Link Building Survey 2013 – The Results [INFOGRAPHIC]

Posted by jamesagate

Many of us faced a challenging 2012 and 2013 has been no different. Rankings were won and lost, a lot of bad links were removed and quite frankly a lot of businesses and departments had to be re-designed. We all know it’s a pretty “interesting” time to be in the link-building and SEO space.

Since we are now over half way through 2013 we decided it was time to gain a better understanding of how this year is going for those in the industry. The purpose of the survey was to really capture the current market sentiment and better understand how industry peers are faring.

We produced an infographic from the results (embedded in its full form at the end of this post) but I also wanted to write up an analysis here just for Moz readers simply because I feel there are quite a few interesting bits of data that are well worth discussing.

Before we get into it, a quick disclaimer:

This post is for information purposes only. These results are not intended to steer you towards specific linking tactics. Surveys have certain inherent flaws and in a market like ours where perception and reality can sometimes become disconnected the data certainly isn’t going to be perfect.

You should make business decisions based on your own experiences and data or hire a professional who is able to assist in doing so.

Adding a disclaimer might seem a little officious, but I do see it as my responsibility to add some fair warnings in here. People coming back to me in 6 month’s time saying “Your survey said paid links were widely used… why don’t I rank anymore?!”… can’t say they were not warned.

This is not a black hat vs. grey hat vs. white hat thing by the way; we’re all pretty much in the same boat floating on an ocean owned by someone else [Google]. My point is there are too many individuals in my opinion being given access to large audiences online who go on to author arguably flippant remarks and tenuous “facts” that get passed off as gospel. This kind of behavior likely sets many beginners or even intermediate SEOs down the wrong path or one they really don’t understand.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get started…

Who took the survey?

I found this information interesting, not just because it helps us better understand some of the answers given later on in the survey, but because we get the chance to see how people really “label” themselves in the industry.

In our industry I guess we do spend quite a bit of time labeling ourselves or attempting to define our role within a business, but the real aim here was to see how many people called themselves a link builder with a view to observing any declines in future surveys of this kind.

As was noted in the infographic, it is great we got such a good spread of individuals answering questions as it helps to give perspective from across the organisation.

How much does your business or agency spend on link building on a monthly basis?

I was personally really looking forward to seeing the results of this particular question because I think it acts as a better barometer than most things, as to the effectiveness of link building.

By and large, people won’t continue to pour money into something that isn’t working. Businesses often vote with their wallet so to speak.

Granted, money related questions in surveys aren’t without bias because certain individuals will almost certainly inflate their figures almost instinctively.

You will note that nearly 39% of those who responded work within an organisation that spends between -50k+ a month on linking initiatives. That’s a decent sized budget and while obviously there will be respondents who work at an agency where this is distributed across a number of client projects, it does mean there are a number of businesses out there spending big bucks in an attempt to proactively and passively acquire links. Which as I said, means not only does that demonstrate the continued effectiveness of links as part of SEO but that the budget is justified, i.e. they can see an ROI.

The expression goes that a fool and his money are easily parted and frankly any business that can afford say k to invest into link building programmes is unlikely to be a fool. They are going to be seeing a return. Say what you want about other things, but links are still the dominant signal to Google and that doesn’t really look set to change.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in link building?

Based on the results of this question we found the five biggest challenges that anyone who does link building faces.

Here I’d like to offer up some actionable advice for each specific challenge, looking at some of the ways we internally overcome these challenges and linking out to some great resources that are out there.

Finding link prospects

I dive a bit deeper into this particular challenge in this post here.

Further reading:

Creating efficient processes

As I mentioned earlier in this post; many businesses and departments have been forced into almost entirely re-inventing themselves and their internal processes, so understandably this is one of the key challenges faced currently.

This is really a blog post all in itself, but here are a few resources that you may find useful…

Getting link prospects to respond

Never an easy thing. As the link building market swells and as outreach-dependent linking continues to surge in popularity there are naturally going to be more people out there playing the field, which can mean that certain sites are:

  • Propositioning – think about why these people want to link to you. I’m not going to go all “create great content” on your ass, but you are essentially making a sale here so if you’re not floating their boat you need to rethink your approach.

  • Diving deeper – this may sound like a prospecting tip, but if you can seek out sites which aren’t getting hit with hundreds if not thousands of emails daily, you stand a much better shot of getting a response.

  • Getting better at outreach – whether you improve your email writing or leverage a bit of psychology by learning to build links and get traffic like Derek Halpern, there is no doubt that outreach standards do matter a lot.

Determining anchor text strategy

I am a firm believer that there is no set one-size-fits-all approach to anchor text ratios. What works for some sites and in some verticals would get your burned before the week is out in other markets.

