Link building as a marketing strategy can be quite complicated. You need to have a clear understanding of SEO and how it works.
What’s more, link building is an ongoing process, which means you’ll need to be prepared to commit both time and resources to it in order to see results.
Whether hiring an external link building consultant or bringing someone on board in-house, here are some essential things you need to know before making the investment.
Let’s start with the basics.
A link building specialist is responsible for developing and executing strategies to increase the number of inbound links pointing to a website.
The goal is to improve the site’s visibility and organic search rankings in Google and other major search engines.
An effective link building specialist must have a strong understanding of SEO and how it works.
They should also be well-versed in the latest trends and algorithm changes so they can adapt their strategies accordingly.
A link building specialist’s main responsibilities include:
- Researching: Conducting competitor analysis, identifying target websites and finding link opportunities
- Outreach: Reaching out to potential partners, building relationships and pitching ideas
- Reporting and Analysis: Measuring results, tracking progress and preparing reports
Some link building specialists may also be responsible for content creation and promotion, but this is usually handled by a separate team or individual.
Some others may also have a background in PR, which can be helpful when it comes to conducting outreach and building relationships with journalists and other influencers.
In short, a link building specialist should be comfortable with research, outreach, networking and have strong writing skills.
Technical and on-page SEO will only take you so far.
To rank for the competitive (and worthy) keywords, you’re going to need links. Quality links, from high-authority domains.
Most studies still consider links as the number one ranking factor, even in 2023.
If you aren’t actively building links as part of your SEO strategy, you’re missing out. Big time.
But link building is hard. It takes a lot of time, effort, and know-how. Which is why many businesses choose to hire a link building specialist.
A good link building specialist will be able to help you:
- Build links from high-authority/relevant domains
- Get your brand in front of a new audience
- Increase traffic to your website
- Improve your search engine rankings
If you’re serious about SEO, then hiring a link building specialist is a no-brainer.
In-House vs. Outsourced: Pros and Cons
There are many benefits to hiring an in-house link builder, but with all of the challenges that come along with managing an internal team, you will want to consider outsourcing instead.
Here are some pros and cons of each option:
If the vast majority of your company is employed, and especially if your marketing team is entirely in-house, it can often seem logical to bring link building in-house as well.
By doing so, you can often mitigate against many of the issues that come with having someone outside of the company doing link building. However, having it in-house doesn’t come without its own issues either, and may not necessarily save you any money.
- More control over the link building process: When you have a team in-house, you can be more hands-on with the link building process and give them direct feedback. Useful if you have marketing in-house and a very clear idea of where you want to get links from.
- Flexibility on tactics: If you need a link building team that can be extremely flexible and spend time experimenting with really out of the box ideas – that’s where an in-house team could have an advantage. You can involve them in things like creative PR campaigns, building connections in-person, or phoning industry contacts and building business partnerships. Involving them in tactics which may not necessarily yield a lot of links, or the purpose of it is much more than just getting a link – is something that would be hard to have an agency perform – but something I’ve personally seen clients have their in-house link builder do. At the same time, if you’re going to have this kind of experimentation happening in-house, you have to be ok with the campaigns failing, and not getting any links.
- Industry knowledge: An in-house team can get started on your link building strategy right away and generally speaking, since they are embedded within the company will either naturally have better understanding of the business and related sectors (important when developing strategy), or can develop that understanding quicker than when outsourced. But this comes with a caveat.
- Cheaper in the long run: While an in-house team may be more expensive upfront, it will eventually become cheaper than outsourcing your link building, once you have everything in full flow. Your goal essentially, is to bring your acquisition cost per link, down to a lower cost than an agency.
- Builds company culture: Hiring an in-house team can help you to build a strong company culture.
- High upfront costs: Hiring an in-house team is a big investment and you’ll need to have the budget to support it. Not only having the right staff in place (i.e. the person doing link building may need the support of a writer, and someone to help with data prospecting), but also the software to run the process.
The salary of an in-house link builder alone, will also create upfront costs.
Average salary of a link builder in the United States according to Glassdoor (as of Jan 2024)
Let’s say you want to instead, employ an entry level marketer, it would still come out to around $40,000. And the reality is, you may end up hiring at somewhere within the 2 ranges.
Not to mention you may need an incentive structure, healthcare plan, sick pay, amongst other costs.
