How To Hire A Great Link Builder

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for this site about how to train a link builder. At that time we’d trained over 60 link builders. The first section of that piece dealt with a few traits that made me optimistic about the future of an employee, but in the past two years we’ve downsized fairly drastically and I’ve made the decision that a small and well-trained staff is much better for me than a big office full of people requiring indiivudal instruction. 

Just as you learn a lot from your triumphs, you learn a ton from your mistakes, and I made a lot of them – but I’ve learned quite a bit about what exactly makes for a great link builder and employee.

To begin, I’ll tell you that I do not hire trained link builders or SEOs. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever hired anyone with more than a few months of basic experience in the industry. My reason is that we have a pretty well-defined way of working and our biggest clients have been with us for years. We’re all comfortable with our methods and our tools. I know what my clients want and expect and I also know my place with them as many have their own SEOs or in-house teams, and we serve as the link development portion of a large marketing campaign. Bringing in someone who has spent time doing something completely different could be amazing, or it could cause loads of stress, so for now, I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

Please note: I’m not telling you not to hire a trained link builder. I’m just telling you what to look for if you do hire inexperienced link builders.

So let’s dive in and examine what to look for!

Experience

1. Anything in the service industry. From bartending to waiting tables to working in retail, if someone has had a job dealing with people one on one, that’s a major plus for me because relationships are the key to great links. Even if your “relationship” consists of one outreach email and the webmaster’s positive response (and you’re saying thank you of course), that one outreach email is most likely going to be one that’s based on making the webmaster feel like he’s being taken care of in some way.

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2. Amazing communication skills, both written and oral. If your resume and introductory email are full of errors, all it makes me think is that you’re going to send outreach emails with those same errors, making it much harder for anyone to take you seriously. In addition, if I have trouble understanding what you’re talking about or you can’t understand what I’m talking about, things will be difficult for both of us.

The Interview

3. Eye contact. Unless you have an honest social problem with maintaining eye contact, being able to look at someone who is talking to you is pretty important. It shows respect and that you’re listening and not just waiting to speak.

4. Punctuality. I don’t think I have ever been late for anything in my life and while I realize that some people are naturally prone to being late, showing up on time is a skill that really matters to me. We may have hired a couple of people who were late to their interviews, but none of them are still with us.

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The Follow-up

5. Perseverence. One of my current link builders followed up with me for months as the company was in a transition period and I needed to be nagged a bit. He had some great non-link building experience, but still, the thing that sold me was the fact that he was able to very nicely bug me and stay in my mind. All of my current employees thanked me for their interview afterwards, too. Most of my former employees did not. If you’re working with a webmaster and they kind of drop out of sight, it’s good to be able to follow-up nicely and land that link.

On The Job

6. Ability to understand nuance. This is absolutely critical for me. My link builders need to be able to think like a human being and not rely on metrics. I don’t want them trying to get a link on a site just because it has a good Domain Authority even though it’s in no way relevant to the client. I don’t want them bypassing a page that’s perfect for the client just because it’s new and doesn’t yet have any noteable Page Authority. I’ll admit that occasionally a few of them do struggle with this but they know enough to ask me for my opinion. One big reason that I don’t cram SEO knowledge down their throats is that they can think like average users and not in terms of “will this make the site shoot up in the rankings?” I mean ideally a link would be beneficial and not harmful of course, but maybe it’s going to be good for traffic only. Maybe it won’t be amazing for traffic but the traffic that it generates does convert. Nuance is the key to understanding those concepts and helping to create a natural link profile.

7. Willingness to make mistakes. My latest link builder works outside the office and lives in another state I was very worried about how to properly train her. I told her the same thing I tell anyone though: be willing to make mistakes because you’ll learn more from them than from me giving you a list of things not to do. She’s made a few, like everyone else, but she’s never made the same one twice.

mistakes

8. Willingness to ask for help. I am very lucky to have a group of people who are not afraid to ask me for help or to ask questions. Sometimes they are amazed at how quickly I can naturally work a resource into a page but it’s because I have the benefit of being the final word on links and I’m the one justifying them to the clients, so I don’t have the fear of messing up. They ask each other for help, too. Since I build links just like they do, I know that you can run into walls after a bit and asking someone for a new perspective can really refresh your energy and send you in a new direction that will be more successful than continuing to bang your head into those walls. Towards the end of each month, we’re all kind of burned out in a way so everyone asks more questions than usual, but that’s a good thing. It means they care about doing a good job.

