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Interview with Link Building Expert Justin Briggs

by Jon Cooper
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Yep, you heard right. Justin Briggs, the SEO Manager at Big Fish Games, was kind enough to agree to his first interview, and I’m just as pumped as you are! Justin is one of the hustlers in the link building community that I’ve learned a ton from over the past couple years. I honestly think he was the first person to really hit home on the concept of hustle for me. Without further adieu, here’s the interview. 

1. How did you first get into SEO?

I kind of stumbled into SEO. I started coding back in 1995/1996 when I was 10 or 11. By high school, I was running the web team for the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt.

Then in late 2007, I set up a few affiliate websites. After making a bit of money with them, I started looking into driving more traffic.  That’s when I discovered SEO. But really, I just discovered it was an outlet for skills I had be building for years. I quickly fell in love with SEO.

By early 2008, I was doing affiliate stuff about 15 hours a week from my college dorm. At this time, I was doing a lot of really low quality stuff, including automated spam tools, blog comments, link networks, and scraper sites.

By mid 2008, I started consulting small local clients. I had originally gone to school to study engineering, but dropped out to pursue a career in SEO. That part is a long story, but I wrote more about it last year.

2. We all know you’re an expert link builder, but why did you choose link building over other areas of SEO?

I don’t really consider myself an “expert” link builder. I just enjoy sharing what I’ve been working on or thinking about. It seems I’ve built a bit of a brand around link building. I think some of this is by chance.

My background is technical in nature – with experience in coding, mathematics, and science. It’s sometimes a bit odd that I ended up doing so much with link building.

One thing that had an impact was that I’ve done a lot of link building. I didn’t start in SEO as a consultant or a project manager. I started with 100+ websites that were self-monetized and I needed to drive traffic to them. This meant a lot of in the trenches, pounding the pavement, type of work.

When I joined Distilled, I was assigned a modest link building project that was meant to only last 3 months. It expanded to almost a quarter a million a year link building project, that I managed and executed the majority of work on. I probably logged around 1,000 hours of link building work in 2011. I was the one sending the emails, trying to get coverage on infographics, and hunting down prospective links. I just shared those experiences.

3. Do you buy links? Please explain why.

Since I’ve been in-house, I haven’t.

I have purchased links before, but I don’t make it a large part of a link building campaign.

I don’t think all paid links are bad or inherently spam. They certainly can be, but there are a lot of ways to purchase links that are relevant.

If someone wants to purchase links, for me, it’s less a concern of ethics and more of a question of risk tolerance. If you take the upside revenue gain of a risky tactic and compare it to the calculated risk of the potential revenue loss, you can make much more strategic decisions.

I’m not pro link buying though.

4. What’s the biggest mistake you see modern link builders making?

Listening to the link building advice of those who aren’t in the trenches and blindly letting it lead their strategy. I think it sometimes does a disservice to upcoming SEOs to listen to some link building content that gets published. This is especially true for any content that drops a blanket statement like “X tactic is dead” or “X tactic will get you penalized”. Any time you hear that, go build a test site and try it out. You might be surprised.

Other than that, I’m not a fan of link quotas. They’re almost unavoidable when work needs to be tracked and optimized, but I think they can cause a link builder to frame their work around a myopic strategy.

5. What are your favorite link building tools and why?

My favorite tool overall is Open Site Explorer. It’s great for competitive analysis, prospecting, and prioritizing outreach.

6. Where do you think the future of link building is headed?

I think it’ll stay relatively the same for the next year, with on-going changes in the weighting of various factors. I feel like we’re almost due for a large level link-based algo update. I have no idea if Google has one planned, but they should.

I think Google should or will be taking a look at off-topic or factually inaccurate infographics. They are a little out of hand. Maybe instead of solving it algorithmically, they’ll make some PR buzz by penalizing someone openly.

If I had to make a broader guess about the future, I’d say our concept of a citation will change over time. We may see ourselves doing more and more citation building that isn’t just dofollow href links.

From Jon: Justin wrote an awesome post about keeping your infographics in check that I thought I should at least point out.

7. Where can we find you on the Web?

The best way is to follow me on Twitter.

From Jon: You can also find him on his personal blog. He doesn’t post often, but when he does, it’s an absolute treat!

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 122 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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6 Comments
  1. Brilliant post. Very inspiring to hear about the quarter a million a year link building project. I will have to look into that project more.

  2. Great post, I found myself agreeing with alot of your pointers. I agree when you say “x tactic is dead” because I think different strategies work for different sites and the clients objective must be a prime consideration when deciding the strategy to move forward with.

    I would however be interested in your views on widget generation? Speaking from my experience it has been very difficult requesting a widget development project when an ROI cannot be defined in the outset.

    • Justin says:

      I think widget strategies can be good, but they are hard to ROI. I have two upcoming projects that are kind of widget like, but not exactly widgets. One is an embeddable something and another is something that users install on their website. For the first, I found a competitor that’s doing something similar and am using it to demonstrate. But yeah, making estimates of results is often a wild guess :/

  3. Kane Jamison says:

    “Other than that, I’m not a fan of link quotas. They’re almost unavoidable when work needs to be tracked and optimized, but I think they can cause a link builder to frame their work around a myopic strategy.”

    Alright Justin, what’s your best response when client’s ask “what can we expect in terms of number of links?” Do you avoid the quotas, set them low, set them broadly, something else?

    • Justin says:

      Hey Kane,

      Yeah, it can be hard (or impossible) to avoid them, especially if the client demands them, or if an agency’s processes are built on top of a quota model. I’ve worked with some agencies where the project is effectively getting X number of straight link placements (guest posts, comments, forum sigs, link wheels).

      When I was doing link building for clients, I’d set expectations on how I build links, the strategy, and how I’d track results in the kick-off call. For the given amount of budget, I’d create a strategy that was broken down by hours and I was being paid for my time, not links acquired. I’d give them low and high range estimates on results, but would stress that it wasn’t purely about numbers.

      At the end of each month, I’d report on the work I executed, links built, anchor text, and the PA/DA distribution of those links. I’d also report revenue and traffic metrics, making business metrics the goal instead of number of links. I was held accountable each month on completing the work I said I would and the ranges I estimated via a monthly report deliverable and phone meeting.

      There were good and bads to this model. If I nailed a promotion one month, they would get a ton of links and we’d far exceed expectations, but if an idea I had completely flopped (it happens a lot), then I’m on the hook for spending so much budget that month and producing no results. That monthly call can be a bit hairy, but I keep the focus on the fact that good link building can be unpredictable and one stellar promotion can make up for many failed ones. I also explained that the months I nailed it, we’d end up with way more links and I wouldn’t stop just because I met my quota early. I’d keep working for the time I had left on the project.

      The other good and bad of the “pay for work, not links” model is a client gets dramatically different results based off who they’re assigned at an agency. It makes it harder for an agency to give consistent results across all clients.

      • Kane Jamison says:

        Thanks for the lengthy response, I appreciate your thought. I currently defer to other metrics like DA/traffic instead of links, but the broad reporting is a good aspect to add.

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