Content vs Links
Engineers vs Marketers - Deep Dive into SEO
- Why Do Links Matter to Google and What is a Quality Link?
- Investing in Quality Links vs Quality Content
- Does Link Outreach Still Work?
- Where Should You Try To Get Links From?
- Link Toxicity and Red Flag Websites for Backlinks
- Which Link Building Strategies Work Best?
- Handling The Workload of Link Building
- Getting Links Naturally to Content
Viola: We are live on today's SEMrush webinar. My name is Viola. I have with me Craig and Robert, and I'm going to take a few minutes to get settled into the space, allow you guys to log in, get to know each other in the chat.
Today's webinar is part of a series that we call Engineers versus Marketers, and I consider myself definitely more in the marketing, content marketing side of things. I like the psychology of working with customers, I like the psychology of sales and marketing, and building communities and all these things.
But being in the SEO space, I get to know a lot of very technical people. I get to know a lot of people that are very engineering-focused, that are very interested in the Google algorithm. And so we thought it would be fun to compare our worldviews. We want to see what kind of conclusions do engineers and technical people draw, what kind of conclusions do marketing people draw, and where do we meet or not meet in the middle.
We have Craig Campbell who has over 18 years of experience in the digital marketing industry, and who has started as a freelancer, then became an agency owner and affiliate marketer. His main focus is training as well as consultancy and his own SEO projects.
The second speaker that we have is Robert who is an expert with 16 years of experience in SEO and affiliate and he has ranked for simple keywords such as payday loans in the U.K. and the U.S. He has a master’s degree of electrical engineering from the Curaçao University of Technology.
They are the two that are going to help us navigate the mystical wonderland of content versus links, and we want to talk about links and what are they and why do they matter and why do some people love them, why do some people hate them, and how can we maybe marry the content people and the link people together.
Basically the idea of this webinar series, Engineers Versus Marketers, is that we basically have a two-dimensional system in which someone is either an engineer or a marketer and someone is either more on the content side of things or more on the links side of things. To kick off today's webinar, I would like to ask you guys, Robert and Craig, where do you sit on those two scales?
Robert: Thanks for that, man. I think that I'm more like algorithm boy, and as my degree, I'm more like Craig, SEO engineer, like building engineer. At the end of the day, I think that I understand what's going on and how Google works, so I want to present some slides about it and give some nuggets.
Viola: Nice. Welcome. Craig, how about you? Where do you sit on the scale and why?
Craig: Previously was very obsessed with links, but I've become more of a marketer rather than focusing on one thing. As you evolve, the more experience you've got, sometimes you say, “right, there's only so much time you can spend being a specialist or an engineer” or whatever you want to call it in link building or in content or maybe you're the tech guy or whatever it's going to be.
I think as this industry's getting more and more complex and things are changing, people are niching down and I think for me, I'd rather be an overall marketer that understands the basic concepts. Because we all know the outsourcing of work and working smart is the only way you're going to have the ability to scale. I want to be more of a marketer, so understanding how they all pull together, I think, is where I'm probably at just now.
Viola: Perfect yeah. Just to give you some of my personal background, I also run an SEO agency, and as I said, very much consider myself a marketer and probably more in the content side of things.
Links for me often have the flavor of the ugly stepchild and I'm very much more about someone who loves producing relevant good quality content. Then the question's always like, “how do we distribute that, how do we get links and how do we actually make it rank?”
Why Do Links Matter to Google and What is a Quality Link?
To kick off this conversation, Robert is going to take over and explain to us a little bit about links and why do they matter in the Google algorithm, what makes a link a good link and why should we care?
Robert: Okay guys so today I'm going to show you what's in the background of Google, how Google algorithms actually works, and how to take advantage of it. There's only two main algorithms in link building. The first one is this little badass Penguin, and the second one is a Page Rank. It's highly connected with all languages.
