Your Linking Philosophy


What if all search engines got together and decided that links were no longer important? Suppose, in a blink, they all changed their ranking algorithms so that link popularity meant nothing to your page factors. Would that mean that you should not care about getting links to your site? Of course not!

Links are hugely important in and of themselves. The best links are always contextually relevant to the visitor. Those are the links you wantthey drive qualified traffic to your site.

And that should be your linking philosophy. It sounds crazy, perhaps, but you should practically forget about search engines. If you chase what you think search engines want when it otherwise makes no sense, it will not make any sense to the search engine either. You want the links that drive the highest number of qualified visitors to your site, so that you can convert them. If you relentlessly pursue that strategy, you will find that the search engines reward you, too.

How Not to Get Links to Your Site

To prove the point that your best policy is to ignore what search engines think about your links, it is worth exploring the alternative. How have sites fared by chasing the algorithm to build up links? Well, it has been an interesting ride.

We begin our story back in the B.G. timesBefore Googlebecause at that time no search engine ranked sites based on links. Sites linked to other sites purely because their visitors would benefit, so the number of links to a site was a good sign of how good its information was. From its inception, Google, in its wisdom, used the link information to determine which sites were of higher quality (that determination made up a huge part of its page ranking factors) and was able to rank the better sites at the top of its search results. This technique worked so well that many people began to use Google.

As Google began to attract more and more searchers, and as other search engines began to adopt similar page factor approaches that also relied on links, search marketers began to see how important links were. So they tried to get every site in creation to link to theirs. "Get more and more links!" they told themselves, no matter what the source. Search marketers with multiple unrelated sites heavily linked them all together, all in an effort to impress the search engines. For a short while it worked, but the search engines adjusted.

Search engines began to look at the quality of the site being linked from, weighing links from important sites more heavily than from unknown sites. They rated each site on the quality and quantity of links and used that rating to judge the strength of each link's endorsement. As a result, pages with links from only low-quality sites plummeted in the rankings, so the search marketers adjusted.

"Get links from the biggest sites!" the search marketers exclaimed. The directory frenzy was on. Find the sites that seem to be the most important and get your site listed. Yahoo! Directory and countless smaller directories were the places to be. However, the search engines noticed that many of these directories were not careful enough about what sites were linked and many popular sites seemed willing to link to almost anyone, regardless of how relevant the links were. So the search engines adjusted.

Search engines noticed that these links tended to go to the home page of each site, but the interior pages got very few links. The search engines began to place more and more emphasis on the anchor text of each link, looking for more than just the name of the company pointing to its home page. Sites with just home page links stopped getting high rankings for informational and transactional queries, so the search marketers adjusted.

"Deep links are what are important!" they told themselves. Soon, they started the two-way (reciprocal) linking frenzy. "I'll link to your pages if you link to mine," they told each other. Some sites set up dozens of links to each other to get those interior pages connected, causing the search engines to notice that two-way links do not call out quality sites as well as one-way links. So the search engines adjusted.

Suddenly sites loaded with reciprocal links began to fall in the search rankings, as sites with many incoming one-way links began to receive more weight. The search marketers noticed again, and they adjusted.

"We need as many one-way links as possible!" the marketers realized. They started littering the guest books and message boards of other sites with links to their URLs. Marketers discovered that posting to blogs was especially easyyou could even write a program to do it for you. Some of these links were legitimate services to visitors, but many were designed only for search engines to findthose links did not really identify the best sites, just the most aggressive marketers. So, the search engines adjusted.

Each search engine began to look more closely at the type of each link, placing more and more emphasis on how important the linking sites seem to be. Search engines also discounted links from pages with dozens or hundreds of links. The sites with thousands of random one-way links from guest books stopped ranking #1. Instead, the core sites (from the bow-tie theory) were thought to be more important than other sites, so links from those sites were also deemed more important. Again, search marketers noticed. And they adjusted.

"Buy one-way links!" was the new rallying cry. Because a search engine cannot tell the difference between a one-way link that was freely given from one that was purchased, search marketers went out to buy as many links as they could. They had to pay top dollar to get links from those very best core sites, on pages that did not have many other links on them, but it was worth it. For a while, at least. Until the search engines noticed that little-known sites would suddenly leap up in the rankings when nothing about the site had improvedbut they had begun to get a lot of important links. So the search engines adjusted.

Search engines started downgrading links between sites that had wide disparity in popularity with no strong relevance between them. (Just why did that popular technology newsletter suddenly start linking to this new gambling site?) Search engines began to downgrade sites that were new or small that take sudden leaps in link popularity, assuming that they have bought their links.

"Relevant links are what are important!" they told themselves. And they were right. Relevant sites linked to other relevant sites. They linked to home pages and to deep interior pages. Is that the way the story ends? Only in fairy tales. This story never really ends. It will go on as long as there are search engines and search marketers to adjust to each other.

