In my opinion, link building is the hardest aspect of SEO. The 80 / 20 rule is so true in an SEO campaign - 80% of the effort with seemingly no effect until the last 20% shows the fruit of the work.

After I have a client’s landing pages well optimised for a search phrase, have rounded up the “easy to get links” like NZ business directories, press release sites and relevant association/industry websites, the website often lands between 5th and 15th position for a low-medium competition search phrase in New Zealand. A good result, but top 5 is needed for a worthwhile number of clicks/enquiries.

With the website now ranking in the top 15, it is tempting to slow down the tactical efforts and turn to longer term link building methods such as content marketing. A blog or knowledge-base with genuinely relevant and helpful information is a very efficient way of earning links because one hour of writing and research may result in 10 quality backlinks over five years. Running a blog can easily use up 2-3 hours a month, and that might be the majority of retained hours with an SEO company or a busy business owners’, making it their only long term strategy. The efficiency and linking potential of these types of content makes it seem like the natural next step in a strategy to get from say, 8th to 1st.

Switching the short term efforts completely into content marketing is dangerous because without several high traffic search phrases already ranking, a strong flow of traffic has not already been established. The uncertainty of a content marketing approach forces many businesses to rely more and more on Adwords to tie them over till the content marketing starts to pay off, resulting in higher ad budgets.

Content marketing must always be partnered up hustle and continuously revisiting one-off tactics. Perhaps instead of three blog posts per month, one could be written allowing for time to call suppliers, customers, collaborators and even friends and family when there is an appropriate opportunity to link from their website into your website.

The “build it and they will come” or “write interesting content and we’ll get links” mentality is not a reliable strategy for a website that has yet to achieve solid rankings for the money keywords. I like to start using blog posts to rank for long-tail and minor phrases once the key search phrases are ranking well and converting to enquiries.

Over the last two months I have mainly focused on link building for my existing clients. There was a Google search engine algorithm update on the week of the 1st of August and one of my client’s rankings dipped from 1st to 2nd for two main phrases and 3rd to 7th for another phrase. Google’s advice was to improve the content and one day we might find that it earns its position back. Very hard to do something actionable with that advice!

Instead of improving the content of the local service business’ website, my response for this particular client was instead to try earn more links, since there is only so much you can say about a local service business. I’ve had a lot of fun trying to get earn new links with two methods:

  • Revisiting my lists of what links I have already achevied for the client to check which ones are still live. For those no longer up, I made sure that no other listing linked into them. This was a good time to update phone numbers, addresses and descriptions on the listings.
  • Working with the site owner to identify partners, collaborators, suppliers customers or friends that have a good case for why they ought to link into my client’s site.

The link spreadsheet did not take long to clean up as I had checked all of the links not so long ago. The second method has earned four new links so far from other local businesses.

The first step is to find the link. In this instance, I interviewed the client about their business connections and then I combed through each of their websites to find a spot where a link back would be appropriate. Case studies, about pages, supplier lists and blog posts are great places to earn links from. I rarely find a strong argument/reason to add a link to these websites, especially where the client is B2B and I want to place a link on their customer’s sites. Clients can be hesitant to share their customer lists with me because they are skeptical that I could convince their customers to link to them. It rarely makes sense for a distributor to reveal who their suppliers are. For example, a skin care brand is unlikely to reveal who their producer is, but rather make it appear that they made it internally. The hunt is worth it when I find even one good case for a link out of 100 sites, because it is a genuine link and one that competitors could never copy. Take courage and keep up the hustle to find these links - they are a golden needle in a haystack.

Google recommended to respond to the search engine update by “improving content”. Since our content was already better than the sites Google tried to rank ahead, I responded with hustle and obtained several high quality backlinks. The results show for themselves with the recovery. Marked on the following screen with the first dot, the update significantly affected my client, dropping from 3rd/4th position down to 2nd page results for some key phrases.

Case Study results - recovering from Google Update

All in all it is a good reminder that SEO is hard and requires hustle and determination to find the links that your competitors could never copy. Settling for “improving content” is only effective when you also put yourself out there and get links to go along with the new content. Don’t get too comfortable, pick up the phone once a month and see what you can get happening!