Let's imagine the internet; the connections between all the websites. The bullets are the websites and they are linking to each other. Google describes some websites as seeds. For example, it's Wikipedia or other news outlets like BBC, New York Times, the Huffington Post, etc. It's possible to assign which one is a seed and which is not.
A few years ago, Penguin comes into play and Penguin is evaluating the spamming sites, and at the end, we remove it from the link graph and it's called optimizing the link graph. In the end, we have the link juice. Link juice could be let's say the power of the link, weight of link. Seed websites have the strongest link juice, and it passes through the whole internet, whole connection, whole graph, and through the weights.
Let's talk about link juice as an internal situation on our website. In most cases, we have the most links linking to our home page and it passes link juice through the structure and as an example, let's say it's BBC category one, two, three, and so on.
Our guest post will link somewhere in the middle of nowhere or deep in the structure. Homepages will have a lot of link juice, our guest post will get only a little, let's say. There is some problems with link juice, it's not infinite. The problem nowadays is a lack of link juice.
I have some tips for you guys to describe it or even evaluate which one is a good one, or which is not. The first one is link ratio and it's a good idea to measure incoming links to outgoing links, and if the ratio is positive, it could pass juice and move the needle. But in many cases nowadays, the ratio is negative and for sure we don't get as much juice as we need to move the position up.
The second thing is traffic. But the traffic it's not connected to any building algorithms, it's just approved. The website has decent traffic, and we can be pretty sure that it will pass the juice and move the website up. And a golden nugget from me: link juice is the same all over the world so we can take advantage of international link building, for example, the biggest Romanian news outlets or television costs around €100.
One more thing which is for some time is link toxicity. Not every link can move the needle, but some of them can tank your keywords down so be careful, you have to test it.
Investing in Quality Links vs Quality Content
Viola: Thank you so much for giving us a little bit of background information in terms of why we are caring about links. I actually want to kick off the discussion with one of the comments out of the channel where we have the question is like, what would you invest more in? Quality content or quality links? Craig, what do you think?
Craig: I think, to be honest, I hate saying this word “it depends”, but it depends on where you are with the project. If you don't have a page target and a keyword, you can't rank. You need content, end of story.
If someone comes to me with a website that's heavy on content, then I would focus like 70% on links and maybe 30% on just drip-feeding more content on. But sometimes people come to you and they've already got a fairly decent backlink profile, but no content so the first three or four months might be fully content-focused, and then you would adjust your budget accordingly.
Links cost more than content, let's put it that way. If I had a hundred thousand dollars and I was in a competitive niche, what would I spend in content? I would probably spend 30 or 40 grand on content and more on links. Only because a link is going to take more time, or the cost per link acquisition is going to be far higher than it would be for a bit of content.
Viola: Right. Agreed. What are your thoughts on that, Robert?
Robert: I think that there is only two strategies for scaling. One is horizontal, the second one is vertical. Horizontal is the content, so if you have a lot of content you have a lot of keywords, that's it. If you want to cover a whole niche, we are investing in content, we are getting more keywords. There's also something like topical authority, so if we cover whole semantic or just a whole topic, it's better for Google. Google will give us some bonus, lets say.
The second strategy is vertical. So vertical is just about links. If you have better links you are going up. It's highly connected; so if you don't have content you don't have keywords. If you don't have keywords, you don't have the ranking. That's it.
Viola: The way I like to think about links is very much like Craig said, which is like what are the factors that we are most deficient in? If we are really deficient in links then obviously we should be pushing really hard for that. If we are really deficient in content, we need to push really hard to level it up.
But we always try to grow it somewhat equally over time. Obviously, if you get a client website that is somewhat unbalanced, I try to match basically the quality of the links with the quality of the content or the other way around. Is that a strategy that you guys would agree with?