And our story was a fairy tale, too. The evolution of ranking algorithms and search marketer behavior is far more complex than our little story showsit did not play out in the neat order we show herebut you get the point. You can decide to play this game of cat and mouse with the search engines, but we recommend that you play a different game instead. Our game takes a lot less energy, and you will not be subjected to bumpy ups and downs in your rankings every time the algorithm zigs when you zag.

So what should your linking philosophy really be?

STUPID LINKING TRICKS

Just like there are many excellent places to look for links, there are a number of techniques to avoid. Many people attempt to fool the search engines, but they are getting harder and harder to fool with tricks like these:

  • Blog spamming. A blog (short for Web log) is an online personal journalkind of a periodic column on the Web. Sometimes blogs are almost like reading someone's private diary, but others are more like magazine columns that tightly focus on a subject of interest. Many blogs are very popular and well written, and search engines treat them with the same importance as a well-crafted Web page, so links from these blogs are important to search marketers. Readers can subscribe to blogs to read the latest post and usually post comments themselveswhich is where the trouble is. As Figure 13-4 shows, blog spammers post unrelated messages containing links to URLs that the spammer wants to boost in the search rankings. Many bloggers now block readers from posting comments.

    Figure 13-4. Blog spamming. Off-the-subject comments are posted to this blog merely to show search engines one-way links to two gambling sites.


  • Guest book spamming. This trick is similar to the blog trick. A guest book allows visitors to post their contact information and comments about a Web site. Unfortunately, spammers began to post their site's URLs in guest book comments to impress search engines. Both blog and guest book spammers actually use programs to automatically post their URLs, allowing them to add thousands of links with no manual effort.

  • Link farms. Tricky search marketers set up dozens or hundreds of sites that can be crawled by search engines, just so they can put in thousands of links to sites they want to boost in search rankings. "Free-for-all" sites allow anyone to post a link on any topic, and are similarly not recommended. Later in this chapter, we explain how to steer clear of links designed just to fool the search engines.

  • Hidden links. Just as we discussed hidden text in Chapter 12, you can hide links using the same techniques. Hiding links allows your links to be seen by spiders but not by people, so you can load up lots of links on high-ranking pages to other pages that you are trying to boost.

As with content tricks, it is not very easy to fool the search engines, so tricks designed to fake out search engines usually do not work. You should also be aware of a couple of tricks designed to fool you:

  • Link e-mail spamming. Rather then spamming the search indexes, this trick spams the inboxes of Webmasters, requesting links from their sites. Spammers even buy programs adept at unleashing this e-mail spam on unsuspecting Webmasters. Later in this chapter, we show you the right way to collect links from other sites. (If you are on the receiving end of a link request that does not look as though the person has ever seen your site, treat it like all spam and do not respond.)

  • Fake two-way links. Many sites will link to yours if you link to theirs in return, but some try to trick you by employing links that search engines cannot see. That way, you think you got the link back but the search engines fail to give you credit for it, allowing your "partner" to get credit for the more valuable one-way link from your site. Chapter 10, "Get Your Site Indexed," explained which links spiders do not see, so you must check your two-way links to make sure you get what you bargained for. Go to the linking site with JavaScript turned off and see whether the link to your site works.

Our advice: Make sure you are not being fooled and do not be in the business of fooling search engines or anyone else.


Think About Visitors First

Sound familiar? Yeah, it's the same advice we gave you for content in Chapter 12. It works just as well for links. And it makes sense, if you stop to think about why links are valuable to you. First and foremost, links drive visitors to your sitevisitors who come to your site because they followed the links. These extra visitors can complete your Web conversions the same way that searchers can.

So how do you drive the most conversions from visitors who follow links? You start by thinking about which sites can deliver the most qualified visitors to yours:

  • Sites with lots of traffi. It's nice to get a link, but all links do not drive the same amount of traffic. The same links on a site with heavy traffic will drive a lot more visitors than one on an unpopular site.

  • Sites related to yours. Heavy traffic to your site is nice, but you want qualified traffic. If you want to sell digital cameras, you want links from sites that prospective camera purchasers frequent. You want links from camera review sites, from digital photography magazines, from photo software sitesyou get the idea. If you would buy an ad in a magazine on that subject, you should want a link from a Web site on that same topic. Getting lots of unqualified extra visitors who have no interest in your site does not help anyone and does not drive conversions.

  • Sites with less competition. It can sometimes be better to attract an inbound link from a low-traffic page where you are one of three links than from a high-traffic page with 100 links. What odds do you want for visitors clicking your link (1 out of 3 or 1 out of 100)?

