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One of my favourite talks from SearchLove London 2013 was Hannah Smith’s ‘23, 787 Ways To Build Links in 30 Minutes’.

Among Hannah’s tips for sustainable link building, she mentioned a neat tool that helped her pick up 257 links at around $14 per link.

This tool was Zemanta, a seemingly fantastic way of providing scalable outreach.

We are always looking for ways to improve our outreach process so I was very eager to give Zemanta a try, especially after hearing what the company had to say.

Their pitch was very promising: Our content would be placed in front of bloggers who were just about to write related posts, and the better the content the more links we would get. What is more, the case studies featured some outstanding links from big sites such as Forbes.com, Wall Street Journal, etc.  

When I read Moz CEO Rand Fishkin’s quote, I was sold:

I’m not just a fan, I’m a believer – Zemanta is a remarkable way to build great links.

We decided to test Zemanta with 10 infographics that we knew had already done well during 'cold outreach' to see how many links we could get. 

10 infographics, 30 days, $1,318.72 investment: the results

Quantity:

  • Total Earned Links: 21 (as reported by Zemanta)
  • Cost Per Link = $62.79

Although the results weren’t quite the ‘under $20 per link’ I had imagined, at first glance didn’t look that bad. Managing the outreach for our outreach campaigns in house, I know all too well the importance of quality links. So I decided to take a deeper look.

In exploring the links further, I was shocked. I found that nearly 20% of the links were out of action. Two blog posts had been removed, One site was offline and another site was 301 redirected.

21 links has now been reduced to 17

By using GroupHigh, I then checked how often these blogs were updated. After running the report, I found out that the last posts made by four of the blogs were over six months ago. 

17 links has now been reduced to 13

I then pulled these links through Majestic SEO to get a CitationFlow score in order to remove any blogs with a citation flow of zero. Shockingly, five more links were crossed off the list.

13 links is now eight

I then explored the eight remaining links as ranked by Moz Rank:

Quality

The average link from this campaign had the following characteristics:

  • Majestic Citation Flow = 14
  • Majestic Trust Flow = 5.5
  • Moz Rank = 3.70
  • 5 of the sites posted within the last 3 days 
  • 3 of the sites last posted over 1 month ago.

Total cost for one of these links = $164.84/£102.99

Maybe I at this stage, I shouldn’t have expected anything more, but there was not one editorial link. All of the links were a combination of text and image, similar to: 

What the experts really think 

In my confusion, and to put it mildly, my huge disappointment, I reached out to Zemanta to find out why the campaign was not a success.

With no responses on this front, I contacted a number of experts in the industry who had used the service to see if their experience matched up to my own.

Expert one

I contacted Rand Fishkin whose quote sold me to Zemanta. I wanted to first check if that quote was still valid for him.

Instead of standing by his original quote about being a believer, he told me that he would focus today more on the traffic that Zemanta drives and that his quote should read:

Zemanta is a remarkable way to grow your audience.

Expert two

I contacted Wil Reynolds of SEER SEO who had recently mentioned Zemanta in a presentation to find out his experience. His quote reflected by sentiments about the service:

Overall, I wanted Zemanta to work out (I really like those guys), but I just found that the quality of the sites I was getting on was not leading to clicks, engagement, comments, etc from users coming from Zemanta sourced links.

What are your experiences with Zemanta?

In truth, I am still very confused and disappointed about my experience. Is it very different to vast majority of people using Zemanta? I’d love to hear about your experiences, lessons or advice in the comments below, as well as any tools that you would recommend.

From my discussion with my immediate network, I am keen to try out both Outbrain and Taboola and compare how a similar spend matches up on these networks as I am keen to incorporate a paid content amplifier to join Stumbleupon Paid Discovery (which is awesome.)

Danny Ashton

Published 22 November, 2013 by Danny Ashton

Danny Ashton is Outreach Director at infographic agency Neo Mammalian Studios and a contributor to Econsultancy.  He can be found on Twitter and Google+.

8 more posts from this author

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Casie Gillette

I've used Zemanta for a few sites and your results aren't entirely unusual. One thing that my account rep had told me was that the success really is dependent on your industry, which I've found to be very true. I've seen a $12-$20/link average but I've also seen a $60-$80 average. Same thing with types of sites...I feel like there's a larger number of lower quality sites picking up stories but again, I've also seen really great sites pick up the links.

It definitely varies and while I'm a big fan of the service, if you are finding these other networks work better for you, I'd stick with them :)

almost 3 years ago

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Jason

I do like Zemanta however, for small businesses those link prices still seem a bit pricey. Obviously there are other ways and they are a lot more work but you have to weigh the price you're willing to pay with the amount of time you are willing to spend.

