In a recent Twitter chat I did, we talked about continuing education for link builders — and I had to admit that I needed to get better at making sure that happened with my team.
It really got me thinking about how important it is to keep learning, especially when you’re doing something that can be bogged down by tedium.
While I absolutely love building links, it’s one of those things that can really burn you out at times, so making sure your team has opportunities to learn and be creative will do nothing but help them in the future.
As I said above, link building can burn you out. Whether you are sending outreach requests, creating content that you want to place on someone’s site, using social media to build new relationships, or doing anything else that’s designed to help build links, most people would agree that the whole field of link building has a pretty high burnout rate.
It’s very hard to do a good job when you’re feeling burned out. It’s almost impossible to do a great job when you’re feeling burned out.
Personally speaking, I enjoy learning new things whenever possible. I went back to college twice after getting my first degree simply because I absolutely loved being in school and learning something new.
When I first started in the industry, link building was the last thing that I dove into. I have goals for what I want to focus on next, and I love that my industry is one where you can always keep learning if you want to.
I love it when a client asks me something that requires me to spend time researching and asking people for help, because it’s exciting and it refuels my love of what I do all day. Link builders really need that stimulation.
I may be in the minority here, but I don’t hire experienced link builders. In fact, we’ve only had a few people come to us with any SEO experience over the years.
That’s mostly due to our structure. I review all the work done by my team, and I report to the client. I hand out assignments, and my team know what to do because they’ve all been trained a certain way to do specific tasks.
That works very well for us, but back when we were much larger, we did have middle management to help run things.
The best part of my experience hiring and training is that I saw that anyone could build links if they have good communication skills and are determined to succeed. It’s definitely hard work — but overall, it’s not that difficult compared to other parts of SEO.
When you don’t hire people with experience, you have to be open to continued training and education. I love it when someone on my team asks me about something that’s SEO-related but not related to link building.
I love that they aren’t asking so they can advance (because as I said, we’re small and have a very flat structure), but that they’re asking for their own benefit.
Note: Just because I don’t hire trained link builders (currently) doesn’t mean that YOU shouldn’t. Ours is a very personal case based on our ways of working and company size right now.
I’ve always loved a good group brainstorm. I think they are really good off-site without machines, too.
We’ve had a lot of really good questions at brainstorms as people feel comfortable, and some of our most educational discussions have happened after we’ve been doing something like trying to find new avenues of discovery for a client in a niche that’s new to us, for example.
There’s a great article on Ted.com about how to brainstorm with people who are mostly introverts, so I definitely would advise reading that one.
I really love trying out a new SEO tool, even if it’s totally unrelated to links. I’ve been insanely lucky to have a few tool creators invite me to beta test a tool, and I can tell you that a lot of these tool producers are extremely willing to give you a demo or a free trial.
The benefit of learning how to use a new tool is that you have to think…which is especially nice if you’ve been doing something tedious that doesn’t require a lot of thought.
Paddy Moogan has a truly fantastic link building ebook that is a must read for any link builder. Even if you’re pretty experienced, there’s likely something new you can pick up from this, so I definitely would recommend it to anyone involved with links.
I’m obviously partial to this site’s Link Week column, of course, but I try to read as many articles as possible on Search Engine Land, even if they aren’t directly related to links.
Link and SEO tool blogs are also fantastic. Be sure to add the following to your reading list::
My belief is that you should be allowed to learn on the clock. When I send articles to my team, I expect them to read them at work, not save them until they’re eating dinner at home.
That’s because I like for them to have a good work-life balance. I pay them to train, so why not pay them when they’re learning something that can help them want to keep working for me, doing their jobs well, and being happy that they are allowed to go further and get paid for it?
I’m not suggesting that if you’re an employer, you need to give your link builders four hours a day to learn. I am suggesting that just a bit of time each day spent learning will definitely pay off with happier and more productive employees.
From my experience, the most important role you can play as the head of the team is that of someone who welcomes questions.
We have several link builders who have told me about horrible past experiences where they were ridiculed for asking questions and making mistakes. That kind of environment only puts everyone on edge, and when people are terrified of looking stupid, they end up doing the wrong thing more often than they would if they could just clarify something.
If someone asks a question, share it (and the answer) with your team. Sometimes people might be afraid to ask something that they feel like they “should” already know, so everyone benefits from reminders.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to educate your team. It doesn’t make your team very happy when they feel bored and stunted.
Advocate for time to learn more, but don’t go crazy. I turned to Annie Singer of MLM for help with this, as she’s currently the only employee with SEO knowledge at her company:
Ask your closest manager in an informal setting or in passing, and be prepared to defend the importance of continued education. This is especially important in settings where you are the only SEO because you do not have continued education through peer interaction. Approach the conversations with a few options and see what your boss is most receptive to — having Twitter open in a second window throughout the day to keep up on current news/trends, spending 15 minutes every morning reading articles from a specific list of blogs, spending an hour on Monday morning to catch up on trends, etc.
The point is to keep learning, always. When you start becoming complacent, you don’t perform as well.
Furthermore, when it comes to SEO, it’s seriously fun to learn something new or research a problem or run tests.
Sometimes, after I have to spend time doing something like digging into a new tool for a review or working on a problem for my PPC client, I’m really excited to get back to link building. That is always a plus!