So if you are having to sell this up to higher management, or a board of investors – justifying why you need to hire employees or create a department for a very nuanced marketing activity, becomes difficult.
- Management and training: You’ll need to spend time managing your team and providing training on link building techniques. While there are a plethora of courses out there, there is no course which will teach every tactic and nuance end to end.
- Flexibility on workload: Let’s say you reach a point where you need to quickly ramp up link volume, or you need to cut back the velocity of link building in the future – that’s where having link building in-house becomes tricky. You will have the person or team in-house, and they may not be able to handle the volume of work required. On top of that, if you need to cut back link building spend later, cutting peoples hours or redundancies is not ideal. Once someone is attuned to link building, it may be hard to give them tasks outside of that, or transfer them in another department.
- It gets more difficult as you scale: If you want to grow your in-house team, it will become more difficult to manage them effectively. At scale, a link building operation can be like running an agency, which can be costly and time-consuming.
When you just need to hit the ground running, and especially if you know you’ll need a sizable number of backlinks, outsourced services will seem the best option on paper.
You still need to have a decent budget in place (as the right type of link building won’t be cheap), but at the same time, it does cost less than building a whole team in-house.
- Less expensive: Outsourcing your link building is generally less expensive than hiring an in-house team because you’re mitigating against the high upfront costs, including management, training, resources, and overhead associated with an in-house operation.
- Flexible budget: You can adjust your budget according to the results you need and the services you want. For instance, digital PR may be unlikely to be something you’d want to be running the entire year, month after month – so if you outsource that part, you can run a campaign a set number of times. Link building can also be scaled up, or scaled down, depending on how things progress. Let’s say you reach a point where you need to focus on content, or a large overhaul and redesign of a website – you may want to scale down or stop link building for a bit, until that is sorted. It’s never advised to stop it completely, but at least when it’s outsourced, it’s more possible to do this.
- No management: When you outsource your link building, you don’t have to worry about managing a team, accounting for absence levels, hiring new team members and the day to day running of things.
- Access to experts: When you work with an agency, you’ll have access to a team of link building experts, who are up to date with the latest tactics, or the latest developments in SEO which may affect your overall strategy.
- Less control: When you outsource your link building, you will have less control over the process. This is inevitable though with anything you outsource, which is why you really have to do your due diligence when selecting an agency.
So, In-House or Outsourced?
There’s no easy answer when it comes to deciding whether to hire an in-house team or outsource your link building.
It ultimately comes down to your budget, the results you need and how much control you want to have over the process.
If you’re willing to wait and want to have more control, then an in-house team might be the right choice for you.
But if you’re looking for a more cost-effective solution with faster results, then outsourcing your link building is the way to go.
At TLG, for example, we have a team of link building experts who can help you to create a customized link building strategy that fits your needs and budget.
If you’re interested in learning more about our link building services, contact us today. We’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.
Now that you know the pros and cons of in-house vs. outsourced link building, it’s time to start looking for a link builder.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Look for a link builder with experience in your industry. They’ll be familiar with the types of links that will work best for your website and they’ll know how to get results.
For example, if you’re in the travel industry, you’ll want to find a link builder who has experience working with travel websites. Every industry is different, so make sure you find someone who is familiar with yours.
Or, at least, ensure they have an actual process for adapting to new industries quickly.
If a link building agency only deals with one type of sector and yours is slightly different, they might have a hard time adapting their methods to fit your needs.
So, adaptability is key here.
Some link building agencies, like TLG, have teams of experts with experience in a variety of industries. So no matter what industry you’re in, we can help you to get the results you need.
2. Customized Strategies
Every website is different, so you’ll need a customized link building strategy that fits your needs.
A good link builder will take the time to understand your website and your goals before creating a customized strategy for you.
One of the biggest advantages of working with an agency is that you’ll have a team of experts who can create a customized strategy for your website.
At TLG, we take the time to understand your business and your goals before creating a customized link building strategy for you. We’ll also work with you to make sure the strategy fits your budget.
3. A Results-Driven Process
Link building is an important part of your SEO strategy, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
A good link builder will be focused on getting you results and they’ll use a variety of metrics to measure success.
Some of the things we look at when measuring success include website traffic, organic search traffic, conversion rates and rankings.
We also keep an eye on the competition to make sure you’re getting the results you need.
Link building can be expensive, so you’ll want to find a link builder who can get you results without breaking the bank.
