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I love it when a guest is willing to bare all to share what they do behind the scenes even when they’re skirting the Google guidelines, which is not something I would suggest you do but it is very enlightening to hear what is happening behind the scenes, especially when you are trying to scale something as difficult as link building. Our guest on this episode number 154 is Julie Joyce. She is the Owner of the link building agency, Link Fish Media. She has written a monthly column on link building for Search Engine Land for the last ten years and it’s an excellent column. Julie, it’s great to have you on the show.
Thank you. I’m very excited.
Let’s start by talking about link development and what do you think is the hardest part about getting links in this day and age.
This is pretty close to my heart because I’ve been trying to train another group of link builders for a client. The hardest thing we’re all facing, and that includes my agency, is finding good sites. We don’t want to step all over a site that we’ve worked with before or it’s covered up with links. In some industries, finance is a good example, I feel every site we’re running into that’s worth anything is a site we’ve already worked with. It’s getting more and more difficult to find those good sites and it’s difficult to get a response too.
My biggest problem is that so many sites seem to exist for the purpose of selling ads or selling links. A lot of them are completely covered up. If I were looking at it when I click on this link, that has gotten a lot harder for us. That’s the big thing we try to do for our clients is to get a link that somebody would click on, even though we know they don’t have to click on it for it to help with rankings. It’s finding those good sites that were plentiful ten years ago. You could find tons of sites and ways to contact some people that had no idea what we were even asking or talking about. They didn’t know how to insert a link. Now, anybody you contact, the first thing out of their mouth is, “How much money?”
What do you say in response to that? Do you pay them? Do you have a hard line about never?
We do because we’ve got reputation years ago for buying links as safely as possible for a really competitive industry. At the time, we worked with gambling. A lot of what we do does involve paid links. It’s not that big of a deal to us because we know what we’re doing. The clients know exactly what we’re doing and they’ve signed off on it. I’d say for us, the difficulty is they want a lot of money. A lot of webmasters will come back and every page you pick where you want a link is obviously their most important page that gets a billion hits a day. They come back with, “I’ll do this for $5,000 a month, $10,000 for a permanent link.” The costs right now are absolutely outrageous too.
What’s reasonable in your in your estimation for a link? A couple of hundred dollars, $500, a monthly fee or what?
What we do a lot, and sometimes this is at the client’s request, they want us to get links on a yearly basis. A lot of them don’t want permanent links. My maximum personally is usually $150 because I have a database full of sites. That’s proof that we can do that. I don’t like to go above that. If it was a good site, it looked authoritative and it would send you some great traffic, we generally would go a little bit more. A few years back, we had a client that authorized up to $500 per link. I don’t feel like we got better sites, to be honest. We just gave the webmasters more money than we probably could have talked them down to.
How do you judge whether it’s worth $50, $150 or maybe even a few hundred dollars? Is it DR, UR, Trust Flow, Citation Flow or traffic values? What do you use as the gauge to determine how effective and valuable that link is going to be?
My opinion will probably differ from my client. When we started trying to figure out what metrics to use, almost all of them at the time wanted to use Moz. A lot of them go buy the Domain Authority and we built that into our internal system. That’s what we’ve stuck to. If a site had a high DA, that wouldn’t automatically say to me, “We should pay more for this.” A lot of it, in all honesty, depends on how well my link builders can negotiate. We might get some sites sometimes that we get lucky, they have no idea what links are. They might give us a link for $25. We have some that seem to exist to sell links and we try to stay away from those. There are times when a link builder on my team has approached those guys and they say, “They want this amount of money,” they show me the site and I’m like, “We need to stay away.” Lots of times it depends on the link builders’ negotiating skills and how much time you’re willing to spend to try to get a good price.
Would you say that the vast majority of the links that you build on behalf of your clients are paid for?
They are definitely. We’ve got good at that. I’m of the opinion that people are going to buy links and we seem to be able to do it pretty well and not have clients that are constantly getting in trouble for it. We try to get links that look like they would actually be real links. It’s just that the webmaster wants money for their time to update the content or something like that.
What kinds of links are you getting? Are these link insertions? Are they guest posts? Are they reviews of products or services that your clients are offering? What do these links look like?