Doing some great guest posts for high traffic blogs or posting your content (most likely info graphics) on social media to have them shared a bit is probably the best way for those with a low budget.

almost 3 years ago

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Anthony Trollope

Really interesting analysis, thanks for sharing.

I have never been a fan of Zemanta. Even when it first launched I was sceptical as to me it screamed of just another paid link network dressed up as something slightly different. Wrapped around this 'content outreach network'.

Even the experts who had high hopes for it have found that Zemanta is really no different from those other less credible sites that have been slammed. They are essentially using a lot of the same tactics.

Truth be told, I really don't think there is a tool out there that can scale outreach efforts as naturally as if you were doing it personally yourself. Each of these tools uses automation or processing that just doesn't match the expertise of doing it manually.

Your analysis proves that Zemanta is really no different than a lot of the other tools out there. Distinctly inaccurate and misdescribed. Even those experts who gave it such good grace in the beginning are now backtracking as they realise it just isn't that effective and not only touches on, but is deeply ingrained in the subject of paid links.

almost 3 years ago

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Richard

I've seen this sort of data before and I've never been impressed with links I've seen from services like Zemanta (personally). Apparently, it's 'Google approved' but still, potentially it's possible you could trip a penalty through over use.

It would cost just as much, if not a lot more to remove these links, in case that was a nessecary step.

I would advise against using this tactic to improve the performance of content like infographics, or any other pages for that matter - if they don't have the strength to perform well organically you might just want to think again.

almost 3 years ago

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Andrew Girdwood

Zemanta is just the delivery platform. It gives bloggers the opportunity to link to your post - that's why it's an editorial link and (I assume) why Google's Blogger is happy to partner with them.

I think you research proves that bloggers don't like linking to infographics. You're better outreaching with that sort of content.

That said; Zemanta would benefit from more high quality bloggers.

almost 3 years ago

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Steve Ollington

A friend of mine tested it out briefly and found only low quality sites came through with anything. Maybe the offering could have been better but I think it's back to 'if it's too easy, then...' if you know what I mean.

Nice post anyway, always good to get confirmation of suspicions to know whether to try again or leave it.

almost 3 years ago

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Danny Ashton

@Casie:
Thanks for your insight, it would be great to hear from you what industries you have had success with. It would be good to know whether Zemanta can be of use to some of my other client.

@Anthony:
I related to what you are saying about using tools for scaling outreach. Although I still feel that paid amplification can work as I've had awesome results using Stumbleupon Paid Discovery. In future I am going to invest in tools that focus primarily on driving traffic over building links.

@Richard:
Thanks for your comment Richard. I wouldn't like to suggest that the links I received could be harmful but certainly something to think about in the long term.

@Andrew:
We purposely chose 10 infographics that had been featured on large sites as well as smaller blogs, so we knew that this content would be attractive to other bloggers.
I completely agree, Zemanta needs to step up the quality of sites in their network. Thanks for your input.

@Steve:
I am normally very suspicious of "silver bullets" but after hearing about all the good results from major players in the industry I had to test it for myself.
Lesson learned --and I got a nice blog post out of it :)
Thanks for stopping by.

almost 3 years ago

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James

Funny. I've seen Fishkin really defend the service and the results. Convinced me to try it for a month with the same poor results.

That's pretty disappointing.

almost 3 years ago

Miguel Salcido

Miguel Salcido, CEO & Founder at Organic Media Group

I've known about Zemanta for probably over 6 years now and used them on about 5 different occasions. Here are my experiences, tips, and tricks that I've learned from use and from working with the guys there on optimizations.

First, a couple of important tips:
- You really need a site with TONS of pages of content to do well with Zemanta and get your Effective Cost Per Link (eCPL) down below $6. The more pages you have, the more keywords your content will show up for (Impressions), and the more links.

- For the best results, in-content editorial links, you need to be pre-approved by Zemanta as a quality reference source. Once approved your links will be suggested to bloggers for in-content editorial links. Otherwise you get suggested for a section below each post that notes "Related Content" or something like that and you can get linked to from a list of links at the end of the post. This is not as desirable but these links are still good too.

I've used it for some smaller clients, with less than 100 pages (30- 50 pages in feed to Zemanta), and had an eCPL of about $30. It made no real impact.

