It’s tiiiiime! Once again I’ve gathered some of the best minds on link building to have an in depth discussion on the state of link building in 2013.

I’ve been doing this series since 2007 – you can check out the past editions below:

Link Building with the Experts – 2007 Edition

Link Building with the Experts – 2008 Edition

Link Building with the Experts – 2010 Edition

Link Building with the Experts – 2011 Edition

Link Building with the Experts – 2011 Edition Addendum

Link Building with the Experts – 2012 Edition

2013 has been the year of continued drama at the hands of black and white animals – namely the Panda and Penguin algorithm filters. And there’s a ton of input on both those topics – and many others – featured in the post below.

If you’re new to the Link Building with the Experts series, let me explain how it works. The people being interviewed each submit a question that they themselves want to hear input on from the other panelists. No one sees the answers by the other panelists until the interview is published (I answer the questions myself before sending them to the rest of the panel). I’ve always felt this makes the series interesting for two reasons…

First, we get higher quality questions. Secondly, there is no “head nodding” because no one knows how anyone else answered the questions. Each question gets an answer with no outside influence regarding “what the rest of the panel thinks” so to speak. We’ve all been doing this a long time, but that doesn’t mean we always agree or don’t have different methods of achieving the same end results.

Meet the link building interviewees:

I’d like to sincerely thank everyone below for continuing to share their knowledge and for giving their time to this series. They’re all freaking awesome.

Now that you know what you’re in for, grab a cup of coffee and get ready to learn about link building tactics and theories from the talented and insightful (listed and answered in alphabetical order by first name):

Aaron Wall of SEO Book – Twitter | Google+

Debra Mastaler of Alliance Link and the The Link Spiel – Twitter | Google+

Eric Ward, Ericward.com Linking Strategies – Twitter | Google+

Jim Boykin, Founder and CEO of Internet Marketing Ninjas – Twitter | Google+

Julie Joyce, Director of Operations and Co-Founder of Linkfish Media – Twitter | Google+

Michael Gray of the Graywolf SEO blog – Twitter | Google+

Rae Hoffman, aka Sugarrae, CEO of PushFire – Twitter | Google+

Rand Fishkin from Moz – Twitter | Google+

Roger Montti, the founder and owner of martinibuster.com and publisher of Advanced Link Building Strategies – Twitter | Google+

Todd Malicoat, aka Stuntdubl, at the helm of FishingCharters.com and SEO faculty at MarketMotive.com – Twitter | Google+

Will Critchlow, Founder of Distilled – Twitter | Google+

With that, let’s get started…

1. Are links becoming a smaller portion of Google’s ranking algorithm? If so, what do you believe are the factors that are new and/or growing?

AARON: Absolutely Google is folding more aspects into their ranking algorithms. I think there is far more weighting put on aggregate usage data than is let on by Google engineers. Another big driver of rankings is localization, with more and more queries being localized over time (both the inclusion of the local Google+ pages & localizing many of the remaining results).

DEBRA: Links are still one of the dominant factors Google uses to determine how a page ranks but there are new trust and accountability signals being used to determine the value of those links and pages they point to. Google Plus, reconsideration and disavow tools are providing those signals.

ERIC: In some ways they are actually becoming a larger portion, but what’s happening is the types of inbound links that Google is willing to trust and reward is becoming much more exclusive and “bad” links are now blowing sites up. If you look back over the history of Google’s link devaluation process, you can see what they are doing. They devalued links coming from junk directories, devalued links coming from link networks, devalued links coming from paid brokers, etc. But what nobody talks about is the converse of this, which is that the highly trusted links that were there all along are likely sending stronger signals when looked at as a percentage of all links analyzed. Imagine you had a site that ranked #1, with 1000 inbound links, and then 990 of them were devalued, leaving you with only ten trusted links in your profile, and your site vanished from Google. Contrast that with a site that has 1,000 inbound links but 275 of them are high trust. It’s a pruning process, and people are still in denial about what they need to do.

JIM: Yes links are becoming a smaller portion of the algorithm, but that being said, I still believe that they are the largest and the most important part of the algorithm today… It’s certainly true that “exact match” anchor text, which was the SEO ranking key in years past, can be the poison of today. It’s also true that links that once worked, but now can be spotted and mapped via patterns, are getting sites penalized by Penguin. If you’ve been doing too much “cheap SEO”, you might one day be getting familiar with some Disavow tools to analyze your backlinks….because if you did too much SEO in the past, you might have to disavow them in the future. Some links are great, then one day, they could be poison. Google actually doing a good job of making SEO’s “grow up” in the field of marketing, because now if your links aren’t “Natural”, chances are they can hurt you. The short tail game has ended, and in many cases is now poison to sites. Links are very important, but you can’t “force them” today.

