A contributor at Sphinn poses this question about link building:
We all know links are a key element of SEO. But it’s also difficult and monotonous work. The tradition of analyzing competitors’ links, creating a list of link opportunities, contacting site owners about getting a link — that’s time consuming and often unsuccessful. In our new “Discussion of the Week,” what’s a webmaster or business owner to do about getting links? Is Do-It-Yourself link building the best way to spend time and resources, or are there other ways to build inbound links? (One obvious answer is to hire a link building company/consultant, but that’s not D-I-Y, now is it?) 🙂
Let me first restate my credentials. I’ve worked as an SEO for an excellent Houston-based web marketing agency, and I very recently moved to doing SEO in-house for a Houston, Texas electricity company. In fact, I’ve recently put the finishing touches on a comprehensive SEO strategy for my new employer (I’ll circle back to this in a minute). So I’ve seen this from both sides of the table. And link building has very much been on my mind recently.
Having established my background, let me turn my attention to the Sphinn discussion. To begin with, I really think the premise is a bit flawed in the definition of DIY. It sounds like the author is saying that if the business owner hires anybody to do any work for them, even if it’s an internal employee, it ceases to be a DIY endeavor. Sounds awfully restrictive to me. Business owners are in the business of doing whatever it is they do, be it provide services or manufacture widgets. Unless the owner is a control freak or just an SEO savant, he or she is almost certainly going to seek some sort of outside help for their web marketing, be it via a consultant, agency or full-time employee.
Trust me, I agree that link building is labor-intensive; it’s one of several reasons that SEO doesn’t scale very well. Little wonder that so many link building specialists have popped up in the industry. However, shady link building agencies can absolutely wreak havoc on your SEO campaign.
I think the question is better restricted to whether it’s better to have link building done by in-house employees or to outsource it. One reason this piqued my interest is because of my aforementioned role as an in-house SEO specialist, particularly my aforementioned strategy development work for my new employer. While discussing the finer details of my overall strategy with my superiors, one asked a rather surprising question:
“What are your thoughts about hiring an outside firm to handle link building – things like directory submissions, and the like?”
This was surprising to me for a collection of reasons:
- The inherent risk involved. Just ask this guy – or, of course, J.C. Penney.
- They hired me to handle SEO – seems to me link building is in my job description, no?
- One of the reasons I wanted to start doing SEO in-house was because of the increasing importance of effective PR with link building. As I said elsewhere, “In my professional work in search engine optimization, the thing that has really come to the forefront is how effective SEO – namely, backlink building – and effective PR are heavily connected. The line between the two has gotten so blurred that I really believe it’s increasingly hard to see where one ends and the other begins.” The more I worked at backlink building in an agency setting, the more convinced I became that there was a huge advantage to working in-house and being able to align my link building work with a company’s PR efforts.
- Dovetailing off #2 and #3: in addition to me, we have a full-time social media specialist on staff who is going full throttle on Facebook and Twitter. That work is already helping with our off-site SEO. Do we really need an outside company or consultant for link building?
Here was my answer to my company superiors. “I’m open to the idea. But I will be extremely selective about anybody we have doing this. I want to know exactly what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and I want to know precisely the links we’re getting. It’s way too important to let somebody do this without very clear oversight.”
For me, here’s where I come down on outsourcing link building:
- Be prepared to pay good money for it. Effective off-site SEO is one place where you don’t dare cut corners.
- Do your best to bring somebody on board to do it internally.
- If you have to bring in a third-party consultant or agency, try to find somebody who will make link building a major component of a comprehensive public relations strategy for your company. As I say, good link building and effective PR are pretty much interchangeable.
- Closely connected to #3: make sure social media is in the mix as well.
In short, I think it’s highly shortsighted to look at link building in the absence of considering social media development and public relations efforts.