Craig: Personally yeah, I think a hundred percent. It's common sense to look at it in that way and as I said, there's so many keywords out there that you can go after. People build one big long-form post or pillar post whatever you want to call it, there's so many supporting articles that you can have that will pull in all those variations of keywords so there's no point in denying, you can't just shove up a ten-page website and forget about the content. There is so much opportunity out there.
You look at any successful website out there, they don't have ten pages. They have an outrageous amount of pages and that is only possible, as I say, with content. For me, it's always just getting that balance.
I do it every month myself, I release x amount of blog posts, I release x amount of or acquire x amount of links, so yeah. That's exactly it as you describe is what I would be doing.
Viola: If we all agree that links really, really matter right? There's no way around it and we really need to build them and it's a crucial ranking factor as we just learned, right? If there is no powerful links, if there is no link to it's like nothing's going to happen and we might still get stuck. Even though we wrote the perfect piece of content.
Robert: Yeah. Even a Ferrari won't go without gasoline.
Viola: I love that metaphor, exactly right. If you are a website owner, you tend to get a lot of emails from a lot of people asking for a link. There's basically anything and everything between a super automated full of typos random message, to a very specifically handcrafted pitch, you know do you have a guest post on your website.
Does Link Outreach Still Work?
My first question to both of you that you're both good with links and interested in it, is would you say that outreach still works?
Craig: Outreach of course still does work and there's people out there who have massive amounts of success with outreach. However, it depends on those minute details when you're doing the outreach. The way that it's written, it's not just “hey mister, can I give you fifty bucks and give me a link on your website.”
I'm not a guy who specializes in outreach but I'm well aware of people who have techniques and ways to do it. And of course, there's stats out there, if you send a generic outreach campaign to a thousand people, you'll get a very small amount of replies. I think it's the follow-up sequence and what's said in that stuff that helps increase those conversions when it comes to doing outreach.
Viola: Nice. What are your thoughts on outreach and whether it's still worthwhile to do?
Robert: In Poland, it works a bit differently because in Poland we have a lot of huge, let's say marketing and link building platforms where we just log in and buy for peanuts (links from) biggest Polish news outlets, TV stations, etc.
But yeah in my opinion outreach as any other link building tactics still works. If you are outreaching and sending emails it's fine. If you are, I don't know, spreading content on twitter and getting links why not? Links work, man.
Where Should You Try To Get Links From?
Viola: I want to frame the conversation in the sense like no matter what link building strategy you do use, what are the criteria for your prospects? How do you choose the websites that you want to get links from? Do you choose that by topic of relevance, by the overall domain strength, by the amount of organic traffic? What are the criteria that make a worthwhile prospect for you?
Craig: A couple of things I'm looking for: one of them is traffic going through the website. Obviously you want to future-proof your business. There's an argument out there as to what is relevance and how relevant do you have to be, but I'm going to put that to the side just now.
What I want is to future proof my business so 1) I'm looking for relevance, 2) I'm looking for that website to have real rankings. Obviously, with the rankings it's going to have traffic but also I'm looking for things like DR or DA or whatever metric you choose to use.
But these things can be manipulated and I can show examples of this stuff as well. Like I can make a domain name a DR 40 in the space of 25 days. Now that doesn't mean that link's going to pass the juice that every other DR 40 is going to pass. All of that stuff can be faked, which is why I'm looking for multiple things.
I want a link from a real website that has real traffic and rankings, but also one last little thing I look for is the amount of outbound links that website's got. I don't want to be on a website that's got a hundred thousand other outbound links. The juice that's going to pass to me is just not worth having.
Viola: Can I quickly jump in and ask what makes a website relevant in your eyes?
Craig: If I'm in the SEO industry, I would consider anything tech-related, computer-related, web design all of that kind of stuff. I know people will say only go for super relevance like just SEO sites. That isn't the way I see it, it's kind of got to be loosely relevant. I'm not obviously going to get a link from a butcher or a florist or something like that which is absolutely nothing to do with what I do. But anything that's slightly related I think will still pass that mark.
