048: Building Quality Backlinks with Kris Reid
Get on top of the search rankings by building credible backlinks. Learn what defines quality backlinks with Kris Reid and find out how to build it better than anyone else. Linking competitors can backfire but linking businesses related to you will get you a higher ranking.
Today’s episode is another story about plunging the depths of failure, struggle and a resounding recovery to success. My guest started out as a software engineer and worked for several big-named companies before the global financial crisis hit, and he lost his contract. He ended up developing a game and was looking for ways to promote it, which led him to learn about SEO. He started creating tools that increased website ranking, which is now the basis for his company, Ardor SEO. Let’s welcome Kris Reid to the show.
Building Quality Backlinks with Kris Reid
Mitch, great to be here. Thanks very much for having me.
Kris, I’m very intrigued by the topic, by your subject, what you do. It seems like a lot of people have heard the term SEO and really don’t quite understand how it would apply to them. Before you answer that question, I want to know how you started. Can you give me some background?
Really, by fluke, absolute fluke. I used to be a software engineer working for big banks. As you said, global financial crisis took that away from me, which it wasn’t the worst thing in the world because I didn’t really enjoy working in these giant conglomerates. I headed back to Australia, because I was working in London at the time, got back to Australia and I started building a game just so that I could learn how web programming works. I was playing around and I built my game and I was like, “How do you get people to a website? How do you get people to play it?” Then I started learning about SEO.
The thing that really just took my mind is how backlinks work and the fundamentals of Google. Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, whilst he was in university, he thought search engines are terrible. Back then in the 90s, there was Yahoo, AltaVista, Excite and a whole bunch of search engines. How they used to work is they would look at the text on a website and rank it based on how much text it had. If you wrote “buy ski boots” a million times on your website, you would rank for buy ski boots, which is a terrible way to organize websites.
He figured, “When people do their PhD and they write a thesis and everyone else references that thesis, they must be the authority on that niche. That must be the same with websites. If you build a website and everyone starts referencing your website with backlinks, then you must be the authority on that niche and you should rank the best.” That was the fundamentals of his page rank algorithm, which became the heart of Google. It worked so well, it destroyed every other search engine and they became the billion-dollar company they are today.
When I discovered how that worked, I was blown away. What a genius. This stuff is cool. I started building backlinks to my website and, boom, up the ranking went. I was like, “This is fantastic.” At the time, I had a Russian girlfriend and she asked me to move to Russia, and I did. I didn’t really speak Russian at the time and so I couldn’t get a job. I was like, “How am I going to make some money? I know this SEO stuff and maybe that’s useful.” I started playing around and seeing if people were interested in having their websites rank better and it turns out they were. Many years later, here we are.
Led by the nose by a Russian woman to a foreign country in a place where he can’t speak the language, this guy, Kris Reid, figured out what other people might want and then started to supply it. Kris, that’s a cool story. I like that.
Thank you. It was a cool journey and great. Now I speak another language and have experienced another culture. It was fabulous.
I really understand where you come from with that. That’s something I love to do. I don’t speak another language but I travel all over the world and immersing myself in other cultures is just such a joy. I love it so much. It brings me into the present moment. I’m a photographer. When I travel, I travel with my camera and with the idea that I’m there to immerse myself, to take pictures and experience the culture. Obviously, you were there to experience the culture but you had a reason to be there, and you had someone to be with who could guide you through the area, which is terrific.
Let’s get back to what you talked about with backlinking. It turns out that your story started with backlinking. As the internet evolved, backlinking became like a sweathouse, chop shop thing where you could pay $0.06 a backlink and have people in foreign countries build thousands and thousands of backlinks that theoretically would elevate the ranking of your site. All that has changed, hasn’t it?
To tell you the truth, many years ago, that’s what we did. We built lower quality backlinks that got the job done, they got your site ranking and they were cheap and it worked fine. Google stays the number one search engine because it has to provide a good search result and a good user experience. They’re constantly trying to look and to see who’s providing the best resources and who is the authority. Those backlinks don’t work anymore. In fact, about four years ago, Google brought out an update called the Penguin update, which could actually penalize sites for building backlinks like that.
It wasn’t bad for us at the time because we were already moving to provide higher quality because we realized that their end was in sight. We were already a little bit higher than some of the low-end game. You used to be able to build links with computer-generated stuff and at least we did it by hand and so it was a little higher quality, but then it still just was running out of steam. Google wants to see super quality. It’s getting harder and harder all the time because they’re looking for more and more quality and so you’ve got to put more and more effort in. It’s more and more valuable too because there are more people searching every month. There are still more people coming on to the internet.
