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.)