As the SEO field grows, more and more people are fascinated by link building strategies. I sometimes dream of complex linking strategies (just kidding). Link building and how search engines look at the links pointing to a page is an exciting and mystical topic of discussion.
For this reason, I have decided to start an interviewing process, where I select fairly well known link specialists to interview. Jim Boykin, of We Build Pages, is the first link building specialist I have asked for an Interview. So, let's get right into it.
[Roundtable]: Jim, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions about link building strategies. Shall we proceed?
[Jim Boykin]: Go ahead Barry, I'm Feeling Lucky!
[Roundtable]: Ha ha... So Jim, let us first tell the public about yourself. How did you get into this business? Tell us a little bit about your history and what led you to where you are today.
[Jim Boykin]: I was always a computer geek. I was the first kid in elementary school to touch our school's first computer (thinking around 1978). In college I worked as a consultant in the computer lab. I left college in 1993, and traveled around the country (USA) for five years - never seeing a computer from 1993 until early 1999.
Early in 1999 I purchased a computer, and my world has never been the same again!!! My first thought was, "What's this language?, I gotta do this!" I learned basic HTML in a few days. About a week later I purchased webuildpages.com and within a few days I had my first website live. Two weeks later, I received a call from a company in Atlanta Georgia (I'm from Northern New York), asking if I could build them a web site. I asked how they had found me, and the response was they searched in AltaVista for "Build Web Pages" where I had ranked high (by accident because of my company name). That is what started me thinking about optimization, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since!
When I started my business I attended every local networking meeting, and praised the values of having a website and internet marketing, and I picked up some local clients along the way. During 2001 and 2002 I worked for a few local design firms as their "Internet Marketing Specialist".
I wanted to work for a company that made internet marketing priority 1, so, I decided to go "solo", and back to my own business of We Build Pages. I specifically targeted the phrase "Internet Marketing", and 3 months later, with a little luck, I had achieved a #4 ranking in Google, and was lucky enough to stay in the top 10 for a year and a half.
When we hit #4 my life again changed forever. We Build Pages had grown from 1 to around 10 employees within a year, and my job role had transformed into being "Sales Manager", "Team Leader", "Lead Researcher", "Business Planner", "Idea Guy", "Trainer" along with a handful of other roles.
[Roundtable]: Jim, as you know, there are dozens of link exchange and brokerage Web sites out there. What are your feelings about link exchanges and these type of Web sites? Would you ever participate in one of these programs? What would you tell a novice link builder to watch out for when participating in these programs?
[Jim Boykin]: In the past we've been heavily involved in trading links, and have managed link exchange programs on over 150 PR7+ sites. Our programs and pages have gone through a few changes. There is a value to link exchange, but it may not be much today. I also believe in finding one way links. It's one thing to get 200 link trades, and another thing to get 50 one way links to your sites from 50 sites. I believe one way links are much more valuable than link trades.
A few years ago link trading was the "in" thing. The ole "You link to me, I link to you, and we both benefit" was a game that got overplayed, and Google seemed to react to it. I know many pages where links out seemed not to count on pages named "links.html" or had the word "links" in the title tag of a page, or if a page had the word "links" in a text link linking to a page. It wasn't and isn't always the case that those links wouldn't count.....but I'm guessing that Google sees what percent of your links are reciprocal, and if it is above a certain percentage, then a filter might go into effect.
Well, there's certainly a market for high value advertising on other sites. Some brokers hold auctions that are a bit of a gamble, because often the exact URL's are kept secret and only given to the paid winning bidder. Another danger is if you win an auction, you may find your link sandwiched between links for Viagra and online gambling, and it seems like things like this may throw red flags when found on sites that are completely non-related, and often have their PR blocked from passing. If your link is found on a site like this, then you could find the eyes of engines reviewing Your site as well. Link Brokers can be good...but there can be risks with buying what you don't know what link you're buying. PR is not everything.
If you have a good relationship with a broker, you can often hear of new opportunities or totally relevant opportunities and know the URL before paying. If you use your broker right, they can be a good friend to those with a competitive market.
Much of the brokered links are "site wide" links, and these may cause attention....again, like link trades, I think it's a Ratio that may throw filters. A site with only 10 links, but from 10 different sites, will often do better than the site with 1000 links but only from 5 sites. Buying a bunch of site-wide links isn't always the answer.
In my opinion the guy with 10 "really relevant" links to a site can beat the guy with 100 non relevant links, and I see this often in search results today.
Many SEO's, including myself, are very cautious in their linking actions. Once you've been hit, or seen others hit, you tend to treat your sites with more care, and that often means "going underground", even if your intentions are "white hat". I think that just recently the SEO world is starting to admit that link advertising is real, and being aggressive on links is not in itself "black hat".
Still, everyone sees sites that have been penalized, either by gray bars or by not passing PageRank. Many of the best SEO's are very quiet about how they get links for the fear of being considered "overly aggressive" by Google.
We've changed our linking techniques a few times over the years, and are constantly experimenting with different tools, and expanding our repertoire of techniques. We have seen the ups and downs of linking campaigns. We've been know to be aggressive about our linking campaigns, but today we're trying to get it down to a "science". I've seen the hand of Google come down on sites before, so a lot of what we do today is geared towards making linking appear to be as natural as possible. In today's changing SEO world, the engines are getting smarter at analyzing links, and are sure to continue to improve their analysis of back links.
[Roundtable]: There has been a lot of discussion lately about how links from related Web pages are more valuable than links from Web pages off topic to your page. Do you find this to be true from strictly a link building standpoint?
