Building links is a slow process. If you commit yourself to keep at it, however, you will eventually succeed when competitors with less stick-to-itiveness falter along the way. Attracting quality links to your site is not easy, but you can do it if you carefully follow the right steps:
The process of finding and requesting links from other Web sites is very important, but unless your site is high quality, it will not matter. Let's start with how to spruce up your site so that it attracts the most links possible.
Make Your Site a Link Magnet
Some might call it linkability, whereas others might dub your site link-worthy. Regardless of the name, you need to make your site a link magnetyour site must attract links from other sites.
So how do you attract those links? Page by page. You know which pages on your site might attract linksthose are your link landing pages. Just as a search landing page can attract search engines, you can design your link landing pages to attract links. Each link landing page must provide a strong reason to be linked to:
Use this list to come up with ideas for link landing pages for your Web site. But beyond pages that you can put on your own site, you can also get links by providing content to other sites, through link backs. For example, you can send an article you write to another site, allowing it to be placed on the site in return for a link back to your site as the article's author. You can take this approach with tools, too. Provide a tool that can be used on any site as long as that site displays the "Powered by" notice that links back to your site. Atomz (www.atomz.com) uses this approach with its free site search toolit has become one of the most-linked pages on the Web.
No matter what type of landing page you set out to create, you need to think through the experience that the visitor will have when they get there, just as you did for search landing pages. The landing experience is important for visitorswithout a good experience, your visitors will not follow through to your Web conversionbut it is also critical to attract the links in the first place. Who will link to your site if they see that the experience is not a good one for their visitors? You must design the right landing experience both to attract the link and to get conversions after it is in place. So, how do you design your link landing pages?
If, while reading the list of landing page tips, you asked yourself, "Why shouldn't I do these things for every page on my site?" then you are getting the idea. If you think of every page on your site as a potential link landing page, you will drive far more links to your site than if you reserve the star treatment for a small subset of pages. But many sites would find this a daunting taskthey have too many pages that would require correction, just as performing organic search optimization on every page might be too expensive for many sites.
Snap Electronics believed that they could not afford to treat every page as a link landing page, but they decided to treat each of their search landing pages as link landing pages. As they upgraded their pages for organic search optimization, they tweaked their content to attract links, too. Snap also created new content to attract links, ranging from a white paper explaining their OneTouch auto-focus technology to employee blogs with new ways to use SnapShot cameras.
If your company cannot make every page a link landing page, start out by identifying the pages that are the most closely related to your targeted keywords for your search marketing campaigns. Don't limit your list to the main navigation pages of your sitefrequently that white paper on a new technology will draw a lot more links than the page for the product that uses that technology. Make sure you dress up interior pages to your site as link landing pages for the same reason you want them found by search engines. The deeper into your site that you pull the visitor, the closer they are to a conversion.
After you have identified your landing pages, it's time to see how many links they are already attracting.
Perform a Link Audit
As with everything else in search marketing, we always measure whatever we do. To measure success at attracting links to your site, you perform a link audit. What sites are linking to you? Your link audit analyzes every link to your landing page, or even to your whole site.
The simplest metric for a link audit is the sheer number of other pages that link to your pagewhat we have called the inbound links. There is no shortage of ways to check inbound links, which are also known by search experts as back links. If you use the Google toolbar, just navigate to the page you want to check, and then click the blue circle with the white i. The resulting pull-down menu enables you to do a back links search, as shown in Figure 13-6. Google will count and display the highest-quality pages in its index that are linked to that page. Although simple to do, the toolbar unfortunately does not work very well. First, Google shows only a small subset of your linksthose with lower PageRank are often omitted. Second, Google clutters up the list with internal links as well, which do not drive any traffic to your site (and which search engines discount in importance). As we write this, there is no way to get a complete list of external links to your page from Google. (Because search engines change frequently, keep up with the latest news using the resources in Chapter 16, "What's Next?")
Figure 13-6. Displaying inbound links with the Google toolbar. If you use the Google toolbar, you can easily display a partial list of inbound links for any page.
This page has 832 links.