New and Growing Factors… All the stuff that spewed out of Google’s mouth for years, has certainly come true now in the days of Penguin. Links are the most important thing…and Google’s getting very good at finding links that are not given via quality people or quality sites, where it’s all natural and not “paid”.

Exact match anchor text as a “bad” thing is new…google mapping the social web and getting closer to giving social signals more strength in the algo is new…analyzing things like “return visitors” (loyalty), “brand strength”, “having people think about the SEO they were doing years ago, that they stopped doing, but can hurt them now is new…thinking about “who” your connected with (including social), is fairly new. Authorship, and WHO links to you is growing in importance. Who you’re connected to and how you connect to them is growing in importance. How people interact with your website is also growing in importance. ….thinking about “who are the authors for your site” and who are the people you want to get “connected with” (social or link) is fairly new..I could go on and on…next question :)

JULIE: I think that they are becoming a slightly smaller portion as other factors are being added in but not to a significant extent. I think a lot of factors like click through rate, time spent on pages, personalized signals like how many times a user visits a certain site or ignores one, authorship, and frequency of socialization of content will all be a part of the algorithm but to me, those are all tied in closely with links. Unless they rebuild the algorithm from the ground up, I don’t see the importance of links drastically decreasing.

MICHAEL: I don’t think saying links are becoming a smaller portion is the right way to look at it, what I do think is that links no longer stand alone. Google wants to see many signals that you are a legitimate business/website (aka a brand) and they want to see the user data and social signals that come along with links. Lets say that over the next three months you got 500 links of good or better quality, If no one was passing your url around on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Gmail, etc that would look odd.

If over that same time period no one was typing in your domain, your company name, or your domain/company name along with a keyword phrase into a search box, that wouldn’t really make any sense, and would not represent normal behavior. So Google would think those links are suspect and possibly artificially manipulated, and probably ignore them. The genius of that plan is if you are a traditional SEO with no marketing finesse, you would say hmm I guess I need more links, and you would dig yourself into a “linkhole” (I’m totally taking credit for creating that phrase) that you’ll never get out.

RAE: Do I believe Google is desperately trying to find more and better ways to “validate” the authenticity of links? Absolutely. But links are still the core to ranking in the current algorithm. I think we hear the “links are dead” mantra because people that build a shitload of keyword laden links are getting hit for it – therefore “link building is dead” when in truth, it’s simply that Google is getting better at identifying artificial links and giving more credit towards more “validated” links. “Easy link building” is what’s dying.

Links still matter – in a huge way. But people need to realize that a natural link profile is key – and it’s all about the percentages. We hear a lot about the big brand bias – when in reality, I think that big brands merely have more “legit” and 100% natural links to mask any deliberate link building they’re doing.

At this point in the game, you have to spend time building 1. Links that matter from a ranking perspective and 2. Links that don’t matter from a ranking perspective but keep your link profile looking as natural as possible (I.e. Developing nofollow links, image links, etc).

RAND: I don’t see them diminishing massively, but as other signals are rising, they certainly feel less overwhelmingly powerful and SEO itself feels less like a link building process and more like a positive result of getting a holistic marketing strategy right. Some factors that feel like they’re on the rise include:

Branding & brand signals

UX – especially design, speed, and mobile friendliness

Mentions & citations (not just those containing links)

Far more sophisticated content-based analysis


Social signals (or the secondary signals that are often the result of social success)

ROGER: Links have been on a years-long journey away from being purely a ranking signal to becoming a negative signal in itself, something for the spam filter. It started as a ranking signal then quickly became a relevance signal once Google started depreciating links based on on-page relevance factors. The further depreciation of the value of links continued with whacking links based on the location on the page. That was the evolution of the concept of unnatural links, growing in response to methods such as expired domains (remember those!), text link brokers, and reciprocal linking. Links moved from ranking signal, to relevance signal then links as a signal moved to having one foot in the ranking algorithm and the other foot in the “un-ranking” algorithm.

The concept of unnatural links is now associated with a broader range of linking PATTERNS related to anchor text, paid links, paid advertorials, and other repetitive patterns that do not occur naturally. The common aspect to all of these signals is that they are types of links that are being used as signals of EXCLUSION. This is important to note. It gives you a clue about the algorithm. To make an anology, the algo resembles that rule created to by shopkeepers to keep out the hippies: “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” If your links are the equivalent of no shirt and no shoes… You get no service. So are links becoming a smaller portion of Google’s ranking algorithm? To a CERTAIN EXTENT, links have evolved to become signals of exclusion. But web publishers are getting around these limitations by co-evolving their efforts by focusing on links as freely given citations, signals for inclusion, as described below.