I used Zemanta on a site that had 60,000+ pages. We whittled it down to about the top 300 as that was an estimated sweet spot on our few thousand dollar per month budget. We hand optimized each title and keywords for all pages to try to maximize indexing within Zemanta and to also improve CTR. We were an authority domain though mind you, a notorious domain. So we had around a $4-$6 eCPL, which far exceeded everyone's estimation, including our reps at Zemanta. Its most likely based on the domain as a brand and the fact that we had a big budget and tons of quality content. But I felt like it was a success.

There are just a ton of variables with Zemanta. Different topics get more play than others so you really need to be in one of the few sweet spot niches in terms of what things the majority of their users write about.

Another variable is your content and your feed to Zemanta. Is it optimized by hand? Is the content good? Really? Better

Another variable is your budget.

And at the end of the day it is a truly organic process and you cannot control who links to you when or how. Some of the sites are decent but most are pretty normal, lower authority, blogs. You pay for impressions, not links. That's important to note.

Keep in mind that what works best in Zemanta are not product/service pages, but blog posts and articles. You can still drive links to product pages with a crafty custom Title to increase CTR. But this product really works best at developing deep links to large publishing sites.

almost 3 years ago

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Marty Rogers

That's quite terrible - there are many better and easier ways to get high quality links.

I'd never actually heard of Zemanta before I bumped into this post - I need I need to go out there and do a little digging myself now, although after reading this post, I don't feel as if I am missing out on much.

Great write-up regardless!

Marty

almost 3 years ago

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Todd Sawicki

As the CEO of Zemanta, I am disappointed to hear that you are not satisfied with your experience with Zemanta. If we sold you something different, from what you from expected from us, then I heartily apologize. We pride ourselves in offering a service which offers an effective way of recommending your marketing content to writers and bloggers for inclusions. I am sorry if we did not meet your expectations.

Our publishers place every intext link, image or related article organically. Zemanta recommends content to our publishers who then choses to include or not include the recommended content into her post or article. We do not guarantee any outcome and I certainly hope we did not in your case. Results naturally vary. And it appears varied in a way that did not meet your expectations. If we did not meet your expectations as a result of either our sales process or account management, then I am sorry and wish we could have done better and should have.

In reviewing your campaign report in our system, it appears that you were using Related Article recommendations exclusively which were perhaps not the inline-intext links you might have been looking for based on your post above. We recommended your content over 17,000 times and here are a few example posts where your content now appears as a Related Article link (and the first included related article):

http://mediarumba.com/cyberculture/what-makes-memes-and-virals/
http://3d-metrics.me/2013/04/21/making-compelling-value-propositions-by-knowing-your-customers/

Hopefully you are seeing the same data that I am when I log into your account dashboard (your account dashboard is still available to you if you would like to review the data.

Ultimately, if we failed to meet your expectations, this is our fault. We strive to work hand in hand with our clients, listen to their feedback and optimize their campaign(s) accordingly. We clearly did not engage and work with you as I would have hoped and expected. It is our job to make sure you understand our service and its nuances, not yours.

We work with over 750,000 bloggers and publishers and hopefully would have found the right ones to recommend your content to - I hope we will have the opportunity to earn your trust again.

Also, you mention wanting to try out some content discovery services. I would like to point out that since you ran your editorial campaign with us, Zemanta now offers a completely separate service, one that is similar to Outbrain and Taboola called the Zemanta Discovery Network. This product recommends Promotes content to readers on a dynamic basis and includes organic as well as promoted content. recommendations For an example of where our Zemanta Discovery widget runs check out this story on the Associated Press: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ancient-wine-cellar-reveals-sophisticated-drink. This product is a CPC based product and is focused on driving traffic versus editorial inclusions.

@Everyone
To provide some added context to our this discussion and Zemanta - I would like to provide a some information on our services.

Zemanta is a content discovery platform. Publishers install our Editorial Assistant to find new and interesting content to share with their audience. Once installed, Zemanta recommends content to these publishers in the form of images, articles, tags, and links. Publishers have the option to share this content with their readers.

We work with marketers who are creating top tier content. We index their content and recommend it to our publishers when relevant. Marketers are charged on a cost per promoted recommendation.
For a demo of how our Editorial Assistant works and look - please go here: http://www.zemanta.com/demo/.

almost 3 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

This article just confirms my impression that the SEO industry is full of charlatans and snake oil salesmen, none of whom actually know what they are doing, but talk a really good game.

over 2 years ago

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Ian

This seems to go against everything that Google puts down in its Guidelines.

In effect it's nothing more than a paid network which Google is supposed to frown upon?

I've been in this business since 1996 and everything goes full circle it just gets repackaged differently!

