Choosing the right link building agency
How to find the perfect link building agency for your SME business
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This guide will take you through how to spot a good onsite SEO agency, what are the signs that you are working with a bad SEO agency, how you can reduce your overall monthly costs; and other great advice to dispel some of the SEO myths.
Who’s this guide for?
- Anyone who is considering an SEO campaign and needs insight into what’s involved and an understanding of the common problems and pitfalls to look out for when focusing on on-page SEO.
What is link building?
When Google started out in 1998, there were some problems that needed to be overcome to ensure they could deliver the right content to their customers through the search engine.
They created an algorithm to filter through all the information. When someone did a search, the algorithm made sure that the websites most relevant appeared at the top of the listings.
One of the best ways to do that (other than on page SEO) was link building. Link building is more than just having a link from another website to your website. It’s a signal that Google uses to gauge the popularity, and therefore the importance of your website, over others in your field.
As a result link building has become big business. Over the years, the algorithm became more complicated, as did the opportunity for agencies to exploit that confusion. Some would deliver a link building service that, from the outside, looks entirely viable but in reality doesn’t deliver the right signals to Google (other search engines are available!). They failed to let the algorithm know that your website is popular or important enough to achieve a good ranking.
Why is choosing the perfect link building partner important?
Google and other search engines have made great efforts to prevent unethical link building from ranking highly in their search engines.
They understand that many companies have tried to manipulate their search engine and have taken extreme measures to prevent this from happening.
The most recent being an update called “panda”, which penalises websites for bad link building practices. Therefore, choosing the perfect link building partner is very important.
As someone who has worked in SEO since 2006 and has had an SEO firm in London, I know only too well the complications that can occur if you do not follow a strict code of ethics.
Once dominant SEO companies have crumbled due to the “panda” update and it’s staggering how some companies still exist, given the damage that can be done to businesses.
In some cases, businesses have been forced to give up their domain name altogether and start again with a new business name and domain.
Choosing the perfect link building partner is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Make sure you follow the golden rules before you even think about moving forward in this highly competitive and potentially hazardous field of digital marketing.
Why is link building so important for a SME?
In a nutshell, without link building your business won’t achieve any traffic from the search engines. It’s the fundamental principle behind ranking and therefore is the key to all future online growth.
Many SME’s are consistently misled. They receive new websites that have been “SEO’d” and wonder why they don’t get anywhere near the first page for their search terms.
The reason is that Google does not see your website as popular. By having backlinks from trusted sources Google can better understand how important you are and will push you to the top of the queue. They’ll feel that you’re better placed (based on your popularity) to help their customers fulfil their needs.
The main problems and pitfalls – before hiring a link building agency
Automated backlink generators
If you have ever visited a website that promises to deliver a set number of links for a set price, they will most likely be using a backlink generator tool. The two most popular are “Money Robot” or “GSA” which build 1000’s of backlinks to your website in a matter of seconds. Sounds good, right? Well actually, this is effectively online suicide.
There’s no possible way for an automated tool to deliver high-quality links, as quality links cannot be generated automatically. The only links they can produce are very low quality. They will mostly look unnatural, appear in really obscure places on the internet and are about the easiest thing in the world for Google to spot and penalise.
Avoid this process like the plague. You may do well for a couple of months but it’s only a matter of time before Google catches you.
Believing link building is cheap
Link building is no longer a cheap approach. Annoying I know. Most SME’s have opted for SEO because they see it as a cost-effective way of achieving great results. But link building has become a rather expensive process because everyone and their dog understands its importance. And guess what? They’re not going to offer a link unless it is worthy of one.
Link building is no longer about finding where you can add your link. It’s more about creating something of value that warrants a link. When you look at link building in this way you can see why this process has become more expensive.
Viewing link building for link building’s sake
So let me explain, what would be the purpose of links if ranking was not a factor? Give up? Well, the purpose would be for potential customers who are viewing other websites on the internet to find your business. This allows them to either become educated or advised to buy your product or services
Many link building companies have forgotten this reason and have taken shortcuts to dilute one of the fundamental benefits of link building.
If you see your future link building in this way, you’ll always be able to grow your business properly and make sure that any link building work you do in the future will deliver the desired outcome.
The six golden rules – before you hire a link building agency
Always ask for a monthly report
Avoid companies that refuse to give you a report on the links they’ve built per month. When you receive your report, you need to be able to see the pages where the links appear. This allows you to assess the validity of adding them there in the first place.
Many cheap SEO companies offer monthly reports with simply a list of the websites they have added links to and not the individual pages. This is not good enough and should raise a red flag for your business.
Don’t forget your social media account
There are many discussions going on about the strength of linking through social media, but, to me at least, it’s something your business should continue to do.
To do this effectively, you need to focus on creating website content that you’re comfortable sharing on your social media platforms. You don’t need to write a thesis, just interesting content that you can share and link to your social media profiles.
If you wish to save yourself money, there’s nothing preventing you from doing this yourself. It’s unlikely that a bigger company will set this up for you.
Consider using a reputable freelancer for specific tasks
Link building can be expensive, so if you don’t fancy paying agency prices, try to choose a reputable freelancer.
Focus on content creation first. Create something that warrants sharing and then hire a freelancer that has the contacts and know-how to share it with a link back to your website.
Make sure that you keep your standards high. The more discerning you are with the selection of websites you appear on, the more you will benefit in the rankings. This should lead to more business for you.
Learn how to spot a phoney
There are many ways to spot a phoney and trust me, there are many to spot. If you’re going to hire a freelancer or an agency, a good rule of thumb is to avoid the bottom 30% in terms of price. Also, ask to see examples of their work.
Please remember that you will be getting the very best of what they have so don’t be overly impressed. What you will have is the name of the companies they have promoted.
Once you have the name of the company, ask another high-level SEO/link building expert to analyse their links over the last year and tell you whether they are performing well or not (should cost about £20). You will probably get a free lesson to boot!
Once you have that information, you can decide whether they are worth your time and budget.
Be fanatical about quality
When it comes to link building, quality is better than quantity. As an extreme example, one link from the BBC is worth more than 1000 links from low-quality free blog sites.
Fewer links of high quality will overpower higher numbers of spammy links.
Never be impressed with volume, always be impressed with the quality.
Change your link builder after six months
This is obviously a bit of a heartless decision as you link builder may be delivering good results, but remember that link building is a very difficult, time-consuming and ultimately boring task that can turn even the hardest working amongst us stagnant.
In the world of link building, you need high energy people that are willing to work and go the extra mile. By keeping your staff fresh with new ideas and new approaches you will get better results in the long term.
Set link quality guidelines
If you run a business that wants to keep standards high then you must make it clear to the link builder what those standards should be.
Do not be afraid to set parameters for your link builders to follow. If you’re in an industry with little to no competition, then ask to appear on websites that have a domain authority of more than 30. For more competitive industries that number should be no less than 40.
Unfortunately, this isn’t enough, as many link building companies already set those parameters and can still deliver unfavourable results. Include the following guidelines to ensure you’re getting the best work:
- Each website must have an active social media presence
- Each page that the links appear on must have a page authority of over 20