Linking Building and Linking Strategy Articles by Eric Ward

In this section of my site I occasionally post new columns, and also update previous columns. If you want my best and most current strategic linking advice, subscribe to LinkMoses Private. I also maintain an always growing library with links to over 300 link building articles, linking strategy columns, webcasts, and interviews I've published over the past 20+ years. You can find that page at http://www.ericward.com/bestpractices.html

What Makes a Web Site Link-Worthy?

What Makes a Web Site Link-Worthy?

Updated 2/2016, 12/2015, 11/2015, 4/2014, 7/0209 – Original July 2002

 

chain-733412The fundamental principle of the web is to allow any document to link to and to be linked from any other document. This is how Tim Berners-Lee intended it when he first proposed the hypertext protocol in March of 1989, before most of us had ever heard of the Internet. Tim actually originally named his creation “Mesh”. Tim stated,  “I decided on “World Wide Web” when writing the code in 1990.”

But flash forward 25 years, and on a web now filled with spam, uninspiring shopping sites, fake pharmacies, and 80 million blogs about hairstyles, and it begs the question: what is the motivation for one web site to link to another web site?

Initially developed due to concerns about management of general information about particle accelerators and experiments at CERN, Mesh discussed the problems of loss of information, and creation of a solution based on a distributed hypertext system as a way to help researchers interlink related documents from different computers.

The “Mesh Web” was soon discovered by those more interested in commerce, and a few million spam sites later, here we are.

It’s interesting that in the many years since Tim turned his creation loose in the wild, nearly every commercially related web marketing invention has been in some way related to the “link” (that is, an attempt to find new ways for one site to be linked to another, or URLs to be shared).

Buttons, badges and banners are, at their core, just a link from one place to another place.  So are text links, whether paid for or earned or both, whether on web sites, in a tweet, a newsletter or email.  All are just another form of link. A PPC listing or a Pintetest pin, or a list of search results, are nothing more than links.

Your Yahoo! and DMOZ (RIP) directory listings, BBB member page listing, even that cool widget you created – if I can click on it and be taken somewhere else, then no matter how you spin it – it’s all links.

So let’s simplify and agree that anything you can touch with your finger (or stylus) or click with a mouse, or even via voice command, if that action takes you from one piece of content to another, it is nothing more than a link.

Why does this matter?

Because the development of all form and fashion of linking and sharing methods does not change one universal truth: the less useful your content, the less likely you are to ever receive a link to it.

“The less useful your content, the less likely you are to ever receive a link to it

dnywUI04If we think of “useful” as a continuum, then the most useful sites are those that provide rich, quality content on a specific subject on which the editors or providers are authorities. An example would be CancerNetaka NCI – The National Cancer Institute. Now there’s the ultimate example of content on the right side of the useful continuum — 300,000 pages on every facet of cancer, all free, all generated by experts in the field.

In fact, with very little marketing the Cancer.gov domain has millions of links pointing to it from other sites around the world. It’s one of my standard sermons: Useful content gets linked.

When CancerNet asked me to do some linking and publicity work for them, the truth is there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. It took about a month to augment and improve the existing link profile. I found a handful of libraries with health resources that hadn’t yet linked to CancerNet, and a few topical guides. My impact was minimal when considering the vast collection of links CanetNet already had.

But the harsh reality is we can’t all be The National Cancer Institute/CancerNet. Most sites simply do not have the kind of content that engenders millions of links.

So what do you?

What if you are simply trying to sell a few basketballs and don’t have any quality content? If your site falls on the left side of the useful continuum, you have to accept that you are not going to get many links or shares. And those links you do get you will probably have to pay for. And those links you pay for are not likely to help your rankings, and might even hurt them.

If you don’t want to accept the reality I just described, if you want to earn links to your site, you have one (and only one) other option available to you.

Make it linkworthy.

What is a linkworthy site? Let’s imagine you have an online magic store that caters to professional and amateur magicians. On your site, you sell tricks, supplies, hats, capes, and wands, even the saw-the-person-in-half gag.

