Tips Tricks & Tactics from the Trenches : Martin Macdonald

Almost two weeks have passed since Distilled Link Love and I am currently sat on a train heading towards Brighton SEO. Whilst I have no plans to try to cover the Brighton event in the same depth as I have Link Love, heading towards another SEO conference is making me focus a little on getting my Blow by blow account of Link Love finished! I have a short run along the coastal track to Brighton to bring you my account of Martin MacDonald’s session.

Tips Tricks & Tactics from the Trenches

Martin MacDonald : @searchmartin

Martin was a late addition to the Link Love line-up. His session last year got quite a bit of coverage and raised a few eyebrows about what colour headwear was being promoted at the event. I don’t find the whole whitehat/blackhat cliché that useful myself (preferring to focus on the tactics best suited to a particular project). That said, nothing Martin covered was particularly shady – he just has a certain efficiency in his approach in that he prefers to encourage others to do the hard work for him.


  • Search marketing is a battle ground
  • No need to fight alone – build a (sp)army
  • Rather than doing what others go against the flow

Building an army

  • Build a community
  • Forum sites : It’s easy with Vbulletin, invisionpb, buddypress, etc etc – no need to code
  • Even easier with solutions like twitter and facebook.

Mobilising your troops

  • Build in mechanisms that encourage them to link. E.g. Dropbox : Uses incentives of larger limits if you introduce people
  • Provide great profile pages – people will link to them and show them off. Examples : seomoz, linked in

If you can’t do this on your site – use someone else’s

  • “I don’t often troll, but when I do I earn links”
  • Martin showed an example of “hijacking” another community. Used the example of someone making ridiculous claims in an seomoz discussion. Rather than just pitching in he wrote a full response on his blog and linked to that evidence in his response.
  • [MB: This is interesting. Martin calls this hijacking and thinks talks like it is a little cheeky. Rand Fishkin uses this exact same tactic on Quora and cites it as an example of a great white hat tactic. Who’s hat is who’s??]
  • Example about got retweeted by Rand + others, linked, shared etc etc. Martin now ranks for various camper phrases… and also now ranks for facepalm!

What to do when the unexpected happens

  • Martin spotted an unexpected link from the BBC in his referrers (nice if you can get it!)
  • When stuff like this happens don’t just think “wow, great”, but “Wow, how can I replicate?”
  • Establish the footprint : Using screaming frog Martin scraped the BBC for other external links – then compiled them in excel
  • Spotted that they link out to people who mention bbc online activities… and also got the contact details for the guys who do it.

Martin doesn’t want a few good links. He just wants lots of links!

Build Plugins

  • [MB The two words above are the two written larger than any other in the mass of notes I took at Link Love]
  • Build plugins for popular CMS systems: WordPress, Drupal, Media Wiki, Magento etc etc
  • There is a nice list of them here:
  • Don’t know how to code? Either buy “Professional wordpress plugin development” LINK or outsource it
  • They don’t have to be particularly clever. Example: |To build links to a holiday property site he produced a weather widget using existing data sources

Or get competitors to link to you

  • [MB: OK – this one might be a tiny bit shady]
  • Build an affiliate program where the link juice is passed. Splitting the anchor with a # is a good way to do this. Check out Martin’s slide deck for example
  • Give up white label sites, but cross site canonical to the main site (Quite a high profile example of this was shown)

Think differently – turn hubs on their head

  • Many people search for hubs  – sites in sector linking out lots
  • Instead target sites that DON’T. These will pass more link equity if you can get a link

It’s not all tricks though – give shit away

  • Have you seen Shit for Links?
  • [MB – disclosure : Shit for Links is a little Friday bit of Friday fun that we put out at work. However we had no idea that this was in Martin’s presentation and my jaw dropped when I saw our site up on the big screen]
  • Trade unwanted “stuff” for links


What I took from Martin’s presentation was slightly dominated by the memory of Martin & Rand discussing whether Rand really did leave a blog comment saying he was interested in swapping a jar of fishpaste for a link from seomoz. However, even beyond the dream plug of, there was real gold in Martin’s presentation for me.

This segment has certainly made me rethink some of the community sites that we manage and give more thought to the value of a large and engaged user base.  I’ve spent years warning people of the dangers of forum ownership in particular, but looking at the potential of such sites as a resource for link building changes perspective a bit.

However the few minutes that Martin spent talking about pluging development (reinforced by a quick chat outside) were enough to persuade me that this is a area that we as an agency need to be doing more with. It is something that we have worked successfully in the past and also suits our skill set brilliantly. However it hasn’t been something that we have pushed as much as we should have.




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