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How To Create A Scalable Solution To Link Building

By Brett Farmiloe, founder of Terkel, a decentralized Q&A site that converts questions into articles featuring expert insights.

Link building was the toughest thing I had to figure out in my digital marketing agency.

The options were simple:

  1. Don’t do it; sacrifice lucrative revenue
  2. Outsource it; be the middleman
  3. Do it; find a scalable solution that works

I chose to “do it,” but the “finding a solution” part is where I got hung up for multiple years. Our agency tried all the white hat, black hat and gray hat tactics. Ultimately, we created a solution to link building, and I ended up successfully selling and exiting the agency.

What was the solution?

Focus on clients’ E-A-T: expertise, authority and trust.

In this post, I’ll share more about the solution and how to build a profitable, scalable digital PR department to drive client results at your agency.

The Scalable Solution: Your Client’s Expertise

Everyone’s an expert on something—especially your clients.

Solutions that tap into and share that expertise are the best, most natural way to promote a business and acquire backlinks. Just answer questions, position your client as the expert, and get your client featured in articles with links back to their website.

Help a Reporter Out, or HARO, created this strategy in 2007 when they began connecting journalists with expert sources. Google validated this strategy in 2018 with the introduction of E-A-T in their Search Quality Rater Guidelines. And since HARO has not innovated on their platform, the door has been left open for other entrants in the space such as Terkel (disclosure: I started Terkel), Help a B2B Writer, Qwoted, ResponseSource and even Quora to give experts a platform to share their expertise.

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Agencies have never had platforms like these to execute their digital PR or link-building efforts at scale. That’s why, to solve link building at an agency, it’s important to focus on the “how” and “who” in building an internal process.

The Internal Process: How And Who

Most big problems are solved with a well-defined process within a structured department. Link building is no different.

How does an agency go about building a process, and who needs to be part of the process?

Before building the process, let’s take a look at who needs to be a part of the structure: Writers, Digital PR Managers and Client Services.

• Writers: The Voice Of The Client

Clients don’t have time to write answers to questions. Instead, writers need to assume the voice of the client and structure answers on their behalf.

Pause here. Deciding on whether to get client approval is the most important decision you’ll make as part of your agency process. If client approval is required, then writers will identify relevant questions, write an answer on behalf of the client and then the agency will seek approval.

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Otherwise, if a client gives your agency the green light to submit on their behalf, then a writer would identify, write and submit.

Most agencies choose the latter and compensate writers on a performance basis, where success is a quote placed in an article. This way, expenses are maintained and writers’ motivations are aligned with the success of the agency and client.

• Client Services: The Project Manager

Even if clients don’t require approval of quotes, they do need to see and understand where their insights are being placed. Client Services delivers these messages and ensures that projects are running smoothly with prompt approvals.

If clients simply want to receive updates of successful placements, then agencies need to equip their Client Services team with answers to client FAQs so that they are educated on how activities are driving results. Otherwise, Client Services can serve in a PM type of role to make sure deadlines are met.

• Digital PR Manager: Monitoring It All

The digital PR manager ensures that everything comes together to produce positive results.

Writer activities are closely monitored to ensure that goals are met. Goals are regularly reviewed so that they are achieved. Performance reports are tracked so that monthly organic search traffic trends in the right direction.

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In short, the digital PR manager takes ownership of all activity for either the entire agency or a subset of the agency’s clients.

Agency Size: Division Of Responsibilities

Agency size impacts the roles and responsibilities of the digital PR department.

• Ideation: 1-5 Employees. Assign one person to do the writing, client services and digital PR management.

• Scale: 6-10 Employees. Outsource the writing to freelancers and assign one person to do client services and digital PR management.

• Growth: 11-25 Employees. Keep the writing outsourced and split digital PR and client services between two employees.

• Expansion: 25+ Employees. Consider splitting digital PR managers into their units of teams, responsible for a certain number of clients. Client services can be shared or spread, depending on the traditional structure of the agency.

Next Steps: E-A-T Up

Link building has always held a certain mystique. But the reality is that it can be pretty simple.

Rely on your client’s expertise, authority and trust to build links. Build a structured digital PR effort to get client answers placed via expert insight platforms. Drive results for your clients and your agency’s bottom line.

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