Link Building – Don’t Just Throw Mud Against a Wall

This is a guest post written by Paddy Moogan of Distilled. Paddy Moogan is an SEO Consultant at Distilled in the London office. Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest blogger and not necessarily those of State of Search.

There is a saying that some of you may have heard of, its something I’ve heard in different contexts over the years. The saying goes –

“Throw enough mud against the wall and some of it will stick”

One of the most concerning instances in which I’ve heard this said is in link building. Translated, it means spam as many people as you can and chances are some of them will link to you. Sorry, this just doesn’t work, here are reasons why.

  • Its a bad use of your valuable time
  • It can damage the reputation of the client you are representing
  • Eventually, you’ll email an SEO or a Googler who will report or out you
  • The links you do get, probably aren’t that valuable

Lets take a closer look at some of these.

Its a bad use of your time

I know that some people will argue this is wrong. Mainly because in reality, it doesn’t really take that long to spam a ton of people for links. They’re right, it doesn’t take long. But this is exactly why its a bad idea. The reason being,there is another saying –

“If a link is easy to get, its probably not worth getting”

The hardcore link builder inside me wouldn’t say no to an easy link, but I’m sure you know what I mean here! The idea is that if you can get a few links in half an hour by spamming 10,000 email addresses, how valuable are those links actually likely to be? I’d put money on them not being that great.

The fact that this process is quick is the exact reason why its not a good idea. If a webmaster links to you after you send them one templated email, they are obviously not that picky about who they link to. I’d bet that if your competitor sent the same email, they’d get a link too. Is this really what you want?

Nope. You want the links that your competitors can’t get.

Sure there is nothing wrong with reverse engineering your competitors backlinks and getting some easy wins. But your link building strategy needs to be stronger than this. The links that get you to number 1 (and stay there) are the ones that take you time to get. The ones that require you to invest time and effort into will be the ones that stand the test of time and get you to number 1.

It damages your reputation (yours or your clients or both)

I got asked a question at the Distilled Linklove seminar in March, it was along the lines of –

“Do you use your own Distilled email or a client email to do outreach?”

I use both. I’m not scared to use my Distilled email address to do outreach because I don’t believe I’m doing anything that could threaten the reputation of Distilled or my client. Ok I may email an SEO by accident and expose a Distilled client, but is that really that bad?

If you are sending emails to thousands of people at a time, chances are you’re going to annoy someone. If you do, it could just be that one person who holds sway in the industry and kills any chance you have of building a relationship in that community. Some online niches are very small, people know each other, people talk, eventually you will annoy the wrong person and lose any chance you had of getting links.

Once you’ve burnt your bridges in a small niche, you are really going to struggle to rebuild them. Imagine doing this to a ton of SEO bloggers, you’re going to get burnt very quickly!

The Links you do get probably aren’t that valuable

I touched on this above, the point being that these are the links that probably aren’t going to get you to number 1. Also, you can also only throw so much mud before it dries up! So eventually, you are going to go after “valuable” links and find you’ve already spammed a link target and ruined any chance you had of building a relationship with them.

Takeaways and Actions

“Don’t Spam”

Seriously. Don’t. When doing link building, the cleanest way to do it is to use a manual process which I’ve talked about recently at SEOmoz. Follow these steps and you’re unlikely to annoy a ton of people.

“You can’t outsource giving a sh*t”

Despite my SEOmoz post above, I’m not naive enough to think that you can’t use link building tools effectively for your clients. What I am going to say though, is that you can’t use tools for every part of the link building process. You can use them for the following if you wanted –

  • Finding link targets
  • Finding link target contact details
  • Grabbing metrics for your link targets

You can’t outsource (in my opinion) the outreach part. Loads of reasons above as well as the principle of not being able to outsource giving a sh*t. The person you ask to do the outreach or the email program you use do not care about your reputation. They just want to do the work and get paid. So the lesson here is to only automate certain parts of the process.

“Spend time building relationships”

I understand this is tough, we’re all busy balancing many clients and trying to keep everyone happy. But I think that its very valuable to choose some high level link targets to spend that bit of extra time of to get a good relationship going. This comes back to my point above about getting the links that your competitors can’t get. Don’t be like your competitors, be different and spend the time getting the links that matter.

“Use Internal Resources to get links”

You are not the best person to get links for your client. Your client is. Make sure you are doing all you can to evangelise link building to your clients and getting them to help wherever you can. They will probably have contacts and associates who can get valuable links or intro you to the right people. Again, these are the links that your competitors can’t get.

I was speaking to a client a few weeks ago who casually dropped into the conversation that they had a contact at an industry leading content site, it took two mins to come up with a plan and to email them. This could have taken me hours or days to do from scratch, but this pre-existing relationship made everything easier and got us the link.

Distilled organizes the PRO SEO Advanced SEO Training sessions, the next one being in Boston on May 16 and 17.

About Paddy Moogan

Paddy Moogan is co-founder of Aira, a digital marketing and web development agency based in the UK. He is also the author of “The Link Building Book”.

