We’re talking about link building again.
Yeah, it’s that important.
But let’s be honest. Every time you read one of these “start link building!” articles, you feel a crippling sense of anxiety. That this is going to take too much time, or you’re going to screw something up.
I feel you.
It’s hard to build links, especially if you’re doing it yourself. And especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. And especially if you’re starting from scratch.
Yikes. There’s that anxiety again.
Chill out. There’s a solution—you can outsource your link building to a link building agency. The basic idea is to pay someone else to take care of it for you.
But is this strategy really all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s take an honest look at the pros and cons (because there are both) of outsourcing your link building.
Quick take—do you really need link building?
The short answer is yes, if you want to rank higher in search engines.
Remember, Google preferentially ranks websites and individual pages based on their level of qualitative trustworthiness—which we in the industry call “authority.” Authority is calculated based on a bunch of things, but most notably, it relies on the number and quality of links pointed to your website (and individual pages).
In other words, no links = no authority.
You can cross your fingers and hope to get links naturally on your own, but it’s much better to be proactive and build them intentionally.
A link building agency can help you do this—so let’s get to the real pros and cons, beyond the initial benefits of link building itself.
I want to start by clarifying the advantages of outsourcing your link building, because there are many to be had (assuming you’re avoiding the “deadly sins” I’ll be covering in the next section). These are some of the most powerful:
If you want to see these benefits, you’re going to have to avoid these deadly—yet common mistakes:
Most marketing agencies looking for a new link building provider want to save time and/or money. Accordingly, they act rationally by shopping around for the best price.
But in the link building world, the lowest price isn’t always the best price. In fact, it tends to skew in the opposite direction: you get what you pay for.
By paying less for an agency, you’ll probably get one or more of the following:
Does this mean you should seek out the most expensive link building agency you can find? No. But you should consider far more than just the price of the agency you’re working with. Get quotes from multiple providers, and figure out exactly what you’re getting for each price point. Treat this as an investment, rather than an expense, and optimize your strategy accordingly.
Pro tip: check your backlinks now to see how you are doing compared to your competition.
Before I get too far in explaining this point, I want to note that it’s entirely possible for non-native English speakers to be competent, or even gifted writers.
However, speaking generally, non-native English speakers tend to write inferior content, when compared to native speakers. They may mistranslate certain phrases, be unable to use slang or idioms in a natural way, or use clunky phrases that make the content seem less fluid. People won’t want to read this content, and top-quality publishers won’t be willing to accept it, which means it’s practically impossible to build a successful campaign on it.
Why would a link building agency work with non-native speakers? There are two main motivations here. First, it’s because they’re cheap. Agencies can get away with paying writers far less in developing countries, which means they can charge their clients lower prices (or, in some cases, pocket a bigger profit). Second, they’re created and managed by people in developing countries, who want a shot at making higher profit margins by working with companies in the United States.
Some link building agencies make it a point to acknowledge that they work with non-native speakers, but for the most part, you’ll have to do some investigating to be sure:
Make sure you’re working with an agency that employs native speakers exclusively for the services you’re targeting.
Outsourcing links usually means studying packages that are primarily distinguished by the number of links they offer. For example, you might be forced to decide between 12 links per month, 50 links per month, or 500 links per month.
It’s reasonable to consider this as a factor, but it strays into “deadly sin” territory when you start using the number of links as the sole determining factor for your decision, or as the most important factor for comparing two companies’ offers. For example, if company A offers a link package with 12 links for $1,200 per month, and company B offers a link package with 50 links for $1,500 per month, you might lean toward company B. you might also go into the selection process with an idea for a minimum number of links you want to build.
But you have to remember that not all links are created equal. If you put too much attention on the number of links a company can provide you, you’ll neglect factors like how those links are built, and what kind of return you can expect from those links. After all, if a single link can net you 1,500 new monthly visitors, it’s inherently more valuable than 500 links that, together, can only net you 1,000 new monthly visitors. What’s more, if a company is promising you a seemingly-too-good-to-be-true amount of links, then those links are probably of very low, spammy quality, thus subjecting you (or your clients) to the horrors of a manual or algorithmic Google penalty which can be hell to recover from.
Assuming all quality factors are equal, more links do have the potential to give you higher returns. And realistically, quantity and quality should both enter your decision-making process. But if you favor quantity over quality when signing with a new agency, it’s bound to compromise your results.
Along similar lines, you need to be thinking critically about the sites where your link building agency is going to acquire those inbound links. If a link building provider doesn’t publicly disclose which publication sites they use to build links, it could be a sign that they treat sites indiscriminately. Instead, look for a link building provider with multiple “tiers” of publishers, or at least a wide range of publishers that they let you choose from (***hint*** at SEO.co, we let our clients choose their publishers because we value 100% transparency!).
There are several qualities to keep in mind here:
This doesn’t mean that you should only target sites with the highest possible value in each area; instead, you should have a diversity of different sources pointing to your clients’ sites. Instead, the mistake here comes into play when you fail to differentiate between sources. Spend some time talking to your prospective link building agencies to learn which types of publishers they use, and strategizing to use those diverse sources to your advantage.