Previous algorithm improvements led the SEO community to encourage “natural-looking” links. It wasn’t about natural links, it was about unnatural links looking natural. While many are still plugging away at that and older methods, many are rethinking strategies and coming back to the first and original principal of building links: Build something and tell others about it. The latest iteration of this very old strategy centers on the DIRECT PROMOTION of content as an INDIRECT method of building links. You’re going to be hearing more and more about Content Promotion because it dovetails nicely with traditional marketing and Search Marketing; skills in any of those two will suit the approach.

The idea behind Content Promotion is that you create a particularly good piece of content and use all available means to get the word out about it. This differs from the direct method of asking for a link. In Content Promotion there is no asking. That’s not to say you can’t ask, just that the marketing energy is focused on the promotion of the content- with links, referrals, and traffic following on from it.

This is similar to Viral Content Marketing, with the difference being that Viral Marketing is limited to promoting via social/emotional triggers (anger, amusement, outrage, etc.). That’s not always a good fit for some companies and the results are generally mixed. In a nutshell, Content Promotion is about creating content and promoting it with social media advertising (particularly Facebook Ads,StumbleUpon paid discovery, BingAds, Zemanta and Twitter), AdWords (both keyword and content), and traditional press release marketing. The content can be virtually anything, from a limited promotion to a video tutorial. The idea is to stimulate actual citations, real links, based on the merit of the content. There is nothing more natural than that.

TODD: Links, or offsite equity, has comprised the lion’s share of importance with regards to organic search engine rankings for the last decade or more. Google has made great strides to segment and devalue many types of links that have proved to be poor indicators of relevance and authority, but the power of links to rankings remains. Personally, I don’t see other factors becoming more important to relevance anytime in the near future despite the problems that have always existed in a link-based algo.

Other search ranking factors that have been introduced in recent years in many ways complement offsite equity rather than replacing it. Many of these signals, such as social media and brand mentions serve to validate the quality of links rather than to completely replace the necessity of links in the algorithm.

Despite the best efforts of some enterprising spammers, Google has kept links and offsite equity as a valuable and reliable part of their algorithm since inception. These indicators are still valid, but will continue to be augmented and validated by social graph data and better user data sources.

WILL: This is a more complicated question than it seems. I think it’s making increasingly less sense to talk about the “ranking algorithm”. My mental model these days looks more like a bunch of decision engines and associated separate ranking algorithms. Many of these separate ranking algorithms (local rankings, choosing the correct knowledge graph entry, SPYW-type social stuff, QDF etc.) have much less dependence on links than the regular “10 blue links web search” algorithm. At the same time, the proportion of queries that trigger something other than a traditional ranking is growing.

So: yes. The overall influence of links in the traffic you will get from Google across a broad range of queries is decreasing. I’m less interested, however, in whether they are a declining factor in “regular” search than in all the ways the search UX is changing.

Probably the biggest argument in the other direction is that the growth of Penguin and associated updates means there are more and more ways that some kinds of links factor *negatively* into the overall algorithm.

Aside from arguing semantics, the most important thing is what effect our theories have on our *actions*. On that side of things, I don’t anticipate any reduction in the value I place on great links on high value pages (you know – the kind that humans click on) any time soon, but I *am* becoming more interested in link-engagement metrics than in nominal link-strength metrics.

2. Google is still trying to crack down on the buying and selling of links, and now they’re sending out warnings to webmasters that they’ve detected unnatural links coming from their sites. Do you expect to see link buying getting harder, or will it just get more expensive?

AARON: I think it will get both harder and more expensive over time. If you are a big company who can generally do no wrong then I do not think the risks are as high as claimed (even when Interflora was hit they were only out for 11 days & were allowed to triple dip on branded keywords in AdWords while penalized), but the smaller you are the greater the risk of “poof it’s gone” if you are aggressive with link buying.

For those who want to play at the spammier end of the spectrum, increasingly ranking spam pages on parasitic hosts that Google is over-trusting is going to create a higher ROI than doing bulk link buys into their own websites.

DEBRA: I see a little of both since less people are blogging and many of the previous outlets hosting paid links have been identified and devalued as such.


