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Interviews With Brilliant People: Link Evangelist Eric Ward

At Rocket Clicks we conduct an interview series that features a  Q & A with entrepreneurs, innovators, thinkers and leaders (i.e. really smart people). For this interview, we  interviewed Eric Ward, an industry leader in ethical link building.  Eric Ward, currently the Chief Link Evangelist at, is renowned professionally as a  Linking Strategist, Content Publicist, Link Evangelist, Link Moses, and much more. Eric is an industry veteran and pioneer in the web marketing world. In 1994, he founded the Web’s very first online promotion services, called NetPOST and URLwire.  Eric then helped Jeff Bezos announce’s launch, and subsequently won the 1995 Tenagra Award For Internet Marketing Excellence, which was the industry’s “Oscar” back then. Since then, Eric and his methods have been written about in nearly 100 publications and been featured in college courses about online marketing.  This past winter, Eric was one of 25 people profiled in Online Marketing Heroes, a book from Wiley & Sons, Inc., written by Michael Miller.

Q : What are some of the most common misconceptions about link building that you encounter regularly?

Eric : The number one misconception is that any site can rank #1, regardless of content, if they can just get the “right” links.

A close second is the anchor text misconception, or the belief that links are useless unless they have anchor text that includes keywords. This is not true at all. And the “I’ve got a secret” misconception is still widespread. This is the belief that someone somewhere can show you a secret nobody else knows, and this will solve all your problems. The reality is that link building is complex, but much less complex than most people think it is, because they are approaching it under false assumptions.

Q : What separates your merit-based link building methods from the bulk link building packages that so many companies offer?

Eric : When I create a link building strategy for content about the gulf oil spill from National Geographic, that strategy will be completely different than the link building strategy I create for the site about Fruit RollUps from General Mills. This is an extreme example, but it’s also real.

You have to be able to see and respect what I’ve called “manifest link destiny” or to be less dramatic, “linkability” of the content you are working with at the time. So, the difference in what I do versus the typical link building “package” is that I base my link building strategies and plans on the site’s content linking potential or linkable assets, rather than forcing a site into a specific link building package that ignores the very content that allows that site to earn the most impactful links in the first place.

Q :  Which factors, other than PageRank, are most important to pay attention to when determining websites that would be beneficial to obtain a backlink from?

Eric : It’s part art, part science, part math, and more. The target sites will differ depending on my client site’s subject and link potential. I have my own internal “algorithm” I use and it’s quite hard to define, other than to say I know it when I see it. The three biggest factors that go into my target site selection criteria are intent, agenda, and authorship. What is the intent of the target site? Why does it exist? Who created it? What was/is their goal? I approach the vetting process with a very skeptical eye. I believe 99% of the web is not to be trusted, or created with an agenda related to SEO, but I’m not a cynic at all, because the remaining 1% is truly vast and absolutely incredible.

Q : There are a lot of differing opinions on whether or not buying links is a good or bad practice. What are your thoughts on purchasing backlinks from sites?

Eric : No search engine ever said “don’t buy links”. Buying links based on click traffic, demographics, and as an advertising vehicle is smart. It’s when you start to buy links because you are after improved search rank where you can get in trouble. I understand the argument that says if it works it’s good business, but I’m not of that school of thought. I believe if the content is strong enough, it can accomplish what it wants to without having to take risks. My standard litmus test for any link building related tactic is to ask “would I be doing this if someone from Google’s spam team were looking over my shoulder?” If the answer is no, then don’t do it. Pretty simple.

Q :  What are some of the challenges of doing merit-based link building for ecommerce sites, and how can site owners overcome these issues?

Eric : The biggest challenge is often getting the site owners to understand and accept the limitations of any web site that’s just a product database thrown on the web. Anyone can launch a web store in five minutes. I can have fifty ecommerce sites live by the end of the week. But what differentiates them from any other site? If you have no unique products, and you source your products from the same manufacturers, and the only difference between two sites is one is called, and the other is called, then why should one rank above the other? Now, multiply that times 3,000 golf product sites.

That’s what’s out there on the web today. Since the search engines ultimately have to rank one site first and another site last, it’s very tempting to believe that if you just find the right “SEO” expert, your golf store can outrank the others. While this might just hold true for a little while, I have had countless phone consults with sites in this very situation, where once upon a time they ranked in the top three, but now they dropped to page five, and they want their rankings back, even though they have no content or links to earn that ranking.

To overcome this challenge is not a one size fits all thing. A golf store versus an archery store versus a birding store versus a store that sells lapidary supplies. Each will require its own fix.

I can look at a site and research the niche and determine what can be done, and most of the time it comes down to content. Or lack of it.

Q :  As a bonus question, we always want to know who you think we should interview next?

Eric : Interview Joost de Valk. He’s the preeminent WordPress SEO expert, as well as an expert at many other SEO topics. Get him talking about duplicate content problems and solutions and it will blow your mind.

Nick Schurk Link Publicity Expert

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