The 10 Worst Link Building Assumptions

Over the past few years, one of the biggest problems I’ve faced is educating clients about search marketing — about what’s reasonable to expect and what isn’t in the world of link building.

It can be difficult, especially in the winning-the-business stage, to admit that you can’t turn lead into gold, but being honest and clear with clients to set appropriate expectations can set you up for success in the longer term. If they’re the right client, they’ll be smart enough to understand.

When we started the company, we stayed quiet and let the clients dictate what we did for the most part, mainly because we didn’t yet have our footing. We’ve always discussed risk with our clients, but we didn’t advocate for all the things that make our jobs easier and make links work better for them.

Since then, we’ve gotten better about speaking up and advocating for everything from technical changes to better content. However, we still have a way to go, as we’re still facing some severely problematic assumptions about link building.

I’ll list them for you here, and you can share this list with your co-workers, bosses or clients. If you, or anyone you know, is operating under one of these dangerous assumptions, it’s past time to get educated.


1. I Can Tell You How Many Links It Will Take To Rank.

I can certainly guess (42, always), but that’s only after spending a lot of time doing analysis and research.

My problem with this assumption is that it sets the whole relationship up for failure from the beginning. I can’t predict algorithmic shifts or what your competitors are doing (or what you’re doing without telling me), so it’s irresponsible for me to pretend that I can, just to get your business.

2. I Can Tell You How Long It Will Take To Make You Rank.

I’ve seen some sites rank for whatever terms they want after we’ve been building links for a few weeks, and I’ve seen some that take months. That depends on a variety of factors so, again, it’s irresponsible to guess.

3. I Can Guarantee What Position You’ll Hit.

At least a dozen times over the years, potential clients have tried to figure out why I won’t guarantee certain rankings — because they’re spoken to several SEOs who will. (A guarantee like this is a warning sign of a questionable SEO.)

Perhaps I’d be more likely to consider this if I had full control of the online market environment; but even then, I think it’s crazy to guarantee a specific spot.

4. If Something Makes Me Rank In The Short Term But Is Risky, It’s Still Worth The Risk.

I guess that’s true if you like to churn and burn sites or rely on PPC. However, the many ways to rank quickly are the kind of methods that can easily come back to haunt you.

Obviously, my idea of risk and your idea of risk may be very different, but throwing 30 exact match anchor text links at a page just because you say that moved the page up three positions in the SERPs is just a bad idea.

5. Once We Get To Where We Want To Be, We Can Stop Doing Everything We’ve Been Doing And Let It Ride.

We’ve dealt with a few clients that stopped using our services when they were doing well. Then, when things started to go south again, they wanted to start back up again.

Even if you feel like resting, your competitors are probably still moving forward so, at some point, you’ll start to fall behind.

6. I Don’t Have The Knowledge To Be Able To Look At Your Backlinks And Figure Out All The Bad Things You’ve Done And Are Still Doing.

This isn’t usually a big problem with my contract clients, but it’s been an issue with some short-term consulting gigs.

It makes me feel like anything good that we do will get cancelled out by all the spam links that keep being built intentionally in an effort to rank well quickly.


7. You Won’t Have Problems If You Follow Google’s (Current) Guidelines.

Just because you follow their guidelines doesn’t mean that you won’t become a casualty of an algorithmic update, an accident, or simple poor rankings.

There are loads of people doing things the right way and their rankings are abysmal. That’s one reason that sites are so driven to take on massive risks. Following Google’s guidelines doesn’t guarantee online success, ever.

8. You Can’t Be Penalized (Whether Manually Or By An Algorithm Update) For All The Bad Stuff In Your Profile Even If It Was Done A Decade ago Or You Didn’t Know About It.

You don’t just get grandfathered into Google’s good graces because you’re an innocent or uneducated victim. They really don’t care.

Matt Cutts, Google's Head of Webspam, Explains

Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, Explains

9. Any Free Link Is A Good Link.

I used to believe this, wholeheartedly. Now? I’ve seen some vicious penalties on sites that never bought a single link, never did outreach to get links, and basically just got screwed by having linkable sites.

10. I Can Do This Well Without Your Input.

I can do it, yes, but I don’t know your product or service like you do, and having an inside perspective means that the work I do is much better.

Having you paying attention and catching my mistakes is particularly awesome because, again, I don’t know your business like you do and I might make an incorrect assumption.

What’s the solution to this? Continued advocacy and education, or is there something more? I’d love to hear what client assumptions you face, as well as how you handle them.