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Determining the Need for Linkbuilding

John Doherty —  March 5, 2012
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People often come to us and say that they want linkbuilding. I assume that this is because many people are under the understanding that SEO = linkbuilding = rankings. While there have been posts written about why this is not true, this scenario plays out again and again.

I bet this happens to you as well, if you are an SEO consultant or work in an SEO agency. Sometimes it is quite difficult to know whether or not to take them on. On the one hand, the money is nice. On the other hand, we have to do what is right for the client and not always what is right for the office bank account or personal wallet.

The goal of this post is to provide you with a framework for success when deciding whether or not to take on a client for linkbuilding. I’ll walk you through what I check before I agree to take on a client for linkbuilding, which will hopefully help you to do the same.

Check for duplicate content

The first thing I do is a quick check for duplicate content to see how strong the basis is. Sometimes, if Google is not doing a good job of dealing with duplicate content, the linkbuilding you do is only going to be, at best, 25% effective as it could be.

The most common duplicate content issues are:

  1. Having both www and non-www indexed and available.
  2. Trailing slash and non-trailing slash.
Multiply these together, and we’ve got 8 different ways that the URL can be duplicated (I think I got that number right). Ouch.
Then browse around the site and check for parameters that may be used by internal search or filtering where facets might be better. Check for parameters tacked on, such as “?page=” and “id=” that can generate innumerable duplicate content URLs.
Pro tip: If you can, get the client to set up their site with an SEOmoz Pro Account so that by the time you get in, you already have one crawl on the site helping you to identify the duplicate content.

Do a crawl of the site

What we’re looking for here is issues that are not uncovered by the duplicate content test above. These can include, but are not limited to:

  1. Keyword stuffed URLs;
  2. URLs that are too long;
  3. 302 redirects (caught by SEOmoz, but also by other crawl tools);
  4. Many 404s (some of these can be caught by Webmaster Tools also);
  5. Blocked user agents (ScreamingFrog can do this)
If you’re not super familiar with technical site audits, all of the data you get from tools like ScreamingFrog (which I swear by) may not help you out too much, but to the trained eye, you can glean a lot of cool quick-glance data.

Get Analytics and GWT access

This is a tip that our sales guy, Ron, has been doing. Usually, if you ask, people are willing to give you access early so that you can really know what is going on with the site. My first line of defense is to pull out the Organic only traffic to the beginning of January and look for drops. You might find something like this:

You’ll never find that without prior Analytics access, and if you don’t catch it before, you can’t really know what people need.

Ask Good Questions

The worst possible scenario, in my mind, is getting into a contractual agreement and THEN defining the terms and KPIs (key performance indicators). You need to have these determined upfront. Every consultant or sales person should ask, at minimum, upfront:

  1. What terms they want to rank for. Then you need to go do some investigation and see if you think that’s feasible.
  2. Ask how you will measure success. If they say “rankings on X, Y, and Z” terms, that may be feasible, but I’d also get them to let you report on overall traffic or traffic to key areas of the site.

Get it in writing

Lastly, get your engagement in writing. Sometimes people can be sheisters and won’t want to pay you. The best defense you can have is making sure that your price is agreed upon and that the involved parties have their signatures on paper. Be sure to define at least the following:

  1. The length of the engagement;
  2. The wages that will be paid (whether that’s hourly or monthly);
  3. The KPIs.

Go Build Links!

So you’ve gotten through the duplicate content test, the self or Moz crawl test, the Analytics test, you’ve defined the KPIs, and you have a signed contract.

So go make it happen! And if you’re looking for a place to start, I highly recommend Jon Cooper’s linkbuilding strategies post.

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

5 responses to Determining the Need for Linkbuilding

  1. Thanks for this concise guide, John. I’m a little unclear on your suggestion in the Analytics section related to Panda. Are you suggesting that linkbuilding won’t help websites with a organic traffic profile like the one shown and that you wouldn’t take these clients on? I feel like I’m missing the point of this section. Thanks

    • Hey Jeff – Thanks for the comment. What I was getting at is that if you run into someone who has been hit by Panda, your best bet is to work with them to get out of it. Linkbuilding can help them see gains, but their thin content is still not going to rank well no matter how much linkbuilding you do. So just be aware of that.

      My point through all of this was to provide as much value as possible, not necessarily what they say they want.

  2. Can we agree this post is long overdue?

    I think some people jump into their link building efforts (I’ve been guilty before) without know exactly what they need, and if they actually need it. In other cases, it shouldn’t even be the priority (i.e. duplicate content issues as you mentioned above).

    Spoiler alert: I also convinced Wil Reynolds to write up a post on link building questions to ask clients, so stay tuned for it to show up on the SEER blog (although I have no idea when he’ll get around to it).

    Also – thanks for the link at the end there! If I can count, that’s two links (yes – two!!) to that post from your blog now, so I’m considering listing that feat on my resume.

  3. Anthony Pensabene March 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    “On the other hand, we have to do what is right for the client and not always what is right for the office bank account or personal wallet.” – imo that philosophy pays dividends to your brand and reputation, which is priceless.

    Personal example: Years ago I was living in San Diego and a shop owner saved me a large portion of cash by directing my attention to a used surfboard he just got in, though I had the cash in hand for a extremely pricier new board. Guess who had me as a customer (and any people within ear shot regarding where to get supplies) my entire stay there?

  4. Wow, I didn’t know duplicate content had that much of an effect on the effectiveness of links. Do you have any data or examples to support the 25% figure or is that an estimate based on experience. Thanks!