They are usually link insertions, although we do have some new content that we’ll place for clients. We don’t tend to do guest posts. One reason is that a lot of other companies do that and that’s their thing. They’re good at it. What we try to do is find some content that looks like it can be updated. You might find an article from 2016. It has a list of resources and they talk about all these different things. Our client has something updated. We might approach them and say, “We’ve got some new information. Here it is,” and go from there. A lot of it is trying to make an older post more relevant to the current situation with everything.The hardest thing that we're all facing is just finding good sites. Click To Tweet
If I’m thinking from a client’s perspective, I have on one hand an agency that’s saying, “We’re pearly white hat. We’re doing link earning and link baiting. We’re not doing guest posting. We’re not paying for the links. We’re not doing link insertions. We’re squeaky clean. The kind of links that Google engineers would be happy that we’re building. Don’t go to any of these other companies. These other agencies that will do the guest posting type links, that will do the link insertions and the other stuff because that’s gray hat at best. It’s only a matter of time before Google will pull the rug out from under you if those are the kinds of links that you’re building.” Let’s say you catch wind of that discussion or you’re part of that conversation, what do you tell people in response to that?
I don’t truly think that you can say you’re a white hat and you’re going to be out of trouble forever. I’ve seen a lot of people that I’ve done link audits for and they have never even intentionally built links. I had an example of a guy who had a quotes website and he had been penalized. His site dropped out of everything. A lot of it, when I looked at it, looked like he had a lot of people in forums that were using different quotes in their signatures in the forum and it linked back to him, which I thought was pretty natural but apparently, Google didn’t.
I’ve seen many people that have been penalized by things where I don’t think they did anything that would be considered a gray hat or black hat. I would also say I don’t like it when other people down what someone else does and they say, “Don’t go with these guys because it’s not safe or it’s not that,” because I don’t like to talk bad about what another person is doing with SEO unless it’s truly very dangerous. A lot of times, we have had a fair amount of SEOs and SEO companies contact us to try to get us to buy links for their clients. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to tell the clients. I’ve worked with someone who said, “When you send me the report, don’t include the costs on there because we don’t want to open up that can of worms.” At that point, we stopped because I don’t think that’s a good idea. If someone was doing something risky from our side, I’d want to know about it. I don’t think anybody is as white hat as they like to think. Maybe some are, but I don’t know. Some people would say, “Asking for links in any way is not a great idea.” If you have a ton of money, it’s perfectly reasonable that you could create good content that can generate fantastic links. Not every client has $20,000 for a massive content budget.
I 100% agree with you that it’s important to be transparent with the end client. If you’re working through a contractor-subcontractor arrangement, the end client needs to know that links have been paid for if that’s happening. Let’s talk about the metrics for success. We talked a little bit about how DA for Moz, Domain Authority, is a metric that a lot of linked sellers will rely on. Frankly, it’s much easier to gain that metric than some of the other metrics. What are some of the metrics and measurements for success in your view?
In my view, you would look at so many different things. I would look at what were you doing? Does it increase your traffic? Are your rankings going up? Is that increasing traffic? The percentage of new visitors and things like that. I don’t look at things the same way a lot of the clients do though. I came from a pure SEO background and I wanted to look at all these different metrics. It seems every client we would get had a different tool they used for metrics and that’s still true. It’s not scientific at all but with us, we figure if a client stays with us and they’re happy, then everything must be going well. They measure success differently too. Some people want to move up in the rankings, some of them in competitive industries basically want to keep their spots. They don’t want to fall behind. They know that all the other companies are doing this. They just want to keep up. A lot of them are happy if they seem to be doing as well as they were six months ago, even if they’re not technically improving.
What would be some of your favorite tools for link analysis? Let’s start with link analysis and then we’ll talk about things like outreach after that.
For link analysis, I tend to use Majestic or SEMrush. I go between the two but I’ve been using Kerboo for ages. That’s a tool that can help you identify your most dangerous links potentially. I tend to grab as much data as I can. Basically, any link tool I have that can give me links, I throw it into Kerboo. It sorts things out so it has all these different bands of your risk. Something will show you that this is risky or this is probably neutral. I sort things out and go that way. If anything looks dangerous, I still visit it just to make sure. I’d say that is definitely my main tool.
What is it about Majestic that you like? For me, for example, I love trust flow. I love having the separate metric for trust differentiated from importance. Whereas with Ahrefs, you only have DR, Domain Rating, which doesn’t tell you how much trust is baked into that and how much importance is baked in. I want to be able to distinguish those two concepts. What is it for you that you love about Majestic?