Of course, you’ll get what you pay for, but there’s no need to overspend on link building.
SEO agencies are often not doing the link building themselves, but simply reselling services from actual link building specialists.
Instead of opting for the most expensive agency, look for one that is cost-effective and provides good value for your money.
In other words, work directly with the source.
Find a link building specialist who offers a fair price for their services.
5. White Hat Techniques
There are a lot of shortcut methods for link building, but the best link builders will use white hat techniques that follow Google’s guidelines.
Some black hat methods may get you results in the short term, but they could end up costing you in the long run.
A good link builder will use white hat techniques that are safe and effective, so you can rest assured knowing your website is in good hands.
At TLG, we only use white hat techniques that follow Google’s guidelines. We’re a results-driven agency, so we focus on building high-quality links that will stand the test of time.
6. A Solid Portfolio
When you’re looking for a link builder, be sure to ask for examples of their work.
A good link builder will have a solid portfolio that showcases the results they’ve been able to achieve for their clients.
Unless you’re working with a brand new link building specialist, they should be able to show you examples of the links they’ve built and the positive impact it’s had on their clients’ traffic and search engine rankings.
If they can’t provide you with any examples of their work, that’s a major red flag. Be sure to ask for specific examples and case studies so you can get a better idea of their abilities.
At TLG, for example, we’re proud of the work we’ve done for our clients and we’re happy to share examples of our results with prospective clients. We understand that it’s important for you to be able to see the quality of our work before hiring us.
You can read our case studies here.
In addition to the above factors, there are a few other things you should keep in mind before hiring a link building specialist.
Let’s explore some of the most crucial.
1. The process
First, be sure to ask about their link building process. A good link builder will be able to walk you through their process from start to finish so you know exactly what to expect.
From initial outreach to link placements, they should be able to provide you with a detailed overview of their methods.
Some things you may want to ask about include:
- How they find link opportunities
- How they determine if a website is a good fit
- How they build relationships with bloggers
- What type of content they create (if they create the content)
- How they place links
At TLG, our link building process is highly customized and designed to get you the best results possible.
2. The team
Next, you’ll want to find out who will be working on your account.
In some cases, you may be working with a team of link builders. In others, you may be working with just one or two individuals.
In either case, it’s important to get an idea of who will be working on your account and what their qualifications are.
A good link building team will have a variety of skill sets and experience levels, so they can provide you with the best possible service.
At TLG, for example, the person you’re dealing with is an actual link building expert with real experience in the field, not just an account manager looking to upsell you on services you don’t need.
When you’re looking for a link building service, make sure to ask about the team that will be working on your account.
Of course, you’ll also want to find out how much the link building services will cost.
Be sure to ask about their pricing structure and what’s included in their services.
Some link building specialists may charge a flat rate, while others may charge an hourly rate.
It’s important to get a clear understanding of their pricing so you know what to expect.
For example, at TLG we’re always transparent and upfront about pricing.
We aren’t the cheapest link building service out there, but we’re also not the most expensive.
We believe our prices are fair and reflect the quality of our services.
Since we build all our links in-house, you’re coming straight to the source, which saves you money.
4. Contract terms
Finally, be sure to ask about their contract terms.
A good link building specialist will be upfront about their contract terms and will be happy to answer any questions you have.
Some things you may want to ask about include:
- How long the contract is for
- What’s included in the contract
- What’s not included in the contract
- How much notice you need to give before cancelling the contract
- What happens if you cancel the contract early
At TLG, our contracts are transparent and easy to understand. You won’t have to worry about hidden fees or surprises down the road.
There are a few different ways to approach your need for link building, let’s go through them.
Link Building Agency
An agency may not be the cheapest option, but as we said earlier, will take care of a lot of the headaches which come with keeping everything in-house.
The key thing is to hire the right agency. Naturally, we have to recommend ourselves!
At The Links Guy, we have the kind of process and systems in place, which we know are hard for companies (and even other agencies) to replicate themselves, which is why so many successful firms have hired us over the years.
While our costs start from around $4,000 and up – you’re buying the expertise and knowledge of an agency which has spent many times more than that, in developing the ability to build the right type of links. Even if you can save money by hiring cheaper agencies or freelancers in the short term – you’ll actually make more money in the medium to long term, by engaging with TLG, because of the quality of the work.
