Linking Legalities. What You Need to Know

Updated July 2002

by Eric Ward, aka Linkmoses

Over the past month there have been several high profile cases where owners of one web site have sues or threatened to sue owners of another web site for linking to them.  I know on first glance this sounds crazy, and to be honest, it *IS* crazy.  After all, if links are illegal then every search engine, every directory, and every link list is illegal, and would have to be shut down.  After all, what is Google but a database of deep links?  Take away Yahoo‘s links to other sites, to news headlines and stock quotes, and you have nothing.

The foolishness over linking has even caused some web sites to stop linking to any other web sites at all, or if they do link to them, they link only to the homepage, instead of “deep” linking to interior content sections.  Sadly, this is a knee jerk reaction and unnecessary.  I’ve also seen some sites go so overboard as to start requiring other sites to sign a written “linking” approval document before they will link to them.

I don’t want to rehash the history of linking lawsuits, but I do want to point out that the problem of not wanting another site to deep link to your interior content or to specific page of your site can be solved easily by non-legal means.

Deep linking is not a problem that needs a legal solution.  If you don’t want someone deep linking to your site’s interior pages, you can write a script that checks the referring URL, and then redirects anybody coming in from any page that is not on your domain already.  End of problem.  This is a bit harsh, though,
so let’s look at better solutions.

Some sites don’t like deep links because they feel the user is missing out on banner ads (ads we all ignore anyway) they’d see if they came through the front door.  There’s a solution for this as well, and it’s not a lawsuit.  If you want to make sure someone entering your site via a deep link sees your banner ads or some other content fom your homepage, you can modify your server to detect any offsite user entering directly via a deep link.  The content for that page can then be served in a frame that displays the banner.  Or, better yet, you launch a second pop-up window with the homepage in it.  There are several even better work arounds that wont alienate your users, some more technical than I want to get for this column, but just as effective.

I’ve been doing linking related consulting for 8 years, and I would be thrilled to speak in court to the legal establishment as to why lawsuits are 100% unnecessary for ALL linking related issues.   Every linking related problem has a fairly easy solution that costs less than funding a lawsuit.

In my opinion, there are only a couple specific instances where linking to someone else’s content might be seen as illegal (caveat: I’m not a lawyer).  First, if a link on your site when clicked loads someone else’s content into a frame on your site, so that the user has no idea where that content came from, then you’re on thin ice morally if not legally.  Don’t do it.

Second, if the site you are linking to has stated on their site that linking is strictly prohibited, or requires permission first, then don’t link to them unless you have it.

Some lawyers tell me linking policies are unenforceable anyway.  But rather than spending money to find out, why not just solve the problem via your own web server software.

For the overwhelming majority of web sites, links are gold.  We all want links.  If you don’t want your content linked, why did you put it online in the first place?

Lastly, for those who think all links should be to a site’s homepage only, remember that some sites are so big, with so many thousands of pages, that if others can’t deep link to the exact page they want, there is no point in linking at all.  Let me leave you with an example to illustrate the point.  I once helped the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to bring attention to several interior (deep) sections of their MEDLINEplus web site.  I sought links to these interior content areas on hundreds of other topical health related sites.  These sites were happy to deep link to NLM’s new interior content sections.  These sites would never have linked just to the NLM homepage, because that’s ten clicks away from the interior content area and wouldn’t help their readers find the MEDLINEplus content. Nobody would find it.

In closing let me ask you to check your bookmarks.  How many of your bookmarks go to interior pages of sites rather than to homepages? Of my own 478 bookmarks, 440 were deep links.  If deep links are illegal, anyone with bookmarks is breaking the law.

How silly is that?

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Teeny Weenie Bikini Linkbait

by Eric Ward (Original: March 22, 2007)

I always get bummed when I don’t clearly state my position on a link building topic and it gets blown out of proportion. I had the pleasure of being a guest on the SEO Rockstars podcast last Friday, where among the topics discussed was linkbait as a link building tactic.  To be funny, I mentioned industrial ball bearings. A listener (well known SEO pro whom I greatly respect ) thought I implied linkbait was not possible for certain sites about certain topics, and went on to blog about me in a way that I feel needs clarification.

Just to be clear, I never said you couldn’t link bait certain types of content. I’d be wrong and that would be silly for me to say, since that’s how I got started in 1994 when I suggested to a local coffee company that they run an online special Christmas offer, which back then was unheard of.  The site is gone, now, but here’s the original post.  A few months later a local boat company (Sea Ray) with a vanilla web site went with the idea of giving 360 degree views of the boats and interiors. That’s linkbait circa 1995. Site gone, but bones remain.

.
Don’t pin your hopes for business success 
solely on linkbait. Use it as part of a larger strategy…
. Like anyone, I can sit here and think up endless types of link bait. Girls in bikinis for ball bearings. Yep, no brainer. That’s sort of what Ridgid tools has done in the offline world forever with those calendars you see in auto shops. They make an unsexy topic sexy.  And by the way, pssst… hey Ridgid.com, what are you waiting for?  You are sitting on a vein of linkbait gold and all you give us is this? With no real online linkbait you managed to get quite a few mentions and links. Imagine if you actually tried.

