Link Building Interview: Wiep Knol

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This week the ever elusive Link Building Interview returns with Wiep Knol, link builder extraordinaire. Find out more about Wiep below and visit his blog at

Give us a little background as you’re not well known outside of SEO circles

I was studying Marketing Management in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, when I learned about online marketing during an internship. I ended up at a company with hundreds and hundreds of the most crappy and spammy websites I had ever seen, which I -obviously- had to promote. This helped me learn a lot about how *not* to build a website, and how *not* to promote websites. Nothing is a better teacher than trial and error.
During my study, I kept working for the company where I had my internship, but after I graduated, I thought it was time for a “real” online marketing job. I was hired by Tribal Internet Marketing, where my task was to set-up their link marketing service. This obviously was a great opportunity, but after four awesome years at Tribal, I felt it was time for a new challenge. During the past few months, I started with a few different projects, including taking on link building clients at and (Dutch) Link building .nl. The next several months will probably be very busy, but hopefully a lot of fun :)

You’re from the Netherlands – how is link building different outside of super competitive marketplaces like the US, UK and Germany?

It’s different in a lot of ways, but I don’t think it’s easier. First of all, the internet penetration and online marketing knowledge are extremely high in the Netherlands. In both cases, the Netherlands are in the top five countries in the world. Combine that with the fact that there are only a handful of directories (‘Startpaginas’ are more popular here) and article directories in the Netherlands, a relatively low amount of Dutch blogs (most people read English blogs) and outrageous advertising rates at most of the large Dutch portals, and you’ll probably know what it’s like. However, the biggest ingredient of link building is just plain old marketing, and that’s the same almost everywhere…

You and I both seem to stumble upon (or deliberately go out and look for) outrageous and somewhat stupid backlink profiles. What do you think causes people to get themselves involved in this kind of link building?

In some cases it’s ignorance, but in most cases it’s the quest for the quick buck. I don’t know why, but people tend to look for shortcuts in almost anything, and especially in things they do not like to do. And since a lot of people don’t like link building, …
Seriously, some people don’t seem to know how easy it is to connect online dots. If *I* can expose an entire network within two minutes without using a single tool except Google or Yahoo!, can you image how easy this is for search engine reps.

Do you prefer link bait or targeted link acquisition? Why? What tools do you use to help you in your link acquisition?

It really depends on the situation, I like both. Link bait requires creativity and can be a lot of fun, but I can get just as much energy from obtaining a great link. For link acquisition, I usually don’t use any tools except for a search engine. Search engines tell me if a website is (in their eyes) valuable and relevant, and I’ll try to decide if the website could be useful.

Do you think Link building has changed since Vince and Caffeine? If so, how?

No, I don’t think so, except when you’re a big brand. In that case, you can use the same aggressive link building techniques, rank better, and have to worry even less :)

How do you deal with the erosion of the link graph by things like Twitter and Facebook?

I don’t see Twitter and Facebook as an erosion of the link graph, but as an addition to it. Sites like Twitter and Facebook aren’t useful in terms of anchor text rich links, but they’re great for spreading content.

Do you think link building will eventually become an extension of public relations, or will it remain within the purview of straight SEO?

The overlap is quite large, and although I think link building will shift even more towards public relations than it already is at the moment, I think it will always be a mix. Link building is more than public relations, and public relations is more than just link building.

Do you see any value into acquiring links that your competitors already have?

It depends on the quality of the competitors’ link profiles, but in most cases, I do. Usually, I try to copy the good ones and to improve the mediocre ones. However, having the same link profile as one or more competitors will never put you in front of them, so it’s very important that you add links that your competitors don’t (or even better: can’t) have.

What is the single most important piece of advice you could give someone starting out in link building today?

Put on your marketing hat, in stead of your SEO hat.

Link Builder Monday: Debra Mastaler

Note: Debra is so popular that she was interviewed by WordStream at the exact same time – we touched on different issues so go check out her interview there as well.

Welcome to the first edition of Link Builder Monday, where we interview top link builders from around the globe. I’m privileged to have Debra Mastaler,  as my first guest. Debra speaks at various conferences (most recently SMX East, “Ask the Link Builders”) and provides link building services through Alliance Link.