Build links yourself
This is unlikely to be practical depending on the size of the business, and kind of scale you need – but many of the clients we worked with, actually started like this (you may even already be doing this). They were building their own relationships, pitching media, or asking people in their network to link to their content, and getting a decent number of links.
I would say, it’s always good to do a bit of link building in-house if possible, to get an idea of how the process works. You’ll get to understand the type of relevant sectors that particularly like your content and the ‘linkable audiences’ that are out there. Once you start doing outreach at a certain volume, you’ll get some insights on whether your content is hitting the right mark or not, and it can help inform decisions about the type of content you need to be making. Or simply that you need to reach out to a different sector.
But as a CMO/marketing manager/content marketer – you only have so much time in the day. So once you’ve gained those insights and have understood the type of link building and standards you’d want someone else to be working to – this makes it easier once you deal with the agency/freelancer/employee you’ll be working with later.
Employ an in-house team
This was mentioned earlier, but building an in-house team would also yield you really high quality links. The main thing to consider is the cost associated with that, and the colossal amount of time spent training and managing the team.
But this will ultimately give you a lot more control over the process, and a constant resource that is continually pushing your content.
Again though, with the link building team being an in-house resource, and the kind of recurring costs involved – the ROI would have to be justified.
Hire a freelance link builder
This sits between hiring an agency, and employing an in-house team. By hiring a freelance link builder (or multiple freelance link builders), you can outsource the work to contractors and can avoid the financial cost of employment, while potentially some of the initial costs associated with an agency’s retainer.
Popular places to find freelancers are Upwork or Fiverr.
These platforms are competitive, so you’ll find individuals and agencies listed, within a pretty wide price range. You’ll often be able to see ratings and feedback left by others as well.
However, reviews may not always give you much insight into what work was actually done and the quality of it.
The best freelancers and agencies on these platforms will also be very high in demand, and you may even find them at the very top end of the pricing. Many will also only work for hourly rates with no guarantees on the number of links.
Lastly, freelancers that take a lot of project work like this, can sometimes be unwilling to, or unable to fit in as part of a larger team. Due either to time constraints, or not being willing to adjust their manner of working. It’s really important to consider this challenge if you need your team, or other team members to communicate with them and collaborate on some items.
Let’s assume you need to hire a link builder within the company – here are the steps you’d need to take.
1) Outline the R & Rs
Before you can start hiring a link builder, or building out your team, you first need to establish what they’ll be doing. So when it comes to link building, you may need to consider the different skills you need them to have, or if you can mix and match these across different people.
- Outreach and inbox management.
- Link prospecting and contact finding.
- Content writing (if doing guest post tactics)
- Digital PR, monitoring reactive PR platforms like HARO/Connectively.
- Knowledge of specific techniques – skyscraper tactic, broken link building, etc.
If you need them to do the entire process end to end, that makes establishing the R & Rs fairly simple, but be sure to explain that you need someone that can cover all, or most of these areas. And where there are shortfalls, you can allocate that to different people.
2) Create a job post
When you create your job post you’ll need to take your points from step 1, and factor these in. But some of the basic requirements you’ll need to look for:
- At least a medium to strong understanding of SEO strategy. Link building strategy will be the most important aspect of that understanding.
- Great communication skills and impeccable English reading and writing skills.
- Can build rapport with people and negotiate well.
- Strong understanding of content strategy and content ideation.
- Good at researching email contacts and using tools for finding valid contact emails.
On top of that, be clear on the minimum deliverables that are required, how many hours of work per week and what quality metrics have to be maintained.
Exactly where you post the job will also determine how successful this part is as well. If you’re posting on Upwork, there may be issues aligning on common shifts, if they take a lot of freelance work. And if you post on a remote job platform like WeWorkRemotely, you’ll get a lot of applicants worldwide, but they may not necessarily have any link building experience.
Note: it’s also good to remember how you want to hire the link builder. As an internal employee, as a contractor, consultant on an hourly basis, or on a short term KPI-focused basis? And if you do want to employ them, are you able to legally employ them, and if they are overseas can you establish a legal entity in that country?
3) Recruitment & assessment/vetting process
Once you start receiving job applications or are going through your own list of potential link builders – you next need to whittle down the numbers and determine who you want to shortlist.
Some of the areas to look for:
- Industry-fit: What previous experience do they have, and is any of it in your industry/niche.
