Julie Joyce is the cofounder and director of operations at the link development firm Link Fish Media, Inc. Headquartered in Greensboro, NC, Link Fish Media specializes in building links for the most competitive industries.
On the Link Fish site, you talk about the importance of "managing your links." What does link management entail?
Oh dear, you looked at that site? Ha! We've ignored it, we're trying to agree on how to redo it, and generally I just can't bear to look at it. OK, so link management ...
Link management is taking an active interest in your links, basically. It's understanding your link profile with the recognition that a one-size-fits-all approach will work about as well as it would with actual human beings being managed. There will be great links that send tons of qualified traffic, and there will be links with improperly spelled anchor text on horrible sites with flashing banners, but overall, they need to be acknowledged and occasionally manipulated from a group standpoint. Maybe you have too many little crap links so you need to go after the big guys. Maybe 99% of your inbound links have the anchor text of your company's name and you aren't ranking well for certain important keywords so you need more links with that phrase. Link management is all about paying attention to what you have and improving upon it, just as you would if you were managing a team of employees. It's difficult to know how to move ahead if you have no idea of where you've been.
Link Fish offers "viral linking services." Do you look at viral linking as different from linkbait? What are some strategies for brainstorming and creating link-worthy content?
I do look at them differently, thinking that linkbait  is the content, while viral linking is the method of marketing it.
In terms of strategies, I have one that works very, very well. Send your writers out to a bar, armed with a company credit card. OK, while I am totally serious about that, there are many other (and more professional) manners of strategizing that we use.
First off, I think that there is great value in team work, especially amongst competitive people. Get a few creative types together (leave the Oracle DBA out of this, thanks) and tell them each to write down 10 ideas for a piece of content. Don't make the mistake of combining the list and anonymizing it, though, unless you are dealing with thin-skinned types. The idea here is to make people defend their ideas, which sometimes leads to them realizing how stupid they are in the first place. It also leads to some truly fantastic ideas, though. Once you whittle things down, you're left with the gems. Ha! How's that for a mixed metaphor? My staff are being perfectly led, aren't they?
Secondly, know your audience very, very well. A post about cool appliances used in slasher films might be absolutely fantastic but it might not really be that beneficial for the local washer and dryer repair shop that you're trying to build a name for. Just because something generates buzz doesn't mean that it's beneficial for a site. Yes, you might be able to generate tons of good links with a piece like this, but you've still done so by ignoring your site's demographic, unless you live in a town full of ONLY people who loved Leatherface and tend to have loads of broken appliances. Now, if those links do make you rank well and things are peachy keen, it's great, but I do think that ignoring your audience can easily bite you in the ass one day.
Thirdly, observe the world around you. Read, watch, and write. Don't just read industry news, read a proper book! Read the newspaper, magazines, anything you can get your hands on, basically. I will admit to being a total literary snob in most cases, but I'll still read the hell out of the Star magazine when it arrives (free subscription yay!). Watch TV (and don't skip the commercials, especially the one where the little old lady does circles on her motorized scooter chair whilst clapping ensues), watch some Hitchcock films, see a foreign language movie, and just watch everyday life and the people in it. Write more. Write some crap blog posts, write a letter, send some long-winded emails where you explain how the letter "w" really should be a vowel. Pay attention to what happens, and figure out how to connect that in what you do. You have no idea how many of my blog posts have been inspired by CSI Miami and the crazy drunks in my neighborhood.
Lastly, I do have a non-link-building tool that I find incredibly useful for almost everything that I do, whether it's work or personal, and that's Evernote . It's free, you can share your information with others, and there are a billion uses for it. For work it's probably the source of most of my inspiration, whether it's a new idea for a client or a new blog post. I keep an Ideas notebook and just throw anything into it that I like for whatever reason. If I need inspiration, I just go through the notes and see what I can come up with. The best part about it, for me, is that it syncs with my iPhone, so if I'm out and I have an idea or see something cool, I can immediately note it.