Okay, so you want links from high-traffic sites related to yours, especially sites that do not have many other links. Sounds simple, right? In some ways, it is. You want links to drive the most qualified traffic to your site so that you can increase conversionsthis strategy does that. What is amazing about this simple strategy, however, is that it will give you the best search rankings, too. If you attract links to your site from popular relevant pages that have few other links on them, your pages will score high page factors from search engines. Remember, search engines are forever tweaking their link popularity algorithms to better reflect the quality that human visitors impute to each page. If you identify the links you want because they will draw the most qualified visitors, you will always be in sync with what search engines want, too.

But knowing what links you want is actually the simple part. It is harder, we admit, to actually go out and attract those links, but we cover how to do that later in this chapter. For now, let's look a little more closely at what kind of links you want.

Think about the bow-tie theory, with a twist. (Can you actually twist a bow-tie?) You want to be part of "the core"and depending on your site, you might be able to achieve that (maybe even do it rapidly). However, it might be helpful to think about every subject or theme having its own bow-tie with its own core. Snap Electronics wants its site in the core, yes, but it should think about placing the digital camera area of its site in the core for digital cameras. Because a search engine looks at the thematic content of your pages and of your overall site, it asks, "What subject is this page about?" It checks which words are commonly used on your site and correlates those words to popular subjects. You can think about the search engines discerning the bow-tie relationships between all the sites on a certain subjectthese are the sites that get the highest page ranking factors for queries on that subject. Any query relating to digital cameras will tend to find core and destination sites from the digital cameras bow-tie.

If you seek out relevant, popular sites, especially sites that do not have many competing links on them, you will be targeting the right sources for your inbound links.

The Harder a Link Is to Get, the More Valuable It Might Be

Attracting links to your site is, unfortunately, one of the tougher things to do in search marketing. If you start with the right philosophythink about your visitors firstyou will be off to a great start. However, you must realize that there is no quick fix in building quality links to your site.

It isn't hard to get links to your siteif you aren't picky about their quality. If you do not mind getting links that drive little traffic, you can get them quite easily. You send out some e-mails to a bunch of Webmasters and offer them a link if they give you one. You both dump links on rarely visited pages that have dozens of other links on them and off you go. You have links.

But how valuable are those links? If the pages containing the links are not heavily visited, how many visitors will come? If the sites are not related to yours, how qualified will they be? If the sites are not well respected, will their recommendation of your site engender deeper trust? Exactly what do you get from such links? Table 13-1 shows the value that you should place on links from different placesit is the same value that search engines place on the links, by the way. The table is a gross oversimplificationthere are more than just two kinds of Web sites and five kinds of linksbut is instructive anyway. Look closely at the table and see the pattern. The more-popular site's link is always better than the less-popular site's link of the same kind, but some links from average sites can be valuable (and are often easier to get).

Table 13-1. The Value of Links to Search Engines (Search engines increase your page ranking factor by different amounts based on where the links originate.)

Type of Link

From an Average Site

From a Popular Site

Internal links

From one page on your site to another page on your site

None

Very low

Within the family

From a page on one of your sites to another of your sites

Very low

Low

Two-way

Trading links back and forth with another site

Low

Medium

One-way crowded

A link from a page with many links from another site

Low

Medium

One-way sparse

A link from a page with few links from another site

Medium

High


You might see a pattern here. The links that are most valuable are actually the toughest to get. Anyone can set up internal links from one page on a site to another, but it takes more effort to negotiate two-way links with another site. It is harder still to get a popular site to send a one-way link in your direction. For example, it typically takes three to six months (or more) to get added to the Open Directory (www.dmoz.org). This exclusivity is one of the reasons search engines give "extra credit" to pages included in DMOZ. Because there is a human review process, directory links are highly regarded by search engines.

In general, search engines are smart and getting smarter. The best links for your visitors might be difficult to get, but they are the ones that search engines reward, too. Later in this chapter, we show you how to go about getting those links so that you attract both visitors and search engines.

HOW SEARCH ENGINES DETECT LINKS THAT ARE "WITHIN THE FAMILY"

At this point, some of you might be looking for the shortcut. You probably did not pick up this book to drive traffic to your site based on linksyou care about links only because they are a means to higher search rankings. And you already know that search engines value some kinds of links, such as one-way links, more than others, such as two-way or internal links. Maybe you do not believe that search engines can recognize each type of link, but they can.

Actually, you probably do believe that search engines can identify internal links, and you are right. Obviously, a link between two URLs with the same domain (www.yourcompany.com) is easy to spot. You might also be convinced that search engines can detect whether there are numerous links on a page, or whether two sites link back and forth to each other. But perhaps you are wondering whether there is a loophole for links "within the family."

