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Remove the Link Building Quota Handcuffs

Few things will limit your SEO campaign like poor link building.  In an effort to stop this problem, I’ve decided to take down one of the main proponents of poor link development – the evil link quota monster.  But seriously, here’s how link quotas can hurt your SEO efforts.

You become too single minded – SEO is a marketing tactic that helps support higher business objectives such as increased revenue.  Holding SEO to measurable goals that closely reflect whether or not it’s accomplishing what it should be is the only logical way to determine its success.  If too much focus is placed on achieving goals that don’t matter (cough, number of links built, cough), then results are limited or never achieved at all.

Use SEO as a tool to accomplish specific business objectives and let SEOs use their tools as they need to.  Links don’t really tell the story of whether SEO has been successful or not.

You miss out on opportunities and create resource waste by handcuffing your link builders/agency partners There are a few important aspects to this point, but a basic understanding of links needs to be laid first.  Unfortunately, what helps a webpage rank (from a link perspective) isn’t just how many links are pointing into it.  A variety of factors are important, including quality, number of linking root domains, domain authority, anchor text, context of the link, etc.  As a result, all links are not created equal.  In fact, there might be a situation where one link is worth more than hundreds, or even thousands of other links.

If all links are not equal, then we need to be able to go after the links that will help!

As is often the case with the best things in life, they take work to achieve.  Sometimes, they take lots of work, and the payoff is delayed.  The same is true for link development.  The best links USUALLY come from building long-term relationships and finding ways to make your business worth talking about.  These are the types of links you’ll have a very hard time getting if you tell a link builder, SEO, or agency you are expecting 20, 50, 100, 200, or whatever other number of links a month, week, day, etc.  This requirement instantly shifts the focus from finding and creating linking opportunities that will be the most beneficial, to finding ways to meet a quota.  The result is middle of the road (or downright poor) results and missed opportunity.

Missed opportunity due to time spent on low value activities = waste.

When quotas are introduced, the strategies and tactics that link builders can use shrink.

Scenario 1: Site A has three links from Blog B to deep products and category pages.  Blog B is relatively new, and thus, has few links into it and little equity, but has great writing, is already gaining an audience, and the links pointing to site A are in context and highly relevant.

As many link builders know, getting links to product pages is not always an easy thing to do.  Having already earned these links from blog B, link builders for site A might choose to increase the SEO value of these links by building links into blog B’s post because it’s easier to link manually, talk about, reference, or share this post than it is an individual product, which can be spammy/pushy.

From an SEO perspective, this isn’t a bad idea.  From a link quota perspective, this is a terrible idea.  No credit will be given for any links you build into that page.

If you’re visual:


Scenario 2: Site A has thousands of excellent links pointing to its home page, and it has a very strong domain compared to many of it’s competitors, but it’s deeper pages don’t rank as well as they should.  In this scenario, internal linking might be a great efficient option for improving rankings, driving traffic, and hopefully increasing revenue (a higher goal).  Success is efficiently obtained, allowing SEO’s to spend more time working on developing content that attracts new visitors and generates more money.  Best of all, this content leverages the domain strength site A already has and doesn’t burn time building unnecessary links.

People spending time on activities that don’t impact true goals = waste.

Don’t limit what SEOs, link strategists and link builders can do by handcuffing them with quotas.

You don’t invest in the long term - SEO is not a short-term play.  In fact, good SEO likely won’t be hitting its full stride for a year or two after you start.  There will likely be results (and good enough results to validate the investment) before then, but SEO starts as a small fire that continues to grow the longer it burns – as long as it’s maintained correctly.

Part of that maintenance comes from focusing on the right things and having a long-term vision for what is to be accomplished.  Links happen to be a crucial piece of fuel, which, if not handled correctly, can result in weak SEO efforts that don’t hold up.  Setting link quotas can be like dumping gasoline on a fire.  They may produce some early results, but eventually not investing properly in relationships, content, and other keys to generating great links (the fuel that can really keep the fire burning) will leave you with a mediocre website and a lot of continued investment in manual link efforts that will continue to produce mediocre results for the effort.

You risk irritating your SEO agency partner and/or your internal staff - I don’t know a lot of people that 1) enjoy having someone tell them how to do their job, or, 2) provide them with busy work that gets in the way of them producing results.  Link quotas represent the worst of both worlds. Not only is the SEO being instructed on what’s important and how to do their job, they’re also being told (in many cases) to do something or focus on something that won’t necessarily improve the situation.  That’s a tough spot to be in and can make for some cranky people :).

Solutions

There are ways to avoid link quotas and their pitfalls.  We recommend the following:

  • Focus on what really matters – What business objective is SEO supposed to be accomplishing? Is it doing that?
  • Identify more reasonable steps in the SEO process to build measurable goals around –  (IE increases in organic traffic, etc. – tie them to your higher-arching goals).
  • Learn more about SEO and online marketing – A little education goes a long way to understanding what is important to measure for SEO and what is essentially gimcrack (best word ever).

 

Comments
6 Responses to “Remove the Link Building Quota Handcuffs”
  1. Nice post here Todd.

    I honestly can’t disagree at all. There are far too many clients that try to put a numerical value to their link building efforts. Though I do feel that it is the agency/SEO’s fault for not properly educating their clients on what is going to be the most beneficial to them.

    It’s not difficult to show a client why 1 link can be better than 50, just show them this post :)

    Andrew

  2. Todd McDonald Todd McDonald says:

    Thanks Andrew! I also agree on the agency/SEO being responsible for the education. It’s a tough thing at times but something that is crucial for successful SEO.

    Thanks again for your comment and thoughts.

  3. Well put Todd. Spoken like someone who just had the latest in an ongoing series of fun discussions with a client :)

  4. Great piece, Todd. Much of this seems to be a product of “Management By Objectives” applied by people who don’t understand the space.

    In-House SEO: I want to hire these guys to help us with our link building.
    MBO dude: What will they do for us?
    In-House SEO: Build links.
    MBO dude: Well, we need to know they’re doing something for us. Let’s set a quota they have to meet so we know they’re not just sitting on their hands cashing our check…
    In-House SEO: But it’s not just a quantity game, quality matters too.
    MBO dude: No way to quantify that, so let’s stick to link count; otherwise we’re signing a blank check…

    The problem is likely exacerbated by the fact that some low caliber SEO shops likely won’t do much work if there aren’t quotas in place. The good shops suffer for the sins of the bad shops.

  5. Todd McDonald Todd McDonald says:

    Andrew – thanks for the comment and understanding :).

    George – agreed. I think the biggest problem lies in setting correct objectives that come from understanding how SEO works, and trusting that you’re choosing a partner that has your best in mind. The relationship should naturally be that way (I pay you for services I want, you perform services for the money you want…), but sadly, as you mentioned, there are plenty that try to take the money and run! Short term thinking on their part.

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