The true formula for link building gold

by James Duthie March 4th, 2009 

Today I want to talk link building. To be frank… I’m not a master link builder. In fact, I’m not even an everyday SEO. I am but a humble web marketing strategist (with a solid grasp of SEO concepts). However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t managed to pick up a few nuggets while running my own marketing blog. And today I wanted to share one of those lessons with you. It's not rocket science, but I think it’s an important lesson for every budding marketer to recognize. The lesson is all about link quality.

I’ve got plenty of links to my blog. Depending on your source of data, it ranges from a couple of hundred (Google toolbar backlink check) through to a couple of thousand (Google Webmaster Tools). Most have minimal impact on my blog, sending through only the tinniest trickles of traffic. But two recently acquired links had a profound impact on my blog, directly increasing my subscriber base by 20% overnight! Cool. So what was so special about these links…? I’m glad you asked.

The post that attracted these two golden links discussed the key lessons from my first year of blogging. In terms of link quantity, the post was no more successful than most of my other work. Indeed, other popular posts had attracted over a hundred more links and substantially more traffic. Yet no other post had caused a 20% spike in subscribers. And the secret…link quality. The post was fortunate to receive two separate write ups from respected industry sources:

  1. Search Engine Guide: How to kill a blog in 10 days
  2. Louis Gray: Where is your focus – subscribers or traffic?

What made these two links so powerful? Here’s my assessment:


Both Search Engine Guide and Louis Gray are dedicated to the online channel… like me. Both sites write frequently about social media technologies… like me. In other words, we’re both targeting the same audience. So when a visitor comes directly from either site, my content is contextually relevant. They’re my target market. And it seems some of them liked what I had to say. Hurrah!


Search Engine Guide is currently ranked 29th in Ad Age’s top 150 marketing blogs on the planet. Jennifer Laycock is one of the most respected author’s in the industry with over a decade of experience. Put the two together and you have a link of the highest authority.

Louis Gray hosts a popular technology blog based in Silicon Valley. While Louis didn’t write the article himself, Corvida Raven is also a prominent technology blogger with contributions to SheGeeks, Chris Brogan & ReadWriteWeb. She has also established  authority within the industry.

In both cases, the key ingredient was the trust readers placed in the site/author providing the link. Readers trust their opinion. That trust was effectively transferred to me via the link, particularly when it came with a little extra spice… an endorsement.


Each link generated on the web is an endorsement. The author is stating that they believe the content is worth reading. Google’s original algorithm was based on the concept of author-to-author endorsement. However, most links serve as references for additional reading. Relatively few links are holistic endorsements for another piece of work (outside of fields of academia). Which is what made these two links particularly powerful.

Both articles were direct endorsements of the original article. The links weren’t hidden within the subtext of the article. Rather, the entire articles were dedicated to discussion of original piece, extending the conversation with their own personal thoughts on the subject. The combination of an endorsement from a trusted industry authority created a link of the highest quality.


Audience is typically a product of authority. While it is possible for an individual to have a large audience without any real level of authority (ahem…Twitter), it is rare for an authority figure to be lacking an audience. In my case, Search Engine Guide and Louis Gray both have significant audiences, to the tune of 16,000+ subscribers combined (not to mention their casual traffic).

The true benefit of audience is not just exposure, but the qualified nature of the traffic. Social sites such as StumbleUpon regularly send more traffic than either of these two links. Yet the impact on subscribers is incomparable because social sites lack the context and authority of a trusted industry source.

Context + Authority + Endorsement + Audience = Link Gold

That is the simple lesson of the day. Unfortunately, understanding the equation is the easy part. Attaining such a link is infinitely more difficult. Authority figures establish a position of trust based on a reputation of quality. They won’t endorse just anyone. So now it’s up to you to write something good enough to get the experts talking…


jamesdJames Duthie has recently joined the SEO Scoop team and will be contributing here on a monthly basis. James is an online marketing strategist and writes manages his own online marketing blog. You can subscribe here.

James Duthie

I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.

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6 Responses to “The true formula for link building gold”

  1. […] partners. My guest blogging tour rolls on today over at SEO Scoop, where I've taken on a role as a regular contributor. I'll be writing for the Scoop on […]

  2. S-Axxis says:

    This is gold dust for people starting out in the SEO industry.Thanks for clearing doubts regarding link building

  3. i think your last point is quite valid "So now it’s up to you to write something good enough to get the experts talking…"

    so that means you can't really control who endorses the link and to what level of endorsemet. u just have to pump out good content and hope someone reads it and links to you.

  4. IrishWonder says:

    James, your formula sums up the holy grail of link building perfectly well – this is what good links are all about!

  5. rankfirst says:

    To be franc, we all know you are a great SEO, and a link builder :) or you wont be so good at writing an article like this. Thanks!

  6. I'm glad you cleared this up because many people feel they need tons of links and a few good links usually give more link power.