Link-building interview with Jon Cooper of

The ionSearch team caught up with one of the most respected voices in link-building – Jon Cooper – to find out more about the techniques he and his team at use to great effect.

ionSearch founder Fergus Clawson posed the questions:

  • How do you plan your link-building strategy when starting a new campaign?

No two clients are the same. So I do a lot of competitor research, gaining a quick overview with some prospecting queries and take a look at the assets I have available. But for a typical prospecting/competitor-research campaign, based on volume, I split up prospects into groups. The top tier is the group of prospects that are either authoritative, or can send long term traffic (a lot of overlap here), the bottom tier is average at best link opportunities that are only worth pursuing in bulk, and the rest are in the middle.

The top tier is a lot smaller, but each email is almost completely personalised and I take time finding details that show I’m both a real person and that I care. The second is half template, half personalised – and the bottom is just a template.

  • How much emphasis to you place on link location, i.e. where a link is actually placed on a page?

If I’m looking to get a few links for traffic then where it is on the page is huge, but usually as long as it’s not in the footer or anything (although there’s not many opportunities like that for the kind of link-building I do),I don’t pay much attention. Sure, it matters for the authority of the link but usually it doesn’t come down to whether I’ll pursue an opportunity based on page location.

  • Will anchor text lose its power?

Nope. There’s very few alternatives for telling relevancy from an off-page perspective. I think the context of the link is going to increase (and has already increased quite a bit), i.e. a link from relevant content in a relevant section that is still anchor text is very important. From an abusive standpoint you could say it’s lost a lot of power, but that’s really it.

  • Site content relevancy – should we be overly cautious about this when link-building?

I hate to say it, but it depends. One way I classify opportunities is if they’re either authoritative or relevant. If they’re not either, then they’re not worth pursuing. Granted, I won’t pursue a link from a top automotive blog (authoritative) to a home decor site, but as long as it can be somewhat tied in, the authority is worth it. But back to relevancy, it definitely matters, and it causes me to pursue lower authority opportunities (usually much easier to find) because you really need a good balance of both.

  • Do you look at inbound and outbound link volumes when you consider placing a link?

For the most part no, but if there’s over one thousand links on the page, I usually discard it. Not all the time, like when it’s on a PR4+ .edu or .gov site, but mostly.

  • How do you safeguard your link-building efforts from possible Penguin penalties?

Don’t leave a footprint. Penalties detect patterns. If you don’t have one, no matter what might seem “black hat” or “against Google guidelines”, they really can’t get you for anything.

I also want to address the idea of “creating content and links for the user”. First of all, I think it’s BS from a practical standpoint. We’re still optimising for search engines at the end of the day. Second of all, 90% of consultants who say this don’t even really do it, and if they did, it wouldn’t make sense. Sure, the ones who win really big do build just for the user, but no consultant has the tenacity and drive to go all out for a website that they’re getting contracted to work on. I still do a good job for my clients, but I do my best work when it’s my own projects, because I’m personally and completely invested in it. That’s when “building for the user” really works.

  • What is your viewpoint on Google Authorship in relation to link-building?

It’s very unique, because in my opinion this is going to go right back to the concept of paid links once people realise having authoritative authors write for your site is like getting a trusted link. Freelance authors in competitive niches with trusted G+ profiles are going to be heavily sought after for their mark-up. It’s going to be very interesting to see when the industry as a whole picks up on this as a legitimate alternative (not complete, but partial) to link-building.

  • What defines a high quality link?

There’s no definition, and it’s usually relative. A PA40 link in one niche might mean the world, whereas in another it could be average at best. It revolves around the opportunity available in a lot of cases.

  • What is the ultimate link? homepage. If you can pull it off, we should make you president.

  • How important are social mentions for boosting/supporting link-building efforts?

The only role social plays for me is in finding out what content people like and how authoritative a blog is based off the average tweets and Facebook likes it gets per post. I personally don’t think they really do anything from an on-site perspective, although studies have shown that in large quantities they can have positive effects (still though, unrealistically large numbers).

  • List your top five easy link-building wins

1) For E-commerce, your suppliers.

2) Pages with links to more than five competitors.

3) Finding links to 404s on your site and redirecting.