So again, I NEVER said you couldn’t linkbiat any given topic. I said it may not be the best approach for every site, and if you DID do it, remember it’s just one piece of an overall link building strategy. I’m not out to bash anyone or any tactic. But please don’t misunderstand me. Yes, you can link bait for any type of site.

Linkbait Directions:

Step one, create site.
Step two, add bikinis.

Bingo.

Link and share wisely,

Eric Ward

About LinkMoses – How Link Building Expert Eric Ward Became Link Moses


About LinkMoses… LinkMoses is really Eric Ward.  That’s me. I’m a content linking strategist.  What that means is I help online content become known.  It can be a web site, mobile app, or any other useful content.  My NetPOST service (launched in 1994) was the Internet’s first Web site publicity service (here’s your proof), and I now work with clients of all sizes in the US and abroad.  I’ve spoken at over 150 industry conferences and years ago, someone at a conference introduced me as “Link Building Moses“.  It was either Chris Sherman, Mike Grehan or Greg Boser, or maybe all three. Everyone in the audience laughed.  Ha ha ha.  Very funny.  I get it. I’m vocally white hat, and I’ve been doing this since 1994, before Google existed.

But then the link building strategist in me saw a light bulb come on (either that or I forgot my meds). I recognized the opportunity Link Moses presented, and now I’m having the linking equivilent of the last laugh, as you can see by the thousands links I’ve attracted by turning LinkMoses into an alternative version of me. LinkMoses proved to be a great link bait tactic.

In August of 2011, LinkMoses became LinkMoses Private, a fee based subscription service offering immediatelty actionable link opportunities, link building advice advice, tips and tactics. It costs a whopping $8 per month. There you will find questions, answers, and opinion on link building strategies, formed over my many years developing linking strategies and building links for hundreds of web sites.

Today, I have two missions. First, I publish LinkMoses Private. LinkMoses Private is a newsletter sent several times every month to private subscribers. The newsletter contains high quality Link Opportunity Alerts (LOA’s), linking strategies, tactics and case studies based on my client work over the past 18 years.

Second, I offer private client content publicity and link building services, as well as link building training, custom training webcasts, and consulting.

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Ten Commandments of Link Building

by Eric Ward

Updated December 2013 (original 2003)

I – Linkest not just to seek favor from Google*
(*If your site’s success is dependeth on Google alone, it shall destroy you, or worse, be featured in the Knowledge Graph without attribution. The irony…)

II – Those who link in exchange for gold are link whores*
*Caveats:
a) Linking in exchange for return link is sometimes kind of slutty
b) Philosophically, I agree that all links are paid in one form or another, but this discussion gives LinkMoses a headache.
c). Offering discounts to students via links on .edu domains has may have jumped the temple. I recently saw one for paternity testing kits. Demographically relevant? Sure, but slimy. Saving 10% on a paternity test is the least of your worries.

III – Thou shalt not link to thine own site from 367 different social media profiles. And don’t get me started on link wheels.

IIIb – Thou shalt not take advantage of Google’s current love-fest with Pinterest (look who ranks#1 for link building infographics even though LinkMoses has never created one), nor will thee send an email to all employees telling them to Plus the corporate homepage.

*Caveats
a) It is acceptable to include a couple of those cute little share, add, tweet, plus, etc., buttons on your own content.  They work nicely. Here, try one Tweet this

b). If you seed YELP with fake reviews, a swarm of locusts will follow you to the next SMX conference. Or worse, you might get sued.

IV – If thou beginest thy link request email “To whometh it may concern”, it shall hastily be deleteth

IVb – Please stop telling LinkMoses “You just came across my site“. No, you didn’t.

V- Thou shalt not refer to content as “link bait”, any more than thou shall refer to your site’s users as “carp”

VI – Thou shalt study or analyze, but not covet, thy neighbor’s links*
(*if thou doest covet them, please try and limit your desires to highest trust TLDs. Links from .info domains are pretty much penguin bait already.  Extra shame is reserved for those who volunteer to be webmaster at child’s school and then secretly add anchor text links back to company site.

VII – Thou shalt never use the name Matt Cutts in vain*
(*at least not where it can be crawled, and be careful with javascript and flash, they can index it now)

VIII – Just because you thinketh MS LIVE! bing search is stupideth does not giveth thee permission to link spameth them

VIIIb – Although if you do so under the guise of “testing”, it’s not a formal violation of this commandment.