Or am I missing something?

over 2 years ago

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John Zajaros

I am interested in building links, as we all are, and I found your post and insights very interesting. However, what is even more interesting is Zemanta's reply. Seeming like more of a disclaimer than a legitimate expression of concern, Mr. Sawicki apologizes several times and then proceeds to offer a new product! I understand his point, but his comment still struck me as incredibly nervy...and not in very good taste.

If Mr. Sawicki is as concerned as his many apologies would seem to indicate, I would think that he'd pick up the phone in order to find out, firsthand, how to make an abysmal performance right.

Of course, that doesn't seem to be Mr. Sawicki's primary motivation, particularly in light of the rather vacant tone. In fact, I believe the apology/comment/disclaimer/sales pitch was about as effective as his link building campaign.

Finally, as Google shifts its focus to content, while pushing Google Plus down our throats, it continues bashing the online world with penalties for inferior paid linkbuilding strategies, I believe companies like Zemanta will find it increasingly difficult to do business.

Just my 2 cents!

BTW, I really enjoy reading Econsultancy's content. Always interesting and informative. Thank you!

John

over 2 years ago

Danny Ashton

Danny Ashton, Founder at Neo Mam Studios

@James
As I mentioned in the article, it’s hard to dismiss a service when some of the biggest names in the industry are saying it’s awesome. When I went into the test I wanted to know for myself if the results matched the talk and understood there was a risk that it would not work out. I have put this post together to share my results with anyone else looking to give Zemanta a try.

@ Miguel Salcido
Thanks for sharing your tips on how to get the best out of Zemanta. I wish that I had this type of information before testing the service, especially the in-content editorial option which I was completely unaware of.

Some great tips on how to tweak pages/niches and certainly a major win with a result of $4-$6 eCPL. I can’t help but thinking that if Zemanta only gets these type of results for major publisher brands, then they should really put off those of us looking to use their service to provide amplification for smaller specific content.

@Mary Rogers
There certainly are easier ways to get high quality links but I really wanted to see if a service like Zemanta could provide scalable outreach to our existing content production. I’m always happy to test even when on this occasion the results were well under my expectations. Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the review.

@Todd Sawicki
Thanks for your comment and I will certainly look into evaluating your discovery widget for potential testing in future.

@Christopher Rose
As with all industries there will be those that walk the walk and those who just talk the talk!

@Ian
I am not an expert in paid networks but it would be interesting to know how the Zemanta network matches up. Many other commenters/bloggers have mentioned that because bloggers offers the option of adding the link then it keeps within Googles guidelines. However it would be interesting to see what others have to say on the matter – a good question.

@John Zajaros
It certainly is an interesting reply from Mr Sawicki but it’s great that he has shared his thoughts with us all here. I’m glad you found the post interesting and I’ll be sure to test out more services for future posts.

over 2 years ago

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Alan

Danny,

As the owner of MyJHB.co.za I am glad to see that the site lasted all the way through your evaluation process to actually give you value for your experiment.

Maybe Zemanta should step back and rather evaluate publishers for their programme. One finds that being picky and choosy about who may use your service often results in a higher return for all involved.

Back to the old rifle vs shotgun approach.

Glad and delighted that we could boost your business - even though it looks like it was a bit expensive.

over 2 years ago

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Alan

FYI Danny - http://myjhb.co.za/the-worth-of-myjhb-proven-to-danny-ashton/ and you get that editorial link you were seeking (kind of!)

over 2 years ago

Danny Ashton

Danny Ashton, Founder at Neo Mam Studios

@Alan

That is awesome that this post caught your attention :) If I could have reached more bloggers like yourself then I would have been very happy with the service.

Thanks for the editorial link on your blog - maybe the best way to use Zemanta is to use it then write a post on Econsultancy to get more links

Keep in touch.

over 2 years ago

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Patrick McCoy, President at Whiteboard Creations

VERY happy I found this article. I just got a request for a 30 minute call from a Zemanta sales person to discuss the service and how it can help us and our clients. I'd never heard of them, but read in the sales rep's email signature Rand's quote noted above. This sparked my interest. However, I believe he should change it or remove it if no longer endorsed by Rand.

This was a great breakdown to your investment dollars at work. Not everyone has $1,300+ to toss into a "fingers crossed it works program", but to us who were potentially interested, it is an eye-opener and appreciate you sharing your results and experiences.

I think I'll pass on the consultation request at this time. The reviews and comments I've been reading here and other posts aren't giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling to enjoy the product.

- Patrick

almost 2 years ago

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