Link Building Lessons – An Interview with @PaddyMoogan
Last week at SMX Sydney 2013 I had the pleasure of witnessing some fantastic international speakers that I’ve been keeping a keen eye on over the course of the year. One of those who I was really keen to see & meet in real life was none other than Distilled’s very own SEO Consultant, Paddy Moogan. What a champ!
I’ve seen Paddy’s posts here and there, but what really caught my attention was his “35 Link Building Tips in 35 Minutes” talk, which he did for Mozcon 2012 – very insightful (here’s a condensed version he followed up with on a White Board Friday entitled “8 Link Building Tips”). I’ve also found his tips on BuzzStream extremely useful (“Guest Blogging Link Building using BuzzStream” & “Use BuzzStream to Scale your Link Building” are just a couple of examples).
Aside from kicking ass at SEO and speaking abroad, Paddy’s been busy writing a book – so without further ado… onto the interview!
Woj: Hey, mate. Welcome to Australia. Hope you’re having a nice day. Whereabouts in the UK are you originally from?
Paddy: From an area called Birmingham which is in the Midlands of the UK; it’s about 100 miles north of London. I’m from there originally, but I moved down to London about three years ago to work for Distilled, so I live in London now. That’s where I’m heading back to when I finish my travels.
Woj: While we’re on the subject of traveling, how do you rate Australian beer?
Paddy: I’ve not drunk as much of it as I should have done. I love New Zealand, but it’s way better than New Zealand beer. I was a bit disappointed with the local beer in New Zealand. We went to a really nice place in Melbourne for some beers and some locally brewed IPAs which I love so I’ve been really pleased with the local beer so far.
Woj: Darker ales? You should try Cooper’s Dark Ale. It’s a South Australian one. It’s quite nice.
Paddy: I think I tried that last time I was in Sydney. There’s a place in Darling Harbour that does it. There’re some really good beers over here. Not as good as London.
Woj: LOL. Well, talking of home, what’s it like working at Distilled?
Paddy: It’s great. Obviously I’m biased. But it’s a great place to work. We’ve got a really big team of SEOs now.
Woj: How big?
Paddy: I think there are 50 of us now in the whole company across the three offices. It’s probably more like 55 or 60 now. It’s great to have all those different people to bounce ideas off. When you’ve got a problem you can just send an email around, and there’s always someone who can help yo,u so it’s nice to have that big team. It’s a cool place because they let you do stuff like SMX, let you go out and speak and blog however much you want. It’s a cool place. I enjoy it.
Woj: I saw a tweet from one of your colleagues with a photo of a wall, I think probably at Distilled. It said ‘there’s only one Paddy Moogan’. What’s that all about?
— Phil Nottingham (@philnottingham) January 7, 2013
Paddy: I think it was the Christmas party last year where, as you do, we went out and got very, very drunk. One of our junior guys who’d been with the company about three or four months was on my team. I’d been training him up as an SEO. He was very, very drunk and started singing outside the pub ‘there’s only one Paddy Moogan’ in a football chant kind of thing. Then a couple of the other guys joined in and it went from there and became a bit of an internal meme. All of a sudden our Seattle guys were saying it, New York was saying it. The picture on the wall, that was actually done by Phil Nottingham. Each employee at Distilled gets what they call ‘a happiness budget’. It’s a budget they can spend each year on anything they want to make them happy. The idea was to spend it on office chairs, nice big monitors, upgrade for your laptop, that kind of proper stuff. Phil decided to use it in on getting a picture of me put on the wall in one of our meeting rooms which I’ve not seen yet because I’ve not been back to the London office. I thought it was Photoshopped first and then I saw a video. I had a call with someone on Google Hangouts and saw it in their background but that’s where that came from. I’m a bit embarrassed about it because we’ve had new people join since I left, since I came over to New Zealand, and they’re going to be like, ‘Who the hell is this guy? Why is his picture on the wall?’
Woj: You’ll come back and expect to have royal treatment.
Paddy: It’s a bit of an internal meme that we’ve got going on. I bear the brunt of most of the memes at Distilled.
Woj: Bit of a strange question. Are you a long lost relative of the Moog synth?
Paddy: Not that I’m aware of. There’s not too many of us.
Woj: You’re currently living in Queenstown, New Zealand?
Paddy: I moved out about a week ago so I’m traveling at the moment but I was there for about six months.
Woj: What inspired the move?