How has link building changed since Google rolled out the Vince update?

Not much, I don’t think the search set it influenced was widespread.

The “Vince” update (so named after the Googler who programmed the algo tweak) was supposedly implemented to allow more “generic terms” to accumulate trust. As it rolled out a lot of people felt Google was giving brand names more authority because there were shifts in the way results were displayed for brand names.

If you listen closely to what Google engineer Matt Cutts says in this Vince video you’ll hear him say they changed the influences around trust, authority, reputation and PageRank(quality). Well they’re always doing that but what he doesn’t specifically say is what those elements were targeting.

You can’t tweak “trust” or “authority” arbitrarily, those components have to be tied to something tangible on page or within the link popularity metric. In this case, they were tied to generic search terms with dual meaning. The example he used was “eclipse” which is the name of a Mitsubishi car, a moon phase and high authority pages within the NASA site. In order to bring back a wide range of results for the term “eclipse” they needed to increase on-page and off page factors to influence the term.

I also believe some of this was done as a result of the data they’re collecting via personal search. If most people searching the term “Malibu” are looking for the city and not the car, they’ll tweak the reputation of the term so the city comes back ahead of the car. I didn’t notice other big brands we watch move in the serps after Vince any more or less than normal so I believe the chatter around brands moving was overblown.

How do you deal with the erosion of the link graph by things like Twitter and Facebook?

Interesting question. I’m not sure I agree Twitter and FB erodes the link graph as much as they clutter it which I suppose can be the same thing. On one hand the success of these sites and the links they generate enhance the value of your connections which in turn exposes brand and extends reach. By widening your reach you widen your ability to spread content and/or attract links.

On the other hand, search engines rely heavily on the link graph for indicators and signals. Social media clutter as well as webmasters writing and dropping crap content/links solely to generate link pop adds to the noise. I’m not sure I’d want to be a new webmaster in a moderately/competitive niche these days, you’d have to work extremely hard to make a name and accrue trust in today’s link graph.

On the other-other hand… the negatives associated with a cluttered link graph could work for a webmaster in a competitive niche. A cluttered link graph draws less attention to paid links or linking networks, two methods of link attraction you may need to use to make a dent in crowded markets.

Do you think link building will eventually become an extension of public relations, or will it remain within the purview of straight SEO?

Link building is dead. Long live link marketing.

On second thought, long live link marketing mixed with a little link building. :)

LOL… no, link building will always have a place with the SEO since link popularity is a major component of the ranking algorithm. I believe page Titles are one of the most under used and overlooked SEO aspects out there, sometimes a simple link to a page using keywords found in the Title is all a page needs to rank well. Yes, it’s really that simple.

Use the media all you want but remember to optimize your efforts just as you would a page on your website. Reporters want key information just like a search bot, make it easy for them to find!

Do you prefer link bait or targeted link acquisition? Why?

I love the fun subjects link bait uses but I have better luck getting authority links with targeted content generation programs. We spend a lot of time researching a market before developing a link marketing plan and even run short tests to be sure it’s right. If I don’t know what customers want I can’t create the right type of content to attract their attention. At the end of the day we attract more credible links with static, good-quality informational pieces than link bait.

What is your favorite tool right now for backlink research?

I have three: my eyes, SEOBook’s Hub Finder and Yahoo Site Explorer.

Do you see any value into acquiring links that your competitors already have?

Sometimes. You know my favorite response to this question is: never rise to someone else’s level of mediocrity just because they’re there. Your competitors rank the way they do because of their inbound links but that doesn’t mean you have get the same, you just need to be aware of them and get better links.

What is the single most important piece of advice you could give someone starting out in link building today?

Find the best copywriter you can afford and do everything you can to educate that person on your business so they write compelling and attractive content for you. My writers have been with me five+ years and I thank them every day for letting me pay them.

The second piece of advice, which is tied to the first, is – know your audience. You can write all day about the benefits of cotton sheets but if the trend is to talk about organic sheets or Egyptian cotton your content won’t attract links. Wasted time means a loss of links which means a loss of money. You lose :(

Thanks Debra!