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Andy Crestodina Interview About SEO & Link Building

It’s been a while since we’ve last published an interview with an online marketing expert. Today, I’m glad to share with you the discussion I’ve had with Andy Crestodina the web strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media.

1. Please introduce yourself and tell our readers how you start doing SEO.

In 2000, we started building websites for clients. Within months, I realized that it wasn’t going to be enough to just build the site. A newly redesigned website doesn’t necessarily have any return on investment.

I remember it clearly. One day in the fall of 2000, I woke up and realized that I needed to understand search engines. I had to learn everything I could about SEO. That’s when I started researching. Search optimization was very different (and very spammy) back then. But once I understood the basics, we started getting much better results for our clients.

After five or six years, our little web design company had grown and we starting to become more relevant in search ourselves. Eventually, we climbed to the top for all of the most important local phrases in our industry. It’s been a huge catalyst for growth for us, both in terms of quality traffic and in credibility.

2. How do you see SEO in 5 years? Will backlinks remain the main ranking factor?

In five years, backlinks will still be important. But the algorithm will be more nuanced, so it will be much harder to make specific connections between ranking factors (like links) and high rankings. It will all be more contextual, more personalized and more based on concepts and topics.

I believe that keywords and links will always be relevant. But the search engines will be so good at delivering relevance that people who don’t pay much attention to these factors will still be successful. They’ll win just by being highly relevant for their topics.

3. How do you prefer to do email outreach?

Well, this one is a lot like winning links: there is a direct relationship between time/effort and results. So take your time and focus on quality. Email outreach will work better if the person is already familiar with you on social media. So start with social and take your time and building up your visibility with them. Ideally, you should connect on several networks.

Now when you send the email, you’ll see a much higher response rate.

And if you want 100% response rates, go to conference and meet with influencers face-to-face. Nothing comes close to this level of connection!

4. What is the best way to approach link building in competitive niches? Link earning or link building?

Link earning is always better, but not necessarily reliable. If you think about how links are born, you’ll see where to spend your time. A link happens when a content creator refers to something that supports an article they’re writing. So you earn (or build) a link, you need two things:

  • Visibility among people who create content
  • A high value piece of content that supports what other people are writing

That first item means having relationships with content creators. Ideally, you should build lists of people in your niche who create content. Creating a tag in LinkedIn is helpful for me. But it takes time.

That second item is also time consuming. My top tip is in my answer to this next question…

5. Your favorite method to build backlinks?

I’m a big believer in producing original research. If you can come up with a piece of research (possibly by doing a survey) and publish a new statistic on your site (something insightful and easily quoted) then you’ve got a link magnet.

It’s hard to do and it doesn’t scale that well, but it’s worth trying. We did a blogger survey last year that generated 200+ links. The “missing stat” that we published was the average length of time it takes to create a blog post (2.5 hours) which is something that hadn’t been published before. We’re updating the research this year to see if there are more insights to be found…

6. What links are working giving best results for you? What are the links you recommend avoiding?

I’m seeing traction on three types:

  • Links to our blog from smaller blogs, which appear organically. These are always welcomed. I believe that these bloggers mostly find out content through social media.
  • Links from interviews like this one, which are a bit easier to produce than guest posts. It’s faster to answer questions that to come up with new topics and pitch them!
  • Links from authority and media websites, which appear when I provide quotes to influencers who write for big publications. Most of these writers are fellow marketers that I’ve become friends with over the years.

7. Share with us your biggest SEO accomplishment.

Aside from our rank and relevance for the lead generating keywords (like, “Chicago web design”) there is a post I wrote on the actual topic of lead generation that has performed well over the years.

I’m proud of this one because it’s a really competitive phrase with a lot of big companies in the mix. It’s an expensive phrase to buy in PPC (it’s $26 per click for “lead generation best practices”) so it was fun to measure how much I would have had to spend if I wanted to buy that traffic. It was tens of thousands of dollars per year.

I also used to post in presentations as a case study in how to build interconnected hubs of content. I made the case that if you want to win for a tough phrase, you can do it if you focus on publishing a range of content in all five of the following areas.

  • Interrelated topics
  • Interrelated keyphrases
  • Various formats for content (infographics, videos, slideshares, etc)
  • Multiple authors (not just you)
  • Multiple websites (not just on your site)

I did all of these things to build the relevance and rank for that article, and eventually got to the middle of page one. It’s since slipped, but it was still a lot of fun and a big win!

9. Have you ever had a website penalized by Google?

Yes, it was a site that we built for a client. On the day that it went live, their PR firm pushed out a press release through the news wire services. But they used the home page copy in the press release!

So all at once, during the exact moment the site went live, there were hundreds of instances of the home page copy all over the Internet. Terrible.

So it got flagged at Google and someone there manually blacklisted it. It was removed from the index completely. It didn’t even rank for the name of the business. The client blamed us, even though we didn’t do anything wrong. Eventually, we filed a reconsideration request and got it removed from the black list.

This is one of the few duplicate content penalties I’ve ever seen, despite all of the hype. As far as I know, there are two conditions that must be met for duplicate content to lead to a penalty.

  • The duplicate must appear at nearly the same time
  • There must be tons of them, not just one or two

So don’t believe the hype about duplicate content. Even though people started to panic about this in about 2006, it’s been something that Google has dealt with will from the beginning…

duplicate content


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