9. Willingness to argue with me. I don’t mean argue for the sake of being a jerk. I mean argue because they feel like I am not fully understanding their point. I love this quality actually. I have been wrong so many times that I always listen when they push back. I remember a very recent situation when a link builder wanted to put a link on a page and I said “absolutely not” because it made no sense whatsoever to me. He then went on to detail his point of view and explain why the link would work there, and he made me see that I’d been thinking about it the wrong way and his point of view was right. Because I’m approving/disapproving every link that goes out the door, I make a lot of snap judgments due to the amount of work we do, so I need someone to keep me in check and make me take the time to see things their way.

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10. Manners. I’m overly focused on good manners, but man, they come in handy. We have annoyed webmasters before and some of them have been quite abusive to the link builders. I’ve had some talk to me like I’m a complete idiot but I’ve always been polite and gotten those links that I want. We don’t email anyone who has asked us not to email them so we maintain a very hearty do not contact database. We’ve actually gotten links from people who initially responded back to tell us we were spamming demons and when we apologized and said we’ll put you in the databse and no one else will contact you, they’ve calmed down and worked with us. We’ve had webmasters do the completely wrong thing and mess the link up, then blame up and say the instructions were confusing and that it just wasn’t worth their time to work with us, but by taking the blame and apologizing for the confusion very politely, we’ve still secured a lot of those links. The bottom line is that we’re bothering people out of the blue and naturally that annoys them. I’m annoyed when someone bothers me, too.

Big Fat Warning Signs

In conjunction with learning what to look for, I’ve learned even more about what the warning signs are. I hate wasting time training and mentoring someone only to realize, months down the road, that it’s just not working. When we were a much larger company we did have the luxury of keeping poor performers because we had A larger financial cushion. That’s one of the dumbest business mistakes I have ever made though, and if someone can’t do well in a month or two with us, they’re never going to.

1. Poor attendance. Sounds like a no brainer I know, but I am a big believer in letting people set their own schedule so that they can have a life and do the things they need to do. We have one employee who starts work around 3am. We have another who has a few other work committments in his former industry and he’ll be out for a few hours on certain days. Our guys can work from home whenever they like. With that kind of freedom, if someone still doesn’t show up, it’s a very bad sign. I’ve let a lot slide, but I’ve learned my lesson. If someone doesn’t show up for work, you really can’t count on them for much of anything.

2. Having to be told the same thing over and over and over. All our clients have different requirements and keeping up with them is difficult, so we have it noted where the link builders can access it at any time. Some give us minimum metrics and some have entire niches they want to avoid dealing with. My job is to keep up with that and make sure everyone follows the guidelines. I don’t mind that, but I do mind having to say “no we don’t get links on sites that aren’t indexed in Google” five times. I mind having to tell them how to tell if a link is nofollowed or followed. I mind having to tell them that we really don’t want to deal with sites that are incredibly controversial and extreme.

3. No matter what, they just can’t build links. I mean really, this is the bottom line. If you can’t build links…well what use are you to a link company? It IS tough to build good links. It’s tough for my employees and it’s tough for me. I’ve sent dozens of outreach emails and gotten no responses at times, but I have to keep going and figure out what’s wrong. Not building any links means you can’t look for and find solutions. I really believe that anyone who wants to can build links. Not everyone can build amazing links all the time, but everyone can build links if they try and aren’t hampered by everything I list above.

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Obviously this is my perspective and you may have totally different ideas about how to hire a link builder. If so, I’d love to know what you look for. I’d love to hear about any other red flags that you can think of from past experiences and hear whether you hire trained SEOs or trained link builders to build links. As I say, I don’t do that, but I’d love to get some feedback on what others do as that kind of discussion helps us all.

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