involved in this. They shouldn’t do any of this work whatsoever. It’s nothing to do with SEO. It’s PR, public relations. I’ll explain my thoughts on this a little bit later in the pod. This is basically just an opinion piece, so it’s just going to be me rambling on for a few minutes talking about this, and hopefully it will be quite interesting.

What got this podcast going? Well, it was a few questions that I’ve had over the last couple of weeks about backlinks. One was from a client who had hired an SEO agency, and they’ve been building backlinks and got them a Google manual action. They’d spent 20 grand over a few months, months, months, 20 grand. Let’s say this again. £20,000 over a few months had been spent, and they were building backlinks and got a manual action. They were doing all sorts of different things. They were probably building about 50 or 60 links a month, but it was weird stuff they were doing, it really was.

One of the things they were doing was expired domain linking. They got this whole scheme going together. They were buying expired domains that had basically a little bit something to do with the industry this client was in, just a little bit related. They were buying an expired domain, they were dumping a WordPress website on it with 5 or 10 pages of rubbish crap content, and then they were inserting links in that content back to the client’s main website. Oh my God, all the effort they were going to doing this. You could just put all that energy, and all that expense, and all that time, and all that effort and build something that is so much more worthwhile than just links from expired domains.

Nobody is ever going to click on one of those links and buy something from you, or fill in a lead generation form ever. It’s never ever, ever going to happen. You might get a little bit of help in Google, but you’re going to get, like they did, a Google manual action if you do lots and lots and lots of it. For 20 grands worth of expense, they got a Google manual action.

The other comment I had from somebody was a PR company, another client of mine, a PR agency. They were already getting their client lots and lots of national regional press coverage. Lots of lots of press coverage, really good quality, high quality stuff. They were getting coverage in some of the world’s biggest most authoritative blogs. They were doing a really, really good job.

The client came to them and said, “We want you to build some backlinks. How many backlinks can you build per month?” She came to me and said, “How do I build backlinks?” I said, “You already are. You’ve got links from the Guardian, from the Telegraph from all these blogs, and all these places. They’re all linking back to your client.” She said, “I know, but the client still wants it. How much is it going to cost to build 50 links a month?”

This is one got me going on this podcast, and got me going on a bit of a Twitter rant as well the other day. I’ll leave a link to the Twitter rant in the show notes if you want to have a little read of it. We’ve got to stop looking at links in the wrong way and this way. They’re not links. It’s not a link. Forget about the word link. You are not building a link. Don’t ever think of it as a link. If your headspace is thinking link, then that’s all you’re going to build. You’re just going to build a physical link from one website to another website. You are never ever thinking to yourself, is a human being going to click that link and buy something or fill in a lead generation form at some point? All you’re thinking about is building a link from one place to another place.

I think, my own personal opinion, is that this is the wrong way of thinking about it. What you need to be thinking about is promotion, promoting your company online, and also offline as well, because obviously online-offline is one and the same thing almost. Stuff that happens offline gets talked about online, and links get generated. This isn’t just about building links, we’re trying to build something that is worth more than that and is more important than that I think. That’s what I want to talk a little bit about.

Okay, I’m not having a rant yet honest. Recording this on a Friday, the sun shining, it’s a beautiful blue sky outside and I’m happy. It does get me going backlinks. It really does, because… yes, backlinks. What do we have to do? How do we build backlinks? Well, there’s a thousand, million, squillion, billion ways of building backlinks. Most of it is all around one thing about getting people talking about you. Again, we’ll mention that in a second.

What it’s not about is building a link as we mentioned before. Don’t be a robot. Don’t be, “I need to build a link.” Don’t be an SEO robot and build a link. Okay, we’re doing something more worthwhile than that. I’m not ranting yet, honest. What can we do? Okay, it’s about PR. It’s about publicising yourself rather than link building. There’s nothing wrong about getting links in relevant industry directories and doing all that usual stuff. It’s never going to be totally worthwhile.

Really, truly, if you look at those sorts of directory links, how much business do they really, really bring in for you? They don’t. Look at your Google analytics, how many referrals do you get? You probably don’t. They’re not going to be totally worthwhile. They’re not going to hurt. Okay, they’re all right. They’re okay. The thing which you can do is to start getting people talking about you. Build campaigns either locally, regionally, nationally or just within your niche. Build campaigns that will get people talking about you.

Look for sales. Look for leads, not just links. Where can I promote my business amongst the people who are interested in what I do, and what I sell, or my services or something?

