Companies large and small often outsource link building. In fact, the two most commonly outsourced content marketing tasks are content creation and content distribution—link building falls under both of those categories.
The problem is, it can be hard to find legitimate link building companies with whom to outsource. A simple Google search or browse on Upwork floods you with seemingly qualified link builders who promise fast results. But link building is an art form, a consistently evolving practice that requires diverse experience and expertise.
Most importantly, it can’t be done with automation tools or get-links-quick schemes if you don’t want Google to penalize your site, something that can be incredibly challenging to come back from.
I’ve been doing white-hat link building since the start of my career nearly a decade ago. I’ve learned how to get results while keeping the link-building work natural, legitimate and high-quality.
Whether you work with me, a freelance contractor or a marketing agency, I want to make sure you don’t run into the same problems so many companies have before you. Here are important factors to consider before you outsource link building.
Keep Reading: How to Build Thought Leadership With Guest Posting
1. Determine Your Goals
A documented strategy that outlines your goals is a non-negotiable for any project, link building especially. CMI’s 2021 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report shows that 60 percent of the most successful marketers have a documented strategy and 94 percent use metrics to measure performance.
Don’t throw away a significant portion of your budget without a strategic approach to ensure ROI. You won’t see results if you’re link building just to do it; you need a reason behind the efforts. Most importantly, you need to ensure these goals align with your overall business objectives.
For inspiration on setting goals, refer to the B2B marketer’s most common goals. Note that link building can be an effective content marketing tactic to achieve all of these objectives.
Don’t forget to identify other key details before starting any link-building work, including:
- Ideal audience
- Relevant topics and areas of focus
- High-value content for your link builder to use
2. Choose (or Create) SEO-Optimized Content
Bottom line, you can’t link to bad content. Any contractor or agency who says they can just link to your home page, sales pages, or poorly written blog posts isn’t doing their job correctly.
The main method of link building is to naturally include links to relevant sources that either substantiate a claim or provide further resources to the reader in the article. In other words, when I’m writing an article, I may link to your blog post as an additional resource that’s relevant to the content and also provides value to the readers who might click through.
What’s more, why pay money to drive traffic, SEO value and qualified leads to a random page on your site? When you focus on linking to SEO-optimized content that’s up-to-date, with a CTA or sales funnel entry point, you have a higher chance of converting or keeping that user on your site. This makes your link building significantly more valuable.
If you don’t have appropriate, high-quality content, you need to create some. Use these resources to get started:
- Know the SEO basics: Refer to the Blog SEO Foundational Guide to understand the importance of SEO in general, plus tips on how to optimize your blog.
- Write with SEO in mind: Download my SEO Checklist PDF to ensure you follow best practices.
- Develop sales-driving content: Read my guide How to Use Your B2B Blog to Support Sales to create content that not only educates (I.E. ideal for link building) but can also support and convert your target audience. This article also provides specific examples of the perfect types of “linkable” content.
3. Only Outsource to Someone with Contacts in Your Industry
Link building provides the most value when you have a robust link profile from a variety of relevant sites. Backlinko’s list of Google ranking factors explains:
“Having an unnaturally large percentage of your links coming from a single source (I.E., forum profiles, blog comments) may be a sign of webspam. On the other hand, links from diverse sources is a sign of a natural link profile.”
Building a diverse link profile isn’t something you can do quickly or easily. Research and outreach is a time-consuming process—and something we do manually here at Jessica Thiefels Consulting.
As such, building a network of editors within an industry can take years. Because it’s also essential to focus on relevant sites when link building, working with someone who has existing connections within a specific niche is invaluable.
When interviewing potential contractors or agencies, ask them for examples of websites they work with within your industry. While it’s likely they’ll still do outreach to find new, relevant contacts or placement opportunities, if they have a large existing Rolodex, you’ll be able to see results faster.
Finally, it’s important to know that link building as a process has ebbs and flows. There are certain seasons where you may see fewer placements or the outreach team is getting fewer responses from editors. For example, the holiday season when folks are out of office is always a slow time. When you work with someone who already has numerous contacts, they can likely consistently secure placements during those slow periods.
Keep Reading: 5 Pillars of a Guest Blogging SEO Strategy
4. Confirm Your Link Builder is Selective About Placement Sites
The most important question you can ask when you outsource link building is, “how do you choose the websites you work with?” Too many contractors and agencies deal in bulk link building packages where they turn and burn articles, pay others to place links or guest post on dubious sites, which reflects poorly on your brand and SEO.
It’s easy to focus on quantity over quality when link building, but links from irrelevant sites not following the latest SEO best practices will hurt your site more than help. Google’s John Mueller confirms this to Search Engine Journal:
“We try to understand what is relevant for a website, how much should we weigh these individual links, and the total number of links doesn’t matter at all. Because you could go off and create millions of links across millions of websites if you wanted to, and we could just ignore them all.”
I follow rigorous standards for both my own writing and work with clients. Here’s how I choose websites for guest posts (with the latest data to back it up):
- High-quality: I generally look for sites with DA 45+, but for certain clients or projects, I aim 50+. I also look at simple factors like overall site feel and experience. While user experience (UX) always played a factor in SEO, with the upcoming Google Page Experience Update, website functionality will be weighed even heavier during a user’s interactions.
- Relevancy: Depending on the client or piece I’m trying to place, I’m hyper-focused on site relevancy. Does the organization or publication align with the overall theme of the article? Will it speak to their audience? Will the links and sources I’m using make sense? That same Search Engine Article explains, “One good link from a relevant website can be more impactful than millions of low-quality links.”
- Consistent publication: Google assigns higher value to sites that regularly publish content, thus passing more SEO value to your site. Marketing Insider Group confirms that 11+ posts per month equate to a noticeable increase in traffic for B2B and B2C sites. While every site might not keep that pace, I typically ensure they publish at least 3 to 4 times per month.
Check out this blog post to get even more details about the tactics I use to win guest posting opportunities. Use the above parameters and my strategies as a benchmark to quiz potential link builders and see if they do the same.
5. Ask Them How They Track Success
According to that same CMI report, one of the top three challenges marketers face when outsourcing is a lack of clear ROI metrics. When you outsource link building, it’s the contractor or agency’s responsibility to track overall effectiveness and success—but it’s your job to make sure they’re looking at the metrics that matter.
Since you already know your goals from step one, share those with potential link builders and ask them how they would track and support you in achieving those objectives.
- Will you get monthly reports?
- Will they keep track in a spreadsheet?
- Do they need access to your Google Analytics?
Outsource Link Building the Right Way
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when you outsource link building. When I meet with potential clients I take the time to learn about their business goals. I’m also honest about how (and if) link building can help them in their pursuits. Working with an experienced agency can be a significant investment, so I want to make sure I’m working as a strategic partner and helping them achieve their goals.
As with any other projects or role that you outsource, look for an expert in your field who has a history of proven success. Use these factors to spot any red flags and find someone who can be a partner in your content marketing efforts.