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Scaling Link Building w/ James Gregory – Digital Gods Ep. #2

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I recently did an interview with my friend Charles Floate on the Gods of SEO podcast.

We had a really interesting conversation on all things link building and what is working for me at the moment.

I got a lot of great feedback following that interview so decided to capture some of those thoughts in this blog post.

I’ve taken some of the key topics from the interview and added some other details to try and make it as useful as possible.

Under each heading, I’ve added a link to the exact spot in the interview where the relevant topic was discussed in case you want to hear the conversation in more detail.

Dominating 45,323 Nationwide Key Phrases For Rapid-scale Client Acquisition

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One of our biggest clients, James Dooley and Kasra Dash, owns 500 local lead generation websites; we thought, instead of having all these websites feeding organic SEO leads, why not just have one mega website that ranks for anything?

So it was like, it just made sense, you know, instead of building all these little micro niche sites and maintaining hosting across each one, build that one site rank through everything.

Being in private WhatsApp and telegram groups of hundreds of other SEOs building links and content at scale gives us years of proven data and industries to go after and a complete eagle-eye view of what markets to go in and link types to use.

Finding Hundreds Of Proven Lead Gen Phrases By Extracting Ranking Phrases From B2B Rating Websites

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By going in ahrefs and looking up a website like Capterra or Bark.com and extracting all their organic live ranking phrases, you can sort by highest CPC and find new niches and pages to go after. Across 5 of those, we’ve got our following 500 pages.

The reason why all of these people are winning is that they move so fast. Like, I don’t think SEOs realise speed is critical. They can throw up an affiliate site in a day with 50 referring domains and 10,000 words from day one.

Earning Potential, Monetisation Models & How Exactly It’s Feeding Me Hundreds Of Clients & Leads

The State of Link Building in 2022

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It has been interesting to watch the link-building industry evolve over the last 10 years. In some ways, we have seen a return to some old link types that we used years ago.

It’s a bit like the fashion industry where the trends from a decade ago are starting to make a resurgence, but the staples are still there.

A lot of the older link types we used (GSA, SAPE) are not being used for obvious reasons 🙄

Firstly they are really hard to do at scale, and they just aren’t as safe as they used to be. By using those link types in a big way you are actually putting your site at risk of penalty.

Given most of my projects nowadays are strictly white hat, I just don’t bother with these link types anymore.

The link-building industry as a whole has been swamped with companies selling backlinks but they haven’t actually ranked websites in their own right, and aren’t actively trying to rank websites with the links that they sell.

As the importance of links has become widely understood throughout the SEO industry, it’s really propelled this new ‘link building’ industry, and a lot of people are attracted to the business, who aren’t actually as concerned about providing a high-quality link-building service.

This is sad because the new link-building agencies have missed the point that you are actually supposed to rank websites and test links yourself before you try and sell those links to other people.

These companies have become more focused on link quantity, and the DA of referring domains, than link quality and they are missing the point.

There is nothing wrong with DA, and it can be a really useful filter when looking at linking opportunities, but it should never be the driving factor of potential link placement.

These new agencies are doing weak outreach, with no personalization, and just placing links on link farms or private blog networks that usually do more harm than good and don’t send any trust signals to Google on the site getting the links.

The people buying links from some of these agencies are having to navigate some really murky waters, making it really hard to find a good link-building partner.

If you don’t have a strong outreach team internally, you need to find vetted partners, people that you can trust that are going to do proper outreach, and not just rely on websites that have ‘write for us’ pages.

A lot of the websites these agencies are placing links on are just dropped domains that have been rebuilt and populated with AI content with the sole purpose of selling links.

People need to be analyzing what actually makes a good link type and what the impact of that link will be It’s very easy when you can actually look at the websites themselves and actually see the content.

When you do, you can see quickly whether they are actually talking about real industry issues or whether they are filled with generic Jasper AI-generated blog posts.

With the rise of these AI content tools, you can literally generate readable content, run it through Grammarly, and to the untrained eye, it looks ok. But these links are not going to work.

If you actually look at the links going into these websites you’ll find they’ve been artificially inflated using homepage PBN links, or high DR do-follow blog comments.

Link builders need to be actually looking at what type of content there is on these referring domains, as opposed to what type of traffic they are getting and seeing if the industry is relevant.

How To Vett A Link Building Agency

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Making Sure Links Are Safe and Effective

Before blindly putting in an order for a batch of links and just hoping they work, it’s important to do some homework on the agency you are thinking of buying links from.

