Are You Setting The Right Link Building Expectations?

In the world of search and online marketing, we talk a lot about the evolving landscape, particularly when it comes to link building. Tactics that work one day can stop working with the switch of a Google button. Tactics that you think are legit can suddenly be deemed a “link scheme.”

Link Building Expectations

On top of that, there’s so much misinformation out there that the thought of just explaining link building can be daunting.

Now factor in your clients. 

  • How much do they know about link building?
  • How much do you tell them?
  • Do they have a full understanding of what’s actually required to obtain high quality links?

When it comes to setting the right link building expectations, you not only have to take into consideration client knowledge, you also must look at how you’re selling link building to that client.

Here are a few common scenarios:

Link Building As A Service

When selling link building as its own service, there is full accountability. Clients need to be completely aware of what you are doing and they need to see where those links are being built.

Julie Joyce, owner of Link Fish Media, says that not only do many of their clients come to them strictly for link building, they are often charged by the link. That means monthly and/or weekly reporting, complete transparency in how links are being obtained, and program measurement.

How does one quantify success in a program like this?

According to Joyce, that can really vary, but the key is to understand what the goals are going in:

“Clients all have their own different ideas of what constitutes success. Some like to look at rankings and some are more concerned with traffic. Some care more about whether the links we build actually bring them any business. Some are happy knowing they’re doing something to keep up with their competitors.

Basically, if a client is happy with our work, they’re happy because they like what we’re doing and not because we feed them stylized reports that mislead them into thinking we’re doing something magical.”

When offering link building services, know what the objectives are and be open with the client. How many links can the client expect? Where will you be focusing? What issues do they need to be aware of, if any?

By providing this information ahead of time, you set yourself and the client up for a good relationship and a successful program.

Link Building As An Integrated Approach

integrated link buildingFor many of us, link building has simply become integrated into our overall online marketing efforts. According to Erin Everhart, Director of Digital Marketing at 352, “Link building fits into everything — SEO, social, content marketing, even email — so it’s just a part of what we do.”

Indeed. Much of the content we create at my company is generated to build links and drive traffic. Social media strategies are designed to drive shares and get people talking about a brand. These are in essence link building tactics, and while we don’t sell these as separate “link building services,” it doesn’t mean link building should be ignored when talking to clients.

According to Everhart, even though they take an integrated approach at 352, they do still track and report link building efforts (for the most part):

“We track internally with Raven for anything that we actively get ourselves (1 to 1 link building, like broken link building or resource listing). We’ll report these to clients on a monthly basis. [However]…For larger campaigns where we try to attract links organically, we won’t report specifics.”

As for measurement, Everhart says they are much more focused on traffic and conversions versus rankings or link quantity:

“We’ve stopped tracking rankings with the occasional reporting from Google Webmaster Tools… We also don’t guarantee any number of links each month. Too many variables in that, and it’s just not scalable or feasible.”

Offering link building as part of an integrated approach? Make sure the client knows that while link building is not a separate line item on their invoice, it’s something you will be doing.

Most importantly, be open and honest with your clients about where links are coming from and help them understand the benefits that can come from a great piece of content or fixing those broken links.

Link Building For Big Brands

Big Brand Theory

For many big brands, link building may not seem like something that’s even necessary. After all, there are PR teams, massive advertising campaigns, and increased overall brand awareness. That doesn’t mean link building doesn’t happen, it just can occur in different ways.

According to Ryan Jones, Manager of Search Strategy & Analytics at SapientNitro,

“Most large brands aren’t too concerned with it [link building]. They know links are important, but they also know that their job is more about making it easier for fans, customers, and press to link to the site, and less about active link building.

For example, when we release a new product, people will talk about it. It’s our job to ensure that we have content on the site at the time of press releases and news mentions, that our internal linking structure makes that content easy to find and link to, and that we’re working with the social and PR teams around what content to promote and how they should link.”

What’s important to note here is that link building doesn’t have to mean just outreach. There are often a number of technical elements that go into the process. In fact, according to Jones, “One of my biggest projects this year involves minimizing the amount of URL changes we make from one product cycle to the next, in order to help us preserve link authority.”

Building links for a big brand? Make it clear to the client upfront that web development changes will be needed and figure out a process. And don’t be afraid to get to know the client’s PR and social teams. They can be your biggest asset in capturing links from high quality sources.

Don’t forget about measurement. According to Jones this can come in several ways:

“I like to look at things like unique referring domains to show quality links that are sending traffic.  Also, I’m not a huge fan of ranking reports, but I do like showing the impressions graph from Webmaster Tools with significant SEO initiative dates marked on the graph. Then the client can loosely see the impact and how long it took to realize it.”

Final Thoughts

Setting client expectations can be hard in any industry, but when it comes to link building, there are quite a few variables to consider. Just remember, the key is communication.

  • Know what your client knows
  • Be open with how your services work
  • Set goals based on their wants and needs
  • Set and discuss what the client can expect

What other tips do you have for setting the proper link building expectations?