Ruud Questions: Debra Mastaler

by Ruud Hein May 8th, 2009 

2010 SEMMY NomineeWhen you enter the realm of legends, Tolkien is a given. A name anyone just knows.

Likewise, when I entered the world of SEO sideways, names of legend existed. It's there that we find Debra Mastaler listed. Start talking links and two names are dropped right away; Debra Mastaler, Eric Ward.

She works hard, is often busy, but in the end was able to take out some time for us.

There was this wonderful post What's the Biggest SEO Myth.
Translating that to your expertise, link building, what's the biggest link building myth?

Thats a toughie; so many come to mind but if I have to pick one it would be the idea all links are good links in the context of SEO.

All links perform a navigation function regardless of where they are or what they say, but if were focused on link building in the algorithmic sense, all links are not created equal.

If your goal is to rank well, affect a reputation management issue or push a competitor down in the serps, you need links from strong, well-ranked pages using specific anchors pointing at well optimized pages.

Actually, depending on how competitive your terms are you might not even need the last item (well optimized pages) but its smart marketing to support them.

Optimizing internal links is one of the steps in your link building process.
Do you analyze the site by hand, common sense approach ("site: keyword") or do you use a tool? (and if so, which one)

I dont believe optimizing internal links is a function of link building. It tends to get lumped into the linking discussion by virtue of the term but IMO, link building and the optimization of on-page links are two separate SEO functions.

To me, link building is the act of attracting hyperlinks to a webpage by implementing a marketing plan, not optimizing the content on it. I leave the coordination of the on-page elements to the SEO.

That said, if the situation warrants, I use the common sense approach and look to point keyword rich anchors to the pages theyve been optimized for. If needed I use a handful of different tools, some from the SEOBook tool line, one from SoloSEO and a commercial tool which shall remain nameless since Im not being paid to promote them. (Ill pimp free tools all day)

How does a site owner go about determining if she (really) needs (more) links?

The short answer would be; the second they see a drop in rankings and traffic.
That could also be a short-sighted answer because by the time you see the drop, the damage is done.

If you want to be competitive online you should be vigilant and watch whats going on around you.

Keep an eye on competitors, your stats, your news sources and any other industry gathering place.

Knowing what to watch for is half the battle and goes a long way in helping you pinpoint new and authority sources for links.

Its better to insulate yourself against shifts in the algorithms than play catch up.

At what point can she say; let it be, it'll grow by itself.

Ummm never?

You know that old saying you can never be too young, too thin or too rich??

Well to a link builder it should go like this: you can never have too many links, too many redirects or be too thin. Especially the thin part :)

There's a huge proliferation of self-branded SEO's and SEM's but it's rare that I see new faces branding themselves as "link building expert" or similar. Why is that, you think?

LOL now see, I was thinking the opposite is true especially with all the linking advice being handed out. I mean, 6 months in the business qualifies you as an expert doesnt it?

Seriously now, I dont know why people brand themselves the way they do, maybe saying SEO sounds sexier than link building expert, certainly is shorter.

Or maybe no one wants to call themselves link building expert because theyve heard its hard and tedious and they dont look good in black. Who knows?

Link building isnt rocket science but it does take a fair amount of finesse once the basics have been done. Anyone can ask a webmaster for a link but an experienced link builder parlays that request into a promotion and then a publicity stunt and eventually a case study which nets anchor text links, editorial links and citation links. Win, win, and win.

Its easy to regurgitate the top five linking tips but its another thing to write an original piece on link marketing. For that you have to actually do it and be, you know, an expert.

Is the web still a viable place for people to go out and try to make a living? Or are the days of yonder over and it's business that talks and owns now?

The Web is a big space so sure; its still a viable place for people to make a living.

Some spaces are crowded and tough to compete in but theres still a lot of opportunity in the niches. Online is just like offline business, if your model doesnt scale, youre going to fail.

Wanting to add to her income she's setup a site which needs to pay for itself. Good or good enough writing.
Now she needs links, right? But money is tight, that's why she's doing this. What would you tell her?

Id tell her to find a rich significant other and fuggitaboutit. And if that piece of thoughtful advice didnt work Id suggest she start her efforts with this outline:

1. Buy a keyword rich domain. Its smart from a branding and algorithmic standpoint.

2. Make sure your address and telephone number are included on your site. Without them, none of the better directories will take you. This is one of the biggest reasons sites bounce when submitted to the DMOZ.