If your content is nothing more than an online magic store, why would anyone link to it? You might get a few links from magic web guides and link lists. A couple from your suppliers or magic industry trade associations, but then what? If you are an online store with nothing but products as your content, then you MUST look to associate/affiliate programs as a means of generating links. Basically, paying for them.

But maybe, just maybe, there is something more you CAN do, if you are willing to roll up your sleeves.

What if, along with your products, you create a searchable database of information on magic. What if you had complete biographies of thousands of magicians? What if you had a section devoted to magical world records, or a glossary of magical terms, or a directory of magicians on the Internet?

This would then be an excellent example of how a niche shopping site can add rich, relevant content, i.e. usefulness, to its web site, as well as sell merchandise. Such a site would be written about, linked to, and shared by just about anyone who cares about magic. Any magic fan with a web site and a curated list of hand picked links would be likely to link to it.

The above is not just a pie-in-the-sky scenario. It exists at MagicTricks.com.

magiclogoI know from experience it’s difficult to find high trust online venues and curator/site reviewers willing to link to sales sites. The more a site offers deep information on a certain subject, databases, community, guides, forums, reviews, etc., the more likely the editors are to want to cover it. Whether it’s a business or consumer site, the more content rich the better, especially if the site’s mission is sales. A site designed to sell a product is far different than a true reference site with hundreds and hundreds of pages of free information on a particular subject.

CancerNet/NCI and MagicTricks.com could not be more different, yet but they do have one incredibly important thing in common.  Both have topic specific content written by passionate experts.

The best analogy I can think of to explain a sales-focused web site is a public library. A library is, first and foremost, about content. But libraries sell stuff. Many have snack shops, vending areas, even restaurants. You can buy copies of books, maps, digital images, rent meeting rooms. Some libraries have video rental services and some even offer consulting services. Money definitely changes hands at a library.

But nobody would confuse this commerce with a library’s true mission: being content curators and helping patrons find that content.

In like manner, a web site also needs to be a library of information on whatever its focus might be. Add great content to your product site.

Why bother?

Because useful content is more likely to attract links than products, and just because your site is product driven and your ultimate mission is to drive product sales doesn’t mean your product site cannot also be content driven.

Link well my friend,

Eric Ward

 


About The Author:

Eric Ward founded the Web’s first service to help introduce web content (we called them URIs) to the online world, back in 1994. Then lightening struck when Jeff Bezos asked Eric to announce and publicize Amazon.com’s debut launch. Eric subsequently won the 1995 Award For Internet Marketing Excellence (our industry’s “Oscar” back then). Eric creates and has executed content linking strategies for PBS.org, WarnerBros, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, The New York Times, TVGuide.com, Paramount, and Weather.com.
Today, Eric continues to offer link building training, workshops, strategies and M/A counsel, and publishes the content linking strategy newsletter LinkMoses Private.
Eric and his methods continue to be written about in numerous publications and featured in college curriculae. Eric publishes has presented at over 160 industry conferences and symposiums. In 2015, Eric contributed to the book Success Secrets of the Online Marketing Superstars, and in 2013 Eric authored the book The Ultimate Guide to Link Building for Entrepreneur Press, now in its 3rd printing.
Going back further, In 2008 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes, from Wiley & Sons, Inc., written by Michael Miller, and in 2000 contributed to the book E-Volve-or-Die.com: Thriving in the Internet Age Through E-Commerce Management. Back in the Dark Ages (1997) Eric was named one of the Web’s 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. Eric also contributes to the LinkWeek column for search industry news site SearchEngineLand.com and has also contributes to SearchEngineWatch, Web Marketing Today, ClickZ, MarketingProfs, and print magazines Search Marketing Standard and Ad Age.
Eric, his wife and three children live in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains  in Eastern Tennessee. Eric works alone by design and prefer to take a hands-on approach with his clients. You can learn more about his link building training, workshops,strategies and other services here.
 

