How To Motivate A Link Building Team


Motivating a team is difficult at the best of times and is undoubtedly what sets great leaders apart from mediocre managers but motivating a team of link builders has to be one of the greatest people challenges out there.

Link building as a profession can be back-breaking, soul-destroying and tough. It can also be an incredibly satisfying, worthwhile and a quite frankly fun vocation. Link builders come in all shapes and sizes; all have different needs and wants but ultimately all are working towards the same goal. So just how do we motivate a link building team?

I asked a few of the leaders in the space all of whom run successful link building businesses and operate different models of staffing – “How do you motivate your link building team?”. I’ve also added my own thoughts on the subject (it’s my guest post after all!) :-).

I’ve taken quite a bit just from compiling this post so hopefully you can get some use out of it also.

Thanks to everyone who agreed to take part – I really appreciate your time Julie Joyce, Paul Madden, Gareth Hoyle, Christoph Cemper, Wiep Knol and Jason Acidre.

Julie Joyce, Link Fish Media’s Director of Operations and SEO Chick.

Note from James; seeing as Julie graciously agreed to publish my post I thought it was only fair to present her answer first. (Note from Julie: Smart move James.)

Julie Joyce

For financial rewards, we actually have a labor cost analysis metric that we use where, for each link that a link builder generates, we give a sliding scale bonus. Or not.

Office fun is something we actually totally pride ourselves on at Link Fish. Just last week we had a dog birthday party here. Seriously. The dog wore a dress, we ate cake, and much merriment was had. We’re not afraid to be insane here. We try to have fun regardless of how things are going. We’re planning a pub crawl for next month. We are very lucky to have a staff that get along extremely well both here and outside of work. We have occasionally offered something like “free pizza for everyone if we get 20 links for x client in x amount of time” and, when I’m craving a bagel myself, I’ll bring in bagels and pretend it’s just because I care.

As far as training and support go, we’ve moved from a pretty structured “sit down with a link trainer for 2 weeks” approach to a more community-oriented, hands-off approach. Everyone here does things a bit differently than anyone else even though we all have the same basic guidelines, so we like to encourage employees to find their own way of doing things, and that’s hard to do when you’re being told exactly what to do. Luckily, it seems to work very well.

Support comes from us as management and from the team as a whole, as we don’t have many tiers in our structure. A link builder is welcome to come ask me, as the owner, anything he or she wants to, at any time. Jay (my husband and our CEO) occasionally goes back to have an impromptu meeting with everyone about how things are going and to answer any questions. Rae, our content head, routinely has brainstorming sessions with small groups or the entire office. When all else fails, we just send out threatening emails about how we’re all going to be out of a job if things don’t pick up. :)

Fringe benefits…well, we have an office fish tank so you can stand in front of it and do a bit of quiet reflection. My personal office has a nice couch in case anyone needs a nap AND a record player. I’d say that the main fringe benefit is that we’re very flexible with scheduling. Actually we can be too flexible at times but I’d much prefer to keep my guys happy by not being a time Nazi. If an employee wants to spend 2 months working on a play out of town, that’s totally fine. If one wants to travel the West Coast for a few weeks, again, totally fine. If someone’s kid is sick at school, we say go get her. If you want to work weekends, fine with us. As long as you do your job, we’re all good.

James Agate, founder of Skyrocket SEO James Agate

We operate a distributed organisation with teams in multiple locations across the world. Whilst this helps us to work near-enough around the clock 7 days a week, it also brings some unique challenges, motivation certainly being one of them.

I think we have achieved this so far though with a largely happy and productive team. Here are some of the things that we do:

Financial incentives

We offer a strong base rate of pay and offer and random bonuses for good performance.

We are currently looking at bringing in a performance pay structure which directly rewards individuals for hitting and exceeding certain targets. Helping our high-achievers to earn even more.

One-off gifts

We try to foster a happy and productive culture and often this means just a small non-financial gift that makes team members realise they are highly valued. For example, we sent a gourmet coffee subscription as a random gift to one of our coffee loving team members because he had a great month.


This is a key motivator for our people as we have individuals who fit their work with us around being a parent and those who are working with us whilst pursuing higher education. If you want to work 3am until 10am and then spend the rest of the day swimming in the sea then we’re happy to have you on our team, as long as work is getting done (and being done to our exacting high standard), we’re not too worried whether you’re at your desk 9am-5pm. Unless we have a team meeting of course.

Training and development

We try wherever possible to create a multi-skilled team where each team member has an array of skills and has been trained in a wide range of job roles. Although we have a highly structured process where each individual plays a part in the overall campaign, we like to make sure team members can rotate, not just because it means we aren’t stuck if someone takes a week off but also because it means our team can vary their role and avoid work-related boredom (hopefully!)

