Takeaways from #LinkLove in Boston

I spent last Monday in Boston for Distilled’s exceptionally thorough Link Love conference. My intention was to live blog throughout the day, but I unfortunately failed to fully charge my laptop and was dismayed to discover that the amphitheater where we met had no outlets. #Fail Late is better than never, as they say, which is why I am thankful to have scratched notes all over my Link Love booklet. I’ll do my best to decipher my awful handwriting and possibly pass on some of the insight to you. I’ll be honest, my head is just starting to stop whirring. A lot of the talks were outside my comfort zone, and it wasn’t very easy to relate to what was being said. Still, I now have access to fantastic tips, tools, and tactics that I didn’t before. Over time I’ll digest everything and be much more rounded for it. I’m already starting to feel a tingle of SEO confidence. Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz kicked off the presentations with an unexpected twist. His segment, boldly entitled “F#$%! Link Building. Content Marketing FTW” quickly dived in to the reality that SEOs are sort of controlling the linking system. It used to be a small fraction of these “linkinati” members that knew how to manipulate the algorithms, but that number has grown to an enormous number of marketers. The problem is that marketers are the only ones doing it, thus throwing off the effectiveness of link building. At least that’s how Google is starting to see it. Link signals, Rand said, are starting to subtly shrink in potency, and new sharing styles, such as social signals, are influencing the search engine results. My main takeaway from Rand’s presentation is that content is still king (no surprise there; I’ve been preaching those words myself). Still, it was refreshing to hear it from the mouth of an industry pioneer. Content goes beyond blog posts and the exact products or services that a brand offers. The last thing a brand should do is limit itself to writing about what it does. Content is essentially storytelling, and storytelling strengthens brands and transfers trust. Infographics, clever tools, even freebies can set your brand apart from others. It requires thinking of relative, but unique, ideas for content creation. Honestly, I agreed with Rand 100%. But the real issue, at least in my experience, is figuring out how to convey this conviction to clients who might be somewhat skeptical. The easiest way to accomplish that is to build a few success stories, and you know what? Challenge accepted. The second speaker I saw was an unfamiliar (to me) bloke by the name of Justin Briggs. It didn’t take me long to realize that Justin is a very intelligent guy, and while much of his presentation was stressful (because I didn’t have the materials to adequately document it, nor the mental capacity to actually retain the nitty-gritty), I left with an outstanding revelation about link building: outcome reporting trumps operational reporting. In other words, if you’re focusing solely on the acquisition of links, how do you even know if it’s worth the time and effort? Justin helped me realize that link building is a waste if the links aren’t increasing ROI. The value of a link shouldn’t be based on the cost it took to acquire it. So what is operational reporting? 

  • PageRank
  • Anchor text
  • Domain authority
  • Page authority
  • mozRank

What is outcome reporting? 

  • Visits
  • Number of keywords
  • Goal completions
  • Conversions

Justin sort of went Information Superhighway at this point, leaving me wheezing in the dust. There’s a lot of his presentation that I need to chew on slowly. What I do fully understand is that I need to start changing the way I perceive link building and what success really means. Because if I get 100 links to my site, but no increase in conversions a what in the world was the point in the time I took to get there? Ross Hudgens was the third presenter, and he spoke about “stealing” content for your website or clients. Of course, his whole spiel was actually about repurposing content, rather than actually swiping it in an unethical fashion. From Ross I learned about a fantastic source called Hacker News. This website is a hub of data-driven articles, perfectly ripe for the plucking and reworking. For people like myself who are more prone to connect with visual design, an infographic is an ideal presentation of otherwise. It can become useful and interesting to an entirely new audience. Ross continued his presentation with some other useful tips, and he did a wonderful job. Still, the Hacker News bit is what really hit home with me. Following Ross was Rhea Drysdale from Outspoken Media. She described the importance of having a link building calendar. Clients work with agencies because they want to feel good. They need the support of an outside source directing their efforts, and providing solid ideas for content marketing. Then she skipped to the process of content marketing:

  • a. Proposal
  • b. Intake
  • c. Research and discovery
  • d. Strategy approval
  • e. Implementation
  • f. Tracking

Working with clients can be difficult when they have their own separate agenda, which they typically do. The bigger brands sometimes need to follow protocol involving the signatures and approvals of several department heads before SEO efforts can scoot along. Consistent, open communication is crucial for these clients to understand that SEOs need in order to move forward. We’re big-picture people. Our plans typically cover spans of many months, and calendars keep things progressing. I haven’t quite explored the examples Rhea provided for calendar-creating, but her main point is that we as SEOs should strategically structure our link building efforts around time frames that mesh with the clients’ availability and expectations. Even beyond that, calendars push the process along by organizing different responsibilities and updates of efforts. After lunch we heard from the oh-so-engaging Wil Reynolds.  Everyone in the audience was captivated by his presentation on finding influencers and forming relationships, or as he worded it: stalking. I’m not going to explain the details of his presentation because I have neither his charm nor charismatic flair that everyone loves. Wil reminded us that the core of link building, especially when it stems from those you consider to have authority and influence, is to form relationships. It was a very humbling experience to watch this SEO guru, whom I’ve admired for months, speak about his thorough, consistent, adamant attempt to connect with one of his heros. I’ll admit that the whole Link Love conference was humbling, as it made me blatantly clear of how small of a guppy I am in this ocean of SEOs and how much I have left to learn. Still, Wil’s presentation was very enlightening, and I’ve already put a couple of his “stalker” tactics in motion. The final presenter I saw was John Doherty of Distilled. John is someone I’ve been following closely for the past couple of months or so because he is super infatuated with with various tools available for link building. And I am not. Yet. Let me also point out that he is a very sharp (and kind) fellow, and I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of meeting him during one of the breaks. John’s presentation was a lot to take in, but fortunately I have the slides to reference (all 119 of ’em!) Again, I’m not going to dish out the details because there’s simply too much to cover. John’s presentation sent me home with some very concrete challenges, because I can tell you right now that use and understanding of SEO tools, even one as common as Excel, is not my strong point. It’s my nature to hate them as much as tax season (which makes my stomach churn). After all, I joined the Evolve team as a part-time content creator back in June. I knew as much about SEO as I did the electromagnetic spectrum. I’m now to the point where I want to expand my territories and take on a few additional responsibilities. Learning these tools will increase my efficiency and spur my success, and I’m ready to start! Unfortunately, I actually left the conference early, three quarters in. Can you imagine what state my brain would have been in if I’d stayed to hear Tom Critchlow, Colby Almond, and Adam Audette? One word: mush. But I’m happy to have access to the slides, at least. Who knows, maybe I’ll even create a Pinterest account, since Colby’s topic (about which everyone raved via the #linklove hashtag) was on the impact of that very social media website. The entire Link Love experience was beyond words (although I’ve just spewed more than 1,000), and I’m lucky to work for an agency that sends its least experienced employee to a Distilled conference, as fast-paced and detailed as it was (the image to the right shows my desperate attempt to document the first two presentations sans laptop. Pretty pathetic, huh?). Thanks to everyone who shared their expertise and wisdom. I’m sure I can speak for everyone when I say it was refreshing and encouraging to be reminded why we are in this industry. #SEO #FTW Written by Emily Wisely, Digital Coordinator at Evolve. Find her on Twitter (em_wisely)!