Paddy: I went to New Zealand about three years ago and did a three week tour of the north and south islands. It’s awesome. I’ve just been in love with the place and really wanted to live there for longer. I had the chance at Distilled to go on sabbatical so I decided to move there for six months with my girlfriend. We moved over there and lived there for six months and now we’re traveling for a few months on our way back to the UK now. We just love the place and Queenstown’s really special. It’s a world away from London. London’s very busy, very congested and polluted. You walk out in Queenstown and it’s the exact opposite so it’s nice to have that change.
(See for yourself in this video before – it’s pretty freaking awesome! – Produced by Paddy’s very talented girlfriend Elle-Rose Williams)
Woj: You’ve been traveling a bit around the place. I saw your talk at MozCon last year where you gave away 35 link building tips in 35 minutes. Some really good actionable advice there. What are three quick wins or tips for the reader that are low-cost and easy to execute by small teams?
Paddy: I think one of the things I’ve seen a lot of success with recently is link building around images, basically seeing who’s copied your images, approaching them and saying, ‘Hey, give us a credit link back because you’re using our image,’ because that feels very natural to a lot of people and you don’t even have to ask for a link. You’re asking for a credit which is a link but you’re not asking specifically for a link. Even if you haven’t got big budgets and you’re quite a small team doing that with your company logo, for example, could be a really quick win. It doesn’t require any extra resources; every company’s got a logo so you can just run that through Google image search and see if anyone’s used it. Thank them for it if there’s a link there and ask for it if it’s not.
Woj: Funny you should say that. I was actually going to take a photo of you and not send you a link to this interview but get you to find the photo by doing a reverse image search and hit me up for a link afterwards.
Paddy: And I could do a bit of outreach. I think that’s quite a good tactic because it’s quite low-cost. You can take it all the way to the other extent as well whereby you get a professional photographer in to take unique photos just for you and then do it off the back of that if you’ve got a bit more budget. The other thing which one of my clients had quite a lot of success with recently was broken link building. Literally just finding their broken links, four or five pages, realigning those. That’s worked out quite well.
Woj: Their own sites or…
Paddy: Yes. Sorry. External links pointing to them. Particularly with the older clients who have been around for many years; they’ve always got broken links somewhere. There’s also a really good tip from, I think it’s Wil Reynolds I’ve heard speak about it, where you look for misspellings of your brand name in the link. Distilled.net is our URL but if someone might spell ‘Distilled’ wrong but still link to us. Searching for that and looking for those and seeing if someone’s linking to the misspelling of the URL and approaching them saying, ‘Hey, it’s broken. Could you fix it?’ – that’s quite a good low-cost tactic as well because everyone always spells stuff wrong so there’s going to be a few broken ones.
Woj: It’s just the nature of the internet, hey? Cool. Some solid stuff right there. So you’ve recently produced a book on link building. It’s quite an epic, well developed comprehensive guide to the entire process of link building. How long did that take and what was it like putting it all together?
Paddy: The first idea came in April, 2012 and I’d been invited to speak at MozCon. The idea was I was going to give it away to the audience at MozCon but time constraints got in the way and it just wasn’t going to happen. I was working on it part time probably for about six or seven months before I went to New Zealand then once I got to New Zealand I was working pretty much full time on it for about two or three months and then it just kept growing. Originally it was meant to be about 20,000-30,000 words and it ended up being nearly 70,000. It just kept growing and growing and growing and I kept working really late nights trying to get it all done. So probably about nine months in total but that was half part-time, half full-time. Eventually I just had to say that’s it, get it live, publish it rather than just keep going. It took quite a long time in the end but I think it was worth it.
Woj: How’s the response been so far?
Paddy: It’s been really good. Certainly a lot better than I expected. Sales have been really good so far and the feedback’s been great as well. There have been a few helpful pieces of constructive criticism as well, so there are definitely areas I can improve. I’m going to try and do that in the next edition, try and add more stuff in but most people have really loved it, recommended it to others that kind of stuff so I’m really happy with it at the moment. All the emails that I get have all been really positive so I’m quite happy with it.
Woj: I would have liked to have seen your own rating system or something. You know how towards the end of the book you give the different types of link building tactics out there. Having something like a scale out of five and a quality rating system; that would be of cool and useful for clients.
