Lots of marketers talk about the importance of backlinks, but few have solid processes for earning them at scale.
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Liam Martin digs into the details of the backlinking process he's been using to 10X organic traffic to his business websites, including Time Doctor and Staff.com.
If you're serious about SEO and understand the importance of backlinks, this episode is for you. Liam gets into a lot of specifics about how he hires his team of researchers and linkers, what they're paid, how they're incentivized to get links, and how he tracks performance. He also shares the copywriting formula he uses to convince other sites to link to his.
So many actionable takeaways that anyone can use to build their own backlinking strategy!
Highlights from my conversation with Liam include:
At the time Liam started building his backlinking strategy, he'd been blogging for three or four years and had a domain ranking of around 60. Today, his sites have a domain ranking of 80, which is a significant improvement and an impressive ranking in its own right.
They had been focusing on on-page SEO for quite some time and realized that if they were going to get serious, they'd need to do more off-page SEO.
Liam rebuilt his entire team to be able to focus on off-page SEO and today, he has a sales team focused specifically on getting links.
Liam is the CMO and has two people (an Editor and SEO Manager) who report to him. Under them, there are writers, researchers and linkers.
Once they identify keywords they want to target, their researchers try to find the content that current ranks at the top of the search engine results pages for that keyword, and identify the email addresses and names of the authors of that content. They will not carry out a backlinking campaign unless they have at least 500 emails.
Once the emails are identified, they are sent to the team of linkers, who are the people that conduct the outreach to the authors that they would like backlinks from.
His team has a 15 to 20% conversion rate on the emails they send out.
To incentive his team, Liam developed a compensation system that rewards linkers based on the domain authority of the links they get.
He has found that listicles and statistical articles get the most backlinks.
Because his team is remote and located all over the world, Liam spends time each quarter auditing some of the emails they are sending out to make sure they are on-brand.
In the two years that Liam and his team have been executing this strategy, they've gone from getting just a few links a month to getting hundreds of links a month, all while improving domain authority and organic traffic considerably.
My name is Kathleen Booth, and I'm your host. This week, my guest is Liam Martin, who's the co-founder and CMO of Time Doctor, Running Remote Conference, and Staff.com. Welcome, Liam.
Liam Martin (Guest): Thanks for having me.
Liam and Kathleen recording this episode together .
Kathleen: I am excited to talk to you because I got an email from somebody who said that you had increased your organic traffic from 12,000 to 120,000 in under two years, which is a big jump. When I hear things like that, my first thought is "I want to talk to this guy and find out how he did it."
About Liam Martin
Kathleen: Before we jump into that, though, I want to hear a little bit more about you and your journey, and how you wound up where you are today, and talk to me about what these various companies and events are all about.
Liam: Sure. Well, first of all, before we get into that, I didn't do it. Other people did it, which is actually the only way that you can do this, which we can talk about later on.
So, human being, more specifically, human being on Planet Earth, more specifically in Canada, I am a co-founder of, as you said, Time Doctor, Staff.com and Running Remote, and those all kind of tie into a singular concept, which is we really want to empower people to be able to work wherever they want, whenever they want.
So, we personally have a hundred remote employees in 32 different countries all over the world, and we believe that working remotely makes people happier. It reduces global suck on Planet Earth, and that's really why we do everything that we're currently doing with Time Doctor, Staff and Running Remote.
Kathleen: I have to just say before you go on to the next thing, I so wholeheartedly endorse that because I have been working remotely for the last two years at a company where 60% of the team is remote, and I manage a team of eight people, and I think five of us are remote. It has not been detrimental at all to our effectiveness. So, 100% agree.
Liam: It will even get better once everyone goes remote. There is a, what in the industry we call a double silo effect, or founder magic problem, which is if you have a physical office, and then you have remote employees, a lot of those remote employees feel disempowered to be able to make the same decisions as the local employees, because they're closer to the decision maker.
That's actually really problematic, which is why I'm in one of my crash pads right now. We used to have eight. Now we have two because they were just so ineffective for us in terms of having office space. Even when there's four to five people in this office, and we're going to do a meeting, we all do meetings on our own Zoom accounts.
So, we all meet separately to be able to make sure that everyone has the perception that we are all separate, because those remote employees will definitely feel left out if everyone's kind of around me, who is the decision maker. It creates significant long-term problems in terms of your business.
Kathleen: I love that, because it puts everybody on an even playing field, and as somebody who has been remote, I can speak to that, the power of that, absolutely. It makes a huge difference.
Liam: But we're here to talk about SEO. Right?
Liam's SEO strategy
Liam: So, basically, the entire SEO content strategy came from our belief that you can effectively build a content team with remote workers, and they can be as effective, if not more effective than an in-house team.
