Thursday, November 13, 2008

Revenge of the Librarians - Don't Hate me for Being Right

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Revenge of the Linking Librarians

Today I saw the below announcement.

I-Schools Announce Reference Extract Web Search Project

If you're so inclined, I suggest you have a look at the RefEx site, and read the above article, because it will help you understand what I have been preaching about links for over a decade.

Some perspective is in order. I spent a couple years in Library School back in the early nineties under some amazing professors, Jose-Marie Griffiths and Carol Tenopir among them. I watched as the web seemingly came out of nowhere and in some ways snuck up more than a few library school's curricula. Jose and Carol were among those who did see the web of the future, and helped me tremendously (and boy did the web kill Gopher).

I left a few courses shy of my MLS degree to start my content linking and publicity company (dubbed NetPOST back then), and have predicted to whoever would listen ever since that underpaid and hard working librarians would one day arrive en-masse and help make sense of the mess that is the web. They've already been doing this on a library by library basis for years.

I've called it Revenge of the Librarians, and it's why for many many years I have been methodically reaching out to and building contacts and rapport with librarians all over the globe. I bet over half the links I have sought for clients over the years have been from librarians. True, this is easy when the content you are seeking links for is from PBS.org, or NationalGeographic.com, or Discovery.com, but that's the point. Meritorious content earns trusted links. You can't fool a librarian.

Back when I wrote columns under the pen name Linkmoses, I preached for years about meritorious content and earned citation trust, and most of you looked at me like I was an alien. I talked about etiology and trust flow, and you laughed. Called me old school or worse. When I told you your sites weren't good enough to earn the types of merit-based links that would then result in long term earned search rank, you hung up on me and hired a black hatter. For those of you who have heard me speak at conferences, you know that at the end of my sessions I am famous for taking a moment to predict where search is headed, and the potential implications for link building. I'd whisper just one word: Librarians. I think Shari Thurow was the only one in the room who smiled.

I hinted at this in an article a couple years back titled Where Is The Mother of All Links?

Back to RefEx. I don't know what the adoption rate of this new engine/tool will be. Ultimately it will depend on the value the search results offer to the searcher. Certainly there will be value to the academic side of the search world. Consumers may need a bit of help to find it, as the inertia of search habits tends to lead us all to Google. After all, if someone with the brand, clout, and pocketbook as deep as Disney couldn't make Infoseek work, can anyone really hope to gain a foothold in today's search world? I think yes, but people wont find RefEx on their own. We can help.

In my perfect future search world, RefEx results will become a standard toggle selection option for Google, Live, and Ask, giving all searchers exposure to RefEx results, without them having to visit the RefEx site and conduct searches there. The impact of such an integration would be astounding.

-Eric

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About The Link Building Best Practices Q and A
The Link Building Best Practices Q and A is provided free by Eric Ward. For sites with high value content, I offer several fee-based strategic linking services on a project basis.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Paid Links from .edu's - Good, Bad or Ugly?

A reader asked...
"What about paid links from the school newspapers. Can those hurt your rankings?"
[Quick backgrounder - printed college newspapers sell advertising just like most newspapers do. The online version of those college newspapers also sell advertising, and since the online version of most school newspapers lives on a .edu TLD, a couple years ago this created a frenzy among Pagegank driven link chasers who (thought they) found a loophole that allowed them to buy high Pagerank links from trusted sources]

I always go back to intent. Why are you wanting to buy a link from a college newspaper in the first place? There could be many legitimate reasons why you would do so. A local bar with a web site that offers nightly specials to college kids would be a natural for such a link buy. Or a local store or salon or car repair shop. Nationally, it's logical that a beer company or even Nike or Doritos would want to advertise to a college audience and maybe even try to drive a bit of traffic to a web site by buying an online link in the school newspaper web site.

The motivations and intent in the above examples are fairly evident. Doritos isn't chasing search rankings via that link buy. Nobody is searching for "tasty triangular shaped snack chips" as you can see here. No, the motivation for the links buys from Nike or Doritos or the local bar are all simple demographically driven advertising in hopes of click traffic.

Other web sites have different intent when they choose to buy an .edu based link from a school newspaper. Take a look at the bottom of the main page for the University of Tennessee Daily Beacon. Here's a link to it, and below is a screen capture of the ugliness. Remember, all these paid links are located on a University newspaper's web site in Knoxville TN.


Now you tell me the intent of these advertisers. When was the last time a college kid in Knoxville needed to rent a limo in Orlando? Buy an artificial Christmas Tree? Use a Restaurant Supply firm? Subscribe to US News and World Reports (which they can read free already)? How about never? I went to undergrad and graduate school at the above school, and I can pretty much remember most of those days. I never bought one single kitchen sink in all my years in college.

Shocking.

So why did these companies buy these links? Bad intent. Intent to game search rank via buying links on (potentially) trustworthy content. But remember, it took my average brain all of 60 seconds to find these same advertisers and links on plenty of other school newspaper web sites. How fast does the world's most powerful brain (aka algorithm) notice them? Pretty Damn Fast.

But the question was will your site be penalized for engaging in this approach? Probably not, but the larger point is the approach itself wont work, and by participating in it you send plenty of other signals to the bots that you might be very unhappy about. Why cheat in such an obvious and silly way? Why cheat when the bots are seconds away from finding it? Why cheat at all?

As I wrote in .edu Inbound Link Fallacies, all TLD's have crap, and all TLD's have gold. Paid links on a school newspaper in Tennessee about limousines in Orlando. That friend, is pure crap.

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About The Link Building Best Practices Q and A
The Link Building Best Practices Q and A is provided free by Eric Ward. For sites with high value content, I offer several fee-based strategic linking services on a project basis.