ERIC: I’m sorry, are you saying people actually BUY links to rank higher? This is blasphemy. LinkMoses is horrified. Ha! Link selling and buying aren’t going away, people will just try to get more clever about how they create the arrangement whereby money and links can be exchanged. Here’s an example that has nothing to do with SEO or search rank at all, but does involve paid links. Look at http://solarcar.engin.umich.edu/quantum-sponsors/ Now you tell me. Are those paid links or not? Yes, they are. Do some of those sponsors look like they might have been after a little juice? Yes, they do. But, are these they type paid links that should cause a penalty or devaluation? In my opinion, no they are not. And this is a great example of the slippery slope.

JIM: For those who are link building with the intent to get exact anchor text to targeted phrases, yes, it’s going to get harder ..by harder I mean, Your Going to have to do some WORK. you’re going to have to come up with ideas on what you can create to cause people to talk about it….and you need to come up with lots and lots of those ideas, and then you’re going to have to execute those ideas and then you’re going to have to market those ideas….what are you “buying for links today”…if it’s “links”, then you’re not going to be in this game long. If you’re buying great ideas, and if you’re buying the execution of those ideas, and you’re doing real marketing to real people and not the Whore sites of the internet, then sure…one can call it “buying links” and it just got a whole lot more expensive because the “store” is only selling poison links simply by being virtue of a store. Linking and connections needs to be natural now. It’s hard to buy someone’s trust to connect to you and to mention you. Now you have to be outstanding, now you have to build your brand, now you need to get them back, now you need a great writer, now you need a community. The game of “buying links” , in my view, is “over”. It’s a game of “Marketing”. Be better than your competitors, and earns peoples trust. Money doesn’t work anymore.

JULIE: I think that it will get more expensive and more difficult, but I also think that will be true for many types of link building and not just paid links. I don’t think the paid link will be going away any time soon. I think people buying links will get smarter and will adapt to whatever algorithm changes occur, just like SEOs do with everything else. There will always be webmasters who create sites just to make money, and if they have tons of throwaway sites, nothing will stop them from selling links. Despite how closely we follow Google’s every move, there will still be webmasters and clients who don’t understand the risks and they’ll still want to buy and sell links.

MICHAEL: I don’t think link buying will get harder, I get a dozen emails a week offering to sell me links somewhere on someones over inflated network of 400 sites. However buying quality links, that still work will get harder. For the people who do sell links, unless they are exceptionally good at how they do it, they run the risk of becoming the victim of a 3rd party drive by shooting from the competition. While Google would like you to believe they can detect bought/sold links with near 100% accuracy we all know it’s false. I’ve seen content pieces that contained a purchased links that you had no way of identifying, as the content was that good and there were multiple commercial links in the page.

The problem is most people buying/selling links are as subtle as a Vegas Drag Queen at a convention of Tibetan Monks. People buy links and say I’m paying for this so I’m going to get the most bang for my buck and go for the best commercially valuable anchor text I can get, usually with something like this …

I was looking for a cheap rental car in Orlando, I finally found Luigi’s Rental Agency.

Normal people don’t link like that, they link like this …

I was looking for a cheap rental car in Orlando, I finally found Luigi’s Rental Agency.

One final word on the subject, link buying/selling is a high risk tactic and against Google’s Guidelines. While I don’t have a problem with it, far too many take the chance without fully understanding the risks or explaining those risks to their clients. Very few sites are able to recover unscathed from a link buying incident once has been discovered by google. If you are able to convince Google you have amended for your sins and are going to stay on the straight and narrow from now on, most of your traffic will come back, but it will never be 100%. You should also know some people are doomed to the purgatory of traffic so low its irrelevant, and will never again see the light of day no matter what they do. So choose wisely.

RAE: Honestly, I’ve never gone the link buying route. Here’s what I can tell you though – site owners are definitely more “afraid” these days. Not only about selling links, but about everything… accepting advertisements, or guest posts, or linking out to affiliate products, etc. So it only makes sense that link buying will not only be harder, but also more expensive – especially in SEO savvy industries. And if I were buying links, I’d avoid link buying / selling networks like the plague.

RAND: It will likely get both harder and more expensive (at least to do in ways that last as long as old forms of link buying used to). At some point in the future, I expect most of the webspam and manipulation that happens through link buying will be re-routed to other activities with a more reliable, less dangerous ROI.

Caveat – this is really only true in English-language markets. Outside the US/UK/Canada/NZ/Australia/South Africa, spamming & link buying is still much easier and more common, likely because Google’s engineers haven’t built as sophisticated detection & devaluation methodologies in those regions/languages.

ROGER: Unnatural link warnings ON SITES about paid links have expanded warnings and penalties related to UGC (User Generated Content) Spam ON SITE and in backlinks. Google has moved on from the paid link wars and opened up a new front against forum spam. So rather than discuss last years war, I’m going to address where Google is NOW. Unscrupulous SEOs have a long history of buying links for clients because it’s easy to do. That strategy has become riskier and some of them have turned to outsourcing to third world forum spammers. There is a white hat subculture that believes spamming forums with “useful content” with links in the signature line is a win-win situation. This notion propagated on some “white hat” sites has created a green light for UGC spam.