3. Since she has no money she wont be able to submit to BOTW, Yahoo and Ezilon (unless shes a nonprofit) so shes going to have to look at the free directories as partners.

The top handfuls are DMOZ, Sphericom and Illumirate. All tough nuts to crack so take care to add your site to the right category and dont sound salesy.

4. The next step would be to make a list of the elements on her site.

Does she have photos, videos, articles, coupons, contest offerings, newsletters, a blog, free shipping, a forum, ebooks, downloads, RSS, or tutorials on the site? What topical niche is she in? What local niche?

Once she has that list she can set out to find all the corresponding directories that accept these items. 99% of them are free and pass link popularity so shell get a great spread of links (around 100) from lots of different sources.

Id tell her not to worry about finding dofollow directories here, add the links to as many directories as you can find and move on. The idea here is to establish visibility for your links and brand. If her content is good, the viral nature of the Net will help spread her links naturally from these platforms.

5. Since this chick is a decent writer Id recommend she compose six articles of 800+ words each. Id place those articles on her site in a resource center, add them to her site map and then send an email out to all her friends, family and customers letting them know the articles are available.

In the email, be sure to encourage them to share the link with others.

Id also suggest she use the free press release submission sites to announce (and link back to) the new resource center she created for her niche/industry. (Just search on the term free press release submission and theyll pop up).

Be sure the release focuses on the idea the new center is a resource for both the public and the media.

Once she sees the articles have been indexed, she can insert a Creative Commons license on shorter versions (400 words each) and send them out to five or six of the top article directories. (ezinearticles, goarticles, site-reference, article dashboard etc)

6. In each one of those six articles, she needs to link to a different blogger in her industry as a positive example. (Versus saying something nasty or controversial)

Once the articles are up, ping the blogger with a link and let them know they were mentioned. (Probably wont have to due to trackbacks but do it anyway)

She can also let the blogger know shes available for a guest writing spot should the need arise.

7. Since shes writing and blogging at this point, she can do a little utility searching for phrases like: Guest blogger and Write for this blog plus her keywords to spot more opportunities for guest writing. People are actively looking for subs " so make yourself available.

Id also tell her to search on guest writer" + newsletter + keyword so she can drop articles into industry newsletters. Swap out the word newsletter for ezine and rinse and repeat.

8. Then Id send her over to SoloSEO and show her the cool free utility linking tool Michael has. Shell find a lot of links with it in short order. Id remind her to highlight the new resource center on the blog in the emails she sends, she may not get the link but shell get the visit.

At this point m pretty sure shes tired of listening to me a so Id quit while I was ahead and get back to work. All the tactics listed here are free and should be done slowly and thoughtfully using a wide variety of anchor text phrases pointing to internal pages.

I bet shes rethinking that significant other thing right about now. :)

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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8 Responses to “Ruud Questions: Debra Mastaler”

  1. Kai Lo says:

    How effective can directories be? The link juice is bad even if it is dofollow. Most people do searches on Google so not many people would look in directories to find your site.

  2. Neil says:

    Excellent advice thanks. I don't know why, but searching for "guest writer" etc. had never occurred to me – seems to obvious now :)

  3. Good advice but they are completely basic and well known . i always think whether their are some hidden secrets which make the link building very easy

  4. Dan says:

    Great advice and the lesson I learned is that link building is an ongoing project. You can never just sit back and put your site on auto pilot.

  5. Vic says:

    Really nice article.
    I agree that online opportunities are still huge.
    It may be fully loaded with rocks, but still sand and water can still be filled in.
    And creativity and innovation are the keys for winning the competition and surviving for a long-time.

  6. [...] worth investigating. I'd submit to DMOZ and forget about it. Debra Mastaler recently recommended Sphericom and Illumirate. I'd also look for local and niche/vertical directories that will [...]

  7. [...] worth investigating. I'd submit to DMOZ and forget about it. Debra Mastaler recently recommended Sphericom and Illumirate. I'd also look for local and niche/vertical directories that will [...]

  8. [...] Ruud Hein/Search Engine People: Ruud Questions: Debra Mastaler [...]