Why Link Building Is A Lot Like Golf

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In the United States, Memorial Day signals the unofficial beginning of summer. Those lucky enough to live in warm climates can enjoy outdoor leisure activities year round. But in Nashville, Tenn., where Raven is located, summer provides a narrow window of opportunity to get out and hit the links.

This got me to thinking how link building is a lot like golf. Although I’m not a golfer, I respect the mental agility and physical dexterity required to master the game. Pro link builders are a select group, just like pro golfers who’ve made it into the “green jacket” club, having won the Masters.

Link-building also demands physical stamina. Yes, physical stamina. Why? Because link building is tedious, tiresome and time consuming.

That’s the real reason there are so few master link builders. Link-building tools help, but you still have to do the thinking.

To be successful on pro golf’s PGA Tour requires dedication, skill and the ability to calibrate your shots to the specific hole or golf course.

To be an expert link builder requires similar determination, skill and calibration. Just ask Eric Ward, arguably the most experienced, professional link builder around.

But with link building, what exactly are you calibrating? That depends on the type of website for which you are building links. This is where the nuances of link building become apparent.

What Link Building Calibration Means

If you are a link builder for a number of websites, then you need to know how to build links in different measure or ratios. Large sites exist with thousands of incoming links and newer smaller sites launch with less than 10 incoming links.

When it comes to search engines, particularly Google, effective link building is all about percentages. You need to calibrate your link building activity to the size of the website.

Larger older sites drive more traffic, so logic dictates that incoming links will grow exponentially. If you’re building links to augment your rankings, then you can invest in more aggressive link acquisition (both paid and requested) because new links will still represent a small percentage of your total inbound link profile.

A website with 10,000 incoming links will not trip a quality filter if it acquires 100 new links per month. A website with 100 incoming links will likely be flagged if it were to see as many new links in the same time period — that percentage is just not logical for a natural linking profile. I like to think of this as link velocity.

Here’s a snapshot from Raven’s Research Central. This shows a natural link profile over time. When the site was new (2009), it attracted ~100 links/month. As the site’s visibility increased, so did incoming links, averaging 500 links/month with a spike during March 2013 likely due to some promotional push or a piece of content that garnered a lot of attention.

Link Building Histroy


Link acquisition types, quality of link partners and neighborhoods all send value signals to search engines as well. Here’s a look at some of those factors in Research Central based on this website’s back link profile. What signals is this website sending?

Link Building Neighborhood Research

Why To Invest in Small-Scale Link Building

When I hear of SEO companies charging $5,000 a month for link building, I wonder if the size of the website warrants that kind of effort. At those rates, a link builder should be spending 30-40 hours a month creating and implementing a promotional content and social media strategy that will garner anywhere from 100-1000 links per month.

A smaller site, however, cannot sustain this type of activity without triggering flags. That’s good news for the small business owner. You don’t need to pay for services you won’t need just yet.

Little Girl Doing Link Building

That being said, a small website needs to dedicate resources consistently over time to reach the point where it can begin to compete for more competitive and higher converting keyword phrases.

Small business owners

You should be spending at least 1-2 hours per week in link acquisition for a minimum of six months. When you start seeing results in more keyword search referrals and/or rankings, then you should ramp up your efforts.

The biggest mistake I see with small websites isn’t small budgets; it’s that they don’t have the internal strength to invest in an ongoing link building campaign and sustain it over the long term. Instead, you should think about who they already have a relationship with, such as your local Chamber of Commerce, distributors or customers. Better yet, link out freely to websites that make sense for your business.

At some point, you may want to hire an outside agency to handle more large-scale work.

Agencies with small to midsize clients

This would be the time to offer link-building packages that:

  1. Consider the appropriate scale for the age of the website
  2. Demonstrate value over time

Investing in link building tools and reports like Raven’s is a smart move, too. You’ll be able to send those clients a report that shows the results of your link-building efforts, just like the Research Central one above.

Patience Is Important

Like golf, improving upon your link-building efforts happens in increments. Few of us make a hole in one the first time out.

Eventually, with the proper calibration of your techniques — like adjusting your golf swing — and experience working with different types of websites — like getting to know different golf courses — you can become a link building pro.

Bottom line: professional link building is hard.

Photo Credits: Top: iStockphoto. Bottom: Fairy Heart ♥ via Compfight cc

  • designwebidentity

    It’s a hard slog when you start out and there’s a budget – but I guess that’s when you simply have to work hard, offer quality and give up a lot of hours.

    I’m always worried about approaching pros though, I have this fear Google will catch on and give me the slap, but that’s where reputation comes into play.

    But a small link building campaign is a top idea, I never considered checkign for smaller packages. I could build them myself but I’d much rather be playing Golf! lol – I don’t exactly play often

    • If you think of links as a two-way communication, then you won’t have to worry about Google. In fact, I think it’s when online marketers think about Google that they stop being marketers. When offering a link-building package, ask yourself what’s the value, in terms of traffic, that any given link would offer. Odds are, if the link’s sending traffic, it’s also going to improve your search rankings.

  • danielditzhazy.com/la-seo

    I think that it’s worth noting that on-page linking is worth the time investment. Adding content to the site in terms of more pages and using those as authority links to the pages you want to rank is similar in the eyes of Google.