Top 10 ways to spot a terrible link building agency

Posted by Barrie Smith on 23 Aug, 2013
View comments Link Building
Barrie Smith describes how you can avoid getting burned by bad linkers with things to look out for when choosing a link building agency.

It’s as important as ever to make sure you have an effective and profitable link building strategy in place.

Nowadays, the best agencies no longer build links solely to rank at the top of Google and other search engines – there’s far more to it than chasing the top spot.

Instead, any agency worth their salt will focus their link building efforts upon improving a company’s brand name and exposure.

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This article will take a look at 10 warning signs that you should look for if you’re thinking of letting a link building agency loose on your site.

1 - No Content Marketing Strategy

Since the boom in content marketing over the past 12 months or so, a number of companies have been outsourcing content writing work and/or employing their own internal content marketing individuals/team.

It’s all well and good writing great content and publishing great content, but more effort than that needs to be made. To get the most from your great content you need to put a strategy in place.

Sure, sending out the occasional article here and there can build you some links and bring you some traffic, but if you plan a strategy for your content, for example, focusing on one product or service and supporting the content marketing with Television, Radio, PPC and Social Media etc, you’ll boost the interest and sales to yours or your clients’ product or service tenfold.

Not all companies can afford to get an advertising slot on the TV or the Radio, so it’s even more important that your content marketing strategy is optimizing channels that will increase exposure and awareness of what it is you’re trying to sell - but are still within budget.

Takeaway: Create a content marketing strategy which benefits from affordable, integrated digital marketing.

2 - Links from their own websites

This was more prevalent when Link Building became a la mode in digital marketing a few years ago, but I have noticed a couple of companies still using this method for their clients’ and main brand’s website.

Now that we all understand that building links on unrelated websites doesn’t get you anywhere (and lucky if it doesn’t get you penalised), having a network of websites with "good Page Rank" all linking to one another means little in 2013.

Since the release of Penguin, Google is looking to rank high-quality websites at the top of their search engine results (SERPs), which certainly makes quality more important than quantity.

Unless your network of websites from which you're implementing links to your clients’ websites includes the BBC, Guardian and the Telegraph, or has value, there’s probably little sense in creating websites purely for the sake of a link.

Takeaway: Creating a network of websites with no value and for the sole purpose of link building is not concurrent with best practice. Build relationships with websites that have a loyal and engaged audience.

3 - Reciprocal Links on List Pages

Reciprocal links or link exchanges used to be a big deal in link building. If you’re in the business and dabbled with this tactic, you’ll be familiar with the expression: "I’ll put your site on my links page if you put my site on yours".

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Even before Penguin shook up the search results, Google had signalled that we should not be using this method as a way of building links and ultimately this method became less viable and more risky.

In retaliation, someone thought it would be a clever idea to do three-way link building - That really didn’t last long as a successful tactic.

Link builders are still trying to manipulate Google with variations of this strategy. This method resembles: "I’ll post a piece of content on my website with a link to yours if you do the same on your site for me". This is not only bordering on irrelevancy, it’s also not effective. To be successful, you want people talking about you where you don’t need to talk about them in exchange, or even bribe them to talk about you.

Takeaway: Don’t exchange links on list pages. Bribery does not build brand advocacy.

4 - Non-newsworthy Press Releases

Submitting any ol’ article to press release services was very popular for link building back in 2010 and early 2011, but anyone who continued using them past the first few months of 2011 weren’t getting any benefit from an SEO point of view at all.

Using press release services for picking up links doesn’t have any benefit for ranking in Google SERPs in 2013, so creating press releases solely for links, with nothing inherently newsworthy is not going to benefit you.

If you want to create a genuine buzz, try aiming your news at mainstream newspapers and their sites.

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Takeaway: PR services are not to be used for link building. If you want to generate a press buzz, aim to get exposure in newspapers and popular websites.

5 - Lazy Email Request Text

How many webmasters out there still receive generic link requests and exchanges? You know the ones I mean - emails where there is no personalisation; no name, nothing about you, but it’s all about their benefit.

People who cannot take the time to find out my name when composing their emails (especially when two of my websites they’re requesting links from have my name in the URL) get ignored by me: "Dear webmaster", “Dear Sir or Madam” – denied. Here’s an example of an email I received recently:

The example above shows they haven’t bothered to find out my name and it’s all about them. OK there’s exposure to an apparent 240,000 monthly visitors, but they’ve not shown me a screenshot or told me where my link will appear. As you can imagine, this email did not get a response.