Responsibility and job ownership

We have a highly structured process but we like to enable people to innovate within their role and take full responsibility and ownership for getting their work done. We try to avoid overly micro-managing and we allow people to take on more responsibility as and when they feel ready.

Gareth Hoyle, entreprener and founder of Manual Link Building Gareth Hoyle

Well we have a lot of staff (over 160 in our back office) and we always need to keep them motivated

We run internal competitions where the team member with the most submissions wins a prize – usually a meal for 2 – or sometimes we will fill up their scooter with fuel!!

We also incentive based on acceptance rates – so if one member of staff is getting higher acceptance rates – they will get a small cash bonus – or  again, a free night out to the cinema or to a restaurant.

When we have UK staff over, the back office staff are incentivised and the winner of the competition will get to spend the day with us and show us around their city – This is seen as prestigious to an Indian to hang out with a white boy – crazy I know!!

The actual job they do is pretty samey – in that they are either looking for guest post opportunities all day, or submitting to directories all day so we have to incentivise them to keep them sane!!

Cash usually works well – The main thing we do though is pitch them against one another. This keeps them keen and motivated – When you have 5-6 large teams of staff, we try to introduce team games – But as they do different jobs this is difficult to implement regularly

In February 2011 we sent our two top performing link builders to SES in London – this was amazing as it allowed them to see how the UK market actually is and to meet some UK SEO’s – rather than just watching from afar

This really does motivate the staff as to come to the UK is a great privilege for them – although it was v expensive for me!!

Wiep Knol, co-founder of Dutch link building agency Wiep Knol

That’s an interesting and quite important question if you’re managing a team of link builders. I guess the best way to motivate people depends on the type of people you have in your team. Find out what motivates them most and use that as an incentive. For some, that’s a trip to a search conference abroad, while others prefer a public compliment, a training, a day off, or simply cash.

Apart from incentives, I think that team building and offering a job that’s fun to do is even a better motivator. A varying job, working on interesting projects, offering responsibilities, going on a team trip every now and then or giving everyone the feeling that they’re an equal part of the team, are just a few things that might help. If you’re able to get *every* team member (after all, a team is as strong as it’s weakest member) to arrive at work with a smile, because they love the work they’re doing, you don’t have to do a lot of extra motivating.

Jason Acidre, CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing strategist for Affilorama and the author of Kaiserthesage

Jason Acidre

Most of our link and outreach guys are gamers, so the motivation part is not that hard actually, since most of them already have the drive and competitiveness within them. I guess the screening process of hiring is the key to finding individuals that will really fit a certain link building process.

In terms of incentives, we do offer an additional 15 – 25% (of their salary) to their monthly pay whenever they achieve our monthly goals, which are based on monthly KPIs, campaign’s result(s) and/or client feedback.

We also do weekly trainings (internally), and also encourage our guys to attend local SEO and blogging seminars/meetups/conferences to constantly enhance their methodologies, thinking and interest.

We’re still working on our company’s annual bonus plans and other form of incentives (such as offering company shares for deserving core members), since we’ve only been around in our current format for 6 months, there are still a lot of areas and business processes to think about, test and implement.

Paul Madden, Managing Director of UK based Automica Paul By God Madden

We have a large outsourced team with a number of layers of responsibility.

Currently we have a team leader and his understudy and they are the only people who I deal with on a day to day basis.

Due to the nature of running such a diverse team, all in different locations and across a few languages its often hard to keep a check on how each member feels.

What I try to do every quarter is run a survey of all the staff where we ask about their satisfaction levels, their personal circumstances and to give them a few opportunities to tell us some more about why they work with us and what they want to achieve.

Last time we ran that I found that we have a lady working for us who uses the income from our work to support her real passion of teaching IT in a local Bangladeshi school. She currently does research tasks for me but her skill set and dedication to the school has meant that we are now moving her up in the organisation to help with project work.

We try to keep an eye on the Facebook accounts of employees (Not in a sinister way) and have sent cuddly toys for new parents, paid bonus for staff members who have birthdays and family weddings etc.

And finally we will run competitions to help us hit our numbers, an example of that might be “The person adding the most new sites to our system within a given week will get their salary doubled by a bonus payment”. Some people respond to that and some carry on as normal, we don’t pressure people to take part.

I think running any outsourced team at long distance means you have a responsibility to make sure that you are providing working conditions that meet the needs of each individual.

