Good link builders are a special breed of SEOs. There are a lot of solid SEOs in the industry, but effectively building links is much different from keyword research, copywriting, and technical analysis. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes an effective link builder.
Whether you’re an SEO looking to improve your own skillset or a manager looking to hire a new link builder, these are the characteristics of an effective link builder.
SEO is one of the few industries where my history as a competitive video game player, an epic geared raiding Warlock, forum admin and hacker became a marketable skill.
I’m an effective marketer online, not because I have formal marketing training, but because I understand online communities intimately.
Creativity is one of the things that is difficult, maybe impossible, to teach. It can be encouraged through culture and environment, because everyone has some level of creative genius, but creativity is something I’d hire for.
SEO, especially link building, is moving closer to being inbound marketing, which is starting to become difficult to distinguish from pure traditional marketing. Creativity is a driver of holistic marketing strategies.
The creative process can also be inspired.
At Distilled, we have a culture and structures in place which help inspire creativity. It’s important to create boundaries and modes of thinking that help creativity. Having the ability the stop, separate, drink a beer, and invest full mental power allows your brain to free itself up to the creative process.
Creativity isn’t enough for an effective link builder. Technical chops are also a requirement. Distilled carries resident math, computer science, and engineering majors. Prior to leaving college to pursue a career in SEO, I was studying engineering and worked at Vanderbilt where I did pharmacology research.
This also includes skills on using the right tools, such as Open Site Explorer, Excel, and Google Analytics.
Analytical skills allow a link builder to do two things really well:
Scale processes by evaluating data effectively.
Recognize changes and trends, which can be reapplied to your marketing efforts.
Although a non-technical link builder can build links through the process of business development, content creation, outreach, and PR; they don’t have the capability to develop products or agile tools without leaning on a team.
Technical Skills a Link Builder Should Have
Intermediate knowledge of (X)HTML/CSS
Basic understanding of at least one modern programming language (no need to code, but hack at least)
Ability to execute 301 redirects using .htaccess and how to create robots.txt files
Sufficient coding skills to “get” tools like Firebug
I agree with Dan Cristo that every SEO should have a side project, and I like to see this in the form of a website where they’ve done at least a basic level of code / design tweaking.
A link builder is not the same as a technical SEO. The SEO who loves indexation and crawl analysis may absolutely hate talking to people. A link builder must be comfortable talking and engaging with complete strangers.
A sociable geek is the valuable combination of the introverted developer and the extroverted sorority girl.
I believe people like Rand Fishkin and Wil Reynolds are the epitome of sociable geeks.
I do believe being sociable is a skill you can learn. By nature, I’m exceptionally introverted, so I find people describing me as an “affable, personable search marketer” a bit odd. I’ve improved my skills as a link builder by constantly presenting, facing clients as often as possible, going to networking events, and talking to strangers on the bus (this is actually true). Reading books also helps. I personally enjoyed reading Never Eat Alone and The Exceptional Presenter.
Few job experiences taught me more about link building than the three months I worked in-house as an internet marketing coordinator and was placed into the sales department. I worked on a 9 person cold calling sales team and was exposed to their tactics and culture during my time working with them.
Manual outreach is not too different from cold calling and business development.
Recommended Sales Reading for Link Builders
Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
By ingenuity, I mean something different from just creativity.
Ingenuity is intellectual hustle.
Ingenuity allows link builder to create well thought out, systematic and clever solutions. Ingenuity is seen in careers like scientists, engineers, artists, developers, and musicians. I relate this with INTP, INTJ, and ENTPpersonality types.
A link builder isn’t just placing links on websites, they’re building businesses. They’re creating the differential between a business and its competition. As a link builder, you should be bringing hustle to your work every day. A link builder with hustle can dominate large brands and companies with large budgets by simply outworking them.
Enormous Talent is Not Enough(Gary's language is a bit flavorful, but great video on hustle)