IX – If thou has truly reformeth, beg forgiveness via the reconsideration formeth
(If you receive no response, do not hang thine head. Contact LinkMoses and he may be able to deliver a formal scroll documenting your heathenism so it can be cleansed in an attempt at link reformation. LinkMoses does of course charge for this as he has three children who require 15 Happy Meals per week)

X – The link schemer may eat today, but the link earner eateth from a bountiful table for a lifetime*

Link wisely,

Eric

Linking Mistakes To Avoid, Part 1: Link Optimization and Short URLs

By Eric Ward
Updated June 2007

Linking to other web sites has been part of the natural order of things on the web ever since the web began.  Even so, it wasn’t until the search engines started factoring external links into their rankings that people with web sites started getting serious about link building.

I’ve always preached that regardless of what the search engines do, a network of links pointing to your site is the simplest, easiest, and most cost effective method of building traffic there is.  I see evidence every day to prove this sermon correct.  Yet even so, there are many sites that do things that discourage links.  You’ve probably heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but what about Linking Optimization (LO)?  Ever heard of that?  Linking Optimization isn’t about content.  Let’s assume you have great linkable content and a strategy to get it linked. If you don’t, contact me.  Link optimization is the process of making your existing great content linkable at the URL level.

The easiest way to make your URLs linkable is to remember one core rule. Shorter URLs are better than long URLs.  Why? First, have you ever received an email message that had a URL is it that wrapped to two lines? Clicking on a wrapped (broken) URL does one thing: sends the clicker to a file not found page.  The moment your email software wraps the URL, that URL is no good unless the reader copies and pastes both lines of the URL into their browser window perfectly and then hits the enter key.  What a hassle, especially for those who aren’t online as much.  Or for anyone who is challenged with a mouse.  I’ve been online for 10 years and I still have problems copying and pasting two line URLs into the browser window easily.

So if given the choice of the two URLs below, in an email message, which would result in getting the reader to the page?

http://www.ericward.com/library/articles/columns/by-year/1995/linkbuild
ing/portal_link_audit/070901.html

or

http://www.ericward.com/articles/070901.html

Answer: The second URL, since the first one is broke when it wrapped and now sends clickers to a file-not-found page.

The same holds true for linking by another web site.  Which of the above URLs would a webmaster be more inclined to link to?  It’s human nature to take the easiest path, and in this case the easiest path is the shorter URL.  Having conducted linking campaigns for several Fortune 500 companies, I have experienced first hand the problems with getting links for long URLs.  I’ve had to apologize for long URLs, put directions for copying and pasting, send shorter redirect URLs, etc.  It’s no fun to go link seeking and have to apologize for your links in your link request Email.

URL wrapping in email is just one area where long links can hurt you.  Other areas are social bookmarking sites and discussion boards that only permit a certain length of text per line.  Try sending a post to forum with a long URL in it, and watch is it is rendered useless from a clicking standpoint.  I promise you that this one seemingly small glitch is enough to keep people from coming to your site.  It takes a split second to click a good URL, it takes 15 or twenty seconds to try and scrape it with a mouse off two lines and paste it back into the browser.  That annoyance is plenty to keep readers from even trying.  The wrapped URL is the silent deal breaker of clicking.

URL wrapping in email is just one area
where long links can hurt you

Many deep content sites have database generated content that results in long URLS.  If this describes your site, one workaround is to use redirects for linking.  I’m  doing some linking work for WARNER BROS right now and using short static redirect URLs that send the clicker to the URL where WARNER needs them to go.  In my Email link request, I explain that I have sent them a short URL so as not to cause them to have to deal with a wrapped (broken) URL.  While some webmasters don’t like to link to redirects, if there is a legitimate reason why it has to be done, most will link to the URL you ask them to link to, even if it’s a redirect. Likewise with forum boards.  I post the short URLs, or in some cases, both the long and short URLs, explaining that if the long one isn’t clickable, use the short one.

Thus while redirects are scorned in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) community, they are accepted and often necessary in the Linking Optimization (LO) field.  If the primary objective is to simplify things for the person you are sending the URL to, then of course it’s completely acceptable to send a shorter URL that redirects.  But to be on the safe side always explain to the reader of your link request message or forum post why you are redirecting them, as otherwise your linking motives might be questioned and the link won’t be granted.

Link well my friend,

Eric Ward

About the Author Eric Ward founded the Web’s very first service for announcing, linking, and building awareness for Web sites, back in 1994. Ward is best known as the person behind the publicity and linking campaigns for Amazon.com, Weather.com, The Link Exchange, Rodney.com, AMA.org, and PBS.org. His services won the 1995 Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web’s 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. In 2009 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes. In 2013 Eric wrote The Ultimate Guide To Link Building for Entrepreneur Press. Eric has spoken at over 100 industry conferences. Today, Eric publishes LinkMoses Private, a subscription based linking strategy newsletter read by people in over 20 countries. He also consults and trains others on how to maximize their online presence. Eric has written linking strategy and advice columns for SearchEngineLand, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, Search Marketing Standard, SearchEngineGuide, Web Marketing Today, and Ad Age magazine. Learn more about Eric and his content publicity services at ericward.com|Contact Eric

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