Link Request Email Tips from Eric Ward

Link Request Email Tips from Eric Ward
By Eric Ward | Updated 1/2016 | more form Eric

I’m willing to bet that at some point over the past few years, you’ve received an email asking for a link that looked something like this one below.

Date: Thursday, November 9, 20xx
To: webmaster@yoursite
From: Someone you've never heard of
Subject: Link request
Dear site owner,
I was looking at your web site and think we should 
link to each other. If you are interested, please add 
the following code to your HTML:
[Insert this HTML code]
Thanks,
CompanyURL.com

As ridiculous as it seems, the above link request letter and/or variants thereof land in my inbox. Every. Single. Day.

A link request sent via email should include several elements. Collectively, all of them serve two key purposes:

1). They let the receiver know you took the time to look at and study their site
2). They make it as easy as possible for the receiver to decide whether or not to link to your site

Avoiding Delete…
Below is a list of items your link request should (or could) contain, followed by the reasons why. Although these may seem simple once you read them, the overwhelming majority of link requests I receive do not contain any of them. While in certain cases there are also other elements, for this week’s column, let’s focus on these below.

1). A subject line that follows any stated directions given by the site owner you are seeking a link from. On many sites with topical collections of curated links (the About.com guides, for example) the editor in charge often states that when asking for a link, you should follow certain directions. One of these is typically a special subject line, like:

Subject: Request for review

If you’ve not taken the time to look at the recipient’s site carefully, and you don’t follow the link request directions, don’t be surprised when you don’t hear back hear from the recipient.  If no exact instructions are given, then you have a bigger challenge. My advice is do not put the word link request in the subject line, simply because there are probably 100 million emails with that exact subject line or something similar hitting inboxes and getting deleted every day around the world.

Below is a great example of a site that represents a fantastic link opportunity for those with the right content who actually follow directions. Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA (National Edowment for the Arts – https://www.arts.gov/about-nea ) is willing to link to a very specific type of content. Go to the below URL or read the image below where I’ve highlighted the submission instructions.

https://www.arts.gov/lifetime-honors/nea-national-heritage-fellowships/make-nomination

link request example

Example of a site that represents a fantastic link opportunity for those who actually follow directions. The NEA (National Edowment for the Arts)

The lesson is clear: Follow instructions!

2). The site owner’s name. It seems so simple, but take the time to look through the site you are seeking a link from, and find the site owner’s name.  Include their name immediately in your email, because if you don’t, chances are they will assume your email is automated spam. so he or she knows you’re not a spammer. If you can’t find their name, look for a phone number. Call them. Yes, actually use the phone.

In the above link request I received, it was immediately obvious this person had never been to my site, even though the email indicated otherwise. If this person really had been to my site, my name is the first thing he or she would have seen, and after a few minutes they would see that I don’t offer a links page.

3). Your name. Again, it’s just common courtesy. The person requesting a link is a human being and so are you. A first line like “Hello, Mr. Ward. My name is John Smith” tells me that at least this person has taken the time to find out who was running my web site and is nice enough to tell me who he or she is. It also shows me that he or she didn’t send that same email to 4,000 other people, unless by some bizarre coincidence their names were all “Mr. Ward.”

4). The exact URL on their site where you hope to earn a link. “On your site I see you have the following content (URL)”

(By now the reader of the email knows you know his/her name, site name, and URL. You obviously are not lying to them or spamming them).

Don’t show fake sincerity or imply friendship when, in fact, you’ve never met me. Be professional, courteous, and to the point. I really get turned off by email from people who act like we are buddies.

5). Your site’s name and home page URL. “I am contacting you about my site, called ‘SiteName,’ which is located at http://www.SiteName.com”

6). A SHORT paragraph that describes your site. Do not oversell your site or give them 76 reasons why they need to link to it. If they link to it, it wont be your email that earned the link. The email alone cannot earn a link, but it can certainly cost you a chance to earn one. The link will come when they look at your site and determine whether or not your content is linkworthy to them.

