With my recent move into business development for Thunder SEO, I’ve been starting to think more granularly about the online marketing services that we offer, why we offer them, and how those services get executed within our team. So when I saw that Garrett from Ontolo was conducting a survey in order to start growing the discussion around agency link building services, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to help him out, as well as dissect our internal link building processes here at Thunder.
Getting to Know You
When Thunder SEO opened up shop in 2007, link building services were part of it’s core offering and continue to be to this day. Our link building offerings can range from securing high-level directory listings, to guest posting on industry-leading blogs, to developing linkbait, like widgets, contests, infographics, and more. These link building services have evolved over time to adapt to Google’s ever-changing algorithm and the way people use and consume content over the web. This started out focusing on niche directories, curated resources and links lists, reciprocal linking within industry websites, establishing relationships through blog commenting, and developing useful widgets. These tactics have evolved along with the rest of the web to focus more on relationship building, social sharing, viral dissemination, and content production with an emphasis in user experience. The reason that Thunder SEO doesn’t offer link building as a standalone service is due to the highly integrated nature of SEO with on-page optimization, content development, social media outreach, and local search best practices. We find that this multi-faceted approach sets each campaign up for heightened success.
Link Building Campaign Design + Execution
At Thunder SEO, we design link building campaigns that depend heavily on the type of client and the types of products or services they offer. We continually strive to custom-tailor each campaign based on the type and competitiveness of the industry that the client is in, as well as adjust according to that industry’s unique presence within the social web. To execute on link building, the account manager typically coordinates each campaign depending on the client, then gathers the rest of the team for creative brainstorming. Once a link building campaign is structured, we have an in-house designer and a network of developers and copywriters to execute on any necessary technical and creative elements. We then have team members available to support the level of outreach that a campaign calls for. To find link prospects, we typically use a few different channels. First, we’ll observe commonly linking sites within a vertical by doing some competitor backlink analysis. Then we’ll search Google using advanced search operators for researching potential link prospects. From there, we’ll plug prospecting keywords into Ontolo to automate the link prospect gathering process. With the growth of social media in so many industries, search.twitter.com and other Twitter search tools have become great instruments for link prospecting as well.
Effective Client Management
When it comes to qualifying prospective clients, there are a few main things we look to discover in our initial conversations with them. First, we want to get a sense of what objectives the prospect is hoping to achieve with their website. Second, we try to understand why the client believes SEO will help them achieve those goals. This helps us to learn the client’s focus and expectations for the campaign, which in turn allows us to make sure the client is a right fit for our agency as well as design a campaign that’s going to meet those expectations. Another thing that we look for when qualifying prospective clients is if the client has a marketing or public relations department within their company. We find that our highly consultative services are most effective when working in tandem with internal marketing and public relations teams that can support outreach to journalists as well as connect aspects of the SEO and social media campaigns to offline marketing and promotional efforts. The tangible link building deliverables that Thunder SEO offers clients has changed over time by evolving from a set number of links built per week to organizing deliverables around industry-relevant content creation and outreach campaigns. Using Raven Tools to help manage the link management process has made reporting on deliverables much easier and much more efficient.
Link Building Tools
Some of the tools that Thunder SEO uses to aid in the link building, managing, and reporting process include Basecamp, Raven Tools, SEOmoz Pro, Ontolo, Whitespark Local Citation Finder, and Google Docs. While these tools provide many of the features that SEO agencies need, there’s also a big opportunity to incorporate more social media insight in link tracking and monitoring. With the increasing influence of social actions in Google’s organic rankings, a tool’s ability to more effectively combine traditional inbound linking factors with social shares and the viral momentum of a piece of content would be a great asset to any SEO agency’s toolbox.
If I was advising a new agency on developing a link building offering, I’d want to ask them questions to ensure that they know the value of different types of links and be able to distinguish levels of value based on how a link a placed on a page. I’d also judge their degree of understanding of how web users are currently consuming and sharing content. I’d advise them to scrutinize social media sites, social bookmarking sites, and niche blogs to continually deepen their comprehension of how people share content, as well as the types of content that gets shared. This knowledge of online sociology coupled with the understanding of how Google values links (optimized anchor text, Reasonable Surfer Model, dofollow/nofollow, etc) is key to quality link building. Here at Thunder SEO, we develop our link building knowledge by following some of the thought leaders in our industry, such as Debra Mastaler, Rand Fishkin, Wil Reynolds, Garrett French, Ross Hudgens, Eric Ward, Wiep Knol, and more. We also find that the greatest link building lessons come from our own trial and error in different verticals, as each niche brings their own unique sets of challenges and opportunities. Thunder SEO’s pricing for link building is dependant on the size of the campaign, the industry involved, and the goals set for the campaign.
As the way people find and spread information on the web evolves, search engine optimization and link building in particular must evolve along with it. Having an intimate knowledge of this movement in regards to how our agency designs it’s own internal link building processes is key to staying successful and keeping our clients at the top of the SERPs. Thanks to the great work of Garrett French and the Ontolo team, along with many others in our industry, Thunder SEO is excited to be in excellent company of successful white hat link builders and search engine marketers, and look forward to continue innovating in this space together.