So, we had basically been kind of playing around with blogging for maybe three to four years, and we had built up to maybe a DR, I'd say 60 sites, and for everyone that maybe people don't know, DR is domain rank on Ahrefs and SEO Moz. You'll be able to-
Kathleen: 60 is really good.
Liam: Yeah. 60 is pretty good. I think we're an 80 now, so we definitely moved up a few pegs, and it's all exponential. So, a 60 to a 70 is 10 times harder than a 50 to a 60, as an example.
So, we had built that site up to about a 60, and then we realized, well, we need to get really serious about this. One of the things that we weren't paying attention to fundamentally was our off-page. So, we were doing a whole bunch of on-page. We knew how to optimize for that, and again, for anyone that is not really knowing what the heck I'm talking about, on-page is basically where you change the on-page factors of a website, and off-page is where you bring in new backlinks to a particular web page.
So, we had basically rebuilt the entire team off of that premise. So, we built a sales team, which instead of getting deals, they would get links. We implemented a technology stack behind that.
So, fundamentally, the way the team is structured right now is I am still the CMO, so I review two individually that directly report to me, which is the content editor and the SEO manager. The content editor has a team of about 20 writers that we all have on contract. Me, the SEO manager, and the content editor, we meet every quarter to be able to define all of the different keywords for the next quarter.
We identify those keywords through Ahrefs. That's what we use to be able to do all of our SEO research.
Then those particular keywords are sent out to the writers. We pre-vetted all those writers, so we know exactly what kind of quality of work they can produce. Those articles come back to the SEO manager. Then the SEO manager has his team, which is we have linkers and researchers.
So, usually we'll have one researcher to every two linkers. The researcher will identify... Let's say I'm trying to rank for online collaboration tools, which we're number one for, which is about a $36 click. We also identify very clearly when we're trying to figure out our quarterly numbers or our quarterly keywords, what are we looking for.
So, we may not be looking for the end traffic number. So, if we really wanted to, we could probably get a million clicks coming to the website per month, but they'd be really non-valuable clicks for us. So, online collaboration tools is a $36 click, which is very expensive, and I think it has about 2,000 searches a month. That one keyword probably does $60,000 to $70,000 worth of traffic value to the website per month.
We identify that keyword. We get our researcher to basically go in and identify who are the top people in the SERPs, and then who are those top people in the SERPs that other people are linking to. We do not proceed on a keyword unless we have about 500 emails that are contextual, that are all set up.
The email then goes to the linkers. So, the researcher basically researched the data, and then the linker is kind of the closer.
They'll go out and say, "Hey, I need to... Hi, Kathleen. This is Liam from Time Doctor. Really excited about chatting with you today. I saw this article about X, Y, Z, about online collaboration tools. I saw that you linked to it in this context. I think I have a better link that I can redirect to you, or I would love it if you linked to my website as well, to this web page as well. However, we've looked through your site, and we've identified that you're really trying to rank for Starbucks coffee cups," as an example. "It looks like you're ninth for that, and we just happen to have an article about Starbucks coffee cups, and we put you in it. Here's the link that we gave you."
Then that is really the big jump that we basically had, which was I get about 40 to 50 of these a week, of people that are just doing cold outreach emails. Fundamentally, the success rate on those, because we used to be doing those, were about 2% to 3%.
Now we get about 15% to 20% success rate, because what we've done is we're actually giving out a link. So, we're telling them, "Listen. We've given you a link. Here's the context of that link, and more importantly, I'm going to make this super easy for you. We'd love to be able to be in this article. Here's the paragraph that we've already pre-written for you. So, if you want to just cut and paste and throw that in, you can absolutely do it. If not, you can write something else."
Those definitely work for what I would define as the DR 50-plus range, because there's two different categorizations of the way that we do outreach. So, if someone has a domain rank of above 50, it's probably a multi-email exchange, so basically, those linkers need to act like salespeople. So, they need to be able to communicate very clearly through email.
The average exchange for us is seven email exchanges before we actually end up working on a partnership. So, it's pretty intense, but it definitely works. As I said, it's a 15% to 20%, basically, conversion rate.
Kathleen: Wow. All right. I have so many questions for you. This is really interesting to me, and to back up, backlinks is a topic that I think is fascinating as a marketer. I've been in this business for a long time on the agency side. I've worked with some really savvy marketers, and it has been very surprising to me how many of them give little to no credence or effort to backlinking strategies. They either discount-
Liam: I mean, they're in trouble then.
