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Scaling Manual Link Building

Scaling Manual Link Building

Last month on Search Engine Land, I talked about how manual link building isn’t going away in 2016, despite some predictions otherwise.

In my post, I explained how links, a strong signal within search, also provide further marketing value by:

  • Establishing online connections.
  • Tapping into new audiences.
  • Creating more inroads to your site.
  • Building brand equity.

When you miss out on links, you miss out on marketing.

Of course, you’re not missing out on anything if you aren’t actually linkworthy. Link building is going to be a waste of time if you haven’t properly invested in your site by creating linkable assets that are relevant and valuable to your audience. Link building is part of a larger marketing cycle, and it comes last in the process.

But what if you’re a massive brand, and you need a large-scale link campaign? Assuming your site is worthy of links and promotion, how do you scale something as “manual” as manual link acquisition?

By scaling human effort.

Manual Link Building In Online Marketing

For the past couple of years, many in the SEO realm have believed that manual link promotion wasn’t entirely necessary, believing instead that sites could naturally attract links to quality content through social promotion and sharing.

However, BuzzSumo and Moz released a study that showed even high-quality, widely shared content rarely gets linked.

In fact, I recently had the privilege to speak to Moz founder Rand Fishkin about this very subject, and here are his thoughts:

I think the real key for us was understanding that it is not impossible, but very, very rare for websites and brands to be seeing links come in exclusively through social broadcasting. It works for Moz, and it works for a few other brands that we know.

But outside of those, it really is still a process of doing intentional, deliberate things to earn links, to make people who run websites aware of whatever you’re creating, and to get them pointed to your site in the ways that you need.

Link earning is still what I call it, because I think it no longer is this manipulation to get a link. But instead we’re going to do something remarkable, but that will not just include remarkable content and broadcast — it will also include outreach.

As Fishkin points out, you absolutely need to create remarkable content and broadcast it via social — but for most brands, it still takes strategic, intentional effort to acquire links after you’ve done something linkworthy.

Links, An Online Marketing KPI

The SEO industry is gaining more legitimacy in marketing.

Large brands are recognizing the power of organic search as a channel and shifting more marketing dollars to SEO and link development. Search is by far the dominant traffic driver online, and enterprise companies must account for organic search traffic within their marketing. And strategic SEO includes links.

Of course, Fortune 500 companies don’t need link building for their home pages; these are well-established sites, and their brand names are powerful enough to attract links. The areas where enterprise-level websites lack links are with new marketing initiatives, new products or services, deep linking to underserved assets, and so on.

Major brands are realizing they can’t ignore links if they want to be successful in search. Enterprise businesses are already investing marketing spend in creating something remarkable, and they are often hitting the social broadcasting portion, as well; but for the most part, they’re forgetting about the outreach, and they’re missing links.

Even when these enterprise businesses recognize links as an important KPI, they still face a major challenge in the form of scalability.

Large brands and websites must scale human effort to acquire links at a level that will make a difference in ultra-competitive spaces.

Scaling Human Effort Through Teams

Scaling manual link building means scaling human effort. The only way to scale human effort is by investing in more human hours and growing skilled teams.

It’s difficult to scale manual link building because it requires human effort. As a wise man once said, “Link building is sweat plus creativity.” You can’t automate sweat and creativity.

At its core, link building is one person reaching out to another person and explaining why it would be valuable for them to link from their site. This genuine human interaction cannot be automated or replaced by robots.

To scale manual link building, you need more intelligent humans in the seats, doing the hard work. Furthermore, you need highly trained link builders who are skilled at:

  1. Finding and securing link opportunities.
  2. Prospecting to find relevant and authoritative sites.
  3. Building relationships through digital communication.
  4. Researching and understanding a diverse online community.
  5. Representing a company/asset with a link-first mindset.
  6. Doing technical SEO to discover any SEO issues.

To get real, worthwhile links you need:

  • Creativity.
  • Ingenuity.
  • Human interaction.
  • Strategic thinking.

These attributes don’t scale without more people, and the best way to add more people is through growing trained link-building teams. How do teams make scaling a link campaign more efficient? Let me explain.

A team model makes it much easier to scale a link project. You can start with a smaller team, and as momentum builds, you can begin to scale and grow the team without much disruption to the overall project.

The research and early execution phase of any marketing campaign is the slowest — unless you’re lucky enough to hit virality. Link campaigns are no different; you’ll need to constantly assess what’s working, what could be improved and where you’re missing the mark. Once you’ve established a formula for success, then you’re ready to scale your team and efforts.

An individual SEO is not going to produce the same level of output as a team of link builders. It’s simply impossible to scale up a link-building project with only one person; there is only so much they can do alone.

Growing link acquisition teams presents an efficient avenue for large brands to scale their link campaigns, and team link building offers numerous other benefits.

Benefits Of Team Link Building

Link acquisition in teams offers many distinct advantages.

These benefits include:

  • Increased collaboration.
  • Improved creativity.
  • Ongoing transparency.
  • Shared workloads.
  • More diverse skillsets.
  • Continual learning.

One major benefit of building links in teams is increased collaboration.

The team dynamic fosters the creativity and innovation needed to sustain a long-term link campaign. Working together exposes team members to multiple perspectives and ways of thinking. By interacting with teammates, a link builder might discover a completely new angle or avenue for a link that they would have otherwise not thought about. Collaboration also breeds healthy competition among team members, leading them to push one another to be as efficient as possible.

Working in teams also allows link builders to share the burden and workload of a large-scale link campaign.

Link acquisition can often be a monotonous and difficult task, especially when done at the enterprise level. Fortune 500 companies work in competitive spaces that require greater numbers of links, and one person could quickly become burned out while trying to sustain a massive link project.

Team-based link acquisition also allows you to take advantage of multiple skillsets within a given project.

For example, some team members might excel at outreach, while others are very skilled at link prospecting. By having both of these people on a team, the project as a whole benefits from their varying skillsets.

A team environment also encourages continual learning.

Through shared knowledge and experiences, the team as a whole becomes stronger. Teammates can share best practices and tools with each other that maximize the efficiency of the project. Because the SEO industry is so volatile, it’s important to stay at the forefront of link-building best practices, and continual team learning can ensure this happens.

Team link building scales, and it offers a number of advantages over individual link building.


Manual link building is the only way to get all the links you deserve, and the types of real links Google wants to count. However, manual link building is difficult to scale because it requires dedicated human link builders. The key to scaling manual link acquisition lies within building teams.

The short version?

  • Manual link building is important within online marketing.
    • Build online connections.
    • Discover new audiences.
    • Create more pathways to your site.
    • Increase brand equity online.
  • Scaling manual link building means scaling human effort.
    • Creativity.
    • Ingenuity.
    • Human interaction.
    • Relevance.
    • Strategic thinking.
  • Team-based link acquisition offers many benefits.
    • Increased collaboration.
    • Shared burden and workload.
    • Multiple skillsets.
    • Continual learning.