What factors go into a "quality" link?
A quality link is a link that works for your purposes, in my opinion. Whether that's a rise in the rankings or some great traffic, whatever works is what's quality. I think there's a traditional view that a quality link is one from an old .edu that converts at a 99% rate and shoots your site to number one for all your important keywords, and while I'd love a link like that, I wouldn't say that a link that does anything less than that isn't quality.
We like links that fit into a site nicely, are on topic, have the potential for traffic, and have good keywordized anchor text. However, I'd never want to see a backlink profile full of these to the exclusion of other, lesser quality links. Variety is the key.
I think that there is an assumption that, if you buy links, you just randomly grab whatever crap you can, not giving a toss about the site, relevancy, etc. Maybe some people do it that way for various reasons, but we don't. The only thing different about paying for a link, for us, is that there is indeed an exchange of money. Otherwise, it's the same process. We try to get quality links for our clients.
Which link building tools do you use every day, paid and/or free?
This may sound weird but I very, very rarely use link building tools. I have a suspicious nature, and any data returned is suspect immediately. I also think there's a would-be attacker lurking around every corner so it's just a personality trait, one that's come from living in my neighborhood where there really IS a would-be attacker lurking around every corner. When I do use tools, it's either Majestic or Aaron Wall's Link Suggestion Tool.
As I said, I don't use tools for link building all that often but I do use them for the aforementioned link management. In that case, Majestic is my go-to tool of choice, with SEOMoz's suite being a close second. It's good to get an idea of where you're starting from when you begin a link building campaign, so these are crucial for me.
Mainly, we do things manually. Yes, we use a few tools here and there (and each of my link builders has his or her own preferences) but by and large, we roam the web in search of good linking partners. We're link tool Luddites.
What features would the ultimate link analysis tool include?
Ah, what a great question! The ultimate link analysis tool IS in my head and I really, really want to have someone build it one day when I win the lottery, but that will be ages because I don't buy lottery tickets. However, I'd love to see something that gives a quality score of some sort that is dependent upon the site's niche. A poker link isn't the same as a local jeweler's link. Is this link going to help me rank higher and gain traffic? Yes or no. That's what I want.
Some people claim that traditional links are on their way out, due to the spread of social "sharing" via Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. Do you think link building will still be important in a year? Five years? How does social media change the link building game?
I think it will, but then again I'd have no pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of if link building  went away, since that's my whole business. That stands for five years and on, too. I think there are some basics we'll never get away from, and traditional links are one of them. I may be doing some wishful thinking of course ... I tried to find a mystery bookshop I'd always wanted to go to in London last week and it had closed up, so who knows? That's part of the beauty of this industry isn't it? It's a bit like working for MI-5 I imagine.
I think social media  has already changed the link building game, and will continue to do so. There are good things about that, and some really bad ones too. I've already become dependent upon Twitter to see what's happening in the industry, as it's a quick (sometimes) way for me to stay updated. Unless it's a topic I'd like to discuss in-depth, I'd tweet something instead of blogging about it now. That's part ease of the platform, part laziness, part insane chaos of life, and part fitting in. We may become more reliant upon social media, but I've lived through enough backlashes to know that it's not good to expect everything to last. I do think it's here to stay, but in what form? I can't answer that.
Any tips for marketers embarking on link requests? What tactics get the best response?
Have a really sexy girly nom de plume if you can. If that feels a bit too weird, and I kind of hope it does, then just figure out how to connect with people. That seems basic, but it's one of the hardest parts about all of this I think. Some people are very intuituve about others. These are the people who know when to shut up, when to leave a party, and how not to offend the hostess. Then there are the people like me who lack filters and will accidentally insult your child's haircut, make inappropriate jokes about your mother, and not understand why everyone's staring at her all the time.
I think being very clear about what you want is critical, but not to the extent that you're clipped and rude. No webmaster worth his salt is going to have time to read an unsolicited email that goes on for the length of time it took to film Lord of the Rings, so state your purpose, be polite, and move on. If you've taken the time to do your homework about the people you approach, this should be easier, so don't go in blind.