Obviously a BBC link's going to pass juice anyway. But I think if you're talking about generic other websites, you would want to at least make the article relevant to you, even if it's just like a generic business website or a news site if you like. I think making that article relevant would be more beneficial than not. That's just my opinion.
Viola: If you look at it from a content marketing perspective, and you're looking where you want to distribute your content, I think there's probably a point to be made if you're looking for leads, if you're looking for customers.
You probably also want your links, your infographics, your resources and your guest posts to distribute on websites that you have a chance of meeting your lead customer on.
Is this website closely enough related that my customer could be on there? Then maybe they could be on marketing articles on the BBC, but they probably wouldn't be on the flower website. At least not in the professional context in which I'm trying to position my website.
Link Toxicity and Red Flag Websites for Backlinks
What are your thoughts on toxicity and how do you avoid bad website and bad neighborhoods to get links from? Also, what are your thoughts about websites that have been penalized or websites that are not doing well? How do you basically avoid the black sheep? How do you make sure you're not getting any links from any website that are toxic or poor performing or spammy?
Robert: Yeah so if we are outreaching, making guest posts, it's hard to say, it's a good way to look at traffic, look how websites behave in the new algorithm updates. If it's fine, it will be fine also for our website and also we can check other websites which have links from this one and if it's perfectly fine it's good.
For PBNs, I do let's say a single variable test. For example, I put some links and check for one or two months if the website is going down or up. If it's going up, I'm sure that everything is fine and I can link to my money site and if it's going down, it's something wrong and I won't link to my money site. Yeah.
Craig: I mean mine is probably similar to Bobby's there. If I'm going to get a PBN or an expired domain name, for example, one of the first things I'd do is repurpose that website, put out the old content on all the old URLs, that will then give me a clue as to whether Google likes that website if the rankings recover. Then I can play about and maybe build a few links and see what happens. Probably two or three months down the line I'll make a decision whether I'm going to make that a PBN, a money website or do a 301 redirect.
That's just my process with it but as the casino guy says and as he probably knows, there's that many expired domain names or whatever are out there that have been bumped, literally bumped to death by SEO people.
Viola: This is maybe a good segue, so I want to ask you guys what are the link building techniques that you are using, and as we dive into this I would appreciate if one of you can quickly explain the word PBN and what it is, just so we have everyone on the webinar on board about how we dove into this conversation.
Robert: It's a private blog network. It's important guys, private private private blog network, yeah.
Viola: Basically the idea is that you find old websites, you find expired domains that already have some authority, some power, and you rebuild the website and you use them for your private backlink purposes. The major advantage is that you control those websites and you can do with them what you want to do and in that sense, it's maybe more technically precise than a guest post outreach strategy can be.
Which Link Building Strategies Work Best?
Tell us the link building techniques that you guys are using and also why you think they are the best ones?
Craig: I don't think anyone can debate whether links work or not. Now a guy that says PBNs don't work is likely to be a guy that left loads of footprints and got his fingers burnt. He's going to say, "PBN's don't work." What you don't want to do is build your whole business around PBN's or guest posts or whatever the hell's working.
For me, in terms of a backlink strategy, the first thing you'll do is build some citations, get some directory links, build up a little bit of power, some relevance, whatever. Then I'll go and get some guest blog posts that are maybe very powerful, not so much relevant so that would be my next step.
After you do that, what you want to do is maybe do some PR outreach, broken link building. There's so many different things you can do. Then you can get some expired domain names, some PBNs. You can do some outreach.
What you want to eventually have is have a whole bunch of links pointing to your website that are fairly relevant, that come from some top PR websites, some of your own private PBNs, some of the best guest posts that no one else has actually got yet.