You might think the market is saturated, it’s not. Every population center is growing. Especially in Southeast Asia where I am, more people are becoming internet savvy all the time. The pie just keeps getting bigger, the competition keeps getting bigger. You need to provide super quality these days. Backlink is still the number one search ranking factor.
For listeners, I’m going to explain what I think a backlink is and then Kris is going to correct and update me. My understanding of a backlink is that if I go to, say, a blog on pet care and I enter a comment on a particular article and I end the article with the URL of my website, then once that gets published by the blog owner, that becomes a backlink, a referral back to my website. Is that right, Kris?
Yeah, that’s exactly what a backlink is. Those comment links don’t have much authority. How PageRank works, it’s a logarithmic scale, meaning that it’s not linear. It’s a one to ten and every step up is exponentially more difficult. A really established site might be a three or a four. A very good news site like CNN might be number six or seven. A bigger news site like BBC might be number eight. Only the very biggest sites in the world like Facebook and YouTube will be number ten.
Google is still smart. They know, what does it take to get a YouTube comment or a Facebook comment? Not a lot, so you’re not passing that authority through, which is the same as if you comment on a blog. It does weigh something, but it doesn’t give that much authority. It’s not like if the BBC wrote an article about you and say, “This guy has got the best chocolate in the world,” and you’re going to get a lot of authority. The BBC doesn’t even give you a link. That’s called a co-citation. If you’re a chocolatier and your chocolate shop is called Mitch’s Chocolate and the BBC wrote this big article about you, Google picks it up and goes, “Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, Mitch’s Chocolate, fantastic. Mitch is all about chocolate.” Even if there’s no link, that co-citation means a lot because it’s come from the BBC, a huge authority. Where a link on a comment that anyone can make, who’s that person? Why do they carry any weight? Google is not going to trust it.
I now understand the sophistication of Google’s increased ability to measure authority. Let’s talk about authority. Authority, in my opinion, means the importance of a person or the importance of a topic or the importance of a tool or an object. If I, as a regular person, say something on the internet, it’s pretty much meaningless. If I, multiplied by 10,000, say something on the internet about a person or a topic, then that produces authority even though none of the 10,000 are CNN. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, for sure. If you are a celebrity and have a million Twitter followers and you tweet something and it gets a million likes and re-tweets, then Google does pick up on that and go, “That may be something of interest.” Consider the internet world just like the real world. If you’re some crazy guy standing in the corner of a park screaming out, no one is going to listen. It’s like, “Who’s this crazy dude?” Everyone just ignores it. It’s the same if you’re just pumping out content and no one’s listening. Where if you talk good sense and work in your community and build up a reputation and people go, “Mitch knows what he’s talking about.” When someone’s got a question about building chocolate, they go, “Let’s go to Mitch. He’s the man. He knows everything.”
It’s the same of building that reputation up. I really like the example of chocolate because imagine you’re the best chocolatier in the world. Google doesn’t know that. They can’t go and taste your chocolate. They are trying to give the user a good user experience. They like big brands like Nestlé. They might not make the best chocolate in the world, but it’s okay. If they send the user that’s searching chocolate to Nestlé, it’s going to be a decent user experience. It might not be the best in the world but it won’t be the worst, so it’s okay. Where if this unnamed entity, they don’t know if they send it there, it could be amazing, it could be terrible, so there’s risk in that. They have to wait until you’ve built up your authority enough that they’re like, “This little bespoke chocolatier is qualified to outrank Nestlé.”
If Nestlé would be considered a good mediocre quality chocolate and, say, Lindt, which is a Swiss brand in the US, is a higher quality chocolate, then is your ranking higher because the quality of the chocolate is higher? Is that what you’re saying?
No, it’s that you’ve built up the reputation that it is. Google can’t tell your chocolate or they can’t go and eat it. They can only go on what everyone else is talking about. If everyone is talking about your chocolate, everyone is linking to your chocolate, if Britney Spears starts tweeting about your chocolate, then that is going to have some impact.
Let’s change the analogy just for a moment. Let’s just say that someone listening to the show gets written up in Entrepreneur magazine. I realize that alone would add authority to that person. What happens next if that person puts the words ‘Entrepreneur Magazine’ or ‘endorsed by Entrepreneur Magazine’ on their website? Does that increase authority?