[Jim Boykin]: I do believe that links from related places help more than links from non-related places. That's not to say that links from non-related places hurt you, or don't help, just that sites that link to you that Google finds relevant to your site, may count for more.
In the papers that were filed with the Securities and Exchange for Google's Public offering, on one page, there is an interesting line: "Many other aspects of a page's content are factored into the equation, as is the content of pages that link to the page in question." I believe Google is moving more towards that goal every day.
[Roundtable]: Not too long ago, I wrote a small entry on Pyramid Linking Strategies, and how linking from page A to page B and then from page B and page A is not recommended on a large scale. Would you be able to expand on that theory from an application stand point? In other words, has your experience shown to prove this theory right and what is the limit of direct link swaps that you feel comfortable with?
[Jim Boykin]: I found that an interesting read. I don't agree with everything that person seems to be doing, but I can understand some of the reasoning behind it. There are creative ways to go about link exchanging. This seems to be one creative method.
Creating directories for each client's site also seems like a lot of work. Perhaps he should look more at making sure his clients' sites link out to related sites in related "neighborhoods", as opposed to creating other sites that do that.
[Roundtable]: An other popular topic in the link building realm of SEO is something nicknamed "hoarding one's PageRank". In layman's terms, there is the belief that not linking out from one's page can't hurt your rankings. What are your thoughts on this theory?
[Jim Boykin]: I think that linking out to other sites is one of the most overlooked aspects of SEO. I really believe that "dead end" sites don't perform nearly as well as sites that link out to other related sites. Linking out to non-related sites might put you in the wrong neighborhoods, but, I believe, that linking to authority sites, or related sites can help your rankings. I'm sure that places like Google not only take into account "who links to you", but also "who you link to". In the "olden days" there was a trick to ranking high in Inktomi by linking out to the authority sites in your industry...that even counted more than who linked to you...I think this still plays a small factor in ranking, but most seem to ignore this aspect. I say: "Link out, and link out related "hoarding one's PageRank" is just not wise in my opinion.
[Roundtable]: In your opinion, which sites are the best for one to get links from? What I mean by best is; what are the easiest links to obtain, the most important links to obtain and the most basic links to obtain?
[Jim Boykin]: I believe that getting links from related sites are the best links to get. I won't say sites with the higher PR are better. I'd take a link from a relevant PR6 page over a huge PR8 link that has nothing in common with my site.
[Roundtable]: Since this site is mostly about forum coverage, let me ask you about your feelings on the different forums out there? I would expect that you spend some time reading the forums, which ones do you like the best and why? Also, why don't you post often at these forums?
[Jim Boykin]: I'm probably guilty of spending too much time in the forums when I should be doing other things. I probably stop in a forum every few hours, and probably read forums for about 2 hours total each day.
I started in Jim's World, at the ole www.searchengineforums.com site. Jim Wilson was the true pioneer of SEO Forums. Many of the best in the industry owe their start to this man. I owe a great part of my early learning to this forum.
At some point I moved over to Webmasterworld, and I would hang out in the GoogleForum (3) all the time. Back when Google Dances meant huge ranking shifts, there'd be threads that were so many pages, and getting updated so often that it would be humanly impossible to read every single post. I've since shifted over to hanging out almost exclusively in the "Supporters Forum" to get away from the "noise" of "me too" posts. Brett's Webmasterworld Conferences are a favorite of mine as well. I've never been to better "meeting of the minds" than at these conferences.
I've also been reading SEO Chat on a daily basis since its inception. I was the second member of SEO Chat, (Darin Ward being the first). For several months I was trying to get Darin to work at We Build Pages (And bring his Google Dance Tool and SEO Chat to We Build Pages), but the traveling itch got to him, and next thing I knew he was offering me a deal to buy the Dance Tool and SEO Chat from him. At the time, I was saving up to adopt a baby, so I couldn't afford his nice offer, and the following week he sold it to DevShed.
Also, at least once a week I pop into other forums to see what's being discussed there. Some of my other favorites are John Scott's forum (now at V7N.com). There's not much noise, just good posts by some very knowledgeable people. Some of the top minds in the field are "hiding out" there. Every now and then I also check out Jill Whalen's forum, and I keep my eye on Seo-Guy's Forum as well. Darrin Ward just started another forum at www.seotown.com where I think there is great potential as well.
I think the big forum to keep our eyes on is the new Search Engine Watch Forum. Already I've picked up some great internet marketing news, found here first. No ones got connections and insight like Danny Sullivan. I think I saw that you were a Mod there as well Barry, Congrats!
Ah, and why don't I post often???? .....I guess I'm not good at forum communication. I tend to have IM chats each day with many forum moderators, and seem to be much better one on one, rather than being part of a larger conversation. I also try to say under the radar, and to be honest, often don't have much to add. I'm a better listener than a talker sometimes. I did post the other day to announce that the PR and backlinks were updating :)
[Roundtable]: Jim, I would like to thank you for being so gracious in answering my questions. Before you go, can you spend a minute just describing your current business offerings and what makes you feel that link building is the most important area in SEO (if not the most important, then one of the most important)?
[Jim Boykin]: Well, I'm pretty sure that most people realize that link building is the most important aspect of any optimization campaign. I don't even consider that debatable. At We Build Pages, we usually start with a complete analysis of keywords and competition. We then perform on-page optimization, and follow that up with an aggressive link building campaign. After the first month, 95% of the work we perform for clients is involved in getting links, links, and more links.
Jim Boykin CEO, We Build Pages www.webuildpages.com