15 thoughts on “Link Building – Don’t Just Throw Mud Against a Wall

  1. Couldn’t agree more Paddy. Engage with the community and they will link to you. There’s certainly no reason not to contact anyone and everyone for a link but you’ve got to contact them with something they’d like first.

  2. Great post here, Paddy. I love the fact that you straight up say that spamming is a waste of your time, and can easily destroy relationships.

    I also agree that you can’t outsource outreach, though you can leverage your contacts and client’s contacts to get links. But you definitely can’t outsource caring and working hard.

    I would also like to add another reason for not spamming: it’s not scaleable, especially if you are doing it manually. You can waste HOURS of time doing this. Why would you?

    Thanks for the post.

  3. I follow John on this one. Not sure why you should spam and could 10.000 e-mails at a time, but it sketches the idea 🙂
    The best way is indeed to make your client help you out with his resources and you can help him with your ideas. It works both ways. Confirms my ideas & thoughts.

  4. Great to hear SEO people talking about reputation and relationships. And as administrator of several blogs, I would heartily endorse the call for stopping link spamming. (I have developed a pathological dislike of a particular boot company having spent hours reading and deleting their prolific spam – in more frustrating moments I’ve even fleetingly indulged in bricks through windows of stockists fantasies! But I digress.)

    I don’t necessarily agree that you can’t outsource, though – as a PR consultant and trainer I can confirm that outsourcers can give a sh*t, – and you, presumably, give a sh*t about the SEO work outsourced to you as well?

    And one of the best places to outsource high quality link building is to a PR consultancy: they, after all, should be well versed in building positive relationships and understand the implications for client reputation to boot.

    Some clients will already employ a PR consultancy. Why not open a dialogue, tell them what you need. If the client doesn’t, why not try and acquire some PR skills within your team? I wouldn’t advocate rushing out and trying to do it without caution – there’s a risk in any PR campaign that isn’t well grounded in messaging and a thorough understanding of clients’ business and communications’ goals. (News: messaging isn’t just repeating something in lots of different key phrases for Google!) But there are some base level, common sense approaches well within the grasp of most SEO professionals.

    It may, however, require an adjustment in mindset:” I was speaking to a client a few weeks ago who casually dropped into the conversation that they had a contact at an industry leading content site, it took two mins to come up with a plan and to email them.” is very telling. You might have got away with a link on this occasion, but emailing people and asking for links is like guys charging up to a girl at the bar and asking for sex – very transactional. In the same way, as you’d expect them to ‘woo’ said girl and develop a relationship before ‘having their wicked way’, you need to develop a relationship with the site’s ‘content creator’ (usually blogger or journalist). Seeing them as ‘content sites or ‘link targets” is a bit like seeing a woman as an ‘easy lay’ – a sure fire shortcut to a bloody nose! (In fairness to you, it was probably handled better than an email saying ‘give us a link’ if it was through a client contact)

    They are not there to do your link building, or even PR, for you, and if they are open to it, the same rule probably applies to them as to the content spam – to use your own words “they are obviously not that picky about who they link to. I’d bet that if your competitor sent the same email, they’d get a link too. Is this really what you want?”

    1. Hi Claire,

      Thanks for the comment!

      I agree with your points, I think its a case of different interpretations of outsourcing.

      I guess I should clarify what I meant by outsourcing. I wouldn’t tend to classify a good PR company as outsourcing. I know that technically it is but not in the scope of my comments above. I work with a couple of PR companies and have huge respect for what they do, yes they give a sh*t about clients but its in their interests to. The type of outsourcing I’m talking about above is the type you’d get via a 3rd party site where you hire people for one off jobs. In these cases, the outsourcers have no long term interest or reason to care about the clients reputation. Whereas a good PR company cares about their own reputation and building a good relationship with their client.

      The situation I talked about when a client hit up a contact they had for a link, that relationship already existed and had been for a long time. The point wasn’t that we got a link, the point was that it saved me x number of hours trying to build a relationship that the client already had anyway – just by talking about link building.

      I think essentially, we agree on the same things, its just our interpretations and wording that is different 🙂


      1. It was worth flushing out a fuller response, but I agree we’re mostly on the same page, and I love seeing people talk about that interplay between SEO and PR.

  5. Good points in here. Often the challenging thing is starting the relationships in the first place though, which is probably why many SEO’s choose the ‘throwing enough mud’ root. Relationship building may be time consuming initially but the results are worth that time.

  6. @Paddy It was great chatting with you after your Distilled linkbuilding seminar – I was on the same wavelength Re.methodology. BTW How much work does Will actually lay on your shoulders?

  7. @Peter Smith, right but the client doesn’t always have time. In that case, you work closely with them and do your research to be come familiar with their industry/competitors.

  8. In agreement with Tara that the challenge is starting the relationships is the hard part… but if it were easy, everyone would do SEO, right? 🙂 I will say though that building relationships is definitely easier with more manpower, so smaller firms will have a more difficult time with this process.

  9. very bold and specific. Yes it’s true that one important thing in SEO relationship. Should not just do links all day and that’s all. Since SEO is more of social media saturation, we need make sure that we are not aliens in the social sites. And right, making people happy is essential. Once a good name is established, the connection to the community grows.

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