Kathleen: I know, I know. They discount the value of backlinks altogether, or they understand conceptually that they're valuable, but they don't put any effort into it. They just sort of wait for backlinks to happen organically. In some cases that happens, depending upon the type of content you create, but in other cases it doesn't.
It's always been interesting to me because when you read online about backlinking, there's a ton of content about why it's important. There's not a ton of content about how to actually go about doing it well. So, this is why I'm really interested to dig into this.
Liam: The other part that's really important that's connected to this is you can run these campaigns, but at least in my experience, I see the majority of them fail.
So, if you go to an agency, a DR 50 link is going to cost you about $500, generally, $300 to $500. Our cost is, I believe last month it was $36 per DR 50-plus link, so a significant cost reduction, and that's just, basically, I know that agencies are running these links, and they're acquiring them for $36, but then they're selling them on for $300 to $500.
So, it's actually very profitable to be able to do this type of work, but you're right. There's isn't that much value inside of it because I think a lot of people try and fail.
How Liam holds his team accountable for backlinks
Liam: So, what we did, which was different, is we didn't just implement these processes. We also made everyone accountable to these processes. It was very difficult to be able to get the right measure in place because, as an example, let's just say I said, "Well, I need to find out how many backlinks you're going to get. I'm going to measure your success by how many backlinks you get." If you're a linker, what you're going to do is you're going to approach a whole bunch of DR 10 sites, because those are really easy to be able to get backlinks on.
We just got a backlink last week from Salesforce. It's a DR 89 site. It's very, very powerful as a backlink. It's probably worth a thousand DR 10s, as an example.
So, how am I supposed to reward someone for working on a month-and-a-half to be able to build a really, to be able to link to a DR 89 when instead you could probably, in that same amount of time, get 10 DR 10 backlinks?
Well, what we implemented was cumulative domain authority. So, in essence, what happens is at the end of the month, we count up not how many backlinks you got, we look at that measure as well, but then we also measure the amount of DR you got inside of all of those links.
So, if you got a backlink from Salesforce, which was 89, you'd get 89 points, and then if you got a regular website that was a DR 11, you'd get 11 points. So, 89 plus 11, that's now your new score. You got 100 points, and let's keep going on through the week and the month. Then we just pay that out based off commission.
So, literally, the top linker for that month gets a cash bonus, which they're always fighting for.
What type of content is most likely to get backlinks?
Kathleen: I bet. So, I want to back up for a second. You start, you identify the keywords that you want to rank for. You're creating all this content. Are there any particular types of content that you find perform better in terms of other people being willing to link to them?
Liam: Yes. So, as an example, Time Doctor is a time tracking tool. It's pretty boring. No one really wants to link to time tracking blog posts, so it's very...
We also have another category, which is our golden list. So, we usually have a floating list of five pages that if someone owes us a favor, we'll ask them to link to that. So, it might be something super boring, like maybe one of our integration pages, and we want to rank number one for Asana time tracking. That would be an example. No one really wants to link to the Asana time tracking page, so we would throw that up there.
But outside of that, listicles, those are the ones that end up converting better than anything else, and they're very easy to be able to get links for if you're doing direct outreach.
Outside of that, however, there are the statistical articles, which are basically just link juice. So, we do a lot of articles, like we tracked 10 million work hours, and here's what we found, that type of stuff. You don't even really need to do link building for that, primarily because, number one, they're going to acquire links on their own, and number two, it's very difficult to be able to optimize them for a particular keyword that we would end up seeing as a purchaser's keyword, as a buying keyword, which is a little bit unfortunate.
But you can write those types of articles to basically raise your general domain rank, but you're not necessarily going to rank for anything in particular. So, you might write 10 of those, as an example, and maybe your domain rank will go from 80 to 82, whereas if you had written 10 very focused keywords for conversion, you might get an extra 50 customers a month, but your domain rank is not going to go up.
Kathleen: Yeah. That makes sense. It's interesting you talk about kind of data-packed articles, because in my experience, the type of content that we've seen perform really well from an organic backlinking perspective is infographics, and that tends to be because they have a lot of data behind them, and they're easy to share, and people like to pop them into other articles and things like that, but yeah.
Building a backlinking team
Kathleen: So, you create this content, and then you have this team of people. You mentioned having researchers and linkers. Can you talk a little bit more about how you found those people, and what kind of a profile are you looking for?
Liam: Sure. So, for anyone that kind of wants context on this, I would suggest you read From Impossible to Inevitable... Aaron Ross is the author. From Predictable to Inevitable. Darn, can't remember the name of it.
Kathleen: One of those two.
Liam: Just Google Aaron Ross, and read his book.
