Distilled Event – “Why I Hate Link Builders”

I attended my third Distilled evening event this week. Every time I’ve been, the talks have been entertaining, informative and what’s more, the drinks and food tend to be free!

Here’s a summary of tonight’s talks. You can now view all the slides from this event.

Matt Beswick (@mattbeswick), “Intelligent Outsourcing”

Budgets are tight. You’re bored. Tempted by the dark side? Should you do something spammy? No! Consider (intelligent) outsourcing. Consider the following areas:

  • Research
  • Content
  • Design
  • Outreach


Are you bogged down in data? You could have 1000s of link prospects to go through.

Use oDesk, but give them a task to prove they can follow instructions. It’s cheap! They got quoted $0.54/hr just to collect contact details from link prospect websites! Be specific, though, explaining what you want them to do!


ODesk tends to attract Indian and Philippines writers and their written English isn’t very good; however, American writers tend to be good. Use Textbroker. It allows you to specify what you want, the price you’re willing to pay and the quality you want.


Very difficult to outsource. Use 99Designs. Design cost + Outreach Cost / LRDs = Cost per link, so it’s very easy to calculate the value of a link.


Develop relationships. You don’t just want one link just on the one time. Make friends. Get networking. He used an example of working with a client – Cage Potato. He didn’t make any money, but built a relationship for the future.

Outsource anything which can be specifically defined and is process driven. You should not outsource the creative work – you should be doing this yourself.

Use Buzzstream. You can give someone you’ve found on oDesk access to use the email templates in Buzzstream; but don’t use the same people you’re paying 54c/hr! You can also link email accounts and manage replies through Buzzstream. [We’re working on similar functionality in our platform and more besides!]


  • Use outsourcing for good, not evil
  • Track, manage and enhance everything you’re doing
  • Keep doing the clever bits
  • Build and nurture relationships
  • Use oDesk, 99designs and Buzzstream.

Marcus Taylor, Director of Venture Harbour – “Leveraging the audience of Brands and Celebs to Promote Content

As an artist (drummer), he learned the value of leveraging other people to market his music. Musicians can often feature on other musicians’ songs in order to leverage someone else’s fanbases… hmm, interesting point!

Marcus setup a blog (The Musician’s Guide). He wasn’t having much success until he wrote a post exposing which major record label was getting the best use out of Twitter. He got a retweet from a lot of official EMI twitter accounts (~20-30 in all)!

The conclusion? Simples! If you say something nice about a brand, it’s in their best interest to promote that content for you and especially if it is in comparison to their competitors and expressed in a non-competitive/aggressive way, using indisputable data to backup your position.

This approach works almost everytime in every niche! And this doesn’t just work with brands. It can work with fans and other groups if they can use your post as “propaganda” – he gave a nice example of PC vs Mac users.

However, you have to be clear about who is the winner and who the loser is!

He also published a post about music streams and made the mistake of not making it clear which brands came out the best. The result? Not much re-tweeting. So he did another post about music brands using social media and he got a lot of sharing and a lot of links.

Tom Anthony, “Why I Hate Link Builders”

The keynote from Distilled’s ex-bear-wresting, ex-cage-fighting (according to Hannah) Technical SEO, Tom Anthony!

Tom started by saying he didn’t actually hate all link builders. When links became the thing to build, Google simply recommended attracting links naturally, by building a successful business, making awesome product pages, etc.

However, the algorithm updates tell a clear story. The major updates can be summarised as follows: Crawl Faster > Authority > Freshness > Thin Content > “Crappy links”

In other words, Google wants your site to be:

  • Trustworthy
  • One which provides Quality content
  • Up to date
  • Reputable

“The Value Squeeze” – pre-SEO these had value:

  • reciprocal links
  • forum posts
  • press releases
  • guest posting
  • infographics (the New York Times has been creating infographics for 100s of years)

However, when SEO arrived on the scene, it squeezed all the value from all these activities; and this removed the value to the user and therefore also removed the perceived value of these activities to Google.

As a result, we simply started a “cat and mouse” game with Google and Matt Cutts started indicating they were beginning to recognise this process and deprecate the value of these activities. 

Google are getting faster and faster at chasing down SEOs effectively (especially as a result of the Caffeine update – Panda and Penguin couldn’t have come before Caffeine).

So what do we need to stay ahead of Google? Build Future Proof Links!

When starting with a new client,

1) first ask the question “Why?” – is this link really going to help traffic and conversions?

2) Think “attract” rather than “build” – create links which have value to the user

3) Create content which is part of the customer’s journey – Google are getting better at identifying whether something is of value to a user.

4) Consider the LTV (Lifetime Value) of a link – consider this as future algorithm updates are likely to affect the value of a link.

Of course, this all sounds very easy, but clients will probably just want links (maybe because of Matt’s oDesk Army!!!) and not really care about all these nice approaches.

So how do you find a balance?

Tom referenced Portent’s recent study which suggested 70% of your content should be safe, 20% moderately risky and 10% risky or complicated. Can you apply this model to link-building?

Tom’s argument was that the safe section (the 70% bit) would get immediate results but would have low LTV.

The 20% bit might not be part of the customer journey, but might provide good PR.

The 10% bit could be an awesome resource for users and become part of their journey. It might not get links immediately but will slowly acquire links with a good LTV.

Tom gave an example of a Reevoo review application (Just Buy This One!) which would have good long-term LTV and would unlikely to be devalued by Google, due to the value to the user.

He also gave an example of brokerfish (a health insurance plan broker) which provides translated cards which users could use when travelling to explain their nut allergies when in foreign countries.

Tom gave a third example of an application which explained the different flavours of whiskies and helped users make appropriate choices.

All this content was helpful to the user and should be favourably looked upon by Google over the long-term.

All in all, three very entertaining and interesting talks, plus free booze, red wine, olives and fruit bread! 5* out of 5! 🙂

By: Matt OToole

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