Link Building Experts Interview Series: Wiep Knol
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You recently started your own consultancy. What was the impetus for the switch, and what are your plans for the future? Do you want to create your own agency, or remain independent indefinitely?
The main reason for me to start on my own was freedom. Being able to make decisions you want, taking on clients you 100% want to take on, and focusing on the stuff you really love to do. It's not that I didn't have this at Tribal (the company I worked for), but I have it even more now. I'm currently busy with several different things, so I'm surely not planning on creating a large agency.
What do I get when I hire you that I can't replicate with internal efforts or another firm/consultant?
Creativity and a link building state of mind. I could try to fluff it up a bit and make it sound prettier than that, but that's basically it. Link building is actually pretty easy – it's nothing more than trying to get as many people to link to your website as possible, preferably in an optimized way. However, it's usually creatively thinking about how any action you take can result in a link, that makes the difference.
What factors go into a "quality" link?
A quality link is a relevant link on an authoritative website that's not very easy to get, preferably with good anchor text. Anyone can submit their website to 800 general directories and score a few links, so do you really think those links matter a lot to Google?
Which link building tools do you use every day, paid and/or free?
Search Status and Link Diagnosis are my favorite Firefox add-ons, and I use some of the (paid) tools of SEOBook quite regularly too. I'm not sure if you consider Majestic SEO to be a tool, but Majestic can be very useful as well.
What features would the ultimate link analysis tool include?
The problem is that every campaign is different, and requires a different approach. Therefore, I don't think there is a perfect link building tool. Tool X can be useful for campaign A, while you can achieve much more for campaign B with tool Y, and don't need a tool at all for campaign C. Give me a big load of data, and I'll do the filtering ;)
Do you believe in linkbait? If so, what are some strategies for brainstorming and creating linkbait?
Most definitely. For some sites, such as small ecommerce sites, it's basically the only low-budget link building tactic that can bring good results. My linkbait process usually starts with defining your goals: which websites—or what kind of websites—do you want to get links from? From there on, you can move on to brainstorming for content ideas that matches those sites and webmasters/editors.
As for the brainstorming part; a combination of interviewing the client, searching for product- or industry-related questions on (for example) Y! Answers, and matching magazine headlines with news headlines usually works great for me.
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?
Links used to be the only version of online word of mouth, but people got access to a lot more ways to share their opinion besides via the "regular" link. Therefore, I think it would be strange if search engines still treated links the same way they did 5 years ago.
However, links will always be important, both for visitors and search engines. Besides that, I think sites like Twitter only made link building easier, for example because Twitter made it a lot easier to find key influencers, and to share content.
Any tips for marketers embarking on link requests? What tactics get the best response?
Use the phone. This not only raises your conversion rates AND the quality of the deal drastically, but also forces you to focus on the best sites only, as it's not possible to send out dozens of requests in a few minutes by phone.
When it's a little bit difficult to use the phone, for example because of language and/or time differences, try NOT to request a link in the first email you send out, every now and then. Again, this forces you to focus on the best sites only, but it also helps you to build a relationship.
Is it ever okay to buy a link?
I'm going the give the same answer as Debra did earlier in this series; I would compare it to speeding. You have to be aware of the risk, and I definitely wouldn't advise you to drive way too fast if you need your driver's license for your daily job.
If I’m going to engage in link buying, what steps should I take to keep from being discovered by Google?
Avoid public marketplaces, such as link networks, forums and (obviously) sites like eBay. Also try to avoid the most important paid link signals, such as footer links, "sponsored links" headings and websites that link out to basically anybody.
Additionally, when you (or someone else) has been buying links too obviously, it may be wise to sprinkle a little bit of comment dust around it. Leave a few comments on high PR blogs (nofollow or dofollow isn't important), preferably with a "recent comments" or "top commenters" plugin or something similar installed, which makes your link appear in the sidebar of the blog for a few hours or so. Yahoo! will find most of these links, and list them in the Site Explorer, possibly pushing some of your paid links down. This surely won't confuse anyone from Google's web spam team, but it might save you from a few paid link reports from competitors.
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'd pick two relevant links for every one authority link. Relevance is very important, but you'll need authority as well.