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Link Building Interview Part 3

Link Building Interview With Aaron Wall

Welcome to the final post in our link building interview series. This week, we’ll be featuring Aaron Wall of SEO Book. If you missed our previous posts, be sure to check out our interview with Jon Cooper of Point Blank SEO and Julie Joyce of SEO Chicks.

This is a long one, so stick with it. Aaron offers some interesting points about link building, marketing, and the SEO industry as a whole. Join the conversation by commenting below!

Aaron Wall SEO Book

Aaron Wall is the founder of SEO Book, an SEO training program offering members access to private forums, training modules, and SEO tools. You can follow Aaron Wall on Twitter.

1. If there was one link building strategy you wish would fall off the face of the earth, what would it be?

Website hacking would have to be #1.

#2 would likely be the pile on self-promotional efforts some SEOs do whenever a site gets nailed, These usually start with something like “If only they would have listened to my advice when I wrote …”. That pile on stuff is almost like a marketing version of cannibalism.

When a PR campaign backfires, you rarely see competing PR firms do a pile on in the way that SEOs do. Various clients of the PR firms might compete for narrative, but you rarely see the story become focused about the PR firms themselves.

2. Conversely, which link building strategy do you wish more people would employ?

I think a lot of the advice people seek is things that are quick and easy, low-cost, low-risk and generally applicable to all categories and sites. Of course that stuff is plenty fine as part of a mix, but if you can follow, predict and lead conversation in a marketplace, it is easier to get the sort of links that are hard to get. The key distinction there is knowing the market trends better than many competitors do and being able to see where the market is going.

I am not suggesting that people do those things because I think they are best, rather that they are things which tend to be more sustainable. My general view is that if something is effective and isn’t screwing someone else over (like website hacking) then if it works it works. But the longer you have been around the more value you place on longevity. Having a quick payday is a great rush in year 1 or 2, but starting over isn’t too appealing after a decade.

3. What link building strategy do you believe Google’s next update will hit the hardest?

This is hard to say, because there are some issues one might have expected them to have already defeated that are still going strong (like website hacking).

I think so many people are so afraid of links these days that the market has been more aggressive at policing itself.

Just the other day I saw a link spam removal tool which has an affiliate program for web directories where the directory owners can be paid pennies in a kickback for listing themselves as an undesirable link source that the tool helps automatically remove links from. Talk about sending mixed messages!

4. What are your thoughts on directory submissions and social bookmarking as a link building strategy? Is it worth the time?

Everyone has to start from somewhere. I wouldn’t suggest that if you are in deeply competitive markets that it would be the only thing you should do, but I certainly think it makes sense to have it as part of your mix. Most big brands have at least a token level of participation on Twitter, Facebook, and some of the other social websites. And if what you do takes off on those, then that is a doubly good deal:

  • You get more non-search traffic to lower your overall risk profile
  • When you create featured promotional content, you have another channel to promote it in which can help it spread further and faster due to cumulative advantage

Social is a tool for amplifying a core message, but it can’t act in place of having one. So if the core message isn’t there, then multiplying anything by zero is still zero. But if you are doing great work on your site, then certainly the incremental exposure can be valuable for aiding awareness and link building.

In terms of directories, there are maybe a handful that are easily recommended (like the Yahoo! Directory, BOTW, Business.com, JoeAnt, Gimpsy, Skaffe, and DMOZ) but if one finds themselves doing hundreds of submissions at once via some bulk tool, I wouldn’t expect good things to come of it. If there are niche directories in your field that people use then those can be great places to get links. And sometimes a directory doesn’t really look like a directory. For instance, someone just emailed us asking us if we would list them here, and if we added them, I imagine that link would be more valuable than most general directories, as it would be something that sends direct traffic.

5. What are your thoughts on the link disavow tool?

It is an excellent tool for further spreading fear and shifting the conversation toward making market participants responsible for the behavior of 3rd parties, while search engines do as they please and are always right.

6. What are your 3 favorite tools for outreach?

I don’t do loads of outreach myself. We have employees that do it. In some cases, I am deeply involved in the projects and push them, but generally I am more of a person who tries to come up with the broader strategy and then our team tests out a variety of things.

The problem with any popular method is that the more it gets promoted, the more that everything gets to feel/look/act like spam as people become less receptive to it.

We are willing to test just about anything, and if it works, then we do more of it. But techniques, tools, and ways to use them to achieve a solid ROI change over time.

Our general bias has been toward trying high touch interactions with outreach, where they were obviously sent by a human on a 1:1 basis. This is done for a number of reasons:

  • I am frequently spammed with many offers and don’t like being on the receiving end of them
  • Some others have more programmers and are better at automation than we are, so if we are to remain viable we can’t be primarily driven by automation
  • I don’t want to create PR blowups from automation gone astray. Quite often I get things like mail merged Dear {their name} and I don’t want to end up sending that sort of stuff out.

7. What’s the most creative way you’ve ever gotten a link?

I think link building is such a talked about subject that I am not sure anything is creative and unique at this point…so many people are doing a lot of the same things while doing a small tweak to the strategy. In some cases, being creative meant doing things before they were broadly popular. For example, right now a lot of people are promoting broken link building and such. I was doing some of that stuff back in 2003 and 2004. But was I creative when I did it? Surely others had done it too, but it was nowhere near as saturated.

In other instances, we have done things like hired people to do something where the link came as a throw in as part of the job, and the link was valued at more than the cost of the job.

8. What resources would you recommend those new to link building read?

Our 101 link building tips is not new, but there is a boatload of still applicable tips in it. Mike Grehan’s Filthy Linking Rich is great. Brian Clark’s headlines series has plenty of gold in it.

9. Do you consider link building and content marketing to be synonymous? Why or why not?

As margins and growth in the SEO industry have dropped, many people have redefined existing strategies with a new vernacular to try to gain awareness in an already saturated market. If a person doesn’t have much to add to a particular topic, rebranding it (and perhaps calling the old name “dead”) is a way to get exposure and make it sound like what you are selling is differentiated.

A couple bits on this front:

That’s not to say anything negative about “content marketing” or similar, but rather that so many things that are new in online marketing are just new labels for the things that have been done for years and years. About the only new label I have contempt for would be “inbound marketing” because it is incomplete marketing and because so many people who promote that label lack media literacy and promote it via spammy outbound marketing.

10. What’s an example of really superb content you’ve come across recently? What drew you to it?

I saw Paul Kedrosky mention this article about a burning wildfire

The formatting of that article wasn’t SEO friendly, but the content was great. ; )

Currently, I am reading a book named Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier.

He asks a lot of great questions in it. I think I first came across him when he was doing interviews that promoted his earlier book, You Are Not a Gadget.

11. What’s one thing you’re surprised most SEOs don’t know/think they know?

Much of the conversation in our industry is absurdly polarizing. It is not always easy to know what people know vs don’t based on what they write. In some cases, it seems as though many people have horrible memories, but I would bet that many of those cases of pandering are often driven by writing to match a desired outcome and marketing message to desired audiences, rather than writing with intent to inform.

As an extreme example of the above, when Mahalo was growing like a weed, Jason Calacanis was claiming publicly that SEO was spam and b/s, yet privately they were trying to sell hosted content and conversation as a white hat enterprise SEO solution.

12. What’s your favorite sitcom, and why is it Friends?

Arrested Development is great. I love how things that are seemingly inconsequential and absurd become key plot elements later on.

And, that completes our link building interview series. A special thanks to all our participants including Aaron Wall for contributing. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Is there a question you’re dying to ask SEO professionals? If so, let us know for our next interview series, and we’ll get all your questions answered!

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