I am not JUST a consultant. I have thirteen years experience creating my own sites, including award winning forums that have been featured on sites like BusinessWeek Magazine. I have actual experience being on the receiving end of spam and I research who is doing the spamming, including phone calls to the clients in order to track down the sources. In my experience, there has been a growing trend in forum spam originating from 3rd world countries on behalf of “white hat” SEO agencies. I believe this is why Google has expended warnings and penalties beyond link buying and are now making it harder for agencies who have moved on to forum spamming.

TODD: Link buying has always been a slippery slope. Since there will always be sponsorships, advertising, and promotions, there will always be some level of “link buying” going on. Google has shown little tolerance for link buying, and the enforcement has been rather severe at times.

Buying links has become much more expensive because the reward isn’t nearly as high as the risk anymore. For years, that risk/reward ratio made purchasing links directly a profitable endeavor for many websites. Now the only people making money with links are the broker networks “selling the shovels” to all the people who are years late on the “let’s go buy all thelinks goldrush”.

Finding a way to creatively tell, sell, and distribute your message is a far superior approach to just trying to buy your way to the top. Even if you’re in the payday loan vertical, this point is being proved on a more regular basis, and now even with a specific algo filter targeting it.

The pure cost, and risk cost of buying links has relegated it to a strategy that is not viable for most businesses. It’s an expensive proposition to invest heavily in a website only to have it fall to a google penalty or algorithm update.

WILL: I think that it may actually get cheaper.

I guess that’s a bold claim but it’s based in economics. As Google spreads FUD (justified or not) about the risks of straying, more of the deep-pocketed brands will dial down or quit their link buying. This could easily take the bottom out of the link selling market. We are definitely seeing more and more brands asking how they can wean themselves off their cash-based tactics. In some cases, this is because it’s become less effective (or downright harmful) but in even more cases, it’s based on changing perceived future risk.

I assume this is a big part of Google’s plan.

3. How do you split your efforts between small, lightweight content and campaigns and big ticket investments where you can’t know for sure if the 10x investment is going to bring 10x return?

AARON: If you are working with a new client & the relationship is based on either limited resources or limited trust then in most cases it is probably best to go with the certain low-cost option, but as the relationship is built up you can do more swinging for the fences.

If the 10x return is only going to have some x% chance of succeeding then you need to do the math on the potential returns vs the costs. So you really need 10x (x% chance of success) = $y … you need to be able to have $y be greater than your cost on the project & you need the client to be willing to run those sorts of campaigns enough times until a few of them take off.

DEBRA: You never really know if a marketing campaign will take off, it is best to invest in a little research before you start to maximize your efforts. I have three steps I follow to help me with this:

#1 Evaluate. Before starting any marketing campaign evaluate your personnel strengths and where your website stands in your industry. If you don’t have the manpower to follow-up on opportunities popping up as a result of your campaign, you may lose prime links. Look to see who is ranking ahead of you and why, and then look at the sites behind you. I am of the opinion sites behind you should be watched closely, they want to move ahead and often test and implement aggressive campaigns to get there. Don’t be caught off guard, know what the successful sites (those ranking in front of you) have done to be there and what hungry owners (those behind you) are doing to jump ahead.

#2 Research. If you have the staff and financial resources to implement a bigger marketing campaign, research what’s been done and try to gauge the success of the promotion (see my tool list in question #4 for help with this). Do a short survey to your customer base or if you don’t have a customer database, join a forum and ask for input. Every time I do this I get great ideas on issues I never considered and also uncover influential people to tap for help and further research. Most big ticket campaigns fail because the owner did not invest the time and research to find the right markets and communities to target.

#3 Disengage. Know when to quit or not start a promotion after going through the first two steps. Conversely, if something works, tweak and reuse as soon as possible to capitalize on the momentum.

ERIC: By making sure the client is given full disclosure about what the expectations should be for any approach they are considering. Do not be afraid to say “This is an expensive bet, and we can’t know what the outcome will be”.

JULIE: I look at what the client wants and can afford, both financially and in terms of risk. If it’s a big brand with a successful history and they want to try something where the ROI is uncertain, I’ll try it. If it’s a small business who can’t afford a lot of money and risk, I’d be more cautious and do a lot more of the lighter weight work. To me it all depends on what makes sense for that one client, at that moment in time. If they’ve been penalized or are really suffering, I’ll be a lot less likely to recommend something where I can’t give them at least a 51% chance of having some success.

