Relationship Link Building: An Interview with Paul May of BuzzStream

Buzzstream CEO Paul May Paul May is the CEO and a co-founder of BuzzStream. He has spent most of the last 15 years either starting or working on early stage startups. You can follow May on Twitter @paulmay.

May agreed to answer a few of my questions about relationship and content-based link building – I hope you find them useful in your work.

Garrett French: You’re a big proponent of relationship building and connecting with influencers in a niche. Can you talk about the benefits to a company’s Internet marketing efforts?

Paul May: Well, the benefit that people typically associate with relationship building is increased volume at the top of the sales funnel, but the impact can actually be much bigger than this.

A well-executed influencer strategy complements your content strategy and link development efforts. The development of a great piece of content that’s then supported with a well-executed campaign will always be valuable, but if you have relationships with influencers in your niche and they can be relied upon to support these efforts, your results are amplified.

Not only do you end up with more links, you end up with content developed by people who are trusted by your buyers that supports every stage in the buying cycle (in the form of tweets, shares, comments, etc.). And it’s not a one-time benefit for a specific campaign…as long as you maintain these relationships, they provide continuous support to your marketing efforts.

Best of all, influencer relationships provide an advantage that’s difficult for your competitors to overcome. You can copy someone’s content and you can reverse engineer much of someone’s link building strategy, but you can’t copy relationships.

GF: What are some of the steps to take to find niche thought leaders and influencers?

PM: Well, the first step is to figure out where the community lives on the social web. This seems like a simple thing to do, but for most markets, the landscape is complex. Looking at the SEO market as an example of this, there’s obviously lots of SEOs on Twitter, but there are also a lot of very influential people who have almost no Twitter presence but are very active on the SEOBook forum and the SEOmoz forum. If your effort to map the landscape didn’t take these niche communities into account, you could make some big mistakes.

The steps you take after you have a lay of the land will vary based on the social sites that your communities participate in and your goals for an influencer program (i.e., what stage in the buying cycle are you trying to impact). So if your community lives and breathes on Twitter, you’ll take a very different approach to influencer identification than you would if the community is mostly on a niche community site.

That said, the one thing that everyone should do is implement a monitoring program to find influential blogs. There are a lot of great posts that explain how to set up a monitoring dashboard, but I still prefer using Google Reader because I can overlay metrics on it more easily.

To do this, I do three things:

  1. Use a free query generator tool as a starting point to create searches to help me find people writing about my topics, my competitors and my brand.
  2. Plug these searches into Google Reader to give me a steady stream of posts and put them into the same folder.
  3. Add the PostRank extension in Chrome, which gives me a comparative engagement metric for each post in the folder. So, for example, if there’s a post in the folder that has hundreds of retweets and lots of comments, and a scraped version of the same post in the folder that has no comments and no retweets, the original post will have a high PostRank score while the scraped version will have a very low score.

GF: How have the link building habits and techniques of your clients changed since you first launched?

PM: There’s a much bigger focus on getting quality, organic links than when we started. We still see plenty of people who are buying links, relying on link networks, etc., but there’s a much heavier emphasis on content-based strategies. With our larger in-house customers, the line between their link building, PR, and social media marketing efforts is getting very thin.

GF: If you could choose just one technique to raise the visibility of your website, which would it be and why: old school manual link building, buying links, community building or content-based link building?

PM: One of the things I love about Internet marketing is that the right approach is a little bit different for every company and every market, so I don’t think there’s a single right answer to this question. If you’re talking specifically about how I’d raise the visibility of our company, BuzzStream, I’d focus on building relationships in the community, particularly with niche influencers (e.g., people in the SEO space focused on link building and people in the PR space who are focused on influencer/blogger outreach). I’d choose this for two reasons:

  1. Our market is incredibly social and so much of the decision making is driven by word-of-mouth. 
  2. Because the cost of competing in the SERPs for SEO and social media related terms is so high, it’s just not worth the effort.

But every market is different. Good luck taking that approach if you’re running an affiliate site in the insurance space. If you want to rank in that market, you’re going to have to take a very different approach, and it’ll probably be one that a certain brown-haired google employee with glasses wouldn’t be all that excited about.

GF: How are different client types using BuzzStream? For example, are there any differences or similarities in the strategies and processes used by agencies vs. big brands vs. affiliates?

PM: The breadth of approaches that people take to link development has really surprised me. Within each customer type, there’s big differences in the ways that they approach link building. We have owners of affiliate sites that don’t buy any links and spend their time on outreach campaigns for infographics, badges, etc., and we have in-house SEOs at very large brands that are big link buyers.

That said, as a whole, I’d say that the brands tend to be more white-hat and they focus more on content-based strategies. As a result, they’re more focused on project management and CRM. The agencies split pretty evenly between ones that are more “old school link building” oriented and ones that are more content-driven.

The old school agencies tend to be most interested in using BuzzStream as a central link prospect/partner database that can be segmented into different lists (i.e., when they add a new client, they can quickly find all of the prospects and partners that are applicable). The agencies that are more content-oriented are also using BuzzStream as a central database, but they also utilize a lot of the tracking capabilities and the outreach tools. The affiliate sites are obviously the least concerned about brand, so they’re usually the most willing to take risks.

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