Fortunately, there are ways to find almost all the inbound external links to your pages. Yahoo! Search provides several operators you can use, as shown in Table 13-2. Combining several operators provides excellent analysis, as the table shows, but be very careful with the syntax. Yahoo! expects the "http://" for the "link:" operator but not for the "linkdomain:" operator. Use of these operators is not an exact science, so experiment to see what works the best for you and keep up with changes the search engines make.
In addition to checking the number of links, you can also check links to your site that contain specific anchor text, as shown in Figure 13-7. You can see that the query "inanchor:digital camera site:canon.com" lists every page on canon.com linked to using the words digital camera in the anchor text.
Figure 13-7. Finding pages with specific anchor text. Google allows you to see pages on your site with links containing your targeted keywords.
514 pages on canon.com are linked to with digital camera in the anchor text.
As you might expect, each search engine's spider crawls a somewhat different set of pages on the Web, so they find a different set of links to your landing page. Checking each search engine by hand can get old rather quickly, so you can use a link audit tool to eliminate most of the drudgery. All link audit tools will automatically count links to your pages, but Table 13-3 shows the other features that each tool possesses:
The table reveals a wide variation in pricing, ranging from free to several hundred dollars. There is an equal disparity in featuressome of the simplest tools just count the number of links, whereas others perform several additional functions. Some of the "professional" versions are designed for search marketing consultants who regularly export link audit data into spreadsheets for even deeper analysis, or conduct analysis on multiple client sites. We do not look at every tool, but we examine a few more closely to give you insight into what kinds of features are available.
A free tool that eliminates a lot of manual work is MarketLeap's Link Popularity Check, as shown in Figure 13-8. You can see from the picture that every search engine has a different idea of how many links refer to this page. (As noted earlier, at the time we ran this report, Google was vastly underreporting the true number of links.) MarketLeap's tool shows the number of links reported by each of the major search engines, and even enables you to benchmark your page against pages from competitors or against your entire industry.
Figure 13-8. Counting links across search engines. MarketLeap's tool enables you to see the links to a page from each major search engine at a glance.
A serious link-building campaign needs to examine more than raw link counts, however. As search engines do, you will want to score your links according to the quality of the sites they come from. Several of the tools in the table perform these functions, but two that specialize in link quality analysis are OptiLink and SEOElite.
OptiLink can quickly fetch hundreds of links from the major search engines, analyzing them in several ways, including checking to see whether your targeted keywords appear in the link's anchor text. As interesting as it might be to check your own links, it can be even more illuminating to see how your competitors are faring. Snap Electronics ran the report shown in Figure 13-9, and found that 82 percent of links to nikon.com used the word "nikon" and not one of them used the word "digital"that's not too many links for the keyword digital camera. This intelligence showed Snap how vulnerable Nikon was to a link campaign for digital camera.
Figure 13-9. Analyzing the anchor text for your links. OptiLink analyzes each links and aggregates them according to their anchor text.
SEOElite, from Bryxen Software, can also help you research and analyze link candidates. It is absolutely the fastest performer with the most features of any link audit tool. SEOElite is unique in its capability to search and score potential link partners by finding keywords in anchor text, in the title, or in body text. SEOElite also has a nice screen layout that some search marketers find easier to use than some other tools. Figure 13-10 shows SEOElite's analysis of Nikon's links, which confirms OptiLink's analysis that no links exist with digital camera in the anchor text. Two other features distinguish SEOElite from OptiLink:
Figure 13-10. Analyzing each link to your site. SEOElite displays each link along with its Google PageRank and its anchor text.
PR Weaver, another audit tool, is unusual in several respects. First, at this writing, it is available free as a beta release, but will eventually be a priced offering. PR Weaver, unlike all of the other tools, reports links using only Googlethe rest of the tools report links from multiple search engines. Being Google-centric can be a drawback, because PR Weaver misses whatever links Google misses. However, this focus on Google causes PR Weaver to filter by Google PageRank and utilize the Google API, like SEOElite, and to display Google snippets for each links source. No other tool displays Google snippetsthey just show the URLs. Snippets aid selection of potential link candidates for the same reasons they help searchers choose the search results they want to click.
