Linking Strategies that Improve Traffic
to Your Site
by Eric Ward and Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Marketing Today, Issue 123, April 2, 2003
The world's authority in field of linking strategies is Eric
Ward, the Link Mensch (www.ericward.com). Eric has developed linking
strategies since 1994 for companies such as Amazon.com Books. Eric also
publishes a weekly
newsletter and service. Here's a discussion I had with Eric recently.
Wilson: Some of my readers want to develop incoming links in order
to improve their search engine rankings. How should they go about this?
Eric Ward: Many people look at developing links to their site
as a way to improve "link popularity" for better search engine ranking.
But they overlook the traffic that such links can bring to a site on their
own. Linking strategies serve a dual function for significant traffic in
their own right as well as improving search engine rankings.
All Links Are Not Created Equal
Wilson: So is the goal to get more links than your competitors?
Eric Ward: A lot of people assume that the more links to your
site, the higher your ranking in search engines such as Google. But it's
not that simple. Google factors in the "value" of the links to your site
using a complex formula. Google uses at least two factors, and possibly
Google considers the quality of the site on which the link to your site
originates by examining the links pointing at it. If Google considers the
originating site to be a "hub," then the sites that this hub-site links
to can get a boost in popularity. Yahoo is a great example. A link from
Yahoo has more value than a link from your kids site at Geocities.
Aside from a major directory like Yahoo, Google can also consider
how many outbound links a hub has. The more outbound links, the
lower the value each link provides to that site. Their worth is diluted.
In theory youd get the most value if the link to your site were the only
link from a site that is considered a hub. There are several flaws to this
logic, but thats for another day.
Some believe that linking to certain other sites improves your own sites
popularity. But if you think it through, this makes no sense. People can
link to whatever they want, which would defeat the purpose of what Google
is trying to do.
|Ken Evoy has just released his free SiteSell
Value Exchange. It (1) registers your site as one that is willing
to exchange links with other sites that have a similar theme/topic content
and (2) searches for sites with similar topical content. No
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Improving Search Engine Ranking
Wilson: So it's not the overall number of links, but their relative
value that counts?
Eric Ward: Going after links just for the purpose of improving
search rankings is foolish. Seek links because of their potential value
in directing qualified users to your site, not just for search engine traffic.
You could generate 100 quality incoming links, and even if you didnt get
much of a ranking boost, so what, because you now have a nice network of
100 links sending you traffic. And remember that no body of data currently
exists to tell you exactly what effect a certain link from a certain site
will have on your site from a search engines perspective.
Finding What's Important to Google
you do decide you want to have links based on what Google sees as important,
heres an approach that will save you some time. The Google
Directory (http://directory.google.com) comes from a feed from the DMOZ.com
Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.com), which is why it is important
to get a directory listing there. Whats nice about Googles version of
the directory is that Google sorts sites at the category level on the basis
of their page rank, a measure of the number and value of links pointing
to a site. This gives you a nice roadmap for link seeking.
You can also get information on the importance of a site from the Google
Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com) or the Alexa
Dangers of Automating the Reciprocal Linking Process
Wilson: Finding links seems like a tedious process. How can you make
this easier or speed it up?
Eric Ward: I don't know of a free service that will help that
much, and most paid services rely on weak premises, as well. Stay away
from any site that approaches link building in a bulk or automated fashion.
Google can easily tell when the same 50 sites are all linked to each other
via a nearly identical links page. Certain companies are notorious for
being link farms, filled with webpages that exist only for adding links
to increase search engine ranking. The approach itself is flawed so it
doesn't really help your business. But these companies stay in business
because their clients are not savvy enough to know that they get no benefit
at all from these 100 link-farm links.
Google is looking for good content because it adds editorial value to
their own content. They're not impressed by people who try to fudge rankings
artificially. That's why Google judges the value of the site that links
How to Use and Abuse Link Building Tools
Wilson: What tools are available to facilitate the link acquisition
Eric Ward: I have been impressed with some of the features of
two software tools:
Note that you may want to use these tools for target site identification,
but once you have done that, do not send out bulk or identical e-mail link
requests to each site identified. I can easily tell when I get those canned
link requests, and I delete them, as do most people. Once you've identified
complementary sites, take the time to look at each site individually to
make sure you'd want a link on it. Then create a personalized link request
letter that leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that the site was useful
to you and that you desire to have a link from him. With linking, like
any other introduction, first impressions matter. I think you can use one
of the paid software tools (Arelis or Zeus) to confirm when your link appears
on the target site.
Arelis Link Builder
reciprocal links solution from Axandra/Voget Selbach Enterprises GmbH www.wilsonweb.com/afd/arelis.htm
Internet Robot automatic reciprocal link generator and link directory
creator from Cyber-robotics. www.wilsonweb.com/afd/zeus.htm
One free tool you can use is Tilman Hausherr's Xenu's
Link Sleuth (http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html). It analyzes
all your links to make sure each is working. It also provides a text file
of each of 10 URLs that have a link to you. It reports all the links on
that page, and allows you to eyeball it.
How to Conduct a Competitive Link Analysis
Wilson: What if you're hot on your competitor's coattails, trying to
get a better search engine ranking? What can you do?
Eric Ward: If your goal is search engine ranking compared to
your competitor, try some reverse link searches on your competitors. Google's
syntax is the word "link" followed by a colon and the URL you are researching,
This allows you to find all the companies that link to someone's site.
Such a study helps you notice relationships between other websites and
your competitors. You're looking for sites that are linking to your competitors
but not to you. And not just from large hub sites, but also from industry
specific link lists, web guides, etc. that serve your niche. For my clients
projects I use a proprietary script to generate a competitive link analysis
that examines linkages across any number of competing sites. I then merge
this into a spreadsheet/report of the potential target sites, organized
into key categories based on what I call "link urgency." You then can use
the report as a roadmap for linking efforts.
A competitive link analysis can be time consuming but very productive.
In one such study of 600 pages of links, I found a number of key sites
that were linking to 3 or even 4 of my clients competitors, but not to
my client's site. Getting links from these sites can make a big difference.
Wilson: Any final words?
Eric Ward: Yes. Imagine you had hundreds of links from great
sites related to your business/niche, but none of these sites had ever
been indexed by any of the search engines. Your "link popularity" score
would be a big fat zero, since a search engine cant count what it doesnt
know exists. But even so, these hundreds of links will send you regular
targeted traffic on a daily basis 365 days a year. According to Google,
one of my web sites has ~4,500 links. But according to my own server stats,
(referring URL) I received traffic this month from over 6,800 links. Thats
2,300 links Google doesnt even know about.
There, in a nutshell, is why you should never let a search engine dictate
100% of your linking strategy.
Read additional articles from Web
Marketing Today, Issue 123, April 2, 2003
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