One thing I love about Majestic is that I’m familiar with it because I’ve always used it. I’ve used it for many years. They seem to have a lot of great features. I read the definitions of what the metric is and I’m still confused by it, but I like it. I liked the Topical Trust Flow. I like that you can look at a profile and see how many links are coming in that seemed to be finance sites or pet sites or something like that. Currently, I’d say that’s the most useful feature for me.
I love that too. I love looking at the topics and what the distribution looks like. Does it look unnatural?
If you have a finance site you’re building links for, and the number one Topical Trust Flow is something like pets, that looks strange. It does give you a good idea, a quick overview of the link profile.
With Kerboo, you say that you pull in these linked data sources from Majestic, SEMrush and so forth, feed all that into Kerboo and then it does its analysis from that. Could you describe a bit more? Go a bit into more detail on Kerboo. I personally have never used Kerboo. I use a lot of link analysis tools, link research tools, for example and Ahrefs, Link Explorer. I’m not that familiar with Kerboo.
It’s very similar to link research tools. We have a huge link profile, it will give you an idea of where to start looking to see if you have bad links. That’s what I like about it. It’s simple. I don’t know what their score is that starts, “You’re in a dangerous territory here,” but you might get a link score of something like 691 or 800. Something above 600 tends to be, “You need to look at this and see what’s going on.” Most sites I analyze are in the 600 range. When I do that, it has some bad stuff but everybody’s doing well. That’s the main thing I use it for. A lot of that, and I will be honest here, the creators of it are friends of mine. I got to test it out in the early stages and I like it. A lot of my loyalty too, it is not just that it’s a great tool in my opinion but it is a tool that my friends created, that I do want to use.
Have you ever tried Link Detox from Link Research Tools?
I have. I used that for years too. I didn’t have any problems with it at all. The only reason I switched is that my tool budget got out of control because I kept buying things. This was one that at the time they were letting me use for free because we were friends. That’s why I switched to that. I love Link Research Tools. I had no problem with that whatsoever and I had used it for years.We do need to be more efficient. Click To Tweet
It’s a great tool set. I’m very affectionate to Link Research Tools. They’re friends of mine. Christoph has been on this show a couple of times. We have a part one and part two. I’m a big fan of Link Research Tools. I’ve got a couple dozen different tools inside of there, Link Detox being one of them. It sounds like there are a lot of similarities there with Link Detox and Kerboo in terms of getting a toxicity score for your link profile. Is there anything else about Kerboo that is different from Link Detox or a link detoxification tool?
I don’t know that I’ve noticed that there is because I probably I don’t know what else Link Research Tools has anymore. It’s probably been three years since I used them. At the time, I thought they were pretty similar. I think Link Research Tools had a lot more functionality for different things whereas Kerboo at the time, was made to help you hone in on the bad links and do something about those.
When you do something about that’s creating a disavowed file, doing outreach to the website owners of the toxic sites and getting them to remove the link, what’s your process for cleaning things up if the toxicity level is too high?
Usually, it’s been going straight to the disavow, which is probably not the best idea. We had one campaign where we tried to do link cleanup, and out of a thousand sites we emailed, we might have gotten two links removed. People didn’t even bother to respond. If they really need it, go straight to the disavow.
That’s one thing that I find to be the case too when we do link removal outreach for our clients when they have a toxic link profile. The response rate is low and you have to get very aggressive. You have to do multiple follow-ups. You’ve got to follow up at least three times. We use Pitchbox to do that where it ties in nicely with Link Detox. There’s very tight integration. The disavow file is created by Link Detox and then it talks to Pitchbox via API so that it does the creation of that prospect list of sites to outreach to over on the Link Detox side and then Pitchbox executes on that. It sends out the campaigns, you write the email templates and everything and set the follow-up criteria. How many days until the follow-up message is sent and forward the original email? It just gets more aggressive the longer it goes where they’re not responding. It’s like, “I don’t want to report you to Google but I will if I don’t hear back from you.” We get single digit percentages of responses but it’s enough that Google says, “You put in the hard yards and we’re going to let you out of the penalty box.” Do you use Pitchbox for outreach?