Now Google are saying to mark guest posts as sponsored posts and all that. What Google are basically saying to the sheep is you tell us what you dirty dogs are doing in terms of guest posting and we will penalize you for it. That's you falling into that Google trap, whereas any smart guy who's thinking outside the box, who's trying to avoid leaving footprints, and trying to build what is a natural solid backlink profile whilst doing what works, is what works.
Viola: Exactly, exactly. I think, what I always tell my clients is I do strictly the guest post, digital PR type of broken links, I never do PBN's for clients but what I still tell clients is as much as we are an SEO doing link building we don't want to be looking like an SEO doing link building. We want to have the natural-looking backlink profile and that means yeah there's going to be some citations in there.
What we're basically trying to do is use different link building strategies across the board and then have something very diversified and something strong, and then strategically use some high power links or to go to specific pages that we're interested in or some things that we want to be moving.
But for me that's one of the main things is we want to keep it looking natural and we don't want to leave the footprint of backlink building all over there. I think SEOs love to talk about backlinks and love to talk about broken links and PBN's and guest post outreach, and some people asked about Wikipedia and government sites and directory, and which ones matter. I think these are debates that we as SEOs really like because we want the best fuel and we want our sites to go.
But my experience is that marketing managers, content marketers, business owners, most people don't really have the same passion for it. They just want the rankings but they don't want to have all the work that comes with link building.
Handling The Workload of Link Building
I wanted to ask how do you guys deal with the work of link building? Do you work with other agencies or service providers, do you have a team that works on that for you? How do you deal with the workload? Because one thing that makes links more expensive is how much resources and time you need to put into it.
Craig: I'm going to say something slightly outrageous here and then I'll let Bobby maybe tell us a bit about his actual techniques: I don't think link building's that hard. I think, one, it's sometimes about who you know rather than what you know. You don't have to be super skilled or whatever, I think you have to build a network of people.
I'll use vendors, friends, my network of people. I've got some of my own assets, and you just know where to go and who's the guy to buy from. I actually released a video yesterday on my own YouTube channel and it was saying avoid the middleman and that's what we do.
There's middlemen who are selling crap out there who are just middlemen so I think networking and finding out who the vendors are, who the real guys are. Not the guy who's selling for... you know there's a chain of people. I think is understanding who's doing what in the industry is a key part.
Of course, you've got teams who do outreach, you've got teams who do guest posts or whatever. But basically I've got a shopping list and I'll just go and buy buy buy buy buy. Job done.
Viola: I think I'm very much on the other end of the spectrum. Basically I gain a lot of momentum from my clients with digital PR, help a reporter out doing that kind of thing which is more the idea of being on big business and technology websites with posts about certain topics and then linking to my clients website.
That's one of the strategies that I use very much to gain momentum and you can't be super precise necessarily in where the link is pointing to. But it starts giving you momentum and it starts giving the website momentum. Then I do more of the guest post strategy next to that.
Now you guys said a few things, you said shopping list, you said buying. How does paying for links come into play and how do you future proof your business and is there anything risky about the paying for links strategy? Or what do we need to know about it? How do we need to think about this?
Craig: Can I be clear from the get-go? Now obviously we're having a conversation here and I don't mind telling people, yeah buy a link here and buy a link there. We're not telling Google we're buying links. Whether I get a guest post on some Polish website because Robert's had access to it or whatever, Google can't see that transaction. Google don't know, unless I'm stupid enough or Bobby's stupid enough to put in this is sponsored content, then who's going to know?
We all know that you can go here there and everywhere to buy a guest blog post, and you simply say to the guy, "Here's a thousand bucks, get me ten links or whatever it's going to be," whatever his prices are, "And I want this, this this and this as mine." Job done.
There's no footprint; Google cannot see that PayPal payment or whatever. As I say, I'm not always saying that you have to pay. You can exchange content. You don't always have to exchange cash, you can also exchange other things or content or whatever it may be. But in terms of guest posts, there's so many people out there selling that stuff that you basically just go and put your card details in, job done.