He was the guy that took basically Salesforce to a hundred million a year, and his model was to divide... His big kind of aha moment was dividing a sales rep from a lead generator. So, that was a big, huge sort of moment in sales, which was people that talked to other human beings should generally not be doing the research to be able to find those leads, and by dividing those two tasks, he was able to significantly improve the productivity of his team.
I'm just implementing the same thing for SEO. So, we have a researcher that literally goes out and identifies not just, as I said before, let's say the top 20 on SERP results for a particular keyword, but we'll use a tool like Ahrefs to go into those SERPs or into those links, and we'll see who linked to those people, and that's where we amass our list. We do not proceed with running a campaign unless we have a minimum of 500 emails to work with.
Kathleen: So, let me pause you for a second. Let's just, for argument's sake, say your keyword is remote work. I'm just going to make this up. So, you have this keyword, remote work. You've created content, and then you say to your researcher, "Go do your thing," and they take the words remote work, and they're looking at who is already ranking for that keyword phrase. Is that accurate?
Liam: Yeah. So, I'm just going to use the direct example that you just sent me right now.
Liam: So, the first article, or the first URL for remote work is We Work Remotely, who's actually... We know these guys. They're good friends of ours. They have a DR 74 site, and they have about $250,000 of monthly traffic value. So, they have to their main page 1,200 referring domains.
Kathleen: And you're seeing this all in Ahrefs, correct?
Liam: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, all I would do is I would then grab that list, I would identify everyone that has actually linked to that base domain from that list, and then I would load it into another tool that we have called BuzzStream. BuzzStream is basically the tool that we use for outreach.
So, we load everyone into that, and then it gives you the context of all of the conversations that have occurred. So, once we load those new 1,200 people into BuzzStream, we might identify that we've already actually spoken to about 273 of those people, and here's the context of one of those linkers that interacted with them.
So, I can also give you context, which is, "Hey, Kathleen. This is Liam. I know that you spoke to John a couple months ago about link X, Y, Z, but I would love to talk to you about link A, B, C," so that people have that context, and they know, "Oh, okay. I'm actually being listened to," and that just allows us to be able to automate the process a lot faster and easier.
So, once that's actually all loaded in, then we'll usually have some templates that we've already worked from, but usually inside of those templates there's customization that goes into every single link that goes out.
We do not let a non-customized email go out for anyone that's below a DR 50. We've just found there's kind of... That's the line that we've drawn, which is there are people that get these emails all the time, like me, and there are people that don't. Usually, the ones that don't are pretty easy to be able to knock off, and the ones that are a lot more difficult, you need to have context, and you need to be able to float above everyone else, because think of... I'm that person. In my inbox today, there were probably about... I think I saw about a dozen of these types of cold outreach emails, and none of them really work because they're asking for something, and they're not giving me anything in exchange.
Kathleen: Yeah, I'm that person, too. I get a lot of those emails, which is part of the reason I was excited to talk to you, because I'm like, I want to talk to somebody for whom this is actually working, because I know most of the ones I get, it doesn't work. But to back up for a second, you get the list from Ahrefs of domains that are linking to, in this case, We Work Remotely, and you're putting... Am I correct that you're putting those referring domains into BuzzStream?
Liam: So, what we'll do is we'll find out who is the author that actually linked to that particular article.
Kathleen: Oh, okay.
Liam: So, did it come from a blog post, or did it come from a base domain? Wherever the link came from, we try to hunt down who the author was, because we want to talk to a human being, and then we redirect that back over.
So, that takes a while. That's why you need researchers to be able to do that. I would probably say a good researcher can knock out something... Let's say we're just going to take all that data and crunch it into BuzzStream. Out of those thousand people, BuzzStream will probably only figure out about half, and then the other 50% will go through them and will throw out people that are DR 10, as an example, because it's just fundamentally not worth our time.
We'll pay very special attention to everyone that's a DR 50 and above, and we'll do two to five minutes of research per person, and we'll just identify who they are, what we think their email address is, and then we'll do that outreach.
Kathleen: So, talk to me a little bit more about how you find these researchers, and what kind of experience or background or profile are you looking for?
Liam: Sure. So, we generally find these guys all over Planet Earth. Our researchers don't necessarily need to be good in the English language. They need to be good at doing research, so a lot of attention to detail, data entry people, data work, those are the people that we really look for.
Fundamentally, we're looking for people that are excited about the grind, because it's a grind. I'm not going to tell you anything different. If you go to any sales floor, you'll have closers and you'll have SDRs. Right? SDRs are the people that are basically developing the lead for the closer, for the actual salesperson, and they're doing the research on that. Those people grind out every single day. Usually, they'll do that for a year or two, and then they get upgraded to being a closer.
