7 Things I Wish Execs Knew About Link Building

Whether it’s your CMO, your client or your client’s boss, we’ve all worked with someone who just doesn’t quite get search.


And that’s OK. We can’t expect everyone to understand the intricacies behind what goes into that No. 1 ranking. SEO is easy in theory, but it’s a daunting task to take on, and Google isn’t exactly making it any easier on us.

Still, having to explain the same thing dozens and dozens of times isn’t why we got into this business. Anyone would go a little crazy if they did that. So, in an effort to make both of our lives just a little easier, here are seven things I wish executives knew about link building and SEO.

1. Yes, You Still Need Links To Rank

No matter what you read, link building is not dead. As long as people still rely on search engines to find information and as long as those search engines rely on links for rankings – and they do – link building isn’t going anywhere.

Of course, the way we link-build now is nothing like the way we used to link-build, which may be where the confusion is coming from. Directory listings, article marketing and guest posting have been replaced with content marketing, blogging on your own site, contests and giveaways.

2. No, We Have No Idea How Many Links You Need

100? 10? 1? We have no idea what that magic number is that will move you up a spot.

The fact of the matter is that there’s very little we know about link building. Sure, we know how to do it and what the results we hope the results will be. We know that it’s the quality of links over quantity of links. But we don’t know enough specifics about the search engine algorithms to determine when that link’s value will take effect.

The number of links you need to get to a No. 1 spot varies greatly by the keyword you’re targeting, your own site, your competitors’ efforts, and how Google is feeling that day. (I’m kidding, of course, but honestly, it could be true.)

3. We Don’t Have A Secret Stash of Good Content

The phrase “content is king” has ruined link builders. Everyone knows the best way to get links and to rank is to have good, compelling content that people want to read, share and link to; but, that content has to come from somewhere, and it doesn’t already exist.

Good content means taking a lot of time to figure out what is right for you and your users. Then, we create it specifically for you and your users. And that takes a lot of time. Something as small as a Facebook post could take 10-15 minutes to find the right wording — so if you’re asking for blog posts or whitepapers, we’re talking hours, days and even weeks.

4. No Place Exists Where We Can Just “Get Some Links”

That’s like asking us to find Narnia. And if anyone knew of a place like this that existed, they wouldn’t tell a soul.

Like content, getting links is heavily dependent upon the keyword, the site, the industry and a hoard of other factors. A link building strategy is tailored to you, so when we get started, we’re usually getting started from ground zero.

Now, the best link builders do have some go-to sources where they start. They keep track of their outlets and relationships, so they have a starting point, but that’s never enough to make a huge impact.

5. And We Certainly Can’t Just “Ask For A Link”

Asking for a link outright is like asking for a stranger for $20. We have to do something to earn the link. Sometimes, that just means creating really great content (See No. 3), but more often than not, a two-way reciprocal relationship has to exist before any link surfaces.

Outreach isn’t a 1-1 tactic. Contacting 100 people won’t mean you get 100 links, but we’re not wasting your budget doing it. Our outreach may only surface a few opportunities, but chances are, those few opportunities are going to be better than the 1,000 links the overseas link building agency promised they’d build for you (see No. 2).

6. This Is Going To Take Longer Than You’d Probably Like

Just like we don’t know how many links you need, we have no idea how long it will take you to get to a ranking (or to move from a PR3 to PR5 if that’s what you’re aiming for); but, in my experience, it always takes longer than you would like, even after the right expectations are set.

Link building is slow, and it takes a lot of time for search engines to index and value all of those links to determine your authority. Usually around Month 4, clients get the itch and worry the strategy isn’t working because there have been little results, but things do pick up in Month 5-6.

7. Your Rankings Will Drop If You Stop Building Links

“Can we build links for three months then stop and see what happens?”

No, we can’t. Can you go to the gym for three months, stop and then expect to keep those ten pounds off?

Link building is a constant and continual process. There is no “maintenance mode” that we can switch to once we reach your goals. Search engines reevaluate listings and their algorithms constantly, and the only way to still say relevant to them is by keeping your links and your content fresh. Stopping link building may keep you stable for a month, maybe more, but you will lose all of your progress by doing nothing.

What’d I miss? What are some other things you wish top execs knew about link building?