Alex Tachalova is a digital PR, link building specialist, and founder of the marketing conference, Digital Olympus.
She’s been published by the Search Engine Journal and has spoken at many conferences. She’s known as one of the brightest minds in our industry and an expert when it comes to link building and email outreach.
On this episode of the Agency Ahead podcast, Alex joined to talk white hat, ethical link-building strategy. You won’t just learn about strategy though: you’ll learn about setting the appropriate expectations that can set you up for success.
Here are the highlights:
- (2:45) Why links matter so much.
- (6:02) Why focusing on major publications may not be your best bet and the downsides of using unethical strategies to do so.
- (12:11) A better way to form link building relationships, and setting realistic expectations for link building.
- (14:22) Setting expectations for entering a new niche.
- (18:34) Strategies for building relationships and creating authoritative content in a new niche.
- (21:27) Why you need to link to external websites.
- (22:58) The polite way to generate new connections on LinkedIn.
- (26:00) Alex’s message for tough times.
Want to get the top insights fast? Just read on.
Why do links matter so much?
We all know Google changes its algorithm all the time. Even recently Google has rolled out yet another major algorithm change that is sending major ripples throughout the SERPS. Many search experts are still scrambling to analyze the changes.
Yet links have continued to be a consistent, reliable ranking signal that SEOs can pretty much put money on if they want to pinpoint something that actually matters to the search results.
Alex says there’s a real good reason for that.
“Think about the main idea behind literally any search engine. [Presenting users with] authority websites that link into each other and send some kind of signal that they are [authoritative.] You can say ‘link juice,’ but they’re really just recommendations.”
She points out that links have a clear parallel in the real world.
“It’s like a recommendation. If I recommend someone, and I have some authority, people know me, maybe I’m a celebrity or even just a micro-influencer, they trust me.
It’s exactly the same in digital marketing work.
When a website like Wikipedia links into something, it gives Google a signal that it’s a trusted source, or newspapers, anything well known. Even websites with decent traffic. If they link into your website, it gives Google the idea that they should follow your brand.”
Indeed, it’s one way Google distinguishes the real from the fake in a wild west environment where there’s a whole lot of fakery going on.
“You’re something good. You’re real. You’re not something shady. You’re a real brand selling goods and services.”
She stresses that the best link is always going to be a relevant link.
“Newspapers are okay because they’re writing about literally everything. But besides that, if you’re talking about some specific website writing about a topic like digital marketing and some automobile site links to you, that’s not a good signal for Google.”
If the link comes from a spam site or a site with a negative reputation, it can even hurt you.
Should you put most of your focus on major publications?
Alex says she almost never focuses on newspapers.
“The truth is [people who link build this way] have relationships with those journalists. That is the real value of those agencies. If they haven’t been investing in building those relationships, what’s the reason for hiring them? If anyone could easily go to a journalist and say, hey, here’s a great post, you should link to that?”
That means it’s well worth vetting an agency’s relationships with those journalists if you’re going to go that route. Because some of them aren’t exactly ethical about how they go about making those links happen. Some don’t rely on relationships at all.
“I have a friend who reaches out to journalists via personal channels like What’s App, offering to pay them $500 to insert a link. We don’t do that. It’s not ethical.”
Why shouldn’t you pay a journalist for a high-value link like that, especially when, in the grand scheme of things, $500 might be a very small price to pay?
“If you have a link that was paid that link can easily be removed by someone else. That would then uncover it as a paid link. So you should remember those links aren’t forever.”
She adds, “For sure, with money you can do literally anything, but when you don’t have those relationships and money, what’s next?”
She also says you should avoid swinging to the opposite extreme: cheap, low-quality guest posts.
“Potential clients could stumble on these posts. It’s going to affect your reputation.”
Finding link building partners
While you don’t want to get into the trap of having a “blogger network” (Google is onto them) you still need to connect with people in order to build links. Outreach is a big part of the link building game.
Fortunately, there are tons of people looking to build these relationships.
“You can easily connect with them,” says Alex. “Thanks to Facebook when you join any group you can see a list of members. Look them up on LinkedIn, just because Facebook isn’t the right method for socializing when it comes to professional things.”
She says the conversation opener is fairly easy.
“Hey, we’re part of the same group. I’m doing some link building and I am searching for partners.“
Once you’ve partnered with them you can ask them to add content relevant to your topic, and often they’ll link back to any article they’re featured in. This is a totally legitimate way to do it. You can also ask them for interesting stories relevant to your content.
“This way, one post can bring you up to ten links. So you don’t need to do tons of guest posts. You need to do only a few and you’ll get a decent number of links.”
How many quality links is it realistic to expect in one year?
A lack of realism both in client expectations and in SEO marketing expectations leads to a lot of the shady, and shoddy, link building practices that we still typically see out there in the digital marketing world.
So what is realistic?
“It normally takes around one year to build the whole team [of partners] and to place thirty stable links per month. Because you need to know how to communicate with trustworthy people, and you have to establish your own brand because it’s not easy to start as a new writer. You need to build those relationships from scratch.”
Starting from scratch might take even longer.
“When you don’t know people they don’t see the value of partnering up with you because you are literally no one. You don’t have a brand. You don’t have all those shiny guest posts, whatever it is. You are nothing, basically. We spend two, three months trying to build relationships with people when we enter new niches.”
What are your solutions for entering a new niche?
The best content is written when you’re writing about things you’re very confident about, but that’s not always possible when you’re trying to help a client. If you just sit down to try to write something for them you end up with content that isn’t very insightful and isn’t very in-depth.
Alex says there’s a workaround.
“You can ask people that are really into this topic to share some kind of insight, and based on their insights you can create the new content, basically. Give them the references, and in that way you can cover literally any topic.”
You’re then also building relationships with those individuals.
“It’s not necessarily going to lead to links,” Alex warns, “but it helps if you’re not really knowledgeable about some particular topic. When you ask well-known people to contribute, an editor will at least say, ah, okay, at least I know that’s a smart person so that’s okay.”
You almost borrow the authority of these other experts which can help you place the content on external sites.
Why is it so important to link to external websites in your own content?
“You’re linking in your own ecosystem when you only link to your own content,” says Alex. “I think it’s lame, and let me explain. From a reader perspective, when I see these posts, I don’t really trust them. It’s like you’re complimenting yourself, saying, oh, I’m so smart.“
Of course you want to link back to yourself a little, but you want to make sure that’s not all you’re doing.
“Go back to search engine logic. How it’s structured. It makes sense to link to external sources because you need to send traffic to some other websites. You need to connect them. Because users should be able to just migrate through websites.”
How can you make better, stronger connections on LinkedIn?
“If you want to connect with me, or anyone, on LinkedIn,” Alex says, “just write a short message. Something like: I listened to your podcast, or read your article. We’re all receiving tons of messages and requests to connect with random people. If you add something personal it’s like saying hi. It’s polite.”
In short, it’s okay to connect with people whose work you enjoy, but try to at least show why you’re trying to get connected with them. A lot of people do it just to artificially inflate their LinkedIn connection numbers and that won’t lead anywhere genuine.
What’s your right now cause?
Alex didn’t have a specific cause she’s focusing on during the Covid-19 pandemic, but she did have some words of wisdom to share.
“Understand we’re all in a very complex situation where we’ve lost our regular routine and working days. We’re all missing it.
Some of us are really disconnected, angry, and frustrated. Some are even behaving in a very aggressive way, but don’t attack people back. Be understanding. It’s all about kindness right now. It’s a hard time for everyone and you may be in the same position one day.
Karma is a thing.”