When I was at SMX East, I was fortunate to meet and spend time with Debra Mastaler, President of Alliance-Link. Debra is a regular speaker at conferences such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) and Search Engine Strategies (SES). I wanted to speak to Debra in more detail about the link building industry and the future of link building in SEO.
How did you get into Search?
I worked in the offline marketing department of Anheuser-Busch for many years and the Civil Service before that so I have a strong background in sales, promotions, publicity and special events. I started my online career quite by accident. I was living in Williamsburg, Virginia and I wanted to order organic food and household goods for my family. There was not much online in 1998/1999 so I taught myself how to use FrontPage and created a website listing all the organic online food shops I found. I did not realise I was building a directory but I was and started marketing it using the strategies I had learned at Anheuser-Busch.
When people listed in my directory started asking me for help with their “SEO”, I had to go online to find out what the term meant. That’s where I met Jill Whalen and formed a working relationship and friendship that’s lasted to this day. I worked for Jill for a couple of years as a link builder, she showed me the SEO ropes and taught me how to work with clients, contracts and all the other things that come with owning a small business. Once I felt I was ready, I opened Alliance-Link in late 2000 and went to work. .
What is the USP of your business?
I believe in incorporating offline tactics to online marketing and promoting a brand through the media. These strategies have always worked for me and are the basis for the way I work. The principles of marketing are the same online as off, what’s different are the vehicles that carry them forward. To succeed online (or off) you need to know your demographic, know where they are, follow trends, be creative and different.
If you think about it, buying a domain, a hosting plan and a CMS to build a site can be done with a few simple clicks of the mouse. But the marketing needed to promote those sites cannot be bought or obtained in the same way, there are no fool-proof canned programs to click and take off. Use anything automated these days and there’s risk involved.
Gone are the days of using automated software to throw hundreds of link filled articles at anything that will stick. With the introduction of social signals and adjustments in the algorithms, the engines launched a new chapter in author verification and authority building. Now you have to take ownership for who you are and what you do online just like you do offline to build reputation and earn trust.
How has link building changed since you started?
A lot has changed and very little has changed… I still do (pretty much) the same type of outreach now that I did back in 2000. What’s different are the vehicles I reach out to. We didn’t have Twitter, Facebook, PInterest or LinkedIn in 2000, heck, we hardly had any blogs for that matter. Blogging really took off around 2005 and became a focal point in my strategy. Now there are a lot more channels to help promote your content, video and news.
How many events do you talk at or moderate a year?
This year I only spoke at six, but I normally present twelve or more. I do a lot of private shows and meetings in addition to conferences in the search industry.
How can you attract links to a less exciting site?
Even though you and I might feel a certain site is “less exciting”, that site exists because there is a body of people who want what it sells. Finding those people and knowing what triggers their buying cycle is key in determining what type of link marketing plan you’re going to push. Once you have an idea of who buys, when and where, creating a marketing strategy becomes easier, you have a roadmap to work from.
This is where social media makes a huge difference and can be tapped to help develop your plan. Social media groups like-minded people making it easy for you to find and target them. Once you know where they are, running polls and surveys to procure lists of wants and desires is important, build and promote your content around what you learn.
What are some of the issues with the future of the link building industry?
IMO, one of the biggest issues the link building industry faces is attracting and retaining qualified talent.
In the past it was (fairly) easy to hire and train a person to submit content to directories, run comment software, back link pages, etc. But now? Good link building is about so much more, with “more” being the optimum word.
There is more research involved, more time developing content, more time socializing content, more time involved in reputation management, blogger outreach, media pitching etc, etc, etc. The link builder’s job has grown from simple outreach to a much more complex job description. You now have to be a marketer, promoter, publicist, advertising executive, reputation management consultant, organizer and coordinator. Each talent requires a more creative intuitive, aggressive, well spoken and well written person, who, on top of it all, must agree to sit (or stand) in front of a computer for hours a day. Hiring good people is hard, keeping them is harder since the work can be tedious. I think you’ll find challenges here until the industry matures and Internet marketing gains the positive reputation it deserves.
There have been so many Google updates, how can those who have been in the search industry help those starting out?
I would not be working as an SEO if it were not for the efforts of a handful of people in this industry who took the time to answer my questions and support me when I was getting started. I’ve never forgotten their kindness and continue the tradition by being available to share ideas and experiences in the SEOBook forum.
I love being part of a forum, I learn as much as I give. In addition to being active on SEOBook, I also professionally mentor several people through my one-on-one training program. If you are really interested in becoming a linker, find an established, experienced link builder and ask about an apprentice program. It is the fastest most in-depth way to become a solid consultant.
What is the future of link building in SEO?
Link building will continue to be the main ranking ingredient for a long time to come even as social signals grow.
Develop content such as video, image and news to take advantage of multiple positions in the search results. Share good content from your sites on G+ and optimize your signatures across all of your social and static platforms.
Take care not to leave an abundance of keyword anchors on immature pages, partner with webmasters who have social media options on all pages so you can promote content you place there and make a point to advertise your online content in offline publications.