That’s two different things. We’re talking about authority within Google. You’re talking more about conversion optimization when the person actually gets to the website, which is also an interesting topic because where you rank in the search results will also influence your conversion rate because people trust Google’s search results. If I’m searching chocolate and the number one search result, which does get 33% of the traffic, there’s ten searches there, 33% click on number one, they’re much more likely to buy there too because they trust it. They go, “Google gave me this search result, it must be good.” Where if you’re number ten, which only gets 8% of the search traffic, they’re not as likely to buy. You’re getting less traffic and that traffic is less likely to convert.
You posting a link to your article on Entrepreneur Magazine might bring authority to someone who visits the site but has no effect on Google’s opinion of your authority. Is that what you’re saying?
No, being on Entrepreneur.com magazine, Google is still going to see that and go, “This guy is a bit of a player.” When someone visits your website, having that brand association is certainly going to help build trust and convert.
Now we understand what backlinks are, Kris. Now, we have our listeners who have websites and who have companies and businesses, how do they either build credible backlinks or how do they find a way to do it? Explain what you do every day. I want you to spill the secrets, Kris. Tell us the recipe for building backlinks so that everybody listening can do it.
Everyone can do it. It’s that it’s time-consuming. It is really time-consuming. It’s Friday night, 7:50 PM here and I’ve had a long week of work and I’m dying to go and have a glass of wine with my friends. I’m here trying to provide value to the internet and get a nice, juicy backlink. You have to put in the hard yards. You have to go and provide good content, if that’s the way you want to do it, which is the way I do it. Otherwise, you can hire an agency like us that does it for you.
With our customers, we go and speak to other such agencies, other related businesses. For example, I’m a yogi, I love yoga. I’m in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. One of our mentor yogis from Wellington, New Zealand was traveling through here just last week. We work on his website in New Zealand. He’s an awesome Ashtangi, which is the type of yoga we do. We help spread his message. We can talk to other yogis in Australia, in the US and help him spread his message on their websites which they all need content for their websites, gives them something interesting, they give a backlink back to them, it’s spreading the word. They’re all passionate about yoga too, so it fits really well and nice with their niche. They’ve got new interesting content for their website about this great authority in New Zealand talking about the latest trends in Ashtanga, so it’s win, win, win, win, win. That’s what you want to try and put together is we’ll help you and you help us. You work as a team.
Coordinating that, anyone can do. It just takes time. Whatever industry you’re in, especially most brick and mortar businesses, they’re after geographical location. Another example, we have a customer that’s a printer repairs. Nothing sexy. Could you find a more boring business? He services Sydney in Australia and that’s his geographical territory. He can’t go to Brisbane or Melbourne to repair a printer. But he can provide content for a printer repair shop in Melbourne and in Brisbane that’s really great relevant content for their websites about the latest Canon P450 printer and how you repair it. It provides them with good content and then a link back to his website and it’s super relevant. It’s a printer repair shop linking to a printer repair shop. If you’ve got a butcher linking to a printer repair shop, it doesn’t make much sense. Google goes, “What does that have to do with anything?” The relevance isn’t that important. If you’ve got a printer repair expert linking to a printer repair expert, they go, “This guy must really know his stuff,” so that link is fantastic.
I’ll give another further example of that. We’ve got a customer here in Cambodia and they do Mekong River cruises. Mekong is the big river that runs through Southeast Asia, through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and up through China. The difference between how their backlinks affect them within London and Phnom Penh is really dramatic because it also shows the search intent. If you’re in London and you’re searching Mekong River cruise, you’re looking for information. You might be looking for Vietnam or for Thailand or for Cambodia and you might want to see where the Mekong goes. Where if you’re in Phnom Penh and you’re searching Mekong River cruise, you probably want to book something because you’re on the Mekong. You can tell the different links influence that. Like The Phnom Penh Post, the local newspaper here, has a lot of influence on the search rankings here. If you get a link from them, that’s worth a lot. The BBC will influence a lot more any link for a search in London because it has a lot more authority in that circle of influence. It really is super complicated.
Let me see if I can clarify something. I understood the examples you gave, thank you. Here’s the thing. If I am a super duper copywriter and I’m looking for clients and I charge a lot of money for copywriting, say. You’re telling me I’ve got to get other copywriters to link to my site? That is not going to happen. I’m not going to be linking to other copywriters on my site if I was a copywriter. The first example you gave would indicate that that’s what I would have to do if I was trying to get backlinks from authority. Tell me why that’s wrong.