4) For E-commerce, .edu discount pages.

5) Brand mention reclamation.

  • What is currently in your link-building tool-kit?

I’m actually trying to build a new process from scratch, but tools I can’t live without (ever) right now are Open Site Explorer, Screaming Frog, Excel, and Gmail. But building in a process that uses Raven Tools, Ontolo, Buzzstream (almost in my “can’t live without” section),and a bunch of Gmail tools (Streak, Taskforce, Rapportive, to name a few).

  • How much faith do you put in the SEOMOZ DA and PA scores?

Say what you want, but they’re the two metrics I look at most. They make my life so much easier. So I guess a lot would be an understatement.

  • If you had a budget for $10,000 per month for link-building how would you spend it? For say an E-commerce site selling sports equipment.

Really depends on competition analysis. But give-aways, sponsorships, and PR would be the big three. Again, really tough because every situation is unique.

  • If you had lots of time but no money how would you link-build for say an online software subscription site?

A lot of outreach and relationship building with bloggers and thought leaders in the space, especially in online software. I’d also invest in trying to build an application or two for a Hacker News-type community that could get some traction, and along with it, a handful of links.

  • Will the Penguin update eventually eradicate the problem of spammy sites ‘gaming’ the SERPS?

The SERPs will never not be gamed. Google knows that. The only thing they can do is make it more & more riskier and try and keep pushing the difficulty of gaming as close to the difficulty of doing it the white hat way.

  • List your top 5 link-building blogs and explain why we should read them.,,,, and These are some of the very few blogs consistently crafting helpful, creative, and new link-building ideas, strategies, and tactics.

  • How do you think Google now evaluates a link? What is Google looking for?

Wow, that’s broad! I wish I knew, but luckily it really doesn’t come down to a lot of the technicalities. Going based off what’s working (and not just from a linking perspective, but a content and technical one as well) is the only thing that should really be focused on.

But I think Google is looking for slow growth. Most SEO success stories don’t happen over night. They usually happen over six months, or even a year. Slow, continual and consistent link growth is what gives longevity.

  • Will citations and text surrounding a link play a bigger role in 2013?

Yep, but I think it’s already here – just not talked about as much. When anchor text got hit hard by Penguin (and again, only from a manipulative standpoint), they had to replace some of their relevance metrics with something and I think context helped fill that gap.

  • Which link-building approaches do you think will be popular in 2013?

Building out (and/or updating) old content that was successful (and potentially broken). This tactic is virtually foolproof, yet it’s not talked about as much.

  • What are, in your opinion, the most common link-building mistakes?

Not thinking one step ahead of Google. Just look at what they’re trying to do. Any footprint can (and probably will) hurt you in a future update. Not making your links future proof is such a mistake, but it gets overlooked because the backlash might come a couple years from now and not today. Not necessarily saying they’re black hat, just saying an algorithm has the chance of having it’s way if it feels as it might be manipulative.

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  1. Mike litson says:

    “Granted, I won’t pursue a link from a top automotive blog (authoritative) to a home decor site”

    In terms of this I know it was an example but I can well see a tie, best automotive home ornaments things like steering wheel clocks that sort of thing or xmas related gift posts with car stuff for the home easy XD, just gotta hope that the site you’re linking to actually sells one of the products your talking about and your on to a winner. And if not, just throw up an out of stock page.

    Also I disagree with the slow gradual growth (overall yes), but I think it’s important to note that peaks and troughs are also quite natural around certain events for large brands, product launches, PR campaigns (good and bad) and so on. I really think that moving forward Google is going to get better at spotting this sort of thing, and it’s probably something that we as SEO’s should be looking more into, how brand mentions, social mentions and link velocities tie together around large events so that we can look to replicate this as well as an overall growth. Sure if you get a spike in links and no other mentions then it is going to look like spam, personally I’m interested in creating a pattern that even a human couldn’t certainly say is manipulated and I think the way to do this is create news and link spikes around that bulked up with the standard methods, but this would still create spikes between the legitimate reasons you manage to make.

    Oh and one final point DA and PA are good, but you need to cross reference by checking the backlink profile, unfortunately the figures get easily bloated. But they are great surface level metrics.

    Other than that I’m mostly inclined to agree.

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