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How to Get the Links You Need – Doing the Math on Link Building

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 14 years and 363 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

I had a recent e-mail conversation that I felt was worth publishing publicly (with permission of course), due to the frequency I receive this type of question. Link development is highly important, and quality link development is a valuable skill. That being said, it is still only a part of the overall process of getting a website top rankings. It is often among the most difficult part of ranking a website high because it doesn’t get planned for from the start of the project and has to be retrofitted later. Getting the links you need for the rankings you want entails understanding the value involved from the publisher’s side, and providing adequate incentives for them to link to you (cool stuff, good content, bartering, cash, etc.). Unfortunately, this is a pretty difficult thing to put a budget proposal in for unless you really understand the true value of the different types of links, and what they mean to the bottom line.

Another issue that often gets neglected by SEO’s is the management of client expectations. When you talk about doing SEO for their site, the client does not have the same fundamental understanding of what that will include for their site unless it is spelled out in pretty specific detail. It is very important to set realistic expectations, since many people have been able to achieve extremely high return on investment rates during the “SEO boom” of the last decade or so. Unfortunately the barrier to entry for new sites, and even existing sites continues to rise as larger corporations, ad agencies, and other entities with substantial financial backing start wising up to the fundamental principles of SEO. It’s always nice to double traffic, sales, or even revenue, but many clients still expect this to be the norm unless their expectations are set to more reasonable levels. It’s nice…but I wish I could say it ALWAYS happends and should be expected.

E-mail from reader:

I’ve been reading your blog posts; you are always referenced as an excellent link builder. So I have to pick your brains for a minute.

I read this post that said you had an abundance of information and were willing to share…so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Say you had a client that needed 8k backlinks – and maybe 70% of those were from unique sites. I don’t expect you to share everything…BUT- I’m curious about this.


  • -text link ads
  • – sitewind links

  • -co-op network
  • – great internal linking

  • -linkbait
  • – link harvester

  • -hub finder
  • Yeah these are the ways I know of to get links. But something’s not making sense to me. If you have a client who’s competitor has 10k backlinks; how would you plan to acquire the BULK of those links – within a year or two.

    I’ve read about link bait – and I get that. you might be able to garnish a good 2k if u do something phenominal. But I CHOOSE NOT to believe that there rest of the links you manually build – and send link requests. You’d need to send X amount of links per month and acquire at least 700-800 PER month.

    I think there’s something I’m missing…but I can’t put my finger on it.

    Hello fellow seo,

    Thanks for writing.

    My big suggestion would be – think quality, not quantity. Chances are you probably don’t NEED as many links as you think you do…of course, I don’t know the whole situation, but most likely if you get 1/10 of what they have in terms of volume, but trump the quality, you will out rank them.

    When you get into the realm where you DO definitely need that many links, the viral marketing route is the only way to go. You need to naturally attract those links with ideas formed around linkbaiting.

    Sounds like you are right on track man. You can’t manually build that many links normally and have them be quality. The links that you don’t have to ask for are generally the best ones.

    In high dollar marketplaces, link begging just doesn’t cut it anymore unfortunately. It sucks, but more and more of the industries will return to the need for ad agencies and traditional media to be successful at SEO in the next few years. The barrier to entry was lowered, but it is now back to rising every day for new businesses on the web.

    Best of luck with your project,



    I feel like Linking Sucks…because everybody’s doing it. So, if I were your client and I was competing for a competitive term like Bass Fishing (I read that you like to fish) and I needed 5,000 links. How many email requests would you need to send in a day ? 20-50-100or more? — I’m still stuck here in disbelief.

    This only bothers me because looking at co-citation, looking at authority pages, relevancy and varying anchor text is a lot of work to do for just one person. Which brings me to my next point.

    How does a guy like you…or Aaron Wall…or Eric Ward – obtain these links for these major clients when they need more than 2-3thousand links.

    IF I do my math – I’d say you wouldn’t have time for it; OR you’d only be able to accept 1 maybe 2 clients a month. OR – you spend all day sending email requests and negotiating text-link buys/offers with webmasters. OR you have a whole link building team that does nothing but build links….all day. OR theres some other way that I’m missing. If you guys aren’t sitting down and building links all day – then what are you doing?

    Thanks for the info and the responses. Congratulations on going solo by the way!!! Thanks again Todd.

    Hey xxxxx,

    You’re question is so good, I’m almost tempted to ask to answer it publicly on my site.

    Actually, you’re pretty much answering your own question correctly, but the points you bring up are quite relevant.

    >linking sucks
    Yes, it absolutely does. It is hard, tedious work – but it is absolutely neccessary to address for rankings.

    >bass fishing
    I don’t think I’d ever encourage a client that wasn’t already in the top 1000 that they could rank for this. I would more likely encourage them to focus on three word variations for the next few years if the site was only a couple of years old (or perhaps even new). As unfair as it is, I often turn down new sites for work, and just provide them with some information, because of the steep learning curve, and the increasing barrier to entry for new business on the web.

    >lot of work
    Yes it is. I normally just train on HOW to do it. I’ve spent plenty of time doing it, and when I feel so inclined, I link build for my own sites. I think it is really about finding the right balance, and link mix to achieve the ultimate goal of higher rankings.

    Again, I think it’s quality and not quantity. Trust trumps just about anything these days on G. One “advertorial” or “presell page” on the right trusted domain and you may not need ANY links;)

    Build links smarter…not harder. Train your developers or yourself to find high VALUE links, and you will grow more quickly over time. The landscape may change, but if you’re always searching for the highest quality links and overall advertising value, you won’t have to redevelop your process near as often.

    Other things to consider

  • -scraper site backlinks from sites who’ve been on top for a while
  • – natural link attraction by ranking for phrases

  • -natural links from good content (did i really just say that?)
  • – syndication and aggregation

    Link building can be outsourced as well, provided the staff is trained to a decent level of quality. You’re on the right line of thinking…the barrier to entry has definitely been raised. Link begging is no longer a valid technique solely on it’s own. It’s using the knowledge and understanding of how and why links are valuable that ultimately helps to create an effective seo strategy now through a marketing mix of obtaining them for rankings.



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    • panasianbiz

      Wow, I just wanted to say thank you for the incredibly informative article and email exchange. You’re right that link building sucks/takes a lot of work, but that it’s absolutely necessary in order to truly be competitive. Thanks for the tips!

    • Spencer Hoyt

      This is one of the best post that I have read in a while!

    • wheel

      As Todd so aptly notes, go for quality, not quantity. If someone has 10K backlinks, there’s a good chance that the volume of these links are from scraper and clone sites.

      Get your quality links in the quality places. If you get your links up to 500-1000 all of a sudden you’ll find that a whole lot of sites are discovering your link on those 1000 sites and linking to you. WIth automated processes people are using these days you can easily get a few thousand links (from likely low quality sites) just because you’ve got the first thousand.

      It’s the first million that’s the hardest :).

    • wheel

      Case in point – I just checked backlinks on a client’s site. They have 1000 backlinks. I’ve probably developed 300-500 of those as very high quality links (there’s no low end directory stuff there at all for example). The rest of them are directory type or mfa sites – some even from the same industry and not bad sites – that I didn’t ask for . A whole lot of folks wanted to populate their directories or pages with links so they went out and scraped quality sites. A little while later the number of links the site has has doubled or tripled.

    • quadszilla

      “advertorial” or “presell page”

      i must have missed the memo . . . is that what we are calling doorway pages now?


      Solid post.

    • Daniel Elmore

      What does everyone use to check backlinks? I’ve just been using MSN. Yahoo site explorer seems to ignore nofollow’s.

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