Paddy: I considered doing that and I realized that I didn’t really have time to do it in the end. There’s actually a link in the book to Jon Cooper’s list of link building tactics because he’s done a similar thing. To be honest, he did it so well that I was never going to be able to do something better in the time that I had so I thought I’d just point people towards that. That’s probably one of the best resources there is out there. I will want to do that at some point because some tactics are applicable for ecommerce sites, some of them are good for B2B (Business to Business) so I do want to try to segment a little bit more and make it more useful.
Woj: In the book you mentioned a personal site you have been running for a while. Is that still running and how’s that going? Has there been much of an impact post-Penguin & Panda?
Paddy: I’ve got a few of my own sites that I mess about with. Some of them used to make a bit of money; most of them don’t anymore because I’ve just not got the time to really keep at them. A lot of my really old sites, most don’t rank for anything anymore because they were built upon really bad, spammy links. They were my test sites years and years ago and now I supply all sorts of crappy links at them and none of them rank anymore. I’ve got a couple where I don’t really want to rank them; I just set them up to test random things on. I’ve not really got any of them running properly anymore. They’re just kind of spare time…
Woj: Testing grounds?
Paddy: Yeah. Which is good to have I think because I test up on my own blog but I don’t really want to risk doing anything too shady on my own blog just in case it goes wrong.
Woj: In this day and age it’s not worth the risk, is it?
Paddy: Not at all. With Penguin especially even a small amount of bad links could cause you problems now, I think.
Woj: To that point, what are some strategies or tactics that have stood the test of time?
Paddy: It’s a good question. I think ultimately you’ve got to think about the stuff that Google will never want to penalize and ultimately that comes back to having a website that deserves to get links. One of the problems I sometimes have with clients is I’ll look at their website and I won’t know why they deserve to get links. You ask them themselves, say, ‘Why should someone link to you? Why should Tech Crunch link to you? Why should Mashable link to you?’ and they struggle to answer it and that’s quite a bad sign anyway. I think the sort of stuff that stands the test of time is a website that’s genuinely linkworthy, it’s got good resources on there, they’ve got really good product pages. They’ve got a good product; that in itself is linkworthy, having something unique. That’s the sort of thing I want to see us pushing more towards is genuinely good marketing of a product and marketing of a company. That’s the sort of stuff that Google doesn’t want to penalize so it will stand the test of time. Whereas the low level tactics – Google are going to catch them at some point. It’s just a matter of when rather than if, which makes things harder. But for the people who can get it right it’s going to work out for them.
Woj: It’s supposedly all about a strong user experience – apart from satisfying their shareholders, which is another story all together. They are trying to deliver that quality experience.
Paddy: Totally. Again, it comes back to just good marketing: you provide a good experience for your customers and they’re going to come back to you. I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about building a non-asset that Google can’t take away. One of those things is a good customer base because if you’ve got a loyal customer base you don’t need to rank; they come straight back to you. They just Google your brand or they’ll have you bookmarked on top with a URL. You don’t need to rank well for those customers who keep coming back and buying from you so being able to build out a loyal customer base is probably number one on the list of priorities. A good example in the industry is actually SEOmoz. They get traffic through people Googling SEO tools, SEO software but their customers love them so much that they just come straight back. They don’t need to Google stuff.
Woj: It’s Rand’s magic publish button isn’t it?
Paddy: LOL. Exactly. People just come back to them all the time and don’t need to think about ranking well or anything like that.
Woj: Was it difficult writing the book given the changing climate of link building? Did things even change while you were writing the book and will there be a second edition soon?
Paddy: There will definitely be a second edition, I’m hoping around the summer, hopefully July-August time I’ll put something out. But it did change as I progressed because, well, Penguin happened about two weeks after I had the idea for the book. That scoped quite a lot of the content and chapters. Also I just kept learning more stuff as I researched certain areas more I naturally learnt more stuff that I wanted to include. It did change as I went along. The original tablet content is very different, or was very different, to what’s in there now because also I started getting feedback from my colleagues at Distilled.
Paddy working hard in Queenstown – Image Credit: theworldandthensome.com
I got some friends to look at it and I just kept coming up with more and more ideas for what I could include so it ended up being very, very different in the end. Hopefully what I’ve got is still quite comprehensive. There’s still stuff I want to include but I’ve got quite high standards with that kind of thing so I look at it now and think what I could have included rather than what’s actually in there. I just keep thinking what I could add to it and hopefully it’ll be a bit more comprehensive.
Woj: I think that’s the whole future of that kind of lean approach. You put a book out, you get the feedback, you reiterate, you make changes based on the readership.