Christoph Cemper, owner of Christoph Cemper

I do this with 2 “tricks” – a) constant goal measurement  and b) culture of performance

and a) we track everything for every type of link, which is why we have stuff like Link Research Tools and a project management suite around it since 2007.

and b) performers in the team propagate performance, precision and quality – this works and is the hardest part. if you start you team with the wrong people

or add too many of the wrong people, it gets out of balance, so you have to take non-performers out ASAP – don’t fear high fluctuation then, performers like to work with performers.

Every day you leave a non-performer in the team multiplies negative performance. This needs a lot of recruiting and HR work.

In addition to these two elements usual stuff like super flex time, free drinks, Redbull, Coffee, Company TGIFs and a LOT of self-responsibility are part of our culture.

Key takeaways

  1. Motivation doesn’t necessarily have to involve money
  2. Self direction and ownership of work seems to be key ways to ensure link builders stay motivated
  3. Being goal orientated and process driven helps to ensure creative individuals stay on track
  4. Link individual performance into overall company performance
  5. Try and make work fun!

How do you keep your link building team motivated? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

James Agate is the founder of Skyrocket SEO.

About The Author

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  1. [...] How To Motivate A Link Building Team 1 Upvotes Discuss Flag Submitted 1 min ago Martijn Scheijbeler SEO Comments [...]

  2. Hey James,

    could you please stop making such interesting posts? :)

    wow, I really enjoy reading this. and it helps me a lot too!

  3. Nicely done, James. I like how you captured the brand and personalities of the featured professionals (yourself included). (haha-your section is formatted and bold headed- are you a structured chap, James : ) )

    I celebrate the embrace of flex scheduling. It makes sense, especially in our space. I mean, when does the Web sleep or go home for the day?

    I liked Julie’s answers about the Link Fish office. If she told me the Link Fish squad was really roaming the seas via pirate ship, I would not doubt her.. : )

    Thanks for the write-up, James and the participants for letting us know more about you and your brands.

  4. julie says: - reply

    What I like best about this post is the general idea behind it…motivation. Without it, link building is so much more difficult.

  5. [...] read a great post earlier by James Agate at Link Fish Media.  James interviewed himself along with reputable link builders in the online [...]

  6. While we’re not an SEO company, we are a small privately owned environmental site-survey business. We keep employees motivated through a variety of methods, chief among which is being transparent with each employees’ contribution to the bottom line with a monthly e-mail. Personally, I’d like to be treated as a human if I worked for someone; so I do the same for others. That means weekend working, flexible hours, the odd pat on the back and occasional gift or extra paid holiday for hard workers. However, that should NOT be championed as some sort of ‘wild, hip, tech-firm-only, modern’ approach to management. It should be THE approach to working with other people! That being the case, and assuming you have taken the right approach to recruitment and selection when building your team, your employees probably don’t need much to keep them feverishly keen. I know mine don’t.

  7. Being in this industry helps. There is such a great sense of community and openness and that carries over into our work. People are so willing to share their ideas and techniques. Everyone benefits.

    At Virante, we focus on creating an environment that doesn’t feel like work. If you truly care about the people you work with and they feel like family, you’re going to work ten times as hard not to let them down. Incorporating a nice mix of outside work activities and fun days at work creates a strong bond if done correctly. Each activity is not going to attract everyone. It’s important to include a wide mix of activities to get everyone involved. Here are some of the activities Virante includes:

    -Company sponsored sports teams (soccer starts this Wed!)
    -Company wide birthday celebrations
    -Company wide lunches
    -Trivia nights
    -Game nights
    -Movie nights
    -Hockey games
    -Trips to theme parks
    -Philanthropy trips
    -Creative groups
    -Grill outs
    -Fun competitions
    -SEO conferences and meetups

    And these are just some of them. If you make work a rewarding and fun experience as well as truly putting a focus on encouraging and developing your employees’ interests, turnover will be an afterthought.

    • Thanks for your comment Daniel.

      The idea of turnover being an afterthought is perhaps a little scary :-) but I completely see where you are coming from on this.

      Conference attendance and allowing employees to invest in their own personal development as well as heighten their industry profile especially in a knowledge led industry like SEO is one of the biggest motivators for people not to mention the overall benefits to the company of having a team which is well recognised in the business.

  8. Jason says: - reply

    I thought Google has made it pretty clear that manual link building is against their terms. You guys are all black hat and to be avoided.

    • julie says: - reply

      Building links manually is not against their terms…buying links to pass authority is.

    • Building links is like building your social network. Consider it like leaving your visiting card to the people you visit. Making friends and and let them know what you do. Marketing now a days is a name of being social. People likes if you Visit there websites & blogs and get involved in any discussions. And I believe google also likes it.

  9. Chris says: - reply

    The best seo read in weeks! Thanks for taking the time to write this post.