I don’t and I know you’d ask about outreach tools. I don’t use any outreach tools and neither does my team. I feel like we’re complete Luddites in this industry because we don’t do it. The danger and the risk of paid links when we first started, that made me nervous. I always wanted to make sure we didn’t make mistakes like sending an email that said, “Hey, F name,” or something like that like I get all the time. There are all kinds of errors in these automated emails. We do everything by hand, which is tedious but that’s how we’ve done it. I’ve tried using BuzzStream before and I loved it. I thought it was cool, but one of my best link builders is an older man who didn’t have a lot of computer experience when he came to us. I tried to use it with him and he didn’t like it. He didn’t take to it at all. He likes to do things his way. We’ve been doing it this way for over ten years and that works. I haven’t looked into those that much but I should. I think they could be valuable. It will definitely save me a lot of time if I could make the time to look at them. It’s all I need to do.
It is something that will scale and streamline some processes for you. I’m particularly fond of Pitchbox and they’re friends of mine as well. I’ve not used BuzzStream but I’ve heard anecdotally a number of people who have used both who raves about Pitchbox and don’t have as nice things to say about BuzzStream. I’m probably not even going to try BuzzStream. Another thing too that you’ll like about Pitchbox is that you can have a moderation queue. I forget what they call it. It’s a holding box where it’s completely optional. If you turn that on, you can have somebody like a QA person go through the emails and make sure that they look all hunky dory before they get sent out. You’ll never have an F name or some weird mail merge thing sneak in there if you turn on that feature.
That is interesting because a lot of my reluctance also is I like to see everything that’s going out and I like to look at it. If my guys close a link when they’re submitting it all to me, I see the whole email thread. I do tend to keep an eye on that to make sure their outreach is as it should be. It would be good to be able to look at something before it goes out.
It’s important to make sure that the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. I’m particular about this stuff. I’m a stickler and if somebody sends me a link request or any outreach where they want something, my spidey sense is already up. It’s because they want something, they’re not giving and they’re trying to get something. I’m looking for things that seem disingenuous or mail merge type stuff. Things like, “I loved your last blog post,” and then it inserts the name of the blog post in there and I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve never been to my blog.” I hate that stuff.
You can achieve the personal touch and make it feel like you’ve been to their blog. You’ve been to their podcast or whatever it is that you’re pitching and mail merge things in there. They call it backfilling over at Pitchbox. You get somebody, let’s say an overseas person at a few dollars an hour, going in and building this data repository of something insightful to say about a recent post or recent podcast episode beyond the basic thing of, “I found your last article, insert in the blank to be insightful.” To have something insightful to say about their insights and you can hire somebody to go in and backfill all that. That is what gets mail merged in and not just first name and latest blog post and name of the blog.
Let’s talk about other types of tools. We talked about link analysis tools. We talked about outreach tools. What are some of the tools that you use that help you to be more productive and to systematize and scale your business? Any agency whether it’s a link development agency, an ad agency or a print media agency, they’re always looking to scale and not just by adding more staff, but by adding smarter systems and processes, standard operating procedures and so forth. What are some tools that have rocked your world and in that area?
It’s everybody’s goal to scale things. I like what you said about making processes more efficient because I am interested in that. We don’t plan to grow any bigger though because we’re very small now. When we started out, we got to about 50 people. It was completely unmanageable for me so I had to have a mid-level manager who saw everything and then I managed everything else. I hated that because I never could see exactly what we were doing and I was the one who reported to the client. If they had questions, I couldn’t say, “I approved this. I knew what was going on.” I don’t have any desire to scale in that way and because of that, we can’t scale in terms of getting more clients.
We do need to get more efficient. The main tool that I use for business and personal use is Evernote. I’ve been with them for ages. You can create notebooks, you can create notes. I have a notebook for each client. I’ve got notes. I have all of my emails in there with correspondence with clients or their latest requests and things like that and it’s searchable. If I’m trying to find all the notes related to a client, I click a keyword and it pops up everything. That helps me stay organized. I have a file for different things, for travel for example and receipts and things like that that I put in there. That has become the only tool that I use to stay organized in any way because everything I need is right there. You can get it on your phone or the laptop and it syncs up.
I’ve tried some project management tools out and I never can get into them. We do have an internet at work that a former IT guy built for us. That’s our main way to stay organized with work and it has a queue when it assigns different clients to different link builders. I still use Evernote and I’ve tried to get my team to use it. They’re even worse than me. They don’t want to learn anything with regards to any software. I feel bad. I don’t even try sometimes. I like Evernote. If anybody has any system that works for them, I like that. I tried to get another client to use Evernote and they said, “We like Google Docs,” and I said, “That’s great. Let me see that.” That’s how they organize everything. I’ve had a few clients that use that. Some of them put everything in a project management tool. I like Evernote because I do work for home. I own the company and I have a crazy schedule. It’s the main thing where I can see everything that’s going on in my life, personal and business. That’s been my go-to for years.