Well, sometimes tricky operators can set up sites that evade the search engines' suspicions. But search engines continue to tweak their algorithms to detect the tricks. Search engines seek to downgrade these links because they are not between neutral partiesthe endorsement that the link provides is biased. Here are three ways that they detect when sites are not exactly neutral parties:

  • Similar IP addresses. Although the names of the domains might be very different, their IP addresses might be similar. IP addresses consist of a series of blocks, named the A block (the first one), the B block, and so on. If a Web site has the IP address 209.164.68.129, its A block is 209, its B block 164, its C block 68, and its D block 129. If a different Web site is located at 209.164.68.105, they would have the same IP address, right down to the C block, making it appear that they are hosted in the same place and possibly related to each other. Links between those pages would be discounted by search engines, even though their domains have different names. You can check the IP addresses of your domains at the Webmaster Toolkit site (www.webmaster-toolkit.com/class-c-checker.shtml) to see whether they are in the same C block.

  • Similar Whois information. When you register your domain, you provide information about yourself or your company as the owner of the domainthis information is stored in the Whois database for anyone to see. If domains that link to each other have the same name, address, or telephone numbers in their Whois entries, the search engines might devalue the links, because they assume that the links are biased. There are lots of ways to check Whois entries, but Domain Dossier (www.domainwhitepages.com) is a good one.

  • Similar anchor text. Search engines also downgrade the value of links that seem to have the same pattern to them over and oversuch as a page that gets hundreds of links with the exact same anchor text. It is likely that these links are being orchestrated merely to manipulate search rankings because naturally occurring links usually have some variation.

Because search engines do not reveal their algorithms, it is reasonable to expect they have other ways of identifying links in the family. If we all know that Procter & Gamble owns www.tide.com and www.gain.com, maybe Yahoo! does, too. Don't be concerned if you have multiple domains that are honestly linking to each other. The search engines will downgrade those links, but will not penalize your sites. Just don't expect search engines to give your links the same weight they give to links between neutral sites.


Think About Links from Your Site

You need to have an outbound link philosophy, too. What sites should you link to? If your site links to mediocre (or worse) sites, you devalue your site's authorityto visitors and to search engines. Ask yourself whether the link to that site enhances the value of your site in your visitors' eyes. Some experts say that you should have very few outbound links, so that you take no chances of devaluing your site, but that makes no sense for many sites. Very successful sites can have few outbound links (those are the destination pages from our bow-tie diagram) or they might have many outbound links (they are the core pages)it all depends on what fits your site. You do want to avoid having a site full of origination pages, where you have many links into the core but attract few back to your own site. If you think about it, pages that have lots of links to low-quality sites mixed in with links to core sites are probably origination pages, because they attract fewer links back from the core.

So what should you do? As usual, consider outbound links based on their effect on your visitors first, not the search engine. Here are the key questions to ask when considering an outbound link from your site:

  • Is the site well written and credible? Note that the question was not, "Does the site have high PageRank?" A site already respected by the search engines is great, as long as it continues to deserve that respect. But don't be afraid to present unknown sites that have great contentthat is a terrific service to your visitors (and to the search engines, too). If your site develops a reputation for finding great new content, you will attract a lot of links to your site.

  • Is the site's content strongly related to yours? Don't link to your brother-in-law's Web site to do him a favor. Every link from your site is part of your credibility, both with visitors and with search engines. Make sure that every link is a service to your visitorsit is a link to a site that is highly relevant to them and that you strongly believe in.

  • Is the site a competitor to yours? Consider this kind of arrangement very carefully. When considering a reciprocal (two-way) link arrangement, make sure that this is a very well-respected site that will help you more than it hurts you (because you draw less traffic than the competitor site, perhaps). Otherwise, it would be rare to have a reason to link to a competitor. Be wary of competitors that offer reciprocal links and do not deliver their side of the bargain.

If you create an outbound links page, it sounds better to call them "resources" than "links"it is more oriented to your visitors' needs and helps to set the tone of what the value is to your visitor. Snap Electronics thought carefully about their outbound links and decided to avoid a "links" page entirely. Instead, they made sure that each product linked to camera review sites that posted favorable reviews, both because they wanted their visitors to see them and because they wanted those reviews to be found by search engines. (They made sure to use anchor text that would be useful for searching, such as SnapShot digital camera review.)

Some experts advise that all outbound links open a new browser window, because it makes it more likely that visitors will return to your sitethey will eventually have to close that window, at least. Although this is true, it is also widely believed that opening new browser windows can confuse novice Web users and those that are visually impaired (because their screen readers do not always handle this technique well). In addition, new windows often annoy experienced users who want to control their own browser. We advise avoiding new browser windows because annoying your visitors is not the ideal way to get their attention.

By now, you should have made some decisions on your link philosophywho you want links from and who you are willing to link to. Because search marketing revolves around inbound links far more than outbound ones, we spend the rest of the chapter showing you how to go about attracting those inbound links you need.



    Search Engine Marketing, Inc. Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Web Site
    Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Companys Web Site (2nd Edition)
    ISBN: 0136068685
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2005
    Pages: 138

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