- Case studies and examples: If they can show examples of actual work, and samples of contextual, quality backlinks, even better. A red flag would be just sending a large list of websites of questionable quality – as that means they are just buying links on the same list of sites and continually rinsing it across their projects. They likely won’t be capable of building natural, editorial links.
- Examples of outreach or writing work: An essential, especially if they’ll be writing the email templates (or the entire end to end process.) If they will be writing articles for guest post tactics, then exceptional writing will be required. The articles they have been securing in their previous work, should also be relevant to their projects, and the links they were placing.
- Stability: More applicable if you are bringing the person for a long contract, or as an in-house person, but there needs to be a sense of stability. It wont tell the whole story, but often someone that is a true link building professional and a master in their craft, will stick to it for the long run.
Some of the things to watch out for:
- Unrealistically fast turnarounds: Being able to immediately place links, usually means purchasing links on sites which have a lack of editorial process, and not doing any manual outreach. As well as that, there should be time spend doing link strategy and understanding what will be niche relevant, before you even get to the prospecting and outreach stage.
- Lack of transparency: Regardless of who you are hiring, there’s no reason for there not to be any transparency. Not being able to see any examples case studies any prospecting lists, and having no visibility of who will be reached out to,
- Unrealistic costs: Extremely low costs, usually indicate you will be receiving link farms.
- Traffic and ranking guarantees: It is almost impossible to predict exactly what will happen when SEO or link building work is done. While you can estimate and project – anyone who is too adamant on securing results, may be using black hat techniques like PBNs.
- Moving between companies: This ties in with stability – if a candidate (be it in-house or a freelancer) seems to switch between industries a lot, has not been a link builder for a sizable amount of time and seems to switch between disciplines – can be a red flag. Link building is something you can only get better at with experience, and an inexperienced candidate or someone that’s a little rusty on industry changes, or latest trends, may not be the right fit if you want to be successful with your link building from the get go.
You should also have some sort of assessment during either your recruitment process, or as a test period before you officially induct them into the team. This can for instance be in areas like
- Asking them to write some outreach email pitches or templates.
- Giving them a list of website URLs and asking them to check them for quality, SEO metric criteria and categorizing them according to the niche or article topics.
- Asking them to find the most appropriate contact people and contact emails, associated with a list of URLs.
4) Interview & due diligence
Conducting a video interview and some kind of face to face call, is a very crucial part of the process and in my opinion should never be skipped – regardless of whether bringing in an employee, contractor or agency.
It can help you gain more insights into their work and progress, and ask deeper questions depending on what they share. The answers candidates give here (and how they answer them) will speak volumes. Too much vagueness, or just being unwilling to share many details can indicate inexperience, or may just be a sign that they are only going to provide bad quality link building.
So some questions you can ask:
- Talk me through your link building process and how it works.
- How do you qualify link prospects and determine them as being ‘good quality’
- How do you ensure your link building campaigns will produce relevant links?
- Tell me a time when you did not achieve x result with link building or when you failed to achieve the target/deadline.
5) Monitoring results & KPIs
Once you have someone in mind and have onboarded them, you need to ensure this actually turns into tangible results and they can work consistently. This is the mark of a real link builder vs someone who can just talk good game.
So you may want to start with a test period, of anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks. For an experienced candidate, they should be able to hit the ground running. The initial signs of a good link builder you’ll want to see:
- They need to be able to prospect targets that are actually relevant and aligned with the link strategy you have in place. For example, if you are a real estate agent, and you want links on landlord blogs, then they should be able to accurately collect a batch of exactly that type of website.
- They shouldn’t be collecting link farms as part of their process, and should be able to distinguish them easily from legitimate sites.
- Outreach email templates should be very well written, with proper angle and structure and targeted at the batch.
- Once they start getting replies they need to be able to act decisively and negotiate the email conversation to a won link.
- Within a 2-3 week period, they need to be able to secure a link, or at least be securing enough of a volume of leads, that it will result in links very soon. Inability to generate anything in terms of results within their first month will usually mean there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the process, or serious quality issues within some parts of the process.
When it comes to link building, it’s important to choose a specialist that you can trust.
By keeping the above factors in mind, you can be sure that you’re making the best decision for your business.
If you’re looking for a link building specialist, we invite you to contact us.
TLG is a full-service link building agency that has a proven track record of helping businesses grow. We offer a variety of services to help you get the most out of your link building campaign.
We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have and provide you with a free consultation.