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Hard Truths on Scalability in Link Building

by Jon Cooper
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Everyone in their right mind wants to know how to scale link building. Hell, I’m asking the same question.

For agencies who prioritize scalability, the past six months have been a hard pill to swallow. Penguin really dropped the hammer on a lot of things that scale, which is why some are hurting.

Just in the past couple months I’ve talked with 2 prominent SEOs who were talking about how their super scalable process has now morphed into an entirely different animal.

What Currently IS Scalable

From everyone I’ve talked to, and from my own experiences, the two main processes that continue to be scalable from a practical standpoint are guest posting and broken link building. Sure, I’ve seen infographics and a few others doing well, but these two are for sure.

Long term, I think guest posting will stay, but a lot of the lowest forms of it will start to go away. In terms of broken link building, don’t really see any possibility of it being “unnatural”, and detecting it from an algorithmic standpoint would be near impossible.

What’s Most Effective in Link Building Right Now

The thing that’s working and getting talked about so much in the link building, and SEO, community is content. Who hasn’t had the phrases “content is king!” and “content marketing is the best thing since sliced bread” forced down their throat.

The problem is, great content can’t be scaled. Sure, mediocre content can, but it’s virtually worthless (which a lot of agencies still don’t get…).

That’s because you can’t create a program to output new, effective content ideas, let alone to actually act on them.

What Agencies Should Be Focusing On

Everyone loves scale, and it won’t go away in link building no matter what happens. But if you’re smart, you’ll adapt.

Switch your focus from scalability to these two things: people & process.

First is people. Realize that you need actual people thinking up actual ideas and actually putting them into practice to be as successful as possible in today’s landscape.

This means that recruitment and talent should be climbing to the top of your list in the coming months if it already hasn’t. A great example of a company already doing this is SEER Interactive. When I went to email a large group of intelligent consultants in this industry, I realized at least 5-10 were from SEER alone!

Second is process. Look at the tools you’re using, the metrics you’re tracking (and the ones you aren’t), your process flow, and new things you could possibly test out (i.e. following up a 2nd or 3rd time). Always be on the lookout for new tools and how you can incorporate them into your process. Track metrics like subject line, opening line, and even video outreach success rates.

For me, even if I only optimize success rates by going from 5% to 6% for a particular campaign type, that’s a 20% increase in links. When the success margins are low, test, test, and test again.

What Small Business Should Be Focusing On

I can’t tell you how many small businesses I’ve had to empathize with as a result of scale diminishing. The “but I don’t have enough time for that!” phrase echoes in my head far too often.

Luckily though there is a HUGE upside to the current state of SEO. Because the need for great content & a great community is increasing in order to stay at the top of the SERPs, a ton of awesome side effects are being created.

You might be creating that content because an SEO like me told you to, but you’ll see higher conversions & sales if it does what it’s supposed to.

And if you’re building that community as well, you’ll see an increase in your brand’s exposure, more people willing to vouch for your brand, and overall, more benefits than just maintaining that flow of search traffic.

So understand that you’re making the right decision by investing in these things, but possibly for the wrong reason. In a way, you should be thanking Google!

So, let’s get back to scalability. As stated, no, content & communities can’t be scaled, but as a lot of us have been telling you, the investment of your time, or someone else’s that you’re paying for, is worth it if you’re willing to see it to the end & making sure that you don’t just create it, but set goals, execute, and meet them. Too many people create great content but don’t know what to do with it from there, then go back & blame content as stupid & useless.

Why Scalability Teaches You Google’s Next Move

Google goes after tactics & strategies that are used to game their results. If something is used to game, then it can be repeated over & over again. By definition, these tactics are scalable, regardless if they’re black or white hat.

A tactic might be value adding, but if it can be repeated over & over again, then you bet Matt Cutts and the Funky Bunch will be coming after it.

That’s why I can tell you guest posting is next on Google’s list of tactics to target (but again, only it’s lowest forms). If broken link building continues to grow in popularity, then you can bet it’s next.

Conclusion

We all want something scalable. We all want to produce 10 or 100 great links in the time & cost it takes to produce 1 manually. Businesses rise & fall everyday that can solve this problem, but none that constantly focus solely on scalability in this industry are long term.

You have to start incorporating humans into your process. Continue to scale, but when it comes to the real value, let people and all the social & cognitive skills they have take over.

Thanks for reading! Make sure you follow me on Twitter & checkout the link building course.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 119 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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32 Comments
  1. Laust Kehlet says:

    Great post. There are still possibilities for scalability imo – what has become absolete are the standard obscene bulk techniques… But I agree on Arvins comment it comes with a cost… And the techniques that must be used today are way more elitarian… But well that’s I guess the direction Google wants to move in!

  2. Adam Henige says:

    I still struggle to see how or why broken link building would get banned. First of all, it creates a better internet experience for everyone when broken links get cleaned up. Secondly, it motivates people to update old content. Two things, which to me, are only positives. Of course the spam potential is there, but if you keep your site cleaned up I’d wager it’s a relatively small problem (note to self…time to run Xenu on my own site).

  3. Ash says:

    Even though guest posting and infographics have the “potential” to scale, it’s still awfully hard to create a process that can work.

    I’ve been working the past few months on scaling guest posting and have got to a point where it seems to be working – but, there are still new problems that are solved everyday and I’m nowhere close to saying that the process that’s in place is infinitely scalable.

    Infographics on the other hand is a completely different animal – the production process of an infographic is very hard to scale and not every company can use an infographic for link acquisition.

  4. Reading this post is one of the best way to end 2012. Looking forward for more exciting tips from you Jon. Happy new year, wishing you all the best this 2013.

  5. People freaks because they are afraid of failing, afraid of testing, SEO is Always the same only Google gets Smarter

  6. Taran says:

    Totally agree. The sooner that we as SEOs realize our linkbuilding responsibilities resemble PR and not automation, the better we’ll become at our craft.

  7. Mark Gavalda says:

    Great post Jon! I had a chuckle when I read the following in this order:
    “sliced bread forced down their throat” :)

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