This mistake can be tricky to avoid, since link schemes come in many forms, and no link building agency would make the mistake of publicizing that they utilize schemes.
The disadvantage in using link schemes is clear; Google explicitly forbids the use of link schemes for the purposes of improving a site’s rankings. Link schemes include, but aren’t limited to:
Since you may not be able to discern whether or not a link building company uses link schemes as part of its services, the best way to evaluate a prospective vendor is to ask them about their practices. Ask them to walk them through their process, and judge it for yourself.
One of the biggest motivations for seeking the help of a link building agency is to save you time. So shouldn’t you be able to just hand off the reins and stop worrying about your clients’ campaigns?
I get this mentality, but if you pass off your clients’ campaigns without direction, it’s bound to cause chaos. For starters, your link building agency should know what other SEO strategies you’re currently using, and what your history with the client has been like. Only with this information will they be able to work with you to create the right campaign. Though most link building agencies offer different packages with standard features, most expect at least some degree of customization before starting work.
At a minimum, you should be willing to provide the following information:
Setting these expectations early can ensure your client gets what they need, and maximize the efficiency of the campaign.
Providing direction to your link building agency is good, but only if you have a good understanding of your clients’ goals—and use that understanding to inform your direction.
Too often, marketing agencies make the assumption that they know everything there is to know about their clients, or otherwise treat all their clients the same. In reality, each of your clients will have different needs, goals, and expectations for how their link building campaign is handled.
On one level, it’s important for you to explain to your clients how link building works, why it’s important, and what kind of results they can expect. Setting these expectations early will help you contextualize the results you get later on, and ensure your client relationship isn’t damaged by missed expectations.
On another level, it’s important to convey accurate information to your link building agency. For example, you might be perfectly comfortable allowing a brand mention of your client’s company in a given publisher, but your client may feel it’s a breach of their values (especially if the publisher is controversial in any way).
The most important thing to remember here is the need for transparency and understanding between you and your clients. Without that, no link building agency will be able to ensure you receive adequate services.
I’ve already mentioned how important it is to provide your link building agency with direction, but the other end of the spectrum can also be problematic. If you make too many demands of your link building agency during the process, things can go very wrong.
For starters, if you’ve chosen a link building agency with a strong reputation and lots of expertise, you should trust that they’ve had more experience than you have—and more authority on the matter. If you set too many standards for how the work should be completed, you may prevent the company from providing you with their own direction and expertise. Make yourself open enough to hear the agency’s recommendations; they’ve done this for many clients in the past, and may have insights or ideas that you haven’t considered.
Excessive demands may also make your working relationship more complicated. If your account representative has to constantly go back and forth with new requests and demands, the total amount of time spent on your campaign will increase. In extreme cases, this may put a strain on your partnership, or even result in the agency charging you more for the extra work.
You should also know that there are some limitations to what can be done from a practical perspective. Demanding that a link be published within 24 hours is not realistic, for example, because of the many stages of the process (including writing, editing, submitting for publication, editorial review, revisions, and final publication). And if you’re publishing with a site not aligned with your client’s industry, you might have to compromise on the way the link is mentioned. Expecting perfection will set you up for disappointment, and may not allow your agency to produce their best work.
Marketing agencies usually seek link building help under one of two circumstances. Either they’ve taken on a new client and want to delegate a portion of the work to an outside firm, or they’re looking for a way to boost a client’s results.
In either scenario, it’s tempting to escalate as quickly as possible. These agencies want their clients to see results, or at least work, as soon as possible, and in their mind, that means publishing as many links as possible in the span of a few weeks to a few months. The problem is, this excessive link building activity can be counterproductive; if Google notices too many links being built too quickly, it may consider them to be unnatural, earning your client a penalty rather than increasing their rankings.
Most link building agencies know this, and set early expectations with their clients that links should be built gradually over time. However, if you pressure them to churn out more work, they may give into your requests, and publish an excessive number of links at a faster pace than they’re used to. And if you’re using multiple link building services, or are building links on your own, your agency may be unwittingly contributing to a link building strategy that’s growing way too quickly.
Patience is a virtue here. Instead of opting for the biggest or boldest campaign a link builder has to offer, consider starting with a smaller campaign, gradually scaling up as you start seeing more results. While you’re at it, keep your link building agency in the loop about any other link building strategies you’re utilizing; that way, you can work together to ensure that your link building campaign scales at an appropriate pace.
Too many marketing agencies treat link building as part of some massive, uniform assembly line. They get a new client, onboard them, and sign up for the same link building package they’ve used for past clients, with no new instructions, goals, or modifications, expecting to see the same results.
In many cases, you will see similar results; the same number of links, from the same range of sources, across the same time period will almost certainly increase your new client’s DA at the same pace, and earn a similar amount of referral traffic. However, you could be missing out on some serious advantages by making simple modifications to the core link building program.