So, we do the same thing inside of the company. Everyone has a passion for SEO, and that's actually another big just basic requirement, is a lot of people will come in and kind of say, "Well, I know how to do SEO, and I ranked this local," I don't know, "this local coffee shop for coffee in Timbuktu," or something like that, and they come in a little bit cocky, but then within a week or two, we just realize very quickly that they're somebody that should be a researcher, and not necessarily a linker as of yet. So, they'll spend about three to six months...
Generally, some people, if we're trying to develop them as a linker, we'll usually have them be a researcher for the first three months, just so that we can see that they can do the grind, because if they can't, they're generally not going to stick around that long even as a linker. Then some people love to stay there for... We've had people that have worked with us for years as linkers. They love the job.
Kathleen: If somebody's listening, and they're like, "I want to do this," how much should they expect to pay for a researcher? Is this an hourly job or...
Liam: So, it really depends. We pay a base, and then we add a commission structure to the amount of researched individuals that end up actually converting, not converting, but that are actually legitimate. So, we'll do this research, and then someone will say, "Hey, it's definitely Kathleen, and this is Kathleen's email address," and it will end up bouncing, so that counts against their rate. So, generally for us, our researchers are all above 95%. I believe no one starts to get into commissions until they're above 97%, but that's generally the way that we run it.
Those people would be anywhere from, I would say, 500 to 1,000 US per month per linker, and those guys are generally going to be found in the Philippines. You're going to be able to find some in Indonesia, maybe some in Bangladesh. However, in my opinion, you're going to pay a little bit more for people in the Philippines, but they are way more effective than people in those other countries in Southeast Asia.
Kathleen: So interesting. Thank you for sharing all that detail. That's really helpful. Okay. So, we've talked about the researchers and what they do. So, they identify the opportunities, they find the email addresses, and then they turn that over to the linker. Correct?
Liam: The linker, yeah.
Kathleen: Got it.
Liam: So, the linker the is very different from a researcher. They must have a very solid grasp of the English language because they can't just send a template. They have to be able to edit those things and communicate in the way that our target market, our target demographic, would actually communicate, which are generally people in Western countries.
So, they would not say something like, "Hello, ma'am, Kathleen." They would say, "Hey, Kathleen. What's up? This is Liam from Time Doctor. Saw this article, thought it was really cool. Listen. You made a huge mistake. You didn't link to my article. No problem. I can totally solve that for you. Here's a paragraph of exactly how to link to me, and by the way, we saw inside of your site that you really want to link to Starbucks cups, and we know that we can totally figure that out for you. We already set up that link to be able to send out. Hope you're having a great day. Would love to be able to chat with you about the link," as an example.
That would be the way that you would communicate, and that's going to get a much higher response rate than the over-formalized communication that generally you'll find with individuals from Southeast Asia in particular, and to a degree, sometimes in Eastern Europe.
So, that team is actually a lot more distributed. We have some people in Southeast Asia. We have some people in Eastern Europe. We have some people in California. We actually have just implemented a much more serious team in Lagos, in Nigeria, for any of you that maybe have gotten this email a couple years ago or 10 years ago. You know, the Nigerian prince emails?
Kathleen: Yeah. Yeah.
Liam: So, that doesn't work anymore, but these guys are email ninjas. They're absolutely amazing operators at figuring out how to be able to get a response from someone and communicating clearly. So, they're amazing, and a lot of them kind of want to go legit. So, they will work for a company like ours instead.
Kathleen: Interesting. Yeah. I mean, a lot of those guys did get people to respond to those Nigerian prince emails, so-
Liam: Generally, it would be a .004% response rate, but that response rate would end up being something-
Kathleen: Paying for the whole thing.
Liam: Exactly. So, that's something that... Even with these direct emails outreach programs, they still do work, but they only have a conversion rate of about 2%. You want a convert rate of 15% to 20%. We found that we're a lot more cost-effective.
I've spoken to some agencies, and they probably work out a link to about a hundred dollars per person, and it's because they just don't take the time to be able to build context. The other added advantage to building context is you don't just get one link from that person. You may get five or six over two years, because you have that personal context, and I've got all that context in BuzzStream, so I can bring it up whenever I want, and Kathleen remembers this interaction that we had seven months ago, as an example.
How to conduct backlink research
Kathleen: So, you talked about when you do this outreach to... Let's say I'm your recipient, and you do this outreach to me, and you say, "I know that you're trying to get found for terms like Starbucks cups." Who is doing that research, how are they doing it, and how are they identifying that that's the goal of the recipient?
Liam: So, I would slot your domain directly into Ahrefs, and I would identify what are the top links that you're trying to work for, and there's two categories.
