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!

Comments are closed.