So my takeaway for this would be to talk in terms that are relative to your market and the type of project you are working on.

If you are looking for a walkthrough then have a read of this.

Knowing which links are helpful and/or harmful

There are some great services/tools out there that can help you to audit your backlinks and proactively manage the risk of future linking campaigns. This information is just a few mouse clicks away and whilst you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the judgment of a tool, it can cut down tremendously on the legwork and even guesswork that goes into determining which links are helpful and which are harmful in your profile.

A tool like LinkRisk allows you to spot the harmful links but also help you identify the really strong ones as a result of your link prospecting efforts.

What are the most common forms of link building?

I have to say that this one didn’t really deliver too many surprises. 2012/2013 has seen a meteoric increase in guest blogging activities which tells you a few things really; they are effective when done well and you almost certainly need to be diversifying your stable of tactics, because if we’ve all noticed an increase in guest posts I think it will be safe to say Google has as well.

5% of respondents admitted to participating in paid linking. I was quite surprised that even this many people admitted to it and I congratulate their honesty, because I guarantee that the number is higher than this :-) .

What are the 5 most effective link building tactics?

We asked respondents to rate a wide range of linking tactics on a scale of 1-5. 1 being potentially damaging all the way through to 5 being extremely effective. We then organised these into a top 5 of tactics based on the average rating that these received:

Author bio vs. in-content?

A common question we come up against relates to the effectiveness of guest posts where the link is in the author bio vs. placed within the body of the content.

We have seen no evidence to suggest one is more effective than the other and we recommend a combination of the two simply because placing a strict restriction, like in-content, only can limit some strong publishers for example.

Here is how our respondents feel about this subject:

Infographic directory vs. targeted blog?

Similarly we wanted to get a feel for the general market consensus as to the effectiveness of gaining a placement of an infographic on a blog versus getting loads of placements on infographic galleries/directories.

We have found placements of infographics on targeted, top-tier publishers to be a highly effective method for enhancing search engine visibility I would also argue that some of the better quality infographic galleries are a worthwhile link to secure.

I am talking about the ones that maintain some kind of editorial review process. We have seen on numerous occasions, an infographic being picked up by other sites as a result of the seed placement on one of the higher end infographic galleries.

Here’s what our respondents thought…

What are the 5 least effective link building tactics?

As you might expect we then rounded up the data from the previous question to give us the “relegation zone” in the league table of linking or the tactics that were considered least effective by our respondents based on their average rating.

I won’t comment on the effectiveness of any individual tactics personally here, but I will say that in certain markets and with certain types of sites these tactics are still working. While we should strive to do better forms of link building undoubtedly (if we want to mature as an industry and get a seat at the big table), we do have to be mindful of what is actively working and look at how we can learn from that.

Which tactics do link builders consider dangerous?

I have to say there are probably other linking tactics that I would consider dangerous and perhaps even more dangerous… but here is how our respondents answered this question:

My immediate reaction to these results was that there was likely a little bit of confirmation bias going on. You are likely to have seen the fairly recent events involving a UK florist and their insatiable appetite for advertorials (whether it was advertorials that caused the spanking or not, this was inferred as the cause everywhere) as well as Google’s relatively public smashing of some blog networks. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility to argue that some respondents will have taken on board these big industry events and even if just subconsciously they will be finding evidence in their day to day work that these tactics are indeed dangerous.

In reality, it really does come down to how you execute. Any kind of linking tactic comes with risk when not done well.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt are growing problems for link builders

11% said that they weren’t sure which links were going to harm or help them which would corroborate the notion that this is one of the biggest challenges faced by link builders presently but the data from the survey would suggest that for some, the last 12 months has driven them to analysis-paralysis. So much uncertainty, fear and doubt that close to 5% aren’t planning on doing any link building at all.

As I’ve said before, we’re all trying to make our way in Google’s ocean and if you’re not rowing, but your competitors are… standing still starts to look just as risky as being proactive.

What about the next 12 months?

It is clear that the outreach-dependent forms of link building are going to be taking priority for the next 12 months and beyond with respondents planning to focus investment in tactics including guest blogging, digital PR, infographics and building relationships with webmasters.

I find that last one particularly interesting because I think many of us are waking up to the idea that links (certainly some of your links anyway) can drive a good amount of traffic on an ongoing basis. If there is a website that already has an audience (and the trust of that audience) why wouldn’t you explore ways of working with them and developing that relationship? That’s a ready-made set of prospective customers…

And here it is in full format:

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on the data – I will try to respond to all comments promptly.
Please also feel free to suggest questions for inclusion in next year’s survey.

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July 10, 2013  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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TechNetSource » Link Building Survey 2013 – The Results [INFOGRAPHIC]