I’m a big fan of Evernote as well. Ironically, I’m about to record an interview with Charles Byrd for my other podcast, which is The Optimized Geek and it’s about all about Evernote. He’s an Evernote expert. He has 20,000 notes. Every single call he does, every meeting, receipts, everything gets created in Evernote. He uses tags. He’s a ninja at tags and having a tag hierarchy. It’s a genius. In fact, he created a whole online course about using Evernote. It’s three or four hours. I’ve been going through it myself. I’m about two-thirds of the way through it.
I have a bunch of other productivity episodes if you’re into productivity and organization stuff. I’ve had David Allen on, the author of Getting Things Done. I’ve had Tim Ferriss on talking about outsourcing. I’ve had Mike Vardy, the Productivityist. I’ve had Stever Robbins, another productivity guru. Ari Meisel, a huge guru at outsourcing and productivity. I’m a geek when it comes to productivity. We’re seeing the same hymnal in terms of Evernote. What’s your favorite aspect, feature or capability of Evernote that you use all the time that’s been transformative for you?
I’d like to be able to search something on my phone especially because when you have your own business, you’re never really off. It’s nice to be somewhere and a client needs something and I can quickly on my phone pop up whatever I need that’s in the note and send them an email. It works that way too with my personal life. I’ve been in situations like at the bank, trying to do something and they say, “Your son’s Social Security number.” I just go and pull it up because I can’t remember things like that. I like searching on my laptop too to find something quickly. Being able to be somewhere else, pop open your phone and find the information you need is incredible to me.
One of my favorite features is when you scan receipts, business cards and anything. It will OCR that for Premium users. If you have Evernote Premium, Optical Character Recognition turn that into text and that’s all searchable content, which is amazing.
I do that too with receipts. If we make payments, sometimes the systems you make payments to will send you the information you need in an image. I’ve had that issue with PayPal sometimes. If I’m searching in my email, sometimes I might not see exactly what I need. When I have it in Evernote like that, it converts it into text, it’s searchable. It’s incredible.When you have your own business, you're never really off. Click To Tweet
What outreach emails get deleted automatically and get submitted to the Spamhaus and that thing? Which ones get you the desired result of getting a link? What’s the magic in getting the good result and what are the landmines that will get you into trouble?
We used to have a lot more problems getting spam issues when we were bigger and we were all sending emails from the same domain. One thing we don’t do usually is mention a URL in the initial email because we found that lots of times that did get deleted. I have spoken to people that that seems to work for them. With us, it’s a different thing because we are offering money and it’s ridiculous that it wouldn’t happen. If you’re going to offer somebody money and they want money, they’re going to respond to your email. It’s pretty simple with us. Anything I have found, people just will say no. You say, “If you aren’t interested in hearing from us again, please let us know. We’ll add you to our list of people not contact.” Before my guys send any email, they look at the internet and they can tell if this person has already been contacted and said, “Leave me alone.” We don’t tend to get people who are like, “I’m going to report you because you keep bothering me.” Even when we follow up, they just delete the emails.
Let’s say that you have this amazing template that you’ve written that’s going to get you a lot of results in terms of people saying yes. You’ve included something in there about you’re willing to pay. Do you use that same template across a lot of different clients and a lot of different sites? Do you change it up a lot so that you’re not leaving a footprint for Gmail to put you in the junk folders?
We do change it up for each client generally. We have a basic template but we try to make it more applicable to each industry. We do have one guy who uses Gmail for outreach and he’s the only one that does it, but he has an alias account with us. It’s a different old domain that we used to use for email. He and another guy use that. We looked one time to see if the Gmail conversion rate was any different from that other domain, and it was about the same. It would be great to figure out which one is better for you and you use that. It’s almost 50/50 every time we look at it.
What you’re saying is that guy was sending emails from a Gmail address and getting similar deliverability versus sending it from the client’s domain name?
We don’t use the client’s domain names for these emails because of the risk. A long time ago, we had a few domains that we bought that we use for email accounts from that domain.
Have you gotten requests from clients saying, “I’d like you to send your outreach emails from our domain name and we’ll set you up with an email address?”
No, we haven’t. I wouldn’t do that with a client’s email. When we did do some guest post placement and we were not paying, we did have that. It didn’t last long enough that I could tell you if it would have been better off coming from Gmail or something. It came from the client’s email. It wasn’t successful because the client honestly didn’t have great content in my opinion. I probably, in hindsight, should not have taken them on.