If I was vetting a link-building agency, the first thing I would do would be to have a conversation with the founders and ask them what personal websites they have ranked.

This helps determine whether they actually know how to rank a site, and you can then see what links they have used to do that, and how they have used them.

When you are paying good money for links then you want to make sure that the links you are buying will “move the needle”.

If the founders of the link-building agency you are talking to can demonstrate sites with links that have been effective, you can ask to utilize those same links.

There are so many cowboys out there selling links that are going to have a negative effect on your website. So to save the guesswork, I always recommend people to find trusted link-building partners that are actually ranking their own websites, not just selling links.

In our agency, before we add a new website to our link-building database we make sure they are thoroughly tested for toxicity. Before we ever sell a link to a client we’ll build the links to our own websites first and then wait up to six months to see what the result is.

Firstly, we want to make sure there is no downside from the link (link toxicity etc), and secondly, we want to make sure there is a benefit.

By going to this extra trouble, we can be certain that all links we build are safe and are going to have the desired impact.

Be Wary of Agencies That Share Client Sites

If you ask for proof of links and the agency shares some of their client sites with you, treat this as a major red flag regarding the agency.

Firstly, it’s a massive violation of privacy and could expose that client to significant commercial risk.

Secondly, agencies that are sharing client sites instead of their own sites, are just proving that they don’t actually have the experience ‘in the trenches. This is not an agency you want to trust with your link-building budget.

Lastly, if there’s an agency that is reaching out to multiple sites in the same niche, showing the results and links they got for another client – it just shows they are primarily motivated by sales and orders, and not as focused on customer success.

A Good Link Building Agency Is Focused on Results

In our agency, it is not uncommon for us to keep our clients for three or even four years. This is because our clients know that when they invest money with us, they get results.

They know that if they give us $50,000 for links, the net result for them is going to be 10x that in compounded revenue. When we get good results for a client, we know they are going to come back for more, so it is in our best interest to ensure that our link placements move the needle for our clients.

Whereas, other agencies with poor performance have a high churn rate and become increasingly focused on selling new link-building packages to new clients, and are not as obsessed with client results as they should be.

I have heard so many horror stories of the negative impact of bad link-building campaigns, so make sure your link-building agency knows how to rank sites in their own right before you pay them to send links to your sites.

The Best Backlink Types To Focus On In 2022

Timestamp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNVptB4oxIQ&t=738s

Forum Posting Vs Blog Commenting

In a lot of online SEO communities, there has been a resurgence of discussion around forum posting, as a backlinking strategy.

It seems like the internet as a whole, has become a lot more of a social place, perhaps since COVID, so a lot of industry-related communities are thriving more than they ever have.

Though forum posting as a link-building strategy will always be around, I’m not seeing any evidence that it will have any long-lasting impact because the forums threads just get buried in time.

I would prefer a blog comment on a highly relevant industry blog post over a forum post, any day of the week.

Even though blog comments are typically no-follow links, you can use the comment to actually start a conversation and establish a narrative with an accompanying hyperlink that will funnel people back to your site.

People think that Google is the only place that humans move around the internet. But if you go out there and litter hyperlinks within the context of high IQ blog comments, you’re gonna get a lot of referral traffic. And it is going to be good quality traffic.

So I do think blog commenting link types are good, but only from the point of view of the referral traffic and lowering the bounce rate, showing Google some real-world signals going to your website.

I wouldn’t rely on or expect blog commenting to increase DR or increase page though. But there are definitely some benefits to it.

My Multifaceted Link Building Approach

My current link-building approach could be described as a multifaceted approach of press and editorial links, niche edits at scale, hyper-relevant guest posts, private blog network links, and local citations.

I recommend doing local citations across every website regardless of whether the site is for affiliate marketing or a local business. You want every single website to be a mini-business of its own, with a physical presence.

Avoiding Web 2.0 and Pillow Links

I’m staying well away from Web 2.0 or pillow link building. Instead, I’m going out there and I’m working directly with websites and offering real-world value propositions.

I’ll say “I’ll give you a small editorial free to produce a great piece of content that is going to align with both of our audiences and is going to give value”.

I’ll see if there is traffic potential and if there is I’ll offer $60-$80 as an editorial fee for them to compose a really lovely piece of content and post it with relevant reference to our site.

