I recently reviewed a link building proposal that was wildly inappropriate for the small business to which it was sent. This business provides a niche service that is unique to their local geography. The proposed campaign was for a generic cookie cutter campaign that would have been better suited to a Fortune 500 company.
3/2014 Update - This post offers a good example of how the rules change over time. Google deems many of the tactics that less than four years ago were referred to as "manufactured" as now being "artificial".
Evaluate Site Content
The proposal failed to take into account that effective link building requires that the strategy and tactics be tailored based upon the value to the Internet community of the content on the client's site. Link acquisition is much more straightforward for sites that provide well written content that offer answers to queries that include targeted keywords.
Link Building Questions
Prior to proposing a link building campaign, the following questions should be asked:
- What are the client's goals for the link building campaign;
- Is the site's content unique and engaging enough and/or is the brand awareness strong enough that the site will easily attract links?
- What is the content development plan for the site, and are resources available to continually produce valuable content on a regular basis?
- Why would the developers of other sites choose to link to this site?
- What types of sites would be predisposed to link to the site?
- How much of an increase in link authority will be required to impact search engine ranking for target key words
The answers to these questions should inform the strategy and tactics behind a link building campaign. As examples of sites that I have had personal involvement with, link acquisition is easier for Ramps.org, a site with unique content about making homes and facilities handicap accessible, than it is to acquire links to commercial products catalogs.
Link Building Tactics
There are basically four types of links that are likely to be acquired. Provided below are definitions of these link types and the tactics for acquiring them:
- Natural – A site with great content that offers value to the Internet community will often be the recipient of links from other sites. Continually add unique content to a site to attract natural links.
- Requested – Communicate information about your site to editors, web developers, blog authors, and the quality directories that feature content to which adding a link to your site would potentially provide value to their visitors.
- Manufactured – Utilize press releases, white papers, blogs, article marketing, videos, and link bait to create content that Webmasters will consider worthy of links.
- Artificial – Links created to inflate a page's link popularity without providing value to the Internet community.
If you are working on a linking campaign for a site with great content that provides value to the Internet community, a significant focus of a link building campaign should be upon content "publicizing". For a campaign for a somewhat generic site, the link building campaign will probably require a greater focus upon manufactured links.
Natural links are acquired without any concerted link building effort. A well known brand or blog with great content posted on a site that is optimized for search will have lots of natural links. Further, most well established organizations typically have numerous natural external links. These links may come from groups they belong to (chambers of commerce as an example), conferences at which they have exhibited, news articles, directories that have found the site, and a variety of other sources. Natural links to a site are added by Webmasters that view the information on another site as a resource that expands upon the value they are providing to their site visitors.
However, as the quantity of information on the Internet continues to increase on an almost exponential basis, natural links are becoming dramatically more difficult to acquire. The oft posited aphorism, "if you build it, they will come" is no longer automatically applicable in regard to acquiring links. Not only is there an overwhelming quantity of information to slog through, Webmasters are not nearly as as engaged in the process of finding and linking to interesting sites as they were in the past.
Further, while a link building campaign may not be necessary for some organizations that attract natural links, these sites may actually obtain the most benefit from a link building campaign. There is often a virtuous cycle in which sites that rank well (positions which may have been obtained via link building) tend to pick up more incoming links. In order for links to seemingly have been acquired "naturally", the site had to be "findable" in the first place before it could acquire the natural links that provide a rankings boost which may lead to even more links.
Requested links are acquired by communicating information about the site to relevent news editors, blogs, websites, and high quality directories. Find sites that would supplement the information they provide to their content by adding a link to your client's site. Effective methods of finding relevant sites are to:
- Search for your target keywords. Look at Web pages and blogs that appear as the top of search results pages. Ask the editors and developers of those pages for links.
- Check the link popularity of competitors, and find out who is linking to them. Contact those sites, and ask for links.
- Search News.Google.com for target keywords. Create e-mail alerts for the keywords. Contact the article authors. Suggest reasons why links to the site might be appropriate for future articles and establish your client as a subject expert and informational source for future articles.
Mine the existing links to your sites. As origally posted in an article published by Wordtracker, there are two reason why they are great sources of link prospects: A) Because they link to you, they probably link to other sites that are similar to you and relevant to you. So looking at what other sites they link to is a no-brainer.
B) Because they link to you, they’re relevant to your marketplace. Therefore sites that link to them are also likely to be relevant to you and therefore good link prospects.
An effective public relations campaign is one of the most effective way to manufacture links to a site. Public relations and link building share many similarities. An old fashion public relations campaign targets news and features editors, whereas a linking campaign targets website editors, bloggers, and social media mavens. Any effective PR campaign will lead to inbound links being acquired. Howerver, a press release can be easily enhanced as a link building tool by including keywords in the headline and first paragraph, including URL's and anchor text in the body of the release, and reaching out to high value link acquisition prospects.
Creating linkbait is one of the most effective methods of generating incoming links. Linkbait is content developed with a primary objective of obtaining inbound links. Google's chief spam cop, Matt Cutts, obviously accepts linkbait as a legitimate tactic, as he offers tips on effective link bait in his blog. A good summary of different types of linkbait is provided by an article on Dave Chaffee's blog.
