By Eric Ward

Originally written for SearchEngineLand’s LinkWeek
June 18, 2007

If you had the chance to hire a full-time employee to engage in content publicity and link building, what type of person would you look for? What sorts of skills would you want? What personal traits would you value?

As companies realize that content publicity and link building must be a core part of online marketing, rather than just the latest SEO fad, those same companies are faced with the challenge that there’s no consensus or body of research to help them pinpoint the person with the perfect skill set to do that job. Not only that, but the perfect skill set itself is open to great debate. Is link building a technical skill requiring programming or experience similar to on-page content/code optimization? Is link building more related to publicity and public relations, which would indicate the need for a different set of qualifications? And what would those qualifications be? Computer science degree? MBA? MSLS? Member of the PRSA? What about an MBA with a specialty in ecommerce? Can any of them do the job?

By sheer accident I can shed some light on this challenge. Many of you know me from the 14 years I’ve been a self-employed content publicist/link building strategist. But I never set out to become either of those things. I was a former TV and print ad sales guy who decided to go back to Grad school at night in 1991 to study Information/Library Science, of all things. By a few twists of fate, some truly excellent discussion lists, and by being determined to learn every possible flavor of link building (good grief I once had my own web ring), here I am in 2007, an introvert who still gets embarrassed when they introduce me at a conference as an “expert.” Really, how can anyone be an expert in a field that’s still so new and evolving? That said, what is it about my particular background and experience that might help you find the perfect link builder?

There are several professional and academic experiences you’d think would indicate an aptitude for link building. The most obvious is marketing and/or communications. Public relations comes to mind as well. My undergraduate degree was in education, and I got that degree back when nobody had a PC and those that did thought a 2400 baud modem was blazing fast. And all of the disciplines I mentioned above are best suited to a person with an extroverted personality. Link building is often a solitary and downright lonely process. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who likes the spotlight finding any joy spending the day on a keyboard looking for high trust library web sites. Likewise, if you have an MBA, you may find the mundane aspects of link building to be beneath you. Many of my clients have MBAs, and they often ask me how I can stand to do this all day. I want to ask them the same question.

In my opinion, the best link builders/content publicists have two distinct sets of characteristics:

Professionally, they have worked in business, may have also worked in an academic setting, are extremely detail oriented. They can spend long hours focused on a task with little supervision and outside input. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who has a bit of Library Science in their background, rather than just business, communications, or public relations. Library Science indicates a curious and organized mind, and a willingness to work with a quiet diligence for little recognition. Link builders do not need a pat on the back from anyone in order to feel validated. The links obtained are the validation.

Personally, the personality traits of the link builder are far more important than the professional or academic pedigree. What I’m about to write may make you laugh, but I write it in all seriousness. The best link builders will have several of the following personality traits (or flaws, depending on how you see them):

Intellectual curiosity. I don’t mean intelligence or a high IQ, I mean intellectual curiosity, which is totally separate from intelligence. I do agree that you can’t be an idiot and be a good link builder, although the spam my inbox seems to indicate plenty of people are trying to refute that assertion.

Fascination with the online world. How much time do you spend online when you’re NOT link building? If you can’t wait to get off the computer after a few hours of link building, or if the only time you are online is when you have to be, then you are not going to last long. I still find myself forgetting lunch and dinner while I spend lengthy and uninterrupted chunks of time lost in the online world. My wife will call me at 7pm and remind me that I have not moved from my chair in 12 hours.

Sense of humor. The web can be a mean spirited and ugly place, and during the course of clicking hither and yon you will encounter stuff that can make you cry if you aren’t willing to laugh. Then, just when you think you’ve had all you can take, you stumble across a web site like this one, a smile slips across your face, and you can go on.

Eagerness to question authority. The web itself is anarchy, and I mean that in a good way. A willingness to ask why and what if is crucial to your success.

A bit of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve spent 45 minutes digging through pages and pages determined to find a real person’s email address rather than using webmaster@… or an online form. Sometimes when I can’t find a real person to contact at a obviously high value target site I will get angry. If you give up too quickly, you miss the very thing that will assure your success.

A dash of Attention Deficit Disorder. I know this seems to conflict with my earlier comment about attention to detail, but we all know how random the web can be. You start off in one direction and without knowing exactly how you end up somewhere else, often better than where you thought you were going in the first place. The ability to shift gears and follow the scent when it presents itself is absolutely vital. And you must be able to work comfortable with four or five programs running at once. When I’m doing a publicity campaign for a site I usually have open four different email clients, plus FireFox, Netscape, Excel, Word, and Trillian.

One last trait trumps everything I’ve written thus far. Passion. You have to have a passion for the subject matter you are representing, or no amount of any other trait will matter. To put this in simpler terms, I’ve had several clients at large companies who act as though they dread what they do for a living. They wish link building would just go away. To them it’s a job and nothing more than a job. That lack of passion is a real deal breaker when it comes to link building and content publicity. If you’d rather be doing something else, go do it, and hire someone with passion for the stuff you don’t want to do. Passion is also why the small guy will always have a chance on the web.

A can of Red Bull and insomnia don’t hurt either.

Link well my friend.


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