Paddy: Exactly. It’s one of the main reasons why I didn’t want to do just print versions of the book as well. With an online version, an ebook, you just send out a new version. Tomorrow it’s done. Whereas in print obviously you can’t go back; once it’s done it’s done. So that’s one of the reasons I steered away from the print. I just want to keep in online and keep it easy for people to update and read rather than having to reprint every time because that would be quite messy and expensive as well.
Woj: It’s a tight book, man. I encourage anyone to read it who wants to learn about the importance of inbound links and the overall impact on search engine rankings. Also to learn what it takes and why a budget is usually required to achieve these results (You can buy The Link Building Book here for the ridonkulously low price of $37). Establishing relationship is important. Tell me about your most interesting link building experience.
Paddy: Good question. There have been a couple actually where I’ve been doing outreach for a client and whenever I do outreach I will do it as myself, from my Distilled email address. The only time that I don’t is when a client wants a certain persona being used so I can hand over that persona to the client but 99% of the time I will do it as myself. There have been occasions where people have recognized my name from SEO so sometimes I’ve gotten a link as a result of people knowing who I am. Then give them a bit of free SEO advice. There have been a few instances where someone said, ‘Can you take a quick look over my website. Give me some pointers.’ And I’ve done that and I’ve gotten a link as a result of that. That’s happened a few times which is quite cool and you’ve got a relationship ongoing. I’ve even had freelance work as a result of link building for clients which is really, really weird.
Woj: Jon (Quinton) was just saying (in a previous session at SMX) about offering a little bit of advice to an ecommerce site and maybe getting a product in return.
Paddy: It’s the same principle. It’s that whole building relationship thing again. Actually when I was back at university first learning SEO, I got a link from the university website just by getting the guy who runs the website drunk. He runs the sports section of the website. I just found that out, got him drunk one night and said, ‘Would you link to this website? It’s one of my credit sites.’ It worked really, really well but you can’t do that anymore. Doesn’t really work with clients as much.
Woj: Who are some of your favorite link builders in the industry?
Paddy: That’s kind of tough because SEO is one of those industries where people like myself who speak at conferences get a lot of attention and people might think you’re the best people, but I think a lot of the best people are the ones who don’t actually get out there and do public facing stuff. They’re normally inside the company not really building up a big profile; they just do their job and get good at it and keep going. A lot of the best ones I’ve seen are actually in house at a couple of my clients and in house at Distilled, where they don’t actually speak, they’re really good at link building and just do it all day long. In terms of the public facing people I’m always amazed by Wil Reynolds who’s a great person to follow because he strikes that right balance between high level strategy but also tactics and also he doesn’t bullshit very often. He says it how it is. I think that’s what you need with link building, because it’s not actually that complicated; it’s hard to do, but it’s not actually that difficult to get your head around the idea of it.
Woj: A lot of the time people make a mistake of thinking, ‘I’ll send an outreach email and ask for a link up front.’ Whereas it’s all about getting your foot in the door and establishing that rapport and kind of schmoozing your way into bringing up a link.
Paddy: Again, that relationship building is what it’s about. If you think about how a public relations person would approach it they’ve got their black books full of relationships. That’s what they’re known for; that’s what they build their careers upon. SEO should be the same. You build relationships with people so you don’t email and ask for links. You just get them eventually. Someone else who I really admire in terms of link building is a guy called Justin Briggs based in Seattle. He used to work for Distilled and now he works in house. He’s very practical with his link building and he thinks very technically as well.
Woj: He works for a gaming company right?
Woj: What do you think about the term ‘link earning’ in the context of content marketing? Actually producing good shit that people will link to naturally.
Paddy: I think it’s an awesome idea if it works. The reality is it’s very hard because even though…I don’t like the idea that people say ‘create great content and you’ll get links,’ because it’s not always that straightforward. It is for the big sites that people already know about. When you’ve already got a community it’s easy. But for a lot of clients, they haven’t got that community, they haven’t got the brand, they’ve not got the influence to just push out content and get links. I think it’s a great idea but the reality is you’ve got to work hard, especially in the early days, to promote the content and build that relationship, build the audience. One you’ve got to that point you’re going to get links naturally, you’ll earn links over time that will happen on their own. But it’s actually really, really hard to do and a lot of clients don’t want to wait that long, which make your job even harder. They want to see results straight away.