Even if they come from the same industry or have a similar background, clients can differ in many ways:
These (and other) differences will, cumulatively, respond to your strategies in different ways. For example, some clients may tolerate a more aggressive link building campaign than others. Some clients may benefit from specific anchor text more than others.
Most link building agencies offer monthly package deals as well as a-la-carte link ordering. This makes it easy to view the link building process as a transactional one; you spend a fixed amount of money, get a fixed number of links, and move onto the rest of your campaign.
However, it’s much more effective to treat your relationship with your link building provider as an actual relationship, and not just a one-time exchange. That means working with the same account rep as long as possible, having occasional meetings, and establishing a precedent for a long-term partnership.
This is advantageous for several reasons:
If you treat the relationship as too transactional, you’ll end up spending more time and more effort for inferior results.
Most link building agencies offer a standard contract when you sign up for their services, but you should consider negotiating certain elements of this contract. Consider these factors:
You may not be able to get a strictly better deal, but you should be able to rebalance the contract to better suit your needs. For example, you might be able to secure yourself a lower per-link price in exchange for extending the terms of the contract. In any case, make sure to review the wording and sections of the contract carefully.
Naturally, I’m a major proponent of link building. It’s an invaluable source of referral traffic, domain authority, and reputation benefits. But at the same time, it isn’t a perfect or comprehensive solution for your client’s marketing needs.
Link building is best suited as one of several complementary strategies. It works exceptionally well when paired up with content marketing, on-site SEO, social media marketing, and email marketing, and can take brands even further with a PR campaign or advertising campaign. If your link building agency can provide some of these services, consider providing them. If you can supplement some of these services on your own, consider supplementing them. If all else fails, you can at least set the expectation with your client that they’re going to need more than just link building if they want to grow their presence online.
This is important because it prevents link building from becoming the sole focus of any of your clients. Ultimately, a multifaceted campaign with multiple different strategies working together will offer better results, a higher ROI, and greater risk mitigation should any of those independent strategies fail.
Obviously, utilizing more strategies means investing more time, more money, or both, but those are the costs of a well-orchestrated, interwoven marketing strategy. Don’t put all your clients’ eggs in one basket.
Once you’ve found a link building agency you trust, it’s natural to assume that the work they produce will match the quality standards you’ve come to expect. They might have glowing reviews, you might have seen some compelling examples of their recent work, and you might have a fantastic relationship with your account representative.
But even so, it’s foolish to assume that a link has been built without checking the live result.
Always take a few extra minutes at the end of any order or monthly submission to ensure the work has been completed satisfactorily. It can save you lots of headaches later on.
Data is the only way to tell if your campaign is working, and the only objective source to tell you what needs to be improved. Your link building company is responsible for proving their results to you (and by proxy, your clients) with objective numbers, and this isn’t up for debate or compromise.
At a minimum, you should know:
If your link builder can’t give you these numbers directly for any reason (such as not having access to your clients’ Google Analytics accounts), they should be able to provide you with the direction and resources necessary to get them. Don’t assume that everything is working—let the numbers show you the way.
Most link building agencies provide raw data to their clients, but it’s on you to help your clients understand their ROI from those efforts. If you want to ensure you’re getting adequate results, you need to take things further by calculating your total return on investment (ROI).
There are a few different ways to calculate this as a middleman. You can start by calculating your agency’s own ROI (which is simple). Just take the amount of money your client is paying you (or the portion you’ve allocated for link building) and subtract what you’re paying the link builder. A positive result means you’re making money on this deal.
But perhaps more importantly, you should know whether your client is getting what they’re paying for. Work with your client to figure out the value of the average visitor using metrics like average transaction size, or conversion rates combined with traffic figures. Then, determine how many new visitors are coming from link-related sources (including referral traffic, organic traffic from search engines, and perhaps increased direct traffic from increased passive knowledge of the brand). The goal is to give your client more in value than they’re paying for services.
The only caveat here is that link building is a gradual, long-term process; you might start out with a low ROI that grows over time, so don’t get upset or give up if you aren’t positive in the first few months.
Even if you’ve had an amicable working relationship, or if you’ve been partners for many years, there’s no reason for your marketing agency to accept mediocre results. You have the data. You have the ROI stats. Now it’s on you to take action if you (and your clients) aren’t seeing the results you want.
If your relationship is in good standing, you can start by having a conversation about your expectations and how they aren’t being met. From there, you can work on a mutual plan to escalate things, and see better results in the future. If your agency is unwilling to make concessions or take extra steps for you and your clients, it may be time to find a new link building partner.
Otherwise, treat this as an ongoing experiment. Work with your link building vendor to make a change, see how it affects your results, then keep the positive changes and reject the negative ones. Once you’ve read and accepted the weaknesses of these critical mistakes, you’ll be ready to start outsourcing your clients’ link building needs.
When you feel confident you’re ready for the next step, make sure to contact us here at SEO.co. We have some of the best marketers, writers, publishers, and analysts in the industry, and many of our biggest clients are agencies working with us on white label link building services to get better results for clients of their own. Reach out today, and let’s start a conversation about how we can get you (and your clients) better results through better link building!