For me, these links have the best chance of actually moving the needle compared to the easy links to get.

I think there’s a general rule of thumb that the harder the link is to get (or the more dollars it costs) the better the link will be.

If the link is easy to get and easily replicable, the lower the chance that it is actually going to move the needle. It could even do more harm than good.

Press Releases

I’ve tested out things like press releases recently. In a way, they can be a little bit naf, but to prospective clients and people not in the SEO world, it’s great social proof.

They are great to share on social media and I love the fact that you can pay and it can be placed.

The great thing about Press Releases is that the content type doesn’t really matter.

The provider will proofread it, format it and ensure it is going to be placed.

Press releases can be really effective at elevating your perceived value really in a crowded marketplace.

Anchor Text Best Practices

My default recommendation for anchor text on press releases is just to use branded (e.g. ‘Agency Backlinks’) and/or naked (e.g. https://agencybacklinks.com) anchors.

These links alongside local citations are my main go-to links when I am looking to get a velocity spike.

With these links, we can safely add multiple hundred new links to a site in a day, or over a few days, without fear of penalty. These links really boost the number of referring domains, and link velocity and diversify the overall link profile.

When placing niche edits, guest posts, press links, and private blog network links, if we have the foundation of branded and naked anchors from press releases, we can be a bit more aggressive with our anchors.

If there is a healthy link profile, I use slightly more partial, and search query anchor text.

Getting HARO Links

It would be remiss of me not to mention HARO (Help a Reporter Out). I know HARO is really popular, as are Twitter hashtags like #jouranlistrequests, but I personally recommend a tool called HeadcomAI.

HeadcomAI makes it much simpler to receive, vett, and respond to HARO requests using its range of AI templates to respond quickly and easily to a high number of relevant inquiries.

We have had huge success with it. The templates have a high response rate, and HeadcomAI improves the templates constantly based on the ongoing results of users.

So if you want to save time and money on hiring an actual PR expert who can compose pieces directly for the publications, you can just use HeadcomAI to find industry-related mentions at scale and improve your chances of placement dramatically.

Getting SEO Clients in 2022

Timestamp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNVptB4oxIQ&t=1154s

I get asked this a lot.

A lot of SEO people aren’t naturally salespeople, but without clients, they won’t be able to support themselves and their families, so it is a really important topic.

At a high level, the key to getting more clients than you can handle is to go out and provide significant value, without expecting anything in return.

The fact you aren’t trying to ‘sell’ anything to anyone, and are just solving problems, and improving people’s lives will naturally attract people to you.

The good thing about this is, that when the clients are attracted to you (rather than you trying to engage them as a ‘cold’ prospect), it totally changes the conversation you have when you do start talking about working together.

It is no longer about you trying to convince a stranger that you have something that would be valuable to them, and then trying to get them to pay you for it.

But it becomes a conversation between two people, with an understanding of each other’s value, having a discussion about appropriate terms for that value exchange.

Social Media

In terms of demonstrating your value upfront, the best way to do this is in industry-related groups on social media.

I’ve personally had huge success founding my own SEO Facebook group (The Proper SEO Facebook Group), which launched my freelance career.

By finding similar groups on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn you can easily share videos, case studies, and information about things you have done, sites you have ranked, and technical problems you overcame these platforms allow you to reach thousands of people really easily.

Once you have built momentum and made a name for yourself, a single Facebook post or tweet can generate 20 leads overnight, from people who want to work with you.

Doing a few jobs at no cost is also a great way to develop a portfolio of case studies you can talk about, and with some promising case studies under your belt, you have legitimate proof you can share with prospects demonstrating the value you can provide.

When you have a portfolio of demonstrated success stories, the perceived risk for the potential client decreases dramatically.

This is also beneficial as you are then working with people who already ‘get it’ regarding SEO and you don’t have to educate them about the benefits and ROI of the investment they are considering.

Ranking Your Own Sites

There is no better way to demonstrate your SEO skill than by ranking your own website.

If you decide you want to niche down and provide SEO for ‘tree services’ businesses, then create your own tree service business site, and do the work to rank it.

You can then contact tree services companies, show them your website, tell them how easy it was to rank the site and see if they would like you to do the same for them.

PPC Hacking

Something else you can try to get your first few leads is to utilize Google promotions for the AdWords platform.

When you create a new Google Business Profile, they often present you with an offer of some bonus credits for their ads platform. Depending on which country you are in, the offer varies. But it can be anything from $400 free advertising if you match it with $400, or a certain amount of free credits upfront.

