How to Vet a Link Builder

I’ve done my share of link building for clients throughout my career, but these days instead of building the links (since UpBuild consults on link building strategy, but doesn’t offer link building services), I frequently work with our clients to help them find an excellent link builder that can complement the work we’re already doing at UpBuild. To help me decide whether someone will be a good partner for our client, I have created a set of questions that I ask a potential link-building partner on our initial call or email (unless already otherwise answered by them up-front) to vet their process and services.

Vetting a link builder or link-building agency is no different than dealing with any other service provider. They provide a service that you pay for. You should feel comfortable asking your provider questions about their work, how the work is getting done, and the costs associated with that work. The provider should feel comfortable answering your questions honestly, and if they’re not, you might have an issue. 

Link building is no different.

This post will help you weed out the lousy link builders and hopefully help you find a great link building partner.

All Link Builders Are Not The Same

Building links is a great marketing tool for websites. It can provide many benefits like building authority for your website, which could turn into better rankings and more traffic. Link building also gets a company or brand’s name out into the world — ideally in relevant sites and publications where readers will want to learn more about your business.

That said, link building comes with risks. Not all links are good, and you should never measure link building success solely by the number of links. An unskilled or unscrupulous link builder can potentially harm a website by building bad links, thus hurting the site’s authority and online brand. 

It’s vital that the link builder you work with is experienced and knowledgeable about link building best practices.

Questions to Ask a Link Builder

Below are a series of questions you should feel comfortable asking a link builder you are potentially going to work with.

What Is Your Link Building Process?

Imagine hiring someone to walk around handing out flyers advertising your business. As the business owner, you’d want to understand how that person will be talking about your company to the potential customers they interact with. You’ll want to know what neighborhoods they’re handing out flyers in.

Link building is no different. You’ll want to know how the link builder goes about building links. Make sure they can explain their process to you and that it makes sense. If it sounds too complicated or they say it’s too complicated to explain, that is a red flag. While link building is very difficult to do, it should be easy to explain to anyone, and the process should be straightforward.

What Do Your Services Include?

Link building as an industry is interesting because you will find very different offerings between agencies. Some agencies do it all, from SEO to link building; others only do link building; some do link building and content creation; etc.

When talking with a potential link builder, it’s important to understand what they’re providing, your responsibilities as the site owner, and how it will all work together. You don’t want to work with an agency that will expect you, the client, to produce all the assets that will be linked to if you do not have the resources to do so.

Having good quality content that you can build links to is a key component of linkbuilding. Websites will not want to link back to poor quality content from their own site for fear of being associated with a “lesser brand” or incorrect information. Having high quality content gives you more opportunities to build links on the web from authoritative websites. High quality content also can attract links on its own by virtue of being discovered and shared online.

Recently, I spoke to a link building agency that would only build links to content you currently have—they do no content creation. This might be fine if you have a lot of great content already (or the resources to create it in-house), but if not, then this link building agency would not be very much help.

On the flip side, another agency I spoke with a few weeks ago does it all. They will work with the client to develop new content for the site, get the content written and edited, and then handle all the link building. It’s full service.

Either of these types of agencies is fine, but it depends on what you need. It’s important to understand what everyone’s roles and responsibilities will be.

What is Your History as a Link Builder?

Asking about their link-building history can give you some insight into their industry experience. Have they been doing this for 10 or 15 years? 9 months? You’ll want to know. This isn’t to say that years and years of experience guarantee a solid link builder, but it does indicate they have been able to survive in the industry for a long time and must be providing some value to clients. Hopefully, they’ve built up years of relationships with various publications they can leverage to help you build your links.

It’s also interesting to know how long they’ve been dealing with search engine changes and industry shifts and how they’ve been able to adapt their processes over the years. Building links in 2005 was very different from building links in 2021, so you’ll want to know how up-to-date your link builders’ strategies are!

What Do You Consider a Good Link?

I love asking this question because it says a lot about the link builder answering.

There is no right answer to this question, but if your link builder focuses exclusively on metrics like DA (domain authority) and PA (page authority), you might run into some issues. 

Ideally, the link builder will rely on a wide selection of metrics, including DA and PA, but also focus on relevancy between content and links. We’d rather work with a link builder who will get five links from a highly relevant site rather than 50 links from irrelevant sites with a given DA. Relevant links will provide the authority signals your site needs while also getting your brand in front of the right audiences. 

Again, there is no wrong or right answer here. If you’re comfortable with how your link builder evaluates a link and it works for your site, that is great. 

What Tools Do You Use?

While this might seem a little “in the weeds” for a potential client to ask, it is a completely valid question. When I ask this question, I am not trying to see if the builder uses a specific tool I like or anything like that. I am asking this question to see how much of their process is automated and how much is done by hand.

Many SEO tasks can be automated, but link building isn’t really one of them. Sure, you can automate certain parts of the link-building process, but we want to know how much of it is automated.

For example, it’s OK to automate the process of validating whether a link target is worth going after, say based on its PA and DA or site topic, but automation shouldn’t be relied upon for the actual link-building outreach and relationship building.

Much of link building is about developing person-to-person relationships between the link builder and the publications they are trying to get links in. Automation doesn’t work well here.

What Kind of Benefits Should I Expect From Your Work?

I’ve seen link builders summarize what they’ll be able to do for a website with their services in lots of ways. Some promise X number of links from websites with X DA or PA (we don’t recommend this, for the reasons listed above). Others say they can’t promise anything. Others will offer to run test campaigns or have flexible pricing based on work being successful. You should find a link builder whose business model aligns with what you’re comfortable with.

Ideally, your link builder is confident enough in their process that they can tell you with some assurance what they can accomplish. They’ll be able to talk about the benefits to your business that the links they build will provide, and will have ways to measure success beyond sheer volume of links. A great link builder will even turn you away if they don’t think they can help you. A lousy link builder will take your money regardless of the actual value they can provide.

Make sure to ask them about what their thoughts are on link building in your specific niche. This will shine some light on whether they’re familiar with your site or have done any kind of research ahead of your meeting. If you’re lucky, they will already have experience building links in your industry.

Can I See Examples of Successful Link Building Campaigns You’ve Run?

As with almost any work you have done, you want to see some work samples before agreeing to a deal. Don’t be afraid to ask your potential link-builder to see some links the company has built over the years. They should be able to show you some content they’ve created and how they were able to build links to it.

Putting It All Together

Now that you know what to ask a link builder, what do you do next? 

We recommend having discovery calls with at least two or three potential providers. This will allow you to compare services, timelines, and prices. You might find you need to interview more than two or three to find the right fit, especially if you operate in a competitive industry.  

Between your discovery calls and any customer testimonials or reviews online you can find, you can put together a pretty solid picture of the type of services and attention your site will get.  

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