In terms of the best response, I think that some of that is also niche-dependent. Fashion bloggers and financial bloggers are very different types. Every time we get a client in an unfamiliar niche, we do struggle with this, actually. I could show you 50 different link request emails, and none of them would be the same. Trial and error!
Is it ever okay to buy a link?
Oh good God yes. While I do recognize that link buying is a nasty little guideline violator for Google, I also recognize that, for many industries, you simply cannot compete without buying links. If anyone working on a highly competitive industry can get top rankings without buying a single link, I'd love to hear about it.
If I’m going to engage in link buying, what steps should I take to keep from being discovered by Google?
Never turn anyone else in for buying links. It's just not something you want to mess around with, and most sites do have something a bit dodgy going on if you look long enough, whether it's intentional or not. Outside of that, just make sure your links can pass a hand check. If you get a link for “life insurance” at the very bottom of a page, in tiny font, on a site that sells shoes, it's unlikely to be a naturally generated link, right? So don't do that.
Now, there are some industries where I think you can be a bit dodgier with paid links so let's exclude those for the moment and say that you're working on a mom and pop shop that sells baby clothes. I'd avoid anything in a section with the words “sponsored” or “advertise” in it, obviously, but I'd strive to get the link placed in good, relevant content. I don't like to hide links either, but sometimes webmasters do. If I mouse over something and can tell it's a hidden link, that makes me a bit unhappy. Don't go on the assumption that, if a hand review does happen, the person doing it is just going to give the site a quick glance. Go on the assumption that it will be Matt Cutts himself who will be doing the digging, and that he's just heard about all the bad names you called his cat.
What are some other link building practices that may trip filters and result in potential link penalties from Google? Are there ways of getting around these filters?
I think an unnatural link profile is the worst thing possible. I know that phrase has been bandied about a lot recently, but data graphs are very good ways to detecting potential issues. Building links too quickly, concentrating on certain keywords to the vast exclusion of all others, and having no low-PR or dinky little links with «click here» text are all bad and can trip you up. As far as getting around those filters ... yes. Don't do the above bad things.
Which link do you think helps your site more and why: a link from an authoritative, totally unrelated website or a link from a pretty authoritative, highly relevant website? Both are anchor text links, and you have to pick just one.
I like relevancy, so I'd pick the link from the pretty authoritative, highly relevant website for one big reason: traffic!
I noticed you also have a "non-SEO'd music blog." J I also have some personal sites I don't spend much time optimizing! Is it hard to devote energy to linkbuilding for your own purposes when you're doing it for clients all day? Also … best albums of 2009?
You're like a stalker aren't you? Well done. Yes, that music blog was my attempt at tying up online space for my name a few years ago. It's not very good is it? So yes, it's almost impossible for me to do any linkbuilding for my own purposes. Oddly enough, while I have no trouble buying links for clients, I'd not do it for myself. Go figure. You've seen the poor Link Fish site ... we keep getting contacted by people offering to help!! So yes definitely, when you do something all day long, it really is just too much to do it for your own purposes sometime. I suspect I'll be rudely awakened soon, and have to get right on it, but for now, I am enjoying being slack about it.
A few years back after we bought our house, and it's an old Victorian, we had a chimney guy come out and he said, “Well it sure does look better on the inside than it does on the outside!” Our Link Fish site is kind of like that. The business runs very well, but the site is shit. In case you care, we've painted the outside of the house so the site may indeed be next.
Best albums of 2009!! Did any good ones get released?? I guess I can't use the Damned's new one since it was technically released in 2008. The Raveonettes never go wrong and their newest one “In & Out of Control” is amazing. I think “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” by Phoenix was utterly fantastic. I don't tend to hear much new music and just love it but I did with that album. “Manners” by Passion Pit is pretty decent, and sadly, that's it for me. I just generally stick with my old standards.