The email alone cannot earn a link, but it can certainly cost you a chance to earn one

7). The exact URL you want them to link to on your site. “Since I have a splash page that has some large images, you may prefer to use this URL for linking: http://www.SiteName.com/home2.html”

8). A valid email address and respond to any requests made to that address. “If you would like to contact me about this, please feel free to reach me at my personal email address below.” And please –PLEASE– use a real email address with a name in it. When I receive email sent from linking-campaign@whateversite.com, I feel so special that I hit the delete key twice, just for good measure.

9). Your phone number. “Or, if you prefer, you can also call me at this phone number: (put your phone number).”

An Example…
Below is a sample of what a full link-request email would look like. It’s from a long ago client but it is nearly identical to what I use successfully today.

NOTE: Due to the number of people who have copied, pasted, edited and completely bastardized/ruined the example outreach email I had included here, I’ve removed it. How’s that for irony?

What your email doesn’t say is just as important…

Any webmaster or site manager who receives the above email can tell immediately many crucial things about me and my link request:

  • I took the time to actually look at their site. How else could I call it by name?
  • I took the time to find out who runs the site
  • I reviewed the site for appropriateness. How else would I have known he had a “bird links” area?
  • I followed any link-request instructions. How else would I have known to put “Editorial submission question” in the subject line?
  • I didn’t send that same email to 25,000 people
  • I value their time by making it easy for them to know just what URL I wanted linked, and where
  • I respect the site content by subscribing to the site’s newsletter
  • I looked at more than just the home page
  • I am not afraid to put my phone number in the email; spammers won’t do that

There are many additional subtle points to this process, and many additional things I might need or have to include, but these are not right for every scenario, so let’s keep things as simple as possible for now.

The bottom line is that by recognizing the individuals on the receiving end of your link requests, and showing them courtesy and respect, you have a far greater chance to get a response. When I receive link letters, I look for tell-tale signs that I was not singled out individually. If I spot an obvious bulk link seeker, I delete the email immediately.

And yes, this means you cannot automate this part of the process and yes, this means you have to create and send each link request one at a time. As you should.

Sometimes each site takes an entire three clicks and two minutes. Big deal. This is a lifelong link you’re seeking. Why would you short-cut this most human and crucial communication/exchange?


About The Author:

Eric Ward founded the Web’s first service to help introduce web content (we called them URIs) to the online world, back in 1994. Then lightening struck when Jeff Bezos asked Eric to announce and publicize Amazon.com’s debut launch. Eric subsequently won the 1995 Award For Internet Marketing Excellence (our industry’s “Oscar” back then). Eric creates and has executed content linking strategies for PBS.org, WarnerBros, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, The New York Times, TVGuide.com, Paramount, and Weather.com.
Today, Eric continues to offer link building training, workshops, strategies and M/A counsel, and publishes the content linking strategy newsletter LinkMoses Private.
Eric and his methods continue to be written about in numerous publications and featured in college curriculae. Eric publishes has presented at over 160 industry conferences and symposiums. In 2015, Eric contributed to the book Success Secrets of the Online Marketing Superstars, and in 2013 Eric authored the book The Ultimate Guide to Link Building for Entrepreneur Press, now in its 3rd printing.
Going back further, In 2008 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes, from Wiley & Sons, Inc., written by Michael Miller, and in 2000 contributed to the book E-Volve-or-Die.com: Thriving in the Internet Age Through E-Commerce Management. Back in the Dark Ages (1997) Eric was named one of the Web’s 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. Eric also contributes to the LinkWeek column for search industry news site SearchEngineLand.com and has also contributes to SearchEngineWatch, Web Marketing Today, ClickZ, MarketingProfs, and print magazines Search Marketing Standard and Ad Age.
Eric, his wife and three children live in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains  in Eastern Tennessee. Eric works alone by design and prefer to take a hands-on approach with his clients. You can learn more about his link building training, workshops,strategies and other services here.