Writing content for other sites is a well established method of acquiring links via guest blogging and article marketing. Finding sites to write guest blog posts has become easier with the launch of My Blog Guest. Article marketing produces less link popularity than in the past due to the flood of low value articles that clutter up the directories, but some of the human edited article directories such as EzineArticles are still viable sources of links. Kristi Hines has authored a comprehensive article comparing guest blogging versus article marketing.
The vast majority of articles on link building recommend developing a blog. While blogging can be one of the most productive components of a link building program, creating a blog that that attracts links and readers is a time consuming undertaking. Prior to developing a blog for link building benefits, select a topic for the blog for which resources are available to produce fresh content on a regular basis. Consider the types of articles that will feature productive keywords in the headlines. If your blog is simply going to feature a weekly or monthly article, it will provide search engine benefits based upon 1) attracting traffic to long tail terms; 2) more content on the site, and 3) enhancing site freshness. However, while I would not discount the link authority the blog will obtain from internal links, do not expect a blog to magically attract external links. Thus, it is my opionion that most articles that recommend developing a blog for link building value dramatically understate how much effort a good blog requires. For advice on developing a productive blog, I recommend subscribing to the Traffic Generation Cafe. Author Ana Hoffman's blog is filled with valuable tips that she has used herself in generating traffic to her successful blog. And if you are interested in get assistance from a consultant, the Search Engine Marketing Group offers guest blogging services.
A simple tactic for link acquisition is self created, non editorial posting. As pointed out in a SEOmoz article, "hundreds of thousands of websites offer any visitor the opportunity to create links through guestbook signings, forum signatures, blog comments, or user profiles. These links are typically quite low in value, but can, in aggregate, have a significant impact. Exceptions abound, and for those sites that offer these options and don’t use the rel=”nofollow” attribute on outbound links, there can be opportunity."
Social media can be an effective vehicle for manufacturing links. In particular, it is easy to add links to Twitter and Linkedin. However, powerful link building via social media requires really good linkbait. Without good linkbait, attempts to manufacture links via social media will provide only a marginal benefit with diminshing returns. Beware that social media campaigns that are simply an attempt at link building can morph into time sucks that do not generate much in the way of search engine boosts. Constant posting that seldom results in comments, "likes" or "retweets" is not very effective. My suggestion is to focus social media efforts on connecting with your natural audience as the primary goal. Given that a social media campaign that really connects with your audience has a good chance of going viral and producing links, it offers the potential for dual benefits of building both relationships and links. Using social media to interact and create connections (as it is intended to be used) has a better likelihood of producing effective results than unsophisticated attempts to "game" the search engine algorithms with a multitude of low value social media links.
Social Bookmarking allows users to save links they want to share and tag them with keywords. While Digg, Reddit and the other social bookmarking sites can drive produce traffic from casual visitors, particularly if a page of post is quirky, the biggest source of traffic from this group is Stumbleupon. Problogging Success offers some good tips on tapping the power of Stumbleupon
Artificial links are created with the intent of generating link popularity and improving search engine rankings without regard to providing value to site visitors. Artificial linking tactics include reciprocal linking, buying links, link exchanges, blog and forum comment spam, and posting to spammy web directories and article directory sites.
An interesting dichotomy is developing in regard to artificial links. Some older artificial links apparently benefit from a legacy effect and seem to continue to provide search engine ranking boosts. However, newly created artificial links seem to cause harm to search engine rankings in many cases, particularly when they link to newer sites that suffer from a paucity of links from established "trusted" sites.
The algorithms developed by Google and the other search engines are becoming increasingly sophisticated at spotting artificial links. Based on the past successes from artificial linking, there are a plethora or marketers that still e-mail out invitations to participate in their reciprocal linking schemes.The gullibility of site owners is demonstrated by the fact that some are still buying into the concept that there could be value in being listed as the 106th link on a "resources" page that is filled with links for an eclectic batch of products and services from a variety of countries.
For reference, the effectiveness of directory posting and buying links are controversial subjects. In a recent article in published on YOUmoz, Scott Mclay recommended directory submissions. On the other hand, Eric Ward began warning that the "party is over" for directories as early as 2007. I continue to submit to a few high quality directories that rank well for relevant searches, but avoid the ones that look like linkfarms. However, while I am not sure if the party is over or just winding down, the effectiveness of directory submissions has been reduced to marginal effectiveness at best since the Google "caffeine" launch in June.
Link buying is almost universally condemned on the visible web, but is still practiced by some SEO's that tend to keep quiet about it in public. My suggestion on link buying is that it is something to be avoided by novices. (While I might fess up to knowing quite a bit about link buying from long ago efforts, I now disavow link buying as seldom productive enough to be worth the risk of Google penalties.)
Effective link building requires that the campaign strategy and tactics take into account the value to the Internet community of the content on the site being promoted. Tailor your link building campaign based on the content on the site. Generic sites with little orginal content, in particular shopping sites, will likely present a greater challenge in obtaining links. They will usually require a greater focus on manufactured links. Finally, beware of most types of artificial links. Newly added artificial links are as likely to be counter productive as they are to be productive.