MICHAEL: This question is similar to a how do I find a good work life balance … the answer is different for everyone, and I don’t think it’s fully attainable, it’s going to always stay just out of reach. I don’t think you ever want to start out chasing the big money vanity keyword phrases, unless you have a good bankroll and a decent amount of resources you can throw at the problem.

Plan out your top 5 keywords, but don’t directly chase them yet. develop your second and third tier keywords and start chasing those. For example if your top keyword is [El Dorado Hotel Reviews], start out building high quality pages for [Family Travel to Eldorado], [Fine Dining in Eldorado], [Best Beaches in Eldorado]. Don’t worry that these aren’t big money pages, what you want to do is build brand recognition and establish that your website is an expert for [El Dorado]. Then start moving up the food chain [Beachfront Hotels in Eldorado] and [Villas in Eldorado] before pushing on your big phrases. Understand that people are very seldom going to link to your commercially motivated pages, they are going to link to informational pages or pages that have human interest, like legends, ghost stories, or interesting and colorful moments in an areas history, etc.

You can try and get links or do a social media push for your hotel booking pages, but unless its exceptional it won’t get a lot of love. However if you push story about a legendary mining prospector who was murdered for his gold claim by the town bullies, and who’s ghost mysteriously returned from the grave to exact revenge on his killers and who’s spirit is still seen today, you’ll get a lot more traction.

RAE: From a consulting perspective, I tend to be a bit more cautious in aiming for the homerun so to speak. It really depends on what the client has already done and what their budget is (and what they feel comfortable spending on a “hit or miss” campaign). If they haven’t covered a lot of the basics, then we’ll start covering them and suggest higher investment and thus potentially higher return campaigns as they start to see results from our initial efforts.

From a personal site perspective, I tend to be a little more willing to swing and miss, haha.

RAND: We’ve found a healthy balance by investing in a few things daily/weekly (stuff like blogging, social sharing, community engagement, etc) and a few big projects at any given time (e.g. the Algo History, Mozcast, the Ranking Factors, etc). Based on our analyses, those big projects actually have a much larger ROI on average (even accounting for the ones that fail) than the daily stuff, which surprised me quite a bit!

ROGER: An eighty dollar bottle of wine doesn’t always taste better with food than a forty dollar bottle of wine. I have a reasonable expectation of the equation between effort expended and responses received, taking into account the aptitude of those working for me. Scaling up successfully depends on the quality of those workers. You can put ten butts in the chairs and can expect ten times the return IF all ten share the same aptitude for the work. In the real world some workers are less better than others. Some people get it and others, for whatever reasons, are too distracted to do the job. If YOU have workers who can focus and are dependable, the only limitation is the strategy.

TODD: Most websites need a mixed marketing strategy based on their size, resources, and goals. It’s crucial to spend some money on marketing experimentation, but much more important to make sure the majority of budget goes to time tested tactics.

Every site needs some core / cornerstone content to answer the questions of the visitors and retain someone to the site. Creating content that attracts links is another problem entirely. Webmasters and site owners are realizing that B- level content will never draw the links that a piece of real linkbait will. That B- content might not even draw the engagement needed to maintain rankings with the way Panda has filtered poor content based on user data.

Even great linkbait fails – if it was easy, everyone would do it. When you budget for linkbait, you have to budget for some failures, and also focus on the process. If you can master the process, and truly create A grade content within your vertical, it will always succeed in the end. Hoping that one article will fund the link equity for an entire site, however, can be downright foolish.

WILL: I keep reading and hearing about the 70 / 20 / 10 model which advocates placing 70% of your budget into the “same old” content – stuff that is solid, dependable and has worked for you in the past, 20% into experimental deviations from that and 10% into “moonshots” – the totally unpredictable high risk / high reward stuff.

I personally feel like 10% isn’t high enough for the moonshots, but I’m looking forward to hearing others’ thoughts.

4. If you’re limited to 5 SEO tools in your toolset – what are they (and for what)?

AARON: #1 – Our SEO toolbar – a quick “at a glance” baseline for the competitive landscape

#2 – Ahrefs – in depth link data with great interface usability

#3 – Google AdWords keyword tool – it has some known issues (not returning data for certain keywords, defaulting to broad match, etc.) but they have more data than anyone else

#4 – Advanced Web Ranking – self hosted rank tracking

#5 – Screaming Frog SEO spider – lots of uses for on-site analysis, it is like a more modern version of Xenu Link Sleuth

DEBRA: #1 Timer – I suffer from “oooolookitdat” syndrome and tend to wander if I don’t set the timer and keep myself in check. It also helps keep track of time spent on client projects.