There's kind of like a top three. So, usually people that rank first to third, you're not really going to be able to change their lives in any significant way in terms of that particular keyword. It's usually quite competitive, or it's a branded term.
The ones that we really like to go after are the seven-to-10 space. So, those are the keywords that they're probably working on, and maybe they actually only launched that article three months ago or six months ago, and they're trying to work on it, and we can see they're trying to work on it, because let's say there's five or six referring domains into it, and we'll say, "Yeah. We'll just put a link in there. We'll just link from our site to your site."
They understand the value of a DR 80 link, which is actually quite funny because a lot of the times we get outreach from, let's say, a DR 65-plus website, and my first response is, "I'm interested, but I'd love a link back." The smart ones say, "Of course," and the stupid ones say, "Well, I don't have the authority to be able to do that."
Well, just for anyone that's listening, do that, because that's going to convince me... You're talking to an SEO person, and I'm not going to link to a DR 60 if I'm a DR 80, if I'm not getting anything back. Right? So, that's really something that I just don't understand that's not happening in the industry, because for us, we're very happy to be able to give out those links. We see that as kind of just... We do it before we ask for anything back.
In that introductory email, "By the way, here's a DR 80 link. Really happy to see if we could work in a deeper way," and if they don't want to work with us, that link stands.
Asking for backlinks
Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. So, there's that element of reciprocity. Okay. So, they have this data, they know what they're trying to link for. You've talked about how these emails are crafted. I'm curious. You talked about sometimes it's seven emails back-and-forth. What's happening in those seven emails? Because it seems like the way you're putting these emails together, it's fairly straightforward. You've laid out all the context. You've given them the paragraph of text. I mean, at that point, it would seem to me, as somebody who gets these emails all the time, that they either say, "Okay. Yeah, I'm going to drop it in. Here it is," or, "No." So, what happens in that back-and-forth?
Liam: So, there's a couple main kind of categories of things that happen. One of the things that happen, particular on really powerful sites, is, "Hey, Kathleen. Not a problem. Links are $500 a pop, and here's the context." Then we have to go back saying, "Listen. We don't pay for links. We're just looking to be able to have you link to our website, and we've already linked to your website. Here's our stats."
So, we literally pull in, "Here's our Ahrefs data. We'd love to be able to see if we could work on a deeper partnership together." That's one major category.
Kathleen: Got it.
Liam: Another one is no one really has the authority to be able to make that decision. So, sometimes we actually contact someone who is, let's say, a blogger that's maybe done piecework for that blog, and they say, "I don't care because I wrote that article six months ago, and thanks for reaching out, but I don't really care." Well, then we have to say, "Well, do you know who's in charge right now? Could you let me know?" Then we're going to get access to that person. Then we, in essence, send the same email.
Then the other ones end up actually just turning into larger partnerships. So, we'll actually say, "Well, maybe we shouldn't just work on this link exchange. Maybe we should also do a webinar together, or maybe we should do something else together."
So, all of the linkers have full authority to be able to build at least the framework for those partnerships, and then it gets approved by me.
Keeping the team on-brand
Kathleen: Okay. So, this is super interesting. You have all these people distributed all over the world, and you're giving them, really, a lot of leeway in terms of the way they communicate with these other domain owners or authors or bloggers, et cetera. My first question is, do you ever worry that the way that they communicate or the things they say are going to kind of go outside of your typical brand voice or have some kind of negative ramification on your company or your brand?
Liam: Absolutely. So, we do spot-check auditing on all of the emails that are going out, and we're really fast and responsive to... We have a lot of linkers on the team. I think we have dozens on the team altogether at this point.
So, a friend of mine said, "Well, do you know who this person is?" I said, "No, I don't know who that person... It doesn't ring a bell to me." "Oh. Well, they just emailed me from Time Doctor saying they want a link."
So, we need to be mindful about that, and he actually said, "This is probably one of the best cold email outreaches I've ever gotten," which was great for us, but I need to be able to be mindful of that context to make sure that there aren't negative implications on the brand.
So, the way that we do that is audit the process. So, I'll even do randomized auditing of just... I'll look at every quarter maybe 10 emails from each linker, and that doesn't take me more than a minute or two to kind of float through, and then our SEO manager also makes sure that all of this stuff is being monitored properly. We're also really looking at...
So, we're always trying new things, new titles, new copy templates, and we share that information amongst ourselves. So, in that process, a lot of this... We had an article just recently, or an ad just recently that went out that got really good attention. It got a really fantastic click-through rate, but it also got a lot of hate.
So, we have to understand what's the difference between trying to get someone's attention and trying to get someone's attention and then hating it. We need to be able to draw that line.