Woj: It’s definitely the new buzzword and I think that kind of popularity lends itself to shortcuts and high expectations. Not too many questions left, but what are the three tools you couldn’t live without?
Paddy: Screaming Frog is probably the tool I use the most aside from Excel which goes without saying. Excel’s brilliant. Although Excel for Mac is really annoying. SEO Tools for Excel is a really, really good tool but it doesn’t work on a Mac and it bugs the hell out of me. The other one for link building is BuzzStream which I love it. I feel like I work for them sometimes because I always talk about it.
Woj: I’ve just started using it and seeing some of the nice features.
Paddy: It’s really cool. It’s better for teams of SEOs rather than individuals so when you’re an individual an Excel spreadsheet will probably do the job. But when you’re managing multiple clients and multiple link builders it’s really great. It’s really cool if you outsource your link building to anyone, they can hook into BuzzSteam and do the work and you keep an eye on it. They are probably the main tools I use the most. And to be honest, Google is probably the one which I use day in and day out. I know there are lots of tools out there for scraping search results and scraping link targets and that kind of thing, but at the end of the day Google can give you all the answers that you need. They’re the ones who’ve got all the websites; you can find them on Google. They’re free; I’d rather spend less money on tools. I definitely advise figuring out how to use batch search queries on Google, how to narrow down results really quickly. I enjoy doing that a lot. That’s probably what I do the most.
Woj: You’ve been asked to assemble a superstar team from the SEO community. Who are your first four choices or (first five if you didn’t make the cut)?
Paddy: LOL – I can’t really say the guys at Distilled. I’ve got a team of four people at Distilled and I’d have them straight away.
Woj: It’s up to you. It’s your interview. LOL
Paddy: I think I’d look for a bit of diversity in there so I’d look for a technical SEO who gets link building. They’re really, really useful because they’re the people who can hack together a piece of content really quickly or they can do site audit and find link opportunities at the same time. I’d look for a technical SEO. One of the guys at Distilled called Dave Sottimano, he’s awesome at that kind of stuff. He’s very technical but he’s good at link building at the same time because he just cuts all the bullshit and gets on the phone and builds that relationship over the phone. I mentioned Justin Briggs earlier; I wish he was still at Distilled. He’s a really good link builder. I’m not really sure who else to be honest. I like Jon Cooper‘s stuff given he’s such a young guy; he’s not even old enough to drink. He’s 18, 19 years old.
Woj: He’s incredible… doing all kinds of podcasts and courses.
Paddy: He’s building his own company now in his own right and training other link builders, so he’s doing really well. That’s probably who I’d go for. I’d probably give a shout out to one of the guys at Distilled called Craig Bradford who was one of the SEOs who joined us, hardly knowing any SEO at all. He’s someone who I think is one of the best I’ve met or trained up and he’s really, really good at link building as well. I’d probably choose him. I know it’s quite biased but I’d probably call him out as one of the best ones.
Woj: You made the cut?
Paddy: I guess so. You’ve got to have somebody there to make tea and coffee so I could do that.
(Here are a few other SEO Superstars I found when doing my “research”!)
Woj: LOL – A philosophical question for you now: How many links could a link builder build if a link builder could build links?
Paddy: I’ve got this thing about trying to change the way that people think about link building a little bit because I did have it in my SMX [decommission] box, I’ve taken it out now, that basically a good link builder will get you links. That’s pretty straightforward. Then a great link builder will get you links you didn’t ask for. I think it’s moving towards that mindset of a link builder being able to get links I didn’t ask for. It’s the way it’s got to go eventually because again, they’re the links Google doesn’t want to penalize. They’re the ones that are given naturally. I’m not sure if I’ve answered the question but it kind of ties in a little bit I guess.
Woj: That’s a great answer! Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Paddy: Cool. Thanks a lot.
I really enjoyed the interview, and we continued having a chat after I stopped recording. I wish I hadn’t stopped as he dropped more gems and a few interesting stories. I really recommend chatting to Paddy if you ever get the chance (at a conference, on the street… wherever). He’s very knowledgeable when it comes to link building, all things SEO and very down to earth with a good sense of humor. Here are the slides from his recent presentation at SMX Sydney 2013 entitled “10 Link building tools and how to use them” – check it out:
Hope you enjoyed reading this – would love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments below! All the best Paddy – hope we cross paths again sometime soon
If you enjoyed reading this you might like to check out the interview I did with Mike King last year – “Inbound Marketer Without A Pause – An Interview with @iPullRank“.