That’s what we’re trying to do. If you can’t think of any creative ways to do that, then you need to hire an agency to do it; because that’s their job. Their job is to think creatively.

One of the things we can do is look at the data which your company has. Now, I watched a webinar a couple of months ago from SEM Rush. I’ve tried to look for it online and I can’t find it. What I will do is I’ll leave a link to SEM Rush in the show notes. You’re going to have a look and you might find it. I couldn’t, I searched Google and all sorts. Whoever it was who was talking at the time during this webinar, was talking about a travel company and they had an app. They could identify the amount of time after you’d had your Christmas turkey that you started looking for a holiday. Great, data.

You could turn that into a really cool press release and send it off and maybe get some local, regional, national press coverage and blog coverage from that. Around two hours after you’ve finish your Christmas dinner, you start looking for holidays in the Bahamas or something, the Caribbean. I don’t know. Somewhere like that. This is really good stuff to drive that chat, that talk, get people talking about you. It’s interesting. It’s useful stuff. Regional, national newspapers, blogs, magazines, whatever it is, the press in general, they’ll be looking for that sort of stuff. That’s interesting for them to print and talk about.

Looking at the data which your company has already, and trying to think of something creative around it to promote yourself and get yourself some more sales and leads and also a few links. Now, like we said before, if you can’t think of anything, get an agency involved. It’s their job to be creative and think of these ideas. That’s what you pay them for. Get an agency to do that. If you jut sat in the office thinking to yourself, “What is this? It’s just boring stuff.”

Don’t call it data as well, it’s more user behavior or client behavior, customer behavior. Again, that user word, it’s not a user, it’s a person, it’s a human. It’s not data, data is something which is seen in a spreadsheet. Away from these words, because these words make your thinking space in your head. It makes you do things which sometimes are not conducive to good PR, I suppose, and promotion of your business.

Another example, it’s a company I worked with years and years and years ago. They sold ladies underwear. They sponsored a netball team, they gave them a whole bunch of sports bras, this netball team. It cost them probably, I don’t know, around £500 or something. They could have just left it at that. They could have had a mention in the program each week and also a little bit of a banner when the games were on and that was it. They could have left it like that and that was it. They didn’t. They got reviews from the girls. “What do you think of the bra? Is it any good?”

They got reviews from it, and then they went a little bit further and they got people talking about it and reviewing it on their blogs and people chatted about it. Then they went further, they actually got involved with the team itself; with the sports group itself. When they were playing, when the girls were playing games, they were tweeting about it and mentioning it and talking about it. They were saying, “Well done, congratulations, you won this weekend.” Or “Bad luck, we lost.” Little things like that, they were just generally getting involved with the whole thing.

It didn’t take long for them to become a part of that little niche sports community within that little part of the UK that was very local. It generated local press coverage, it generated regional press coverage, it generated people talking about them on social media, in blogs, all over the place. It increased sales in the store, it increased the amount of people who actually came into the shop. It also generated links at the same time. It did everything. It was completely holistic.

This is the thing which I think we ought to be doing to build links, is more holistic marketing and promotion. This is the best way to look at it. So think about the data, think about things and be creative. Try and get people talking about you. When they talk about you online or offline, it doesn’t matter, they’re buying things from you, they’re spreading the name your business, you’re getting brand recognition, you’re getting all this, you’re building authority and all that stuff, you’re also generating some back links as well. It’s that type of thing which we need to be doing, I think, to build some links.

Okay. One thing I will mention just before we go is that this link building lark. I think that the way a lot of SEO agencies look at it is just building link, link, links like we can set up a load of WordPress websites or we can fire off like a thousand emails to all these blogs and let’s just hope keep our fingers crossed, we’ll look at the stars, cross our fingers and hope but say 10 of those thousands print our article and link to us. It’s easy to do that. It is really easy to do that. Okay. I know there’s a lot of SEO agencies out there who will tell me that, “No it’s not, it’s really difficult to do that.” No it’s not, it’s easy. Okay, that simple.

That’s the easy way to link build. It gets really, really hard, bloody difficult, and you need some creative talented people involved, when you start building up these types of campaigns we’ve talked about; like getting people talking about you, getting people talking about your business, what you do, how you do it, and talking about you online and things, that’s hard.

And that’s one of the reasons why a lot of SEO agencies don’t do that, because it is really hard, really time consuming, and it can be quite expensive. You get better results, much better results than just throwing a thousand emails out and hoping that somebody prints your article and links to you.