Tracking backlink performance
Kathleen: Interesting. Yeah. I mean, that was going to be my next question, was how do you keep track of it all, but it sounds like you've got processes in place, you have a team in place.
Liam: Yeah. We do the quarterly audit. We make sure that our SEO manager is managing all those linkers very quickly and efficiently, and then we're always exchanging information.
We literally do a weekly meeting about what's all the new split tests that we've tried. So, every linker is also responsible for implementing a test every week, I believe, inside of their copy. So, they're basically always optimizing their outreach, and then we come back, and we do some more learnings.
We also make sure that everyone's reading all the industry news for SEO and all that kind of stuff, so that if there are some interesting new insights, we can implement those as well.
The impact of backlinks on SEO and traffic
Kathleen: Interesting. So, I'm fascinated by this whole process, but I want to shift gears for a second and talk about results. You've touched on this a little bit in terms of response rates and things, but let's just go back and recap now.
So, this is a process you've been doing for how long?
Liam: We've been doing it for about two years. I think if anyone actually wants to jump into Moz or Ahrefs, you'll pretty much see the exact point in which we started doing it because we were going from getting, I don't know, maybe a couple hundred links a month to getting, or sorry, getting a couple dozens links a month to getting a couple hundred links a month. So, we literally just-
Kathleen: Can you send me a screenshot of that? Because I would love to put that in my show notes.
Liam: Yeah, sure. No problem.
Kathleen: That would be awesome. So, you've been doing that for that amount of time. Talk me through, again, your response rates, what this has done to traffic, how the links have grown.
Liam: Yeah. So, the bigger thing that we've really seen is general increase in domain authority. That's been the thing that's allowed us to...
So, as an example, if we talk about remote work on Time Doctor, Google's generally going to give us the benefit of the doubt. So, they're automatically going to say, "These guys blog about this stuff all the time. They really are a trusted source in that particular niche, so we're going to give it more traffic than we would a DR 10 site that's never written about remote work or outsourcing ever before," and that's really the huge advantage, is a lot of this stuff is quite disingenuous when I discuss it because we're currently at the point in which the snowball effect has really taken hold, so Google already really trusts us.
If you're a brand new person with absolutely no links whatsoever, I'm going to tell you, this is going to take about six months before you really start to see dividends, but however, I would say, and this is a bold claim, but I would say over a 10-year period, so if you plan on owning a business for more than 10 years, SEO is the absolute best cost-per-dollar advertising method known to mankind. It is better than, in my opinion, viral traffic, because those are spikes, whereas this is continuous long-term traffic that is going to be so cost-effective, it is probably 60% of our overall funnel, and we spend as much money as we possibly can on Facebook ads and everything else, and we just constantly come back to SEO because it's just such a return on investment.
Kathleen: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense, and I would agree with that. That's one of the things at IMPACT that we're really fortunate... We have a tremendous amount of organic traffic, and it has saved us a lot of money in not needing to advertise.
Liam: I almost see it as it's an investment that produces dividends, whereas a Facebook ad, as an example, is you're going to get conversions now, and those are going to be great. You're going to get a conversion this month. Those numbers will probably work, right? You put in a hundred bucks, and maybe you make 110 bucks.
But with SEO, you're going to put in a hundred bucks this month, and maybe you're going to get a dollar back this month, but then next month you're going to get two, and then four, and then eight, and then 16, and if you continuously put in that hundred dollars every single month, you're going to start to create fantastic dividends.
Kathleen: Yeah. I always talk about it as the difference between renting a house and buying a house. When you rent your house, you stop paying rent, you get evicted, and you got no value.
Liam: Yeah. Well, you're renting the traffic.
Kathleen's two questions
Kathleen: Yeah, exactly. So, fascinating. All right. Well, so interesting. I could talk to you about this forever, and I love the amount of detail we've been able to go into, but we're going to run out of time. So, two questions that I always ask all of my guests, the first is...
We talk a ton about inbound marketing on this podcast. Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really doing inbound well right now?
Liam: Yeah. I thought about that quite a bit, and my original response was HubSpot, just because their SEO game is so strong, and they blog about everything. If you throw them into a tool like Ahrefs or Moz, which is generally how I see websites today, they will blog about kitchen utensils, as an example. They just want traffic with a big capital T. So, I've recognized that has been really interesting.
The other website that I would talk about, which is relatively new, and it's not really a website, but it's more like an app, is Wish.com. So, I don't know if you've ever encountered that e-commerce site before, but they've, in essence, built an app that's gamified e-commerce.
So, think of it almost like an Amazon, but it's a video game. So, it's Amazon, but it's a video game, and what they're doing is they're doing a lot of SEO traffic to be able to bring in a free lead, and then they are doing a lot of retargeting into the game again.