Link building takes time. So why spend 30 seconds writing a garbled cover message then copying and pasting that email to 1,000 other webmasters? As a professional, I take the care and time to construct an email - especially when I want something!

A second example also landed in my inbox recently:

The example above shows they have directed the email to the attention of the "Webmaster" despite my name being in both my domain and email address. It’s from a Gmail address, not their company email – which already rings alarm bells – and their name was different in both the name field and email address. My verdict: junk.

Takeaway: Personalise your emails when you’re actually looking for a response and making a request. This will improve the chances of your email making it through the dross apparent in all inboxes and actually being read.

6 - Auto & Mass Directory Submission

I’ve only ever come across a handful of directories worth submitting my clients’ sites to. These were local directories with genuine traffic that was beneficial to my clients.

On top of this, Yell and Thomson Local are still valuable for local traffic. Back in the day, Yahoo! had a first-rate directory for sending traffic to websites, as did DMOZ. But they’re not around today, and certainly not since the release of Penguin.

So I’ve never understood why anyone would use automated software to submit their website – a major business asset of theirs – to a mass number of directories (especially in 2013). I have never even considered it.

The low quality directories your site is being uploaded to in exchange for supposedly hordes of traffic is giving you no benefit because if you read Google’s link building guidelines, you’re actually putting yourself at risk of being penalised. And here’s the proof from Google’s guidelines

Takeaway: Don’t do automated or mass directory submissions. These links will pass no value and traffic will be unqualified and of low quality – certainly not the converting type – and on top of this, you may be kicked out of the search results!

7 - Lazy Social Bookmarking

Managing social bookmarks correctly can be good for increasing a brand’s exposure and traffic to their website, and has the potential of helping your work to go viral.

Social bookmarking sites have been setup to bookmark resources. You can submit resources you think or hope other users will find interesting on sites like Digg, Reddit and Delicious, and most of these sites allow you to add a short description so users understand the content of the resource. This is to entice visitors to read it.

However, submitting the odd link or article to one has little benefit. A lack of effort often results in a lack of reward.

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Like most things in this list, if you take the time to nurture your profile on these social bookmarking networks, instead of submitting the same articles from the same company over and over, you’ll increase your chances of success.

Takeaway: Take time and effort to manage your social bookmark profile on the sites that matter.

8 - Junk Comments

Commenting on blogs has its benefits. You can get a tiny bit of brand exposure, start relationships with fellow bloggers and even provide you with some relevant traffic.

However, commenting for link building is not only very underhanded, it’s a complete waste of time. Most blogs nofollow comments these days, meaning you pass no benefit to your ranking in the SERPs.

Spammy comments on blogs seem to be on the increase – I get more on my blogs these days than ever before. It wastes my time and annoys me when I have to delete them myself when my comment spam filter doesn’t pick it up (unless it’s a funny comment, then I tend not to lose my rag).

Takeaway: Don’t comment for the sake of a link; comment with sincerity and if you genuinely can add value.

9 - Spamming Forums

Similar to the comment section above, forums are another prime location for webmasters and bots to spam.

Creating a profile to stick a link into, or replying to an unrelated post with a paragraph of text remains common. Forums that no longer have a webmaster or one that does not frequently keep an eye on the forum fall victim to this foul play.

I would not recommend this for a link building strategy. If you want to use forums, use them in a similar way to how I suggested with blog comments: commenting in forums can help with brand exposure, starting relationships with other forum members and even provide you with some relevant traffic.

Takeaway: Use forums ethically - not solely for the sake of a link.

10 - Using Outdated Methods

The world of link building has changed substantially over the past couple of years. A lot of methods mentioned in this article were popular tactics for increasing traffic and sales to clients’ websites just a few years ago.

Today these methods are likely to wreak havoc on your sites with and drive little, if any, relevant traffic and potential business.

Focus has moved away from these underhand tactics, particularly since the first Penguin update back in April 2012.

With the methods and importance of link building changing all the time, it’s handy to keep up to date and on top of best practice in the industry.

Takeaway: For the sake of your business and your website, make sure you or your agency is doing a good job with your link building. Make sure you stay familiar with up-to-date link building tactics.

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