What to Look For When Hiring A Link Builder

August 10, 2011
By Lisa Barone in SEO

According to the SEO Edition of MarketingSherpa’s 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report, just 59 percent of respondents are doing any kind of external link building. That number shook me a bit. Because it means that almost 50 percent of sites are in the habit of not proactively building links. And then it makes me wonder why not?

  • Do they not realize its importance?
  • Are they unsure of how to go about doing it?
  • Is it a hiring problem?

Link building is difficult for any business. It’s thankless, tedious, time consuming, and it’s not a skill that many people, quite frankly, possess. And because of that it makes hiring a link builder really difficult. But there are some key things to look for to help you when doing down this road.

If you’re in the process of hiring a link builder or if you’ve been too afraid to even try, below are some characteristics I’d recommend looking for when starting the hiring process. You may not be able to find one person that embodies all of them, but you can pick the qualities that would most benefit your team and your needs.

Social Skills

Personally, I don’t think you should hire anyone without adequate social skills, but this becomes increasingly more important when you’re talking about hiring a link builder. Why? Well, because this person needs to know how to talk to people. They need to understand how to be part of a community; how to establish relationships; and how to make a joke that builds a bridge, not destroys an entire village. How do you “test” for social skills in the hiring process? You can stalk their social profiles and see how they do talking to people online, but I’d also suggest meeting with them in an informal settings (we like to grab beers with people) to see how they hold their own. Do they make eye contact and tell stories…or do they awkwardly knock the beer off the table and then hide under it?

Communication & Writing Skills

All the people skills in the world will not help someone who missed those basic “this is how you write a sentence” lessons. Good grammar and SEO copywriting skills are vital for a link building looking to make that initial connection and allow the person being contacted to trust them. They don’t have to be a master of the English language, but they need to know how to get the right message across.

Online Community Chameleon

Link builders need to feel comfortable changing their shape, identity and needs based on the site they’re entering or the type of link they’re going after. It doesn’t matter if you’re an SEO consulting company like Outspoken Media looking for someone to deal with a variety of clients or if you’re Nike looking to hire in-house, the person you’re hiring will still have to learn how to enter different types of communities and look like they belong there.


Being able to see links, angles and opportunities where others cannot will give any link builder a huge leg up. As search engine optimization begins to take a bigger cue from marketing, having someone on your team who is creative in nature and who can think virally can help with building links, content promotion, contest ideas, and new angles the company hasn’t tried yet. While you may have to rein them in every now and then, you want to encourage team members to push the boundaries and go where others haven’t to get that reaction. That’s called marketing.

Organization Skills

A link builder’s day is often filled with endless research, blogger outreach, follow up emails, persona management, and handling different accounts. As such, it makes having solid organization skills vital. The person you put in this position must have a strong eye for detail to help them record the information properly so that mistakes aren’t made or information isn’t lost or allowed to slip through the cracks. Strong organizational skills will also, hopefully, aid itself to successful time management when someone isn’t spending half an hour hunting down an email address or redoing work they can’t find.


You could probably throw this up there with social skills, but I think a little empathy goes a long way when talking to people and commiserating over common problems to help build relationships. Not everyone knows how to talk to others and how to understand and share what they’re feeling. If you can find someone who can, you’re off to a good start. These people are also handy peacemakers to have in the office.

Competitive Nature

Dude! Link building is rough. You have to deal with constant rejection, people yelling at you in red 18pt font, and putting yourself out there in ways many of us aren’t comfortable. Adding someone to your team who is super competitive and who thrives off that rush from accomplishing a hard task will help keep not only that person motivated, but your entire team. It’s why I’m a big fan of hiring athletes. Or at least people who consider themselves athletes. ;)

Moral Compass

Okay, so I don’t really care what your link builder does in his or her personal life, but they need to know right from wrong. And by that I mean if you’re telling them to stay on THIS side of the link risk spectrum, they need to respect that and understand when they’re teetering too far. They don’t have to be white as snow, but they have to fall where you tell them and be sound enough to recognize if they’re moving the needle further than they should.

Sales Experience

This is something I wouldn’t have thought of until we brought Danika Atkins onto our team. Danika came to us with a solid history in sales and I think it’s why she’s so good at building links for us here at Outspoken Media. If you think about it, “cold calling” someone for a link isn’t much different than cold calling them on the phone. You still need to understand their needs, their language, and what they need to hear to get that “buy”. Danika wrote a great post for us about marrying sales and Internet marketing. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend it.

Like I said earlier, it’s unlikely that you’ll find ONE person who embodies all of these traits (if you do, I recommend you lock this person in your basement so they can’t get away), but I’d keep these traits in mind when building your team as a whole. Not everyone has to be super creative, just like not everyone should be super competitive…but if you can find a group that blends all these traits among them, you’ll be able to create something pretty special and get those links.

What traits do you think lead to link building success? Are there any you particularly hire for or ones that make you run away screaming?

[Oh, and speaking of hiring, Rhea and I will be speaking at this month’s Hudson Valley 140 Conference on how to hire smart local talent. If you’re local, tickets are still available.]


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