It's astonishing how often a potential client contacts me about link building for their site, only to discover their site isn't anywhere near link worthy.
Don't get me wrong, I'm always confident in my ability to build links. But building great links to a terrible site is like polishing a turd.
Perhaps that's harsh, but it's the simple truth. Link building is frickin' hard if your site sucks – and even then, it probably isn't helpful.
Honestly, no one wants to link to a domain name like cheapdiscountmysterymeat.com. No one wants to link to an ecommerce domain that only has product pages, bare minimum content, and sells discount yoga music. No one wants to link to a website that looks spammy or as if it's been around since 1995 (and never updated once).
These are obviously extreme examples, but I'll say it again. It's frickin' hard to build links if your site sucks.
Potential Client Checklist
If you're going to work hard to increase your site's visibility, make sure it's worth sharing. It doesn't make any sense to dump time, energy, money, and general resources into it if the site's underdeveloped, lacks content, or is simply outdated.
Here's what I look for when a potential client contacts me for link building services – and if these aren't there, we're either having a serious conversation or they aren't a client:
- A sensible, non-spammy domain name
- Free of suspicious/manipulative practices
- Decent site content, including:
- A well-managed blog
- Page copy
- Solid product descriptions
- Signs of fresh content
- Clean, intuitive user interface
- Clean, sharp aesthetics
- A well-formed contact and about us page (no one's interested in linking to a site that doesn't even have contact information)
- This includes clear and easy ways to contact the site owner/company, preferably both email and phone
- Intuitive/obvious site navigation
- A cohesive theme across the site
- A search bar/search function somewhere on the site for easy product search
- General appeal – avoiding complete siloing (i.e. diesel powered underwater generators)
- A clean robot.txt – very basic, but can cause all sorts of problems if messed up
Generally speaking, that's what I look for. More than anything, though, examining a website is a sense developed with time and experience. Within the industry it's commonly referred to as the "smell test" – basically you know if something stinks.
With Penguin and Panda there's a real need to build links that help humans, not solely designed for search engines (which would be manipulative). I call this FTBOM (pronounced 'footbomb') – for the betterment of mankind.
The links we build need to be highly relevant and make sense. They should be on sites that a real human would habitat, used in a way that a real human would click through and be happy about the destination.
Build links like Google doesn't exist – links that are creative, helpful, and useful not just to the linkee but to the linker and clicker, as well.
And if we're holding ourselves to these standards, why would we build links for websites that suck and are counter to the direction we're working toward?
It's Frickin' Easy to Build Great Links to Great Sites
Building great links for a client with a great site, simply said, is great. It's a complete win-win. We're able to go out and build great links with much less effort than we'd use for even an average site.
Other websites are more likely to link with considerably less persuasion, and we aren't forced to rely on clever strategies and tactics. The value is already there, built into the website itself – there's no need for us to provide, manufacture, or otherwise sell value.
At the end of the day the best links are always built based upon this inherent value. That's what linking is – a vote of confidence, a physical recommendation of trust. One site saying "I think that going to this site will be worth your time, and here it is".
When a site is truly great, building that link becomes a natural process. You find other great and authoritative sites, reach out and express the value of your website, and why their visitors would be benefited by a link from their site to yours.
No strategies, no tactics, no manipulation, no subtlety. Just straightforward honesty, with everyone happy. The client gets great links, the linking website's visitors aren't misled and provided a valuable resource, and we get to go home knowing we made the Internet a better place.
Build Links, Add Value
The simple truth to the Internet is added value. If you want to be successful, find a way to add value, consistently.
Finding a way to add value isn't easy, obviously. But if you're willing to put the time, energy, and creativity into making a great site, everything else will be easier for it.
The old expression "well begun is half done" comes to mind, as do "What is once well done is done forever" and "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?".
Aristotle, Henry David Thoreau and Hall of Fame basketball coach Jon Wooden, respectively.
Simply said, if you're going to do something, you may as well take the time to do it right. Otherwise, you'll regret it. Cutting corners never pays off in the long run, and in the end will result in more time spent with continual fixes or an entire rework.
It all starts with building something actually valuable – set yourself apart from the competition, make yourself unique, and add overall value. The sharing and linking will come naturally after that, with minimal elbow grease.
I've said it before and I'll say it again – the best link building tool ever created was the human brain. Start with value and it will pay off in spades.
And if you don't?
It's frickin' hard to build links if your site sucks.