Have you heard of a tool called emailwise?
No, I haven’t.
This is a tool worth checking out. It was created by Jeremy Schoemaker also known as ShoeMoney who’s also been a guest on this show. Emailwise is all about testing the email deliverability before you send out your campaign. It has a whole bunch of Gmail accounts, Yahoo! Mail accounts, Hotmail, etc. It will check all of those inboxes and the junk folders to see where your email ended up. It will make sure that you’ve got a highly deliverable email before you send it out. It’s free. He’s decided not to charge money for the tool. The price is right for sure.
Why don’t we talk about how to get a company that doesn’t want to pay for links to the top of the search results through link earning strategies? You’ve been writing for Search Engine Land for many years. You cover in a number of the articles link earning strategies, content marketing and creating link bait or linkable assets. What’s in your opinion the secret sauce to getting these linkable assets or link-worthy content? Instead of the garbage stuff that you would get from clients who come up with the craziest worst content you could imagine.
We have had the most success with anybody that has a resource, like a how-to guide. A lot of the work that we have done where we weren’t paying and we were asking for links, I did a lot of that myself because the other guys didn’t have as much experience. The most success we did have was we had stuff like, “How to grow cilantro.” It’s pretty basic but the way it was presented was cool. It had all kinds of things broken down about recipes you could have cilantro in and different types of cilantro. That was successful because it was it was a huge piece on a tiny little herb. It went into all kinds of crazy stuff. If you were one of those people that are a cilantro fanatic, you would like it. That was very successful.
Another thing that we’ve had a lot of success with would be something that included a video, like a how-to video whether it’s repairing your dishwasher or replacing some part in your refrigerator. That seemed to go very well too. If it’s something that is truly useful, not that the client thinks it’s useful or you might think so, but people are searching for something like this that could save them a ton of money, that always seemed to go well for us. We had one campaign where we got an 80% conversion rate for our outreach. It was for one of those how to grow a specific, I don’t remember if it was vegetable or if it was an herb, but that’s what it was. Everybody loved it. It was so detailed and so much information about a tomato, for example. You don’t think you can’t write that much about a tomato but these people did.
One thing I bet our audience don’t know about tomatoes is that they’re a fruit. They’re not vegetables. You said 80% conversion rate. Is that 80% of the emails that you sent out were converted into links where they said yes?
Yes, they did. That is rare for us. I would never get over that because we’ve never come anywhere close to that. We may occasionally have 50% to 60%. Recently, we’ve been buying for a client that basically I would think any site on the planet would link to these guys because they cover everything. It’s a great site. We’ve had a high conversion rate with them. Very few people say no that respond to us. We’ve had some low ones, like 2%, 3% sometimes with clients, which is not fun.
I’ve got to ask you about this how to grow cilantro piece. I personally hate cilantro and I found out why I hate cilantro. For me, it tastes like soap.
Is it genetic?
Yes, it’s genetic.
I got my DNA run by 23andMe. I saw that and it said that I was the same way. I don’t mind it that much but a lot of it makes me sick. It’s fascinating that it tastes like soap to some people.Figure out which one is better for you and use that. Click To Tweet
I do not like it. It’s awful. Did you include that in the article?
That was after the fact, sadly. That wasn’t mentioned. That would be great because many people don’t know that. Every one of my friends I could tell you if they love or hate cilantro because people have a violent reaction if they don’t like it. They get angry and upset about cilantro.
Don’t put that in my food. It will ruin the dish. I don’t want it. Let’s say that you’re talking to a prospect and they want to know what budget to allocate to your agency fees and what budget to allocate to buying these links. What do you tell them in terms of setting the expectations?
We charge per link that we secure. I’ve been criticized for that before because I understand it makes you want to get more links so you can charge more money. With most clients, I’ll give them a maximum. They might say, “We don’t want to exceed $3,000,” and it tends to be about $350 per link with us. I don’t like to pay more than $150 and then the $200 is for our labor because it can take longer to get one link. We analyze that every year to see how many hours it takes and make sure you make a small profit.
Are we talking the typical client would spend $5,000 a month on link building with you?