#2 Domainsbot – WHOIS and domain name checker.

#3 Buffer – I set up my daily “informative” tweets and let the tool do the work.

#4 LinkDetective – Analyzes back links by type.

#5 SocialCrawlytics – Identifies most shared content.

ERIC: #1 Link Prospector

#2 Be A Google Ninja. Know every possible operator and method for surfacing content [addition by Rae: 25 killer combos for Google's site operator]

#3 Getlisted.org

#4 Open Site Explorer

#5 Xenu (Still great after all these years, and free)

JIM: #1 They’d all be our private tools…but, for public ones:

#2 SEMrush – Organic and PPC keyword values and rankings for client and competitors

#3 MajesticSEO – backlink analysis – competitor analysis – site analysis

#4 SEO News to keep track of the latest news

#5 Spyfu – Keyword research and competitor research

JULIE: #1 – Evernote. I know it’s not a proper SEO tool but to me, it is. I document everything in there. I document what clients want, what they send me, what they’ve said to me on the phone, new ideas that I have for clients or myself, brainstorming sessions, notes for my articles, notes I take from what I read, etc. If I’m stuck, I read back through my notes and it almost immediately helps.

#2 – Link Research Tools. It’s what I use for my analysis and my audits. If something looks weird for a site it’s the first place I go.

#3 – Screaming Frog. If there’s a site issue (and there usually is) you’ll find it here most of the time.

#4 – Rex Swain’s HTTP Header. I use this religiously to check redirects.

#5 – Majestic SEO. I love the section where you can view new and deleted backlinks and I really love the BackLink History as it’s fantastic for comparisons from site to site.

MICHAEL: Narrowing it down to 5 will be tough but here we go (disclosure some of these links are [Michael's] aff links but I would have listed them anyway)

#1 WordPress – I’ve got a love/hate relationship with wordpress, but despite all of it’s many shortcomings and annoyances, it’s the fastest, cheapest, most powerful, and flexible way to get something that’s within spitting distance of being a CMS.

#2 Raven Tools – It’s an extremely powerful suite of tools that help you solve multiple problems (see my Raven tutorials and reviews here). That said I do miss my ranking reports :-(

#3 SEOMoz … err Moz Toolset – Again it’s another suite of SEO Tools. I don’t think looking at the data from one set of tools is always a good idea 2-3 will give you a much better picture.

#4 Website Auditor – There are lots of programs that will crawl websites and spit back the data, but in my experience this is the most configurable, easiest to use and export the data. When I’m doing a site audit or trying to diagnose a problem that doesn’t stick out right away this is a key tool in my toolbox.

#5 Scribe SEO – Let’s be honest, sometimes my grammar and spelling isn’t the bestest it could be, scribe helps me clean that up. While I do try to give clear instructions to my copyrighters, sometimes they get a little verbose and flowery, and emphasize words I don’t want or didn’t intend to, scribe helps identify that. It helps me write and edit on topic focussed posts, and since it sits right in wordpress it’s super easy to use.

RAE: For the longest time I was very resistant to using tools. Over time, I’ve come to accept them as valuable helpers. But, the key word there is “helper” – I recently did a rant on Google+ about people being dependent on tools. So with that in mind…

#1 – Raven’s SEO Software – it actually does a lot more than “SEO” – but the SEO part is my main usage of it – especially their link manager tool. Their new website auditor tool is great for small business owners who don’t live and breathe SEO as well. It also imports your Webmaster Tools data and stores it indefinitely – so you can have a much larger historical picture than the 90 day historical view Google’s WMT gives you.

#2 – SEMRush – while their data is included in Raven, I still have a seperate SEMRush account because Raven only serves part of their data. I heart SEMRush. Their organic keyword data is fairly accurate and extremely helpful in competitive keyword research.

#3 – Screaming Frog – awesome crawler for more advanced SEOs. But I’d recommend having the paid version to be able to use it to its full capabilities. Getting a sample of data goes no where near as far as being able to evaluate a full dataset.

#4 – Ontolo – killer link prospecting tool and their competitor backlink metrics are pretty cool as well. The amount of time Ontolo saves you when prospecting is huge.

#5 – Open Site Explorer and Link Detective – I use these as a combo to export the external backlinks to a site from Open Site Explorer and upload them into Link Detective to get an visual overview of the types of inbound links into a site. This is often a help in helping to identify and even out obvious unatural components of backlink profiles.

RAND: #1 – Google Analytics: still the most powerful, fast, and useful web analytics platform I’ve found.