So, they'll say, "Hey, webcams are 95% off today only," and it's a Facebook ad, and when you click on it, you're brought into the Wish app. So, it's a very interesting process, and they've, in essence, taken the architecture and the mechanics of the video game world for mobile games, and they've moved that into an e-commerce platform. When I look at their numbers and how much money they're spending, it boggles the mind.
I think that they are doing the same thing that Amazon did back in the early 2000s where Amazon bought... I mean, they were the number one customer for Google, I believe, Google Search, for eight or nine years. They did that because they knew there was such a massive arbitrage opportunity to be able to shift all of that traffic off of Google, which honestly should've built their own e-commerce platform, and they're moving it into Amazon, and now they've built one of the largest companies on Planet Earth.
So, I would check out Wish.com, even just install the app, and then just see how they interact with you, because I think it's genius.
Kathleen: So interesting. I can't wait to check that one out.
Second question, the thing I hear from most marketers is that the world of digital marketing is just changing so quickly, it's really hard to keep up. There's so much information coming at you. How do you personally stay up-to-date and make sure that you're still kind of on the cutting edge?
Liam: I hire experts in every domain who think about this stuff morning, noon and night, and I pay them a ridiculous amount of money to talk to me for about an hour or two a month.
Kathleen: I like it.
Liam: So, I have one client, I have an SEO consultant, and I pay this person $2,000 a month, and we have a one-hour conversation a month.
Kathleen: Oh, my god. Can I get a job doing that for you for one hour?
Liam: This guy is the guy that does-
Kathleen: That's a great deal.
Liam: ... industrial-level SEO. He's built sites that you would definitely know of. He's managed teams of hundreds of SEOs in single shops, and he's someone who's very passionate about this particular subject. So, for me, I can then take the context, and I usually have myself, my SEO manager, and my content editor on that call, and then he looks at what we've done over the last month, what the goals are for the next month and in the next quarter and in the next year. He's also able to make course corrections that we are not mindful of. So, as an example, let's say our yearly goal is we want to get 10,000 referring domains. Let's throw that out into the air. I think we've got about 5,000 active referring domains, and we have 11,000 historical referring domains right now.
So, we want to do 10,000 active referring domains within the next year. Well, what do you need to actually get to that target? Then we identify what we need to do to get to that target. Okay. Then at the end of the day, he'll boil it down to, "Well, you're currently doing 10 blog posts a month. You need to ratchet up to 68 blog posts a month if you want to hit that particular target." So, what's the architecture that we need to be able to implement to be able to hit that target?
That's the kind of stuff that I am somewhat not very mindful of, and I should actually be a lot more. As the CMO, I should really be directing the ship in that type of direction, but these consultants that have done it before, they're the ones that I really go to for that type of expertise.
Kathleen: Yeah, makes sense.
How to connect with Liam
Kathleen: Well, this has been fascinating. I have learned so much. If somebody is listening, and they have a question, they want to learn more about you, the work you're doing, or they want to check out some of the companies that you're involved with, what's the best way for them to do that?
If you want to talk with me, this is another kind of side idea that I have, which is I think that YouTube is actually probably going to be the next place for SEO, so I'm doing some experimentation on YouTube. So, if you go to youtube.com/runningremote, you'll be able to find me, and you'll be able to find a whole bunch of videos. All of our stuff from our Running Remote Conference is free, and we just post everything up there, so you can consume as much as you want from it. But if you put in a comment, I will interact with you within the hour.
So, that's the source that I really want to kind of put all of my eggs into because I believe that YouTube is Google 10 years ago, and there's a massive opportunity right now. It's the second-largest search engine in the world, and people actually, instead of just getting a blog post and someone looking at it for 35 seconds, even if they're looking at my stupid face for 35 seconds, it gives you more context, and it allows you to know, hey, this is who I am. You might want to buy some stuff from me in the future.
Kathleen: I feel like next year I'm going to have to reach out to you again, and we'll do another interview on the results of your YouTube experiment.
Liam: For sure.
Kathleen: Awesome. Well, thank you for all of that. I will put all those links in the show notes, so if you're interested in reaching out to Liam, check out the show notes, and you should be able to get in touch with him there, or check out Time Doctor.
You know what to do next...
Kathleen: If you're listening, and you've learned something new, you liked what you heard, please leave the podcast a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. That is how we get found by new listeners, and if you know somebody who's doing kick-ass inbound marketing work, please tweet me @WorkMommyWork, because I would love to interview them. Thanks so much. That's it for this week. Thank you, Liam.
Liam: Thanks for having me.
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