Robert: Yeah, but at the end of the day, everybody pays for it.
Craig: One other thing I want to throw out there. See if I was to go to an agency out there. Now I'm talking about some of the biggest white hat agencies, and I pay them five grand a month to do my SEO, someone in that agency 100% is paying for my link building. We are going out and doing the exact same thing so do not be under any illusion that this doesn't happen across the board. The whitest of white hat guys are doing exactly this.
Viola: I want to talk about a couple things here. It's like if you haven't done any link building, especially like you say Ken for eight years, don't go to Fiverr and Upwork and start buying like five hundred links tomorrow.
You want to ramp it up, you want to build momentum, you want to ease into it. It would just be weird for a small website that hasn't gotten any attention, all of a sudden they have 2000, 5000, 10,000 links coming in in the next two months. Like that would be a massive mistake.
Getting Links Naturally to Content
I want to talk about something which is my dream, which is something that both Ken and also Vivienne have been asking, which is how about writing high-quality content and waiting for links to come natural? This is what Google wants us to do. They want us to write the perfect answer, they want people to naturally distribute, share and talk about the content and link to it.
Craig: So my mom, when I was a little boy, told me the tooth fairy was true. Every time a tooth fell out I put it under the pillow and I'm not sure if that happens everywhere else, and the tooth fairy would come and give you a pound or five pounds. I'm still waiting on the tooth fairy coming, doesn't exist. I'm only half-joking but when people say Google are going to reward good content, and you're going to get all these links for putting up good content, it very rarely happens.
Now I'm not going to sit there and say that someone like Viola who has a content strategy, you don't get links. Of course, you do. I gave away a free SEO course a couple of months ago, and the amount of free links I got for that was outrageous. If you think by creating a landing page though, for something like builders in London, is going to get you loads of natural links, then you are very, very wrong.
There's two different ways of writing good content and waiting for links to come. If you're a roofer and you write all this content, you're probably going to be like me waiting on the tooth fairy, it doesn't exist. However, if it's done properly and Viola does some PR pitching and says, "Make it newsworthy," people will link to it if it's funny or whatever.
Robert: The thing is that we live in 2020 and we have to adjust our strategy to our competitors and let's say they have website which is let's say five, six years and we have to adjust strategy link building to our niche. Make it that Google will take us into account. I think waiting for links it's not a good strategy in 2020 because there's so many websites with a perfect history.
Viola: The unfair thing seems to me that the moment when people start to naturally link to you, is once you are in position one. Like once you are in position one and you're the easy resource that people turn to, that's actually when sometimes you start getting natural links and then the page starts accumulating more and more links. But other than that, more often than not your page will not naturally get any links from just sitting there.
I think what you said Craig is very true. We want links to our sales pages, to our e-commerce category pages, to our product pages and very little people are open to linking to that just like that. It's just not a very common scenario.
But I think what you said with the free SEO resources is exactly right. Like if we have the opportunity to have a free version of our tool of some sort, if we have a newsworthy story, if we have something that's really worthwhile sharing, then it could be different and then it could be something where we could actually get links to but it will almost never be your sales page or your e-comm category page that you ultimately want to be ranking.
Viola: All right guys, give us a quick where can we find you, what platforms are you on, where can we talk to you? Where can we learn more?
Craig: You can find me on my website which is Craigcampbellseo.com. You can find me on all social media channels as well, Facebook's probably the best. I'm on them all anyway so just put in Craigcampbellseo and no doubt you'll find me.
Robert: You can find me on social media, the best will be Facebook or LinkedIn. Yeah.
Viola: Perfect. You can find me on LinkedIn probably best, Viola Eva.
Now we are really spot on in terms of timing. We're 59 and 19 seconds so thank you so much guys, Craig and Robert for sharing your insight and there is a second webinar on the series Engineers versus Marketers coming up on the 30th of July.
Craig: Cheers. Thank you.
Robert: Thank you.