Best Practices for SEO Links – An Interview with John Doherty

John DohertyIn 2013, your link strategy continues to be a crucial element in the SEO landscape and vital to stay competitive. The following questions were posed to SEO expert John Doherty,  Director at Distilled New York, an authority and leading online marketing agency. 


Q: What tools do you use for link analysis?
I don’t use anything other than what everyone else will recommend – OpenSiteExplorer, MajesticSEO, and AHREFS. When I’m doing a deep dive into competitor analysis, I’ve used LinkDetective a lot.

I’m a big believer that it’s not only what tools you use, but why and how you use them and the data. I hate pulling data that I don’t need, so before I get link reports I make sure to know why I am doing it.

I actually gave a huge list of link building tools in my LinkLove presentation in Boston in 2012.

Sitewide links

Q: What’s your recommendation on sitewide footer links to your compeititve pages? Do or don’t?
Be very very careful with exact match anchor text links in footers. Almost across the board, I do not recommend sitewide footers. I did implement section-specific footers on one client’s site last year, though, and we saw a good bump from it. We focus on if it will add value to a site visitor by being there, and seek to make it that way as well as doing it for the SEO benefits.

But I will say again: be very very careful in your implementation.

Q: What about randomizing the above-mentioned footer links, is there value to that?
Once again, depends on the site. With my client, we have different anchor texts pointing to the important pages on the different sections of their sites and it’s working very well.

I’d also think about varying anchor text links in other areas of your site. For example, from one page type (like categories) use your main anchor text, but from individual posts use another anchor text. This way you can rank for multiple terms!

Client sites

Q: If an agency has the opportunity to link back from a client website, what best practices do you recommend?
Always go for branded anchor text if you’re getting a credit link like “Site built by (agency)”.

I’m a big believer in branding, and this is one way to do it as well as building links and not getting yourself in trouble with the powers that be at Google because of aggressive anchor text. Though, if your client is writing about you in a blog post, I think partial or exact anchor text can be okay. The issue is with scale and sitewides that a lot of smaller agencies will get.

Guest posts

Q: What is the optimal number of links to receive from a guest blog post or article?
I think this is the wrong question to ask. The purpose of guest posts is not for links, but to get your content/thought leadership in front of others. Often the number of links you can put in back to your site is controlled by the webmaster and is normally in the 1-2 links range.

However, I link out liberally to other sources in my guest posts and hence can often get an in-context link instead of just a byline link. The problem with byline links is that they leave a footprint that can easily be uncovered by both competitors and the search engines. Though if you’re doing it right, you shouldn’t have to worry about the search engines.

Q: Once you have a link to one of your competitive pages from a domain, is there value to continue receiving more links to that same page?
I assume you mean more links from that same domain to the competitive page on your website. If so, then I’d say that the returns are diminishing but if offered the link then I’d say to take it!

I never turn down a given link (and since I prefer to get links organically instead of via outreach, most are), but realize that the second and subsequent links won’t count as much as the first, at least at the beginning until the pages that the subsequent links are on become more powerful through links of their own.

One of my favorite posts about how to do this is Ross Hudgens’s Second Tier Linkbuilding.

Social Media

Q: Is there any SEO value for increasing social mentions (tweets, likes. +1s) for a web page?
This is the million dollar question, right? I think it depends on the vertical and the nature of the search. Breaking news can definitely be bumped up by a lot of social shares, and I’ve recently seen some evidence that shares on Google+ can also help rankings even on static content.

I do think that there are secondary effects to increasing social media engagement on your site, though. If you have more people sharing, then you will have more people seeing your content who can link to you and keep sharing your content. Social can be great marketing in that it spreads the word organically, and you can even go use a tool like Topsy to find and connect with the people sharing your content. Then the SEO benefits can really start coming 🙂


Q: What site would you love to have a link from?
To one of my personal sites, I’d love to have a link from LifeHacker.


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