That’s probably typical. We’ve had a few big clients that have big budgets. We have some that we might do one or two links a month for them. Some come and go. They might want three links here and then six months down the road, they want five. We have clients floating in and out of this all the time. I generally try to see what they want to spend and make it fit that. I don’t like to talk people into a huge budget. If you get a person a site that has few links and then they come to me and they say, “I want to get 50 links this month,” that is extremely dangerous to me. It’s going to be obvious that something weird is going on.
Generally, we’ve been busy because we are very lucky to have a lot of great clients and referrals coming in. Most of what I do is try to talk people down or talk them out altogether. I don’t know that one link a month is going to help you, but some that’s what they want. I take them on lots of times because it gives my guys something different to do. They might be working to try to get 30 links for a big client in a month and then they can spend an hour trying to do something for this guy here and there. They like that. We do charge per link. If they had a $3,000 budget, that might be eight to nine links, something like that. We tend to get a maximum from everybody so we know what not to go over.
Do you talk about this on your column at Search Engine Land? Do you talk about buying links, essentially going against Google’s guidelines because they say, “Don’t buy links?”
No. I wrote article years and years ago about paid links and it got a lot of negative attention. I don’t, but the same principles of a lot of what we do apply to anything. Occasionally, I do take on consulting jobs or I might do some strictly white hat work for somebody. That tends to be what I try to write about and things about general outreach. No matter what you’re doing, there are basic principles. You don’t want to have spelling errors. You want to try to be personal but not too long. Things like that can apply to everything. Obviously, a publication like Search Engine Land isn’t going to want to have somebody on their website saying, “Buy links.” I don’t generally advocate that people buy links. I just happen to do it.
One time I gave the analogy, which is terrible, but it’s about providing users with clean needles because you know people are going to buy links. We try to do it in the safest way possible and do it the best. I don’t ever try to talk anybody into buying links. Generally, as soon as they contact me, that’s the first thing I say, “Most of what we do involve paid links. You probably don’t want to do this. Here are the risks.” A lot of people are willing to risk. That’s why we continue to do it. I wouldn’t do it probably from my own site. In fact, I definitely would and I never have but I do think it’s dangerous. I look at the success of our clients over the years. When Penguin hit, it didn’t impact any of our clients, which is remarkable considering the work we were doing. We’ve had two people that I know of that had penalties and they were both working with about three or four different link companies at the time and buying everything they could. It could have been us, definitely. As much as I would say, it’s risky and not the best idea. I also see that everybody we work with tends to do well.
Do you find that your clients are also working with other link building agencies that are doing other types of link building, such as the guest posting and that? Is it pretty much exclusive arrangements and your clients don’t work with other building firms?
It’s about 50/50. A lot of times, they don’t even tell us. I like to know if somebody else is doing something and they should know, but a lot of people don’t care about that. Some have their own internal team and we function as a supplemental agency with that. There are some where we’re the only people doing anything. Sometimes we do know. I’ve got a client where we’re trying to get a broad link profile. We’re doing stuff, there are people doing guest posting, there are some people doing resource links, PR, things like that. That is working very well because it all complements each other and makes the link profile very natural to me. We don’t get that luxury with a lot of clients. They may not have the budget to hire different link teams.
How do you get most of your clients? Is it through speaking engagements? Is it through referrals? Typically, it’s one or the other for most SEOs, referrals or speaking, at least the folks that I know. Of course, I know a lot of people in the speaking circuit because I do a lot of speaking. How about for you?
For me, it’s from Search Engine Land, which I’m incredibly thankful for. Every time I have an article published, I tend to get ten to fifteen different potential clients reaching out. That has truly been amazing for me. They’re definitely the biggest way I get referrals but also referrals from other SEOs. We get referrals from clients and things like that. I’ve gotten one client from maybe four speaking engagements and that was it. That was not my way of getting work. Link buying is risky. We get a lot of word of mouth referrals too.
I learned from Bob Allen, who’s also been on this podcast, that you’re either a writer who speaks or a speaker who writes. I am a speaker who writes. I personally hate writing. Although, I’m prolific with it and I’m a co-author of The Art Of SEO, which is a 1,000-page tome. I didn’t write it all by myself. I had co-authors and we also had ghostwriters and editors helping us too but it’s painful. It’s like pulling teeth to get me to write an article for Search Engine Land, which I do every two months. I could do it more often but I don’t want to. On the other hand, speaking, I’m in my element. I love being onstage. I get into presentation mode and it flows. It’s like magic and then I can get that recording of my speech and have somebody transcribe that. I have somebody else draft a blog post based on it and then I review it and tweak it. That’s much easier for me. I’m a speaker who writes. That was a big a-ha for me to learn that that’s how I work versus just thinking, not even having that distinction beforehand. What are your thoughts about that?