You could accept an offer like this, buy a domain, set up a PPC landing page with a compelling offer, and use that promotional bonus to get your first 100 – 200 inquiries which could lead to your first few paying clients.

If you can convert 1% of those inquiries into a recurring SEO package, you are up and running as an SEO consultant!

Even if you don’t get any clients from the PPC campaign you will learn a lot about whether you had a compelling offer, and where your skills are at in terms of selling and client acquisition.

It is a win-win, regardless of how many clients you get out of it.

Building High-Quality Backlinks At Scale

Timestamp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNVptB4oxIQ&t=1529s

When it comes to building a large number of backlinks, while preserving link quality and the effect they have on traffic and business, there is no secret sauce.
It is a very difficult thing to do.

Whether you hire one (like Searcharoo), or build one, having a large team is a must if you are wanting to build effective backlinks at scale.

You need a team full of SEOs and affiliate marketers whose sole job is just to test stuff and monitor the ongoing quality of a huge link database over an extended period of time.

You can’t just decide to start a massive link-building agency because to do it well takes a significant amount of time. You can’t rush the months it takes to test and measure the impact of placed links in terms of potential toxicity and the extent to which they moved the needle.

If you just buy a link database from another agency you can’t really know the quality of those links unless you have done the hard work to test them yourself.

And the reality is, if someone was willing to send you their list, there is a good chance it is either low quality or has been sold to multiple others and therefore a lot of the links will have been overused and diminished in their effectiveness.

It is very hard to scale a link-building agency without a lot of resources, a lot of people, and a lot of time. There are so many nuances to connecting with sites, building relationships, and getting links out of those relationships.

There needs to be a certain finesse and authenticity that is only really learned through years of actually being in the trenches and building these links.

Backlink Outreach Tips

The key to successful outreach is personalization and authenticity. While there are no shortcuts to genuine outreach, there are things you can do to scale outreach while maintaining that personal touch.

Include Recipient Name

Even though the body of your outreach email may be quite similar from campaign to campaign, it is still vital to find a specific person to send the email to, and include their name in the greeting.

You need to respect the individual’s inbox and understand that any decent site owner is likely to be getting dozens of outreach emails every single day.

As a result, you need to stand out from the crowd, and you can do that by at least finding the contact’s name and including their name at the top of the email.

Personalized First Line

In addition to using someone’s first name, opening the email with a sentence that indicates you have done your research and learned a bit about them and their business, will further set you apart from everyone else that spams them every day.

It can be as easy as looking at their LinkedIn profile and seeing an award they won, a recent promotion they had, or something special about their company.

Personalized first lines have the potential to dramatically increase the open rates of your emails and the nature of responses you get.

Sent From iPhone

By default emails sent from iPhone includes a footer that says ‘Sent from iPhone’. This gives the receiver the impression that the email has been sent directly to them, and typed just for them.

If you are starting to increase the volume of your email outreach, adjusting your email template to include ‘Sent from iPhone’ as a plain text footer, can assist in the response rate as well.

In most cases, you are far better off getting connected with a trusted link-building partner.

Getting Started in SEO

Timestamp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNVptB4oxIQ&t=2475s

We often think of a house being an asset and while that is true, people need to think of a website domain as an asset too.

A domain is a potential mini-business in its own right and an amazing opportunity for someone who is just getting started.

If you are brand new to SEO and reading this now, there is nothing stopping you from registering a domain, installing WordPress, and adding some content.

From there, if the SEO competition is low on that topic Google will start sending users to your website, without you even building links.

If you are an expert on the topic, that is all you need to get started and start getting clients.

There is a time and place for reading a lot of SEO blog posts and doing SEO courses, but you will learn so much more once you start implementing what you have learned and trying to rank your first site.

What’s more, once you have tried to rank, and you then go back to reading articles and going through courses, you will get so much more out of those educational experiences, because of the work you have already put in.

There is a real danger in spending too much time in the ‘learning’ phase and delaying the implementation phase. Whereas the implementation phase is where you do most of the learning.

At the end of the day, I just want to encourage you to register a domain, understand how life-changing a simple website can be, and start trying to rank it. You can truly change your life and your family’s life with a simple online business.

OPTIONAL: Who is James?