I’ll give you three ways why that’s wrong. My example was geographically targeted. If one area is looking for one city and the other is another, then you’re not in direct competition. Secondly, we have a customer in Brisbane who ranks very highly for web design in Brisbane, who actually links out to all the other big agencies in Brisbane and they link back to them and it moves them all up. Reciprocal linking does help. They’re all on the front page of page ten but it all keeps them there.
What you’re speaking about is people that are chasing the same pie really. The reciprocal links do work but sometimes people don’t want to recommend their competitors, which is understandable. Then they’re not the people you reach out to. You reach out to people that aren’t direct competitors or that are in helpful niches. If you provide hiking tours, you can work with the local hotels or people that complement your industry. An SEO agency can work with a web design agency. We provide different things. Someone that does Facebook marketing with an SEO agency, we’re in the same space but we don’t provide the same service.
That’s a big clarification, I appreciate that. Basically, you’re saying that if you’re on your own and you don’t want to hire an agency but you want to start building these backlinks, what you need to do is you need to pick up the phone and call somebody or send an email and say, “Can I contribute some content to your site to help your visitors learn something about my topic? All I request in return is a backlink.” You’re saying that’s a great way to do it as long as they’re not competitive.
If you can show that you’re passionate about what you do, and most business owners are, unless you’re probably in printer repairs. Most people got into doing what they do because they love it. That resonates in their message. You can help people. In fact, tonight I’m going to a meeting with a whole bunch of local people that all work together. There’s bakers and people that have CrossFit gyms and they’re just all the local business owners. There’s a big garbage recycling event and they’re practicing for the performance that they’re putting on. They’re not in direct competition with each other but they’re in the community and building it. You can do the same thing online.
Once again, let’s get back to the examples, because the examples for me help me understand things. Now, I am doing this and I’m probably spending a lot of time to get one backlink. After all, you and I are going to be talking for anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes and then you’ll get a backlink when this episode publishes. You invested a lot of time to get one backlink. Is that typically what you’re saying it takes to get a single backlink? When you work with a client, is that what you invest?
What else are you going to do? You’re writing an article? That takes a really lot of time too. That’s why it’s valuable. If it was easy to do, then they’re not worth anything. That’s why a blog comment of “Awesome article, look at my link,” it’s not worth anything, right?
Yeah, that’s true. Tell me what you do, what your agency does. If I come along and I’m tired of trying to build backlinks and articles and all the stuff; I’m busy, I’m working with clients and I need backlinks, so I come to you. What do you do that’s different than what I did?
We absolutely know that most business owners are busy running their business and generally don’t care about their website. Especially brick and mortar companies, they just don’t care. We take it over. We interview them and go, “What are your goals? What are your products and services? What’s your biggest money maker? What’s your ideal customer look like?” Then we get out and write content that’s based on that. If your customer is a 35-year-old divorced woman, then we write content that would appeal to a 35-year-old divorced woman. We try and capture that perfect customer and direct them to their best products and then we work with whatever places we can to get that content shared, that we can get it out there. A great rule is the 80/20 rule. 20% of your time should be writing good content, 80% of the time should be getting that content shared. If no one’s reading it or no one’s linking to it, it’s worthless.
Now I’m understanding it even better. Ideally, what I want to do is, even as an individual listening to the show, maybe it’s a good idea to find somebody to write great content for you, which means they’d have to know your business, know you, know what you want, know your ideal client, know your unique optimization that you do that’s different than others. Write about that, put it on your website and then, at that point, not on your website necessarily but on places where you can place that content. The 80% part of that, which is the looking for where to put it part, that’s the part that it sounds like you’ve gotten very good at. Is that right?
Yeah. I won’t lie to you. It is a trick and it takes practice. It takes a lot of work. We have got good over the years. If you invest in it, then you’ll get good at it too.
Let’s talk about volume here because I’m trying to understand what a typical client of yours can expect. Does a client sign up with you and all of a sudden in 90 days, they have ten new backlinks or 10,000 new backlinks or somewhere in between?
When we started out as a backlink-producing company, I thought, “Who needs backlinks the most?” SEO companies do. That worked great. If you get a retail customer, you get one website to look after. If you get an SEO company, you might get 10, 50, 100 websites to look after. That’s awesome and you get to scale really quick. Still, the vast majority of our customers are SEO companies and we provide the links for their clients.
