A friend emailed to say she had a marketing interview next Monday, for an SEO position doing link-building. And, since I work for a marketing agency that does SEO, did I have any tips on the interview or about link-building?
First, if she had to ask what link-building was, I had to wonder how she got the interview. But that aside, here’s an edited version of my advice.
To be clear, I’m not an expert on link-building as a sole job responsibility, so please let me know if you see something I’m missing or if you have any corrections!
Where to go to quickly get up to speed on SEO
The single best resource is to go to SEOmoz.org, sign up for their free trial, and/or browse their resource library. It’s probably the top source for SEO experts. And their tool (which starts at $99/month, or more for agency whitelabeling) is indispensable for anyone doing SEO on a professional basis. You can see who’s linking to you, and you can see who’s linking to your competitors… and identify ways to co-opt some of that “link juice.”
For rankings, PageRank is the yardstick
As you know (well, I hope, if they’re interviewing you), links are the main input for search engine rankings. The more links you have from quality sites, the better your site will rank. Of course, the algorithm is proprietary and it’s more complicated than that, but that’s ultimately the key theme.
You should know about PageRank, Google’s 0-10 system for ranking pages. To check a page’s PageRank, Google “check pagerank” and choose one of the results.
Because PageRank works on a non-linear scale, a single link from NYTimes.com (PageRank: 9/10) is better than a bunch of links from lower-ranked sites like my blog (PageRank: definitely not 7/10). And it’s harder to jump from, say, 6 to 7 than from 7 to 8.
Link-building is a type of off-site SEO
Link-building is part of off-site SEO:
- On-site SEO involves having good content and making sure the site is structured properly to suit Google’s preferences.
- Off-site SEO is getting other people to link to you.
There are at least two pieces to link-building. First, you want to identify good sites to link to you. Second, you approach the appropriate contact with your site’s relevant content and a request that they link to your page if they agree the content is valuable. There are no guarantees on that people will be interested.
You can also write guest posts for top-rated sites, which typically will let you include a blurb at the bottom about you (or, well, the company’s head person), which includes a link. That link (a “FOLLOW” link as opposed to a blog’s comment section links, which are “NOFOLLOW” links and don’t directly help rankings) will help you do better.
SEOmoz has, of course, a new guide to link-building. They discuss the topics I’ve mentioned above, along with a bunch more.
Content farms and link-buying: Don’t do that
In the past, you could submit free articles to “content farm” sites like ezinearticles.com for those links back, but Google’s recent “Panda” update this spring has penalized most of those sites. The tactic has gone from “questionable but helpful” to “questionable and doesn’t work”… a poor ROI these days.
A key point is to distinguish link-building from link-buying. Link-buying involves paying a site to link to you, in a way that hides from Google the fact that it’s a paid link. This is a form of what’s known as “blackhat SEO,” which Google frowns upon. It can work for a while, but you’ll eventually get caught… like JC Penney got caught. Google “jc penney blackhat seo” and you’ll see a bunch of analysis from after the story broke.
For a great local resource, go to the Raleigh SEO Meetup
Although the next meeting is after your interview, I strongly recommend going to Phil Buckley‘s Raleigh SEO Meetup — monthly events in Raleigh, NC, with great free info on search engine optimization. I’ve learned a ton from the SEO meetups, including Phil and his featured speakers. Once you join, you can also download past handouts (go to More–>Files)… you’ll see one from the ever-brilliant Garrett French on link-building.
SEO is an enormous topic but that summary should at least get you started. Be sure to ask about the day-to-day aspects of the job (and the tools the company uses), as pitch-based link-building is akin to cold-calling. If they talk about paying for links, run away.
I hope that’s helpful — let me know how it goes. Good luck!
Like I said, I’m not an expert on link-building in particular, so I can’t focus my advice on what a link-building interviewer would want to know. But use Google (or Bing) to search for articles — the ones at the top should be the best. Unless, of course, someone has SEO’d the phrase “link-building tips”…
What SEO interviewing advice would you add or subtract?