I’m the opposite, definitely a writer who speaks. One of my degrees was in English. When I got drafted onto an SEO team after being on a Programming team, it was because of my English degree. They needed somebody that could write. The painful thing with me for writing is coming up with something I haven’t said a billion times or that hasn’t been said. Especially with link building, a lot of it doesn’t change that much. Writing is definitely something that I enjoy. I’ve done technical writing before and I love all of it. I don’t mind speaking. It doesn’t make me nervous or anything like that. It’s just I think I write better than I speak definitely. I read better than I hear also. For me, I can get my point across much better when I’m writing than if I’m speaking.Definitely don't put your eggs all in one basket. Click To Tweet
I read better than I hear too. I do enjoy listening to audiobooks but my retention is not as good versus me reading it. In university, I would skip all the lectures and just read the textbook. They saw the exams and I didn’t waste my time sitting in these lecture halls. What’s been your biggest lesson from building this agency up and figuring everything out? What works, what doesn’t work in terms of the Google algorithm, in terms of starting a business, running it, growing it and then scaling it back a bit? What’s your biggest lesson you want to share with our audience?
Definitely don’t put your eggs all in one basket, which is such a cliché but it’s true. When we first started, we had one big client and then we got other big clients and we kept staffing up. I was constantly in a state of panic thinking, “If one of these guys leaves, we’re going to have to lay off ten people.” It didn’t happen for a while, but when it happened we had to lay off about twenty people. I have never wanted to be in that position again. I don’t want to have to borrow money for the business or work 70, 80 hours a week. I don’t want to ever be dependent on one source for my business. Currently we’re not, which is good. I don’t like that feeling that I could potentially cause people that I care about to lose their jobs because I haven’t tried to make this a more diverse group of clients.
Back when I had my previous agency, Netconcepts, we’ve got a seven-figure contract from Zappos. It was amazing. We hired all these people and we were crushing it for Zappos, doing amazing work for them. We figured we’d have them for years and then out of the blue they canceled. They were using our software as a service that I had invented that allowed us to do a proxy-based SEO. We could optimize their website without having access to their backend. We were charging on a cost per click basis. It added up to seven figures and performance-based revenue. We were killing it for them. Somebody in the company said, “Who’s this Netconcepts? Why are we spending so much money?” and they decided that they’d pull the plug on that and try and build something in-house. It is brutal. We had to do layoffs and everything. It’s painful. That was the only time that we had to do layoffs. I don’t ever want to do that again. This has been a fabulous interview. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m sure our audience has as well. How can they get in touch with you if they wanted to work with you?
Your website, LinkFishMedia.com, is the way they could learn more about your agency.
They can contact me through that too.
Thank you, Julie. Thank you to our audience. We will catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak.
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
☑ Find a good site that will enable me to grow my links. Don’t rush and take my time because many sites exist only for selling ads and links.
☑ Develop a sharp insight when it comes to negotiating a link price by being aware of what their true value is.
☑ Be very careful with the people I’m dealing with. Have the transparency to let the client know what my goals are.
☑ Evaluate my progress by creating metrics that will determine my success in different areas.
☑ Use link analysis tools like Majestic, SEMrush and Kerboo.
☑ Download Evernote to help me keep track of things and stay organized with my business.
☑ Do not include URL on my initial email to avoid it being tagged as a spam email.
☑ Research and be informed about the benefits and risks of buying links.
☑ Identify where I mostly get my clients and develop a way to strengthen it.
☑ Strive to create a diverse group of clients. Don’t be ever dependent on just one source of my business.
- Link Fish Media
- Search Engine Land
- Link Explorer
- Link Detox
- Link Research Tools
- part one of Christoph Cemper on Marketing Speak
- part two of Christoph Cemper on Marketing Speak
- Charles Byrd
- The Optimized Geek
- David Allen – previous episode of The Optimized Geek
- Getting Things Done
- Tim Ferriss – previous episode of The Optimized Geek
- Mike Vardy – previous episode of The Optimized Geek
- Stever Robbins – previous episode of The Optimized Geek
- Ari Meisel – previous episode of The Optimized Geek
- Jeremy Schoemaker – previous episode of Marketing Speak
- Bob Allen – previous episode of Marketing Speak
- The Art Of SEO
About Julie Joyce