#2 – Twitter, Facebook, & Google+: just posting content and engaging on these three networks over the past few years has been one of the most powerful strategies to get the content I produce ranking

#3 – Open Site Explorer & Fresh Web Explorer: I know I’m biased, but using these is invaluable for me to discover content, link, PR, and marketing opportunities. Larger web indices like Majestic are super useful when I’m trying to find spam or cleanup bad links, though I don’t much of that other than from a research perspective.

#4 – GetListed & Whitespark: for Local, these two are essential

#5 – ScreamingFrog: really good for experts who know how to customize for crawl data

ROGER: That said, tools too often become the strategy. Which is why consultants new to the industry and in-house SEOs gravitate to tools. They give the illusion of empowerment. Most backlink checker sites feature instructions on how to use their checker to spy on competitor backlinks. Poaching competitor backlinks is a mediocre strategy. Why bother promoting a backlink tool that way? It’s can barely be called a strategy and is limited in effectiveness. And here’s the problem with tools. People reach for tools because they hope they will solve a problem. But the problem is almost always strategy. Tools are not the strategy. Tools serve the strategy. So my answer to the question is, focus on strategy and your selection of tools to serve that strategy are an Internet search away.

TODD: #1 SEObook.com – Competitive Research Tool

#2 SEMRush.com – Keyword Discovery

#3 RavenTools.com – Site Auditor Tool

#4 Moz.com – Keyword Difficulty tool (with advanced report)

#5 ScreamingFrog – Indexation / IA Planning

WILL: In no particular order:

#1 – A unix command line (unless this is cheating!)

#2 – A link index (I’m most comfortable with opensiteexplorer)

#3 – Google Analytics

#4 – Webmaster Central if there is any hint of penalties or crawl issues. Web developer toolbar otherwise

#5 – Google itself – for everything from competitor research to content research to indexation checking

5. Which search or social site, outside of Google do you feel presents the most opportunity for building links and why?

AARON: In many cases this may come down to vertical. For niches like fashion or cooking Pinterest might be best. For niches like technology (and especially things like online rights) then Reddit would likely be great. For start up related stuff hacker news would be a great place to be seen. There are some verticals like video game walkthroughs where YouTube is huge. Of course both Twitter & Facebook are generally quite large.

The big trick with building links is the impact of getting direct & immediate links off of the social networks vs gaining awareness from the networks that leads to greater general awareness which helps your future content spread both within the social networks and across the broader web. In a lot of cases the social stuff will lead to more of the indirect links over time than the immediate links that count.

DEBRA: YouTube. If you’re not using YouTube as a search and discovery venue the same way you use Google to find link partners you’re leaving a lot of link equity on the table.

ERIC: Twitter.



JULIE: Twitter, definitely. It’s the fastest way to find new content which can trigger your own timely responsive content (like a rebuttal piece), help you see what people are talking about so you can jump on that popularity bandwagon, and be the first person to ask to buy/place a link on great new content. It’s also easier to quickly interact and build a relationship that can lead to a link…much easier and faster than email in many cases.

MICHAEL: I think it depends on your market, if you are in a techno-centric space you will definitely get the most traction from something like Twitter, Hacker News or even Google+ (shudder). If you are writing about cupcakes and home decorating it’s definitely Pinterest or Facebook. Know your audience and follow them to the sites they use.

RAE: Totally depends on the niche. If it’s clothing or cooking, Pinterest is going to give you the most bang for your buck – by far. I wouldn’t recommend any site who’s demographic is 18 or above spend time on Instagram but if your market is tweens – then you’d be well served to get your Insta on.

That said, looking at niches overall and ignoring the “certain social networks are better for certain niches” obvious, Twitter would be my pick. For me personally – as in the owner of the Sugarrae blog, it’s my highest exposure driver – and exposure typically results in links.

RAND: For me, it’s been Twitter. Although Facebook is larger and Google+ has a more direct impact (especially on personalized results), Twitter’s a channel for influencers, site owners, and marketers, which makes it ideal for building relationships and sharing content that leads to links.

ROGER: Facebook. The users are real people who use it to keep in touch. It’s a true social AND sharing community. The sharing aspect is important because “sharing” has in my opinion become part of the process for ranking better. So while “sharing” might not count as a traditional hyperlink, it still belongs in this conversation because it’s a citation, a new kind of citation. And the algo is a citation based algorithm, so sharing dovetails perfectly with that.

Facebook has the potential for becoming a top recommendation engine. It’s current limitation is mobile.

<img class="alignleft frame size-full wp-image-733" title="Todd Malicoat" src="http://pushfire.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/t

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