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6 min read

Search Love: Link Building Myths and Fails – Paddy Moogan

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Paddy opened his talk with a look over past Search Love conferences. He’s been talking about link building for a long time, and over that time, link building as a disciplines has changed in many ways. Today, he told us his thoughts on link building for 2017.

It’s true, says Paddy, that things have changed over the years. Rankbrain, AI, machine learning, voice search, assistants… they all change the way we work and we need to keep an eye on them. But equally, he points out, we mustn’t neglect the evidence; when we see content driven link campaigns driving increases in keyword rankings and in organic traffic, we can’t argue to value of links. We need to focus on what drives results for our clients.

We should still love links.

And we don’t necessarily need big budgets for this.

What we think we need… (but we don’t necessarily)

  • Visual assets, preferably interactive
  • Visualise cool data
  • Recognisable brand
  • Relationships with journalists
  • Ability to go viral
  • Launch at the right time

These things are pretty standard parts of many link building presentations now. But they’re not necessarily required.

World’s Top Selling Car Manufacturers

In this example, Paddy showed us a map his company produced for a client which looked at the top car manufacturers around the world:

The coverage and links started slow. And they noticed something; rather than linking to the piece as a whole, journalists were taking one story – that Toyota was leading in more of the world than anywhere else.

They therefore identified that as the key angle, and rather than try to

Tip when working with infographics: Be sure to display big images within a lightbox or pop up – don’t let people click off to the jpeg file, as that would mean you’d be getting links to that instead of the optimal page.

It can be risky when you put so much time and effort into a piece of content, so if it doesn’t do well, you’re losing big.

In this example, Paddy’s team looked at the world’s booziest countries:

Rather than gambling on one angle, they reduced the risk by tying it into different events throughout the year, e.g. Dry January, Hogmanay, Sober October, etc. It meant that they had multiple bites at the cherry.

The original piece was based on data up to 2015. When new data came out, they plugged that in, updated the design and then relaunched it again.

Slow and steady wins the race

You can’t expect everything to go viral. And you don’t need to.

In this example, Paddy and his team produced a simple but effective gif that showed the gender inbalance in the boardroom:

This got links gradually, over time. It still gains links today. It’s about creating content that’s high quality and that attracts links over time, and that’s a sustainable approach.

Learning from traditional PR

People think you need visual content to get links. But traditional PR never did.

Essentially, what we can do is use some traditional PR principles and apply them to digital. While you don’t need the visual, you do need some data or an opinion that’s different.

And you need to be relevant to that. The thing you talk about needs to resonate with your brand.

Write one press release, or a piece of advisory copy; it’s essentially a blog post, but it needs to just be short, sharp tips with clear takeaways. Here’s an example:

They created this by asking the CEO of their client to give them some tips and takeaways. They could then pitch this into small business publications like – in about 12 months, they built over 100 links just profiling this one person.

The reason this works really well for low budget clients is that you don’t need to invest too much in design or dev. You just need to spend the time speaking to your clients. And we’re not talking thousands of links to get great results; you’ll build strong, relevant links.

It’s also adding value. By positioning someone in the company as an expert, it’s great for the brand’s profile.

Relationships and brands aren’t everything

Journalists don’t actually care what brand you are. They just care about the story.

This piece, said Paddy, massively failed:

It was cool. It was nice. But the story wasn’t clear – and that meant it didn’t resonate with the journalists.

It didn’t matter than it was for Vouchercloud. Being a known brand wasn’t enough to make that content work.

On the other hand, this piece was done for an unknown brand but worked really well, because it had a clear story:

Relationships can be hard to build. No one wants to be mates with a link builder.

Throw the ‘rules’ out

Paddy says he used to tell people not to launch content on a Friday. And not to bother outreaching it then, either.

But when one of his colleagues suggested an idea on a Friday that was a bit of a random one for Focus Clinics that Paddy really didn’t believe in. But he said ‘do it anyway’.

And it got a huge amount of coverage:

Don’t be afraid to try things.

With that said, your content can be impacted by bad timing. Paddy’s team launched a piece of content just before the US election results, and it bombed because everyone was talking about Trump instead. They’re now re-outreaching the content because the timing is better – so not all is lost if your content doesn’t work the first time.


How has guest blogging changed?

Paddy said back in 2011, guest blogging was all about getting the link. Now, he doesn’t discourage people to guest blog. But it can’t be solely for the link. It’s got to be about brand awareness, credibility building and profiling.

That’s the kind of guest blogging Google doesn’t have a problem with. it has a problem with guest blogging for links, stuffed with exact match anchor text. Avoid that, and guest blogging is still good.

Do you have any tips on how to make awesome data into something visually appealing?

It’s not easy to go from a data set to a creative piece, it takes a lot of resource. The way Paddy approaches it for smaller clients is they spend a lot of time with the data, researching it and pulling out the interesting bits, and they’ll do that a lot before even talking to a designer. It’s better to spend the time doing that than it is spending time on design; it’s better to have an OK design with a great story than the other way round.

The reasons they only sometimes work is that links aren’t the only thing Google is looking at. If Google is looking at your website and seeing a poor user experience, or if it has a lot of data about your industry that gives us better insight into who should rank higher, it can affect how effective links are.

It’s important as digital marketers that we have both sides of the equation working, the on page and the off page.

Paddy’s slides

Check out Paddy’s slides here: