Training someone who doesn’t know anything about SEO to link build can be very challenging even for someone who is quite advanced in the industry. You have to know how to dumb things down, while still giving adequate information. You also need to make sure you don’t overwhelm the person you are training. I’ve taken several approaches to this in the past and I wanted to go through a step-by-step of what works for me.
Again I’m going to assume the person you’re training doesn’t know anything about SEO.
First things first!
1) Tool and Software Setup
This will vary greatly depending on the type of link building they’re going to be doing.
Keep it simple at first. It’s important to learn how to build links without tools in the beginning and slowly introduce new tools to them as they develop. If they hit the ground running, by all means, give them more advanced tools. However, you can’t assume they’ll do well right away and putting too many tools in front of someone can be really confusing.
This should be tailored to the person training them. For example if you generally use Open Site Explorer instead of Yahoo Site Explorer (which will be gone soon anyways), make sure they’re using the same thing you are during training.
Trainees will most definitely need an Excel program for record keeping and looking at reports. Open Office is a great alternative if you don’t have access to Microsoft Excel.
This isn’t really a tool, but for people who don’t know anything about SEO, this is a reference they WILL need. I like SEO Book’s Dictionary. Everything is on one page so you can do a quick Ctrl+F command.
Page Rank Tool
Page rank is by no means a great way to judge sites or pages, but for someone new to SEO, it’s an introduction to the concept that some sites are “voted” better than others. I like to use Search Status. It gives you a quick look at the page rank without having to click anything.
Back Link Checker
Something that can give a quick look at the number of back links a page or site has is absolutely necessary. This way they can find an ideal page or site when you have multiples that seem equal. The SEOmoz Toolbar is a great on for Firefox or Chrome. There’s also SEO Site Tools for Chrome, which pulls back links from Majestic.
This kind of depends on how HTML savvy your trainee is, but Firebug comes in handy on several occasions, especially if they’re dealing with a site owner who usually outsources their development and doesn’t know how to make changes on their own.
Bulk IP Checker
This isn’t always needed, but if your link builder is going to be working on a site that’s getting tons of links, you may want to avoid getting several links on the same Class C IP address. This is useful if they’re talking to someone who owns several sites. I like to use Authority Domains Bulk IP Checker. It has a CSV export function, which comes in handy.
At one point or another, your link building trainee will run into a picky site owner: someone who absolutely must have your logo in a 150×150 format or someone demanding images for a guest post they contributed, for example. Either way, it’s usually not too complicated, but be sure they at least have a simple illustration program to use in those situations.
2) Reading Material
You must be careful to not force too much information on them too quickly. I often see someone hand a trainee 30 links to articles and says, “read this”. It can work, but for someone fresh to the SEO industry, it’s very intimidating. They won’t grasp all the terms and a lot of information will go in one ear and right out the other.
Give them a few simple reads to go over that just explain basic SEO principles. SEOmoz’s Beginners Guide to SEO is a great start. I would feel comfortable handing someone that and ONLY that, during training.
Also, you need to make sure you (or someone else) will always be available for them to ask questions. This may seem obvious, but it’s extremely important. If someone’s not right there for them to ask every tiny little question they’re wondering, they’re not going to ask them at all. This also means not wearing your headphones and zoning out if they’re sitting right besides you! You know who you are! (points to self)
Side note: Once they start to get more advanced, have them subscribe to some SEO related RSS feeds or follow the industry leaders on social networks. They’ll be able to keep up with current topics and expand their general knowledge on their own.
3) Site Discovery
Now that your trainee understands the gist of SEO, the next step is teaching them how to find sites to build links to.
I like to start by having them perform their own search queries as opposed to mining through a spreadsheet or a competitor’s backlinks. This way they learn a productive pace and won’t ever come to you with “I’m finished, now what?”. They will always have to rely on the resources of search engines, which are nearly endless.
Go over the basic search phrases they can use to find relevant sites. Again, you want to keep this simple and have them use simple search phrases like:
- “Keyword” blog
- Random word “Keyword”
- “Keyword” guest post
When they start to pick up the pace, introduce them to alternative search engines. 99% of the time, they’re going to use Google. Make sure they’re aware of sites like Technorati, Blekko, Duck Duck Go, and etc.
By providing this limited amount of information to them on how to find sites, they will eventually figure out alternative search terms to use when they’ve run into the same sites over and over. Creative people will be able to think of some clever ways to find related sites and this is a necessary skill for a link builder to develop.
4) Finding Contact Information
There are little things that someone new to the link building world may not know or may not have thought about. Make sure you cover the basics like:
a) Checking Whois data.
b) Clicking “view profile” on Blogspot sites.
c) Using advanced operator commands:
I. site:website.com contact
II. site:website.com mail
III. site:website.com about
IV. site:website.com gmail
d) Contacting site owners through social profiles like Twitter and Facebook.
e) Searching the site owners name or handle on a search engine.
Some tools (like SEO site tools for Chrome) can pull contact information from a site, but it’s a good idea for them to learn without any tools in the beginning.
5) Constructing an Opening Email
This is perhaps one of the most important parts. For some reason, people tend to write long-winded emails when they’re starting out and talk about how great their client’s product is. This usually will have a very low response rate.
Give the trainee some examples of opening emails you’ve used so that they have an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Explain to them that the opening email should be tailored to a specific site and should be brief. For example:
I stumbled onto your site while I was looking at some banjos and I saw that you play a 5 string Gold Tone in your band. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Gold Tone and wanted to get your take on it before I took the plunge and bought one. If you could hit me up when you have a minute, I’d greatly appreciate it! Thanks in advance!
All the Best,
This type of email is more likely to pull a response from the site owner, and once you get that first response, they’re ten more likely to reply to any future emails you send.
Michael King (iPullRank) recently wrote one of the best articles I’ve seen on personalizing emails when link building and why you should avoid using generic copy and paste form letters.
Subject lines are just as important as their email! You need a subject line that’s going to stick out and cause someone to actually click and read your email.
When I’m training someone, I like to actually see the first few emails before they send them off. This gives me the chance to give them pointers, explain what I would’ve done differently, or give positive reinforcement.
When they start to get responses, it’s a good idea to guide them through their first few email exchanges. Have them construct an email they would reply with first. After that look for any issues that should be corrected. You don’t want to give your trainee something to respond with.
Obviously, there is no formula for how you should correspond with someone. It varies greatly depending on what exactly you’re trying to get out of the site. It just requires some general SEO knowledge and site evaluation skills that your trainee just isn’t going to have yet, so that’s why you should help them through this process.
7) Record Keeping
In the beginning, make sure you have access to everything they do so that you can correct any mistakes they’re making. You don’t need to loom over them constantly, but if something is obviously wrong, you need to be able to find the problem as soon as possible.
I do this by making an excel template for them to record everything on. Ideally, you want this to be on a Google doc or a server so that you have consistent access to their files. I include information like:
- Date of contact
- Date the link went live
- Site owner’s name
- Contact information
- The page the link went on
- Anchor text that was used
You want to record as much as you can, but you also don’t want it to be so time consuming that they’re spending more time keeping up their spread sheet than link building.
I achieve this by making two separate tabs on the Excel sheet. One for completed links and another for everyone they’ve contacted. The sheet for everyone they’ve contacted is super simplified so they can fill the information quickly. This helps if you have multiple link builders working on the same client. That way they can cross check before they contact a site owner, allowing them to see if another link builder has contacted them.
8) Letting go of their hand
After the first 2-4 weeks you want to slowly wean your trainee off of reliance on you. They need to start making some of the simpler decisions like figuring out what page they should go after, on their own.
By no means should you ignore them. You should still be available for them to ask questions, but instead of answering every one, ask them what they think they should do and correct them if they’re wrong. I’ve had quite a few people ask questions they already knew the answers to, and once they realized that, they would stop asking and be more confident about their instincts.
Other things to keep in mind:
Finding an ideal candidate to train
This can be a little tricky, as we don’t always have the luxury to be choosy. The best article I’ve seen on this subject is the one Sir Justin Briggs wrote – What Makes an Effective Link Builder – it breaks everything down perfectly! I highly recommend you read his article even if you’re not actively seeking a link builder. That way you know what to look for and if you meet someone you can at least keep them in your network in case you need them in the future!
Personally I find that creative social geeks tend to be awesome candidates. If they have lots of friends on Facebook, and actively use Twitter, as well as other social networks, that’s a good sign. If they love surrounding themselves with tech and are excited about new gadgets, that’s also a good sign. If they run a WordPress blog, a Tumblr account, and have some understanding of html, that’s another good sign.
You basically want to find someone who’s already motivated and curious about all things Internet!
Skill Set Requirements
Requirement might be too strong of a word. I’ve seen people with no related skill sets whatsoever do really well. However, there are a few prerequisites that help. For example someone with sales or cold calling experience, already understand a little bit about what they should and shouldn’t say in a correspondence with someone to achieve their desired goal.
Another big one is being proficient with Excel. With any form of SEO you WILL have spreadsheets up to your elbows. If you’re an SEO that never has to deal with spreadsheets on a daily basis, please let me know your secret! I’ve actually had to consider making a spreadsheet for my spreadsheets a few times.
Lastly, they just have to be good with computers. You and the IT guys will save a lot of time if the person in training knows how to do simple things like removing spyware from their computer and finding what software they need for certain file types. You need someone that can be self-sufficient. I know it may be hard for some people to imagine that people still exist that don’t know how to do these tasks, but I’ve seen it quite a bit and it’s painful.
Always keep in mind that different things are going to work with different people. You’re going to have to approach problems in alternative ways depending on what the other person is comfortable with. This is especially true after they start develop and learn on their own. Don’t ever try to force someone to stick to a specific tool, browser, platform, or whatever just because that’s what you use. Obviously you want to keep things organized, but you need to give people some room to do their own thing and be creative. That’s how you’ll start to actually learn from the people you’re training.