What to Look For When Hiring A Link Builder


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.]

Your Comments

  • Dean

    I scanned the post Lisa, sorry busy morning, but Determination and Perseverance are important qualities of link builders. Was that in there?

    • Lisa Barone

      LOL. Competitiveness was in there, which I think was my attempt at covering those. Someone who will fight to “win” that link, regardless of how many times they’re told no.

  • TrafficColeman

    Proof of work is something that most people require more then anything. Who should make sure that they can prove what they do.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Scott Hepburn

    Love the way you headlined this, Lisa. A lot of SMBs (and even large companies) are confused and intimidated by SEOs (“What IS an SEO? Is it a person or a practice? What does an SEO do? How do I evaluate an SEO? If I don’t get to #1 on Google, did my SEO fail?”).

    The term “linkbuilder” is much more understandable to non-marketers…and let’s face it, it’s a more descriptive label for what most SEOs do.

    • Lisa Barone

      I think it’s something that SMBs can relate to because even if you don’t have a “link builder” you have someone whose job it is to get links, even if that’s not what you’re calling it. Even if you’re “link builder” is the marketing department or that intern or that PR person.

  • Michael Dorausch

    Looks like you and Rhea are on the speaking circuit, and that’s pretty awesome.

    • Lisa Barone

      You do have a habit of commenting on the one off-hand comment that has nothing to do with the post. ;) But…it’s possible I’m slowly coming out of my hole. ;)

  • ContentActive

    Great Post as usual, I would have said resilience instead of competitive nature because building links is such a difficult task when talking about rejections and refusals.

  • wil reynolds

    Thank you for the timing on this, we’re doing interviews today and this is going to help shape some of the things I was having a hard time communicating! TY TY TY!

  • Sandra Rand

    I think folks coming from the public relations side are natural linkbuilders too – it was a pretty easy transition for me to request links, just as I used to gun for interview opportunities from reporters. Pitching is a transferrable skill, and it helps businesses get links from media, which can be much more difficult, as well as “low hanging fruit”. Assuming they were good at PR, they should have a lot of the qualities you list.

  • yankeerudy

    I like hearing about link building as opposed to just code-tweaking SEO stuff. It amazes me how few SEO providers really know how to work it, instead of saying they do and subbing it out to some third-world link churning outfit. It is a tough slog, but if you do it well it’s a definite way to differentiate your SEO services from the masses.

  • Justin Dupre

    I’d have to agree that link building is a tedious task. The person required to do this must have patience as well as good social skills.

  • James John

    I hire the person who has creative ideas and have the ability to implement the ideas in reality, I mean the person knows the different link building techniques as well as enjoying the work.

  • Suzanne McDonald

    Thanks for redefining the link-builder stereotype of a geek behind a laptop blasting out emails. As Sandra mentioned, link-building is closely aligned with PR: building relationships and trust to further each other’s goals. This context lends a lot of clarity, no?

  • Henry Louis

    It is very difficult to hire people with all the qualities mentioned above. There would hardly be any. We might have to pick personae who would posses atleast some of these :)

  • Lucy Freeborn

    Great post and I would absolutley agree with Sandra in the comments about PR people. I’m the head of social media and content at a digital agency based in Brighton and made the jump into a purely digital role after 12 years as a traditional PR person. link builders are essentially good PR people who understand the bigger picture of SEO. It’s not hard to find them, the PR industry has plenty of professionals getting bored with traditional print based media, the challenge is ensuring that the people you choose fit into your team! SEO people are very different to PR people….

  • Edwin Choi

    It would be awesome if you could define some different aspects of being on one side of the link spectrum or the other ; )

  • James Norquay

    Hi from Australia,

    Great post, I agree with a lot of the points you have raised,

    I think a key point with link building is you need to get the message across in a well written format which makes you look honest and not spammy.

    From my experience if you use signatures from SEO companies or Link building your success rate will be lower if you act direct from the company and use something which customers will like it will work better.

    Kind Regards.

    James Norquay.

  • News Buzzle

    If some one really wants to establish some better links in blogging sphere then must do this job himself rather than hiring any other, Because no one care of for your business as much you care for it, a little bit mistake can drop your online business from search engines. So don’t hire any one for this job, If you have multiple blogs and shortage of time then must consider above defined points, might be this helps you.

  • Sebastian Compagnucci

    This article literally made me laugh, especially the part about knocking the beer off the table and hiding under it. Unfortunately, I think I may have done that once or twice in my lifetime!

    I don’t necessarily think that a good link builder needs great social skills. Unlike communicating face-to-face, socializing online is comfortable for even the most socially awkward people. The pressure of telling that witty “one-liner” or holding a steady conversation is completely irrelevant in an online conversation. You can take any amount of time you need to craft the appropriate pitch/response. Other than this, I think your list is spot on!

  • Ken Jansen

    Hi Lisa,

    Very good article. So are you saying linkbuilders who can meet folks in person like local SMB or at conferences and not hide under that table will be more effective than form letters and emails?
    Did you secure a link from the Element salesperson? :)


  • Ken Jansen

    Hi Sebastian,

    I think the in-person skills Lisa was talking about come into play when you are at a conference and got to meet someone in person. Probably in addition to knowing them Online. In person contact, done well, can sway the other party, the link provider, to take action or consider you, since now they ‘know’ you. Unless you were the person hiding under the bar table with spilled beer dripping on your head. hah. Local link buiding could be helped by person to person networking at BNI groups, Rotary, Chamber meetings etc. Being personable in person can almost always be an asset to your online business too.

  • Akash Kumar

    I always believe every good link builder should be a great writer.