If a website is in good shape, technically sound and has good content, you add links to it, the ranking goes up. We were monitoring all of the sites that we build links to and we’ve noticed some of the rankings that go up great and get fantastic, happy customers, and we’ve noticed some wouldn’t. We’d go, “Let’s go have a look.” We’d look at those sites and go, “These sites are terrible.” They’d load really slowly or the content was terrible or metadata wasn’t even set, a whole host of different things. We’d present that to the customer and go, “You build links for whatever keyword, this keyword is not even on the website. Why do you think it’s going to rank? Come on.” They go, “What should we do?” Often these guys are busy too. Sometimes we work with one-man bands, sometimes it’s five guys. One of our largest customers has 120 staff, they’re huge. They’re always confined by how much time they have per client. We’re more about, if your customer is not getting good results, then they’re going to stop paying you and then stop paying us, so we want to make sure that you win.
We started providing other services like metadata analysis, keyword research, then technical stuff to make your site load faster, then providing content and then eventually just full service SEO. Then we thought, “Why are we doing full service SEO for these guys when they’re probably charging a whole lot more than we are?” We started becoming our own SEO agency and thought, “We should have our own retail customers as well,” which is what we do now. It is good. It’s good fun. You get to have a lot more interaction than just the link building side of stuff.
Let’s summarize. We have a guy who’s listening to the show, he has a business, he has a website. I’m going to try and summarize what I heard and you fill in the blanks if you can. Step number one is go look at your website. Make sure it loads fast, make sure it has the keywords that will attract your ideal audience. Maybe one step below that is absolutely know who your ideal client is to begin with and make sure your content on your website is oriented towards your ideal client. Step number two is after you’ve done the keyword analysis on your own website and you take care of the technical part, then you start creating content based on keywords that are relevant to you and your website. Those articles can be anything from interviews, they could be podcast interviews and transcripts, they could be how-to articles, and those articles can get shared with anybody on the web that’s relevant to you. Step three is you’ve got to go find more people to share your content with and get as much of that content out there as possible. Did I miss any steps?
That’s a pretty good bunch of steps. One thing that so many website owners miss though, is what do you want someone to do on your website? You’ve got them there, what do you want? If you’ve got an article about a hiking trail or whatever, what do you want them to do next? There’s no call to action. Do you want them to give you a call? Tell them, “Give us a call now.” Do you want to get their email address? Make it obvious. There are so many pages that get lots of traffic and there’s no call to action. Then why the heck did you write that page for?
Kris, thank you so much. You’ve really given us a great overview of how your business works. I’m sure that this interview has helped lots. Let’s take a look at something else here because I love to do this with all my interviews. I ask a couple of questions that help us get to really see who you are. Here’s one of the questions I have for you today. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
There’s this fabulous book by Ryan Holiday called The Daily Stoic. It’s 365 stoic meditations. Every day, there’s a quote from one of the brilliant stoic philosophers throughout history: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus. It will have a quote of something that they have said that’s mindboggling, amazing, and then a daily modern interpretation in how you can put that into your life. It gives you a little thing to think about that day. Each month has a different idea. This month is about duty. It’s really beautiful.
Marcus Aurelius, who was a Roman emperor at around the turn of the millennia, an amazing man, and to be the leader of the largest empire in the world, and all of the world that he knew and just the thoughts that went through his head and how humbling he was and how compassionate and dutiful he was, an amazing man. If there was ever a great person, that would be him.
Here’s the grand finale question. This is the ‘change the world’ question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
I don’t know that I can change the world for everyone, but I’d like to think that I can change the world for some people. I was at a university lecturing to a bunch of young Khmer kids, 21-year-old little business people that were studying international business. I talked to them about passion and happiness and that you should be following and investing in what makes you happy because at the end of the day, money doesn’t make you happy. You can have the greatest throne or the greatest car or whatever, that’s not going to do it. Follow what your passion is, have joy in your life and looking forward to waking up tomorrow and getting to do it all over again. Grabbing some trophy at the end of it is not going to do it. I hope the whole world can learn that lesson one day. I’m unfortunately probably not the man to teach everyone in the world, but I like to teach some people.
Kris, those were beautiful words coming from experience and wisdom, so thank you for that. Kris Reid, this has been a great show. I think we’ve helped a lot of people today. I’m glad that you took the time to spend with me. I hope I get to talk to you again soon.
Thank you very much.
By the way, if anyone’s looking for me, you can just Google The Coolest Guy in SEO, look for my pretty face and come say, “Hi.”
Talk to you again soon.
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