Yeah. So firstly, thank you for obviously inviting me to, uh, talk. I think it was actually a Twitter Feed, where I was tagged as well. So thank you to that guy for offending me, um, to be on. Um, and basically I’m just a 28 year old performance, you know, white, gray hat, SEO. Um, you know, I’d probably class myself more as a, a business consultant these days and I’ve basically been doing SEO since 2012. Um, and you know, just a little bit of how I got into SEO was basically, uh, my parents own childcare nurseries, and they really wanted to obviously rank these on Google maps. And then after a little bit of Googling online, I’d obviously discovered the God of SEO blog. Um, and that’s kind of how we got introduced and stuff. And then, you know, I managed to get them ranking. And then from then on, I was kind of hooked really, and I’ve always been tinkering with websites and stuff.

Um, so it was good to actually just kind of find someone who’s already, you know, doing it well. And obviously you were absolutely flying with the spam stuff, GSA, PBNs, all that good stuff back in the day. So, um, you know, it was a very exciting time to get into it all. Um, and then we obviously started the proper SEO group. Um, and then instantly after that I was able to quit my job. I was able to directly replace my income after only being in the SEO industry for like seven months, you know, and I’d quit, quit that job. And the agency had read that I worked for, you know, all their SOPs, all their procedures. I’d pretty much just completely revamped, little, um, you know, with the stuff that I learned from your blog and people like, you know, bling co and, you know, even the Neil Patels and stuff back in the day.

And yeah, and basically, um, I’m just looking to get back into the SEO game in terms of, um, you know, being in the groups, being in the communities. Um, but yeah, so I basically got a knack for building these websites, building links at scale. And then I just thought to myself, why not build a white label, you know, link building agency honing those skills. And then, um, I was obviously known for, you know, niche shed, its guest post that type of stuff over four, you know, four or five years. And then it got to the point over 2020, obviously with the whole, uh, pandemic. Um, if, uh, yeah, well during that time, um, everybody was wanting to scale, um, in terms of the more competitive industries, um, for, in hopes, obviously that once it’s all over that there’s gonna be a huge influx. So industries like gambling and stuff, I literally couldn’t keep up, you know, in terms of link building.

Um, and then after, uh, agency bat links was then, um, a primary focus. Um, I kind of realized that I don’t really want to manage a huge team of staff link builders and stuff at scale. And I’m pretty much in the process of, uh, flipping that and integrating with, uh, a performance white label solution called search. Um, and you know, prior to doing that, I was obviously building a lot of these links myself. Um, and these days I just spend my days working on my own projects and clients, you know, global fashion brands, traditional PR agencies. Um, yeah, so my day-to-day really is things like PR link building, you know, niche sheds at scale, building my own websites, working on my own projects. I’ve got local projects, um, and you know, further along, the line, I’ll kind of get into my client acquisition models and stuff. I know we’ve got a lot to cover. Um, you did give me a few brief questions, um, to go over, but yeah, that’s just a little bit more about me, I guess, for the guys that, um, I’m familiar.

In Conclusion: Index Age, Luck And Authority In SEO

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We are still focusing on acquiring links from brand new guest post pages. Still, we have raised significant weight on ensuring we build more backlinks from pre-existing content within niche editorial pages.

Regarding niche edits, for example, some pages have had years of index and Google. Niche edits have worked so well for so many years because Google knows that page has been indexed for years, and even better, it’s an actively used industry resource that trickles in traffic.

So imagine getting placed on an informational or resource page that’s been indexed since 2005.

It’s almost as if that index age, authority, creation date, and years of Google sending traffic to that page are passed on to your website.

So for us, in our national-takeover project, the 4,000-pound domain already had index age and topical authority around many of these industries and subjects in which we are now the authority. So that, you know, provides people more context into how we’ve achieved it so fast by being glutenous and exploiting these trust factors for maximum ranking potential and organic traffic.

We built the website on the perfect domain we’ve acquired because it’s just so brandable, but we also repurposed a business that almost was a perfect match, you know? So yeah. So hopefully, that gives people a bit more context into how we’ve ranked the national takeover website so quickly.

Building the website on the perfect foundation allowed us to trigger such exponential growth from this website. That’s how real repeatable success is found in SEO, you hit the jacket on a domain, a specific link type or a piece of viral link-worthy content, and you rinse and repeat at every facet for maximum benefit. That’s you really get lucky in SEO.

James Gregory

James Gregory

James is passionate about unlocking the full potential in his team and helping his clients scale their businesses.