Snap Electronics was quite interested in performing a link audit, but were more intrigued about auditing a competitor than their own site. You recall from Chapter 12 that Black Hat Cameras, a relatively unknown retailer, was solidly entrenched with the third result in Google for the keyword digital camera. Table 12-5 showed Black Hat's link popularity was a major factor in its ranking success, so Snap decided to audit Black Hat's home page.
Snap used a link audit tool that scored Black Hat's links by Google PageRank, confirming what we saw in Chapter 12all of Black Hat's links come from pages with PageRank 4 or less. That is exceedingly rare for a highly ranked page for such a competitive keyword. Given normal random chance, a site ranked this highly would likely have a couple of higher PageRank pages linking to it. Perhaps Black Hat could be knocked from its #3 perch if Snap's digital camera hub page attracted a few high PageRank links.
Figure 13-11. Suspicious links. Snap Electronics found that hundreds of links to Black Hat Camera's home page came from the same place.
Link farms attempt to artificially build link popularity by fabricating sites that have many links to other sitesthe sites that the spammer wants to boost. Link farmers craftier than Black Hat spread their domains over many different servers with different C blocks, to avoid detection.
Snap decided to look more deeply into the Black Hat links by visiting some of the sites. A large number turned out to be blogs, but the blogs did not seem to talking about digital cameras. Blogs discussing completely unrelated subjects suddenly had a post linking to Black Hat's site, usually amid a list of many links to other unrelated sites, as shown in Figure 13-12. None of these links were terribly valuable, but apparently the sheer number of links (more than 9,000) was having a strong effect on Google.
Figure 13-12. Blog spam. Many of Black Hat's links were from unrelated blogs that listed dozens of irrelevant links to fool the search engines.
Snap became convinced that Black Hat was using unethical spam techniques to fool Google and decided to report this activity to Google as a violation of their terms of service. Each search engine and directory provides a means to report violations, as shown in Table 13-4.
Search engines receive many spam reports each day and they take each one seriously, acting quickly to penalize or ban true violators. If, like Snap Electronics, you ever need to report someone for spam techniques, include the following items in your report:
As you have seen, examining your competitors' sites can be very instructive. You can see which sites link to them and what anchor text they use. You might even catch one of them playing a few tricks. Next we show you how to identify dozens of sites that can provide high-quality links.
Identify Sources of Links
Now that you know where you stand, what are you going to do about it? Perhaps you find that you already have many high-quality links to your link landing pagessome large sites dobut you can always improve. If your audit uncovered a more disappointing situation, you have your work cut out for you.
If too many of your pages are "link-free" (or at least free of quality inbound links), what do you do now? Apparently what your Web site has been doing up to now has not been attracting the links you need. Your first step on the road to improvement is to review the advice we gave earlier: Make your site a link magnet. Sites with few quality links are typically violating some of this important advice.
It is not always that simple, however. Perhaps your site truly has high-quality content and it should be attracting more links than it does. Maybe your site just is not as well known as you would like it to be. Or it could be that people take your site for granted and do not bother to link to it. Or maybe you just do not have the patience to wait for folks to discover how great your site isyou want to jump-start the link-building process. What do you do?
We should warn you that link-building campaigns are not easy. You have to find sites that would be great sources of links. You need to give them a reason to link to you. And you need to keep track of what you are doing so you stay organized with your requests and measure your improvement. It's hard work, but we show you how it's done.
Let's start with motivation. To get a site to link to you, you need to give them a reason. Why should they link to you? How does that link help their visitors? Do you offer a complementary product or service? Information their visitors need? A useful tool? Do you have an existing business relationship? Are you going to offer their customers a discount? Will you pay them for the link? Link back to them?
Similarly, for each link, you need a reason. Why do you want this site to link to you? Does it draw high traffic? Is it qualified traffic for your Web conversions? Does it have high-quality content? Is that content relevant to your site's subject and its industry?
So what kinds of links can you get? They fall into a few major categories:
We start with the easiest part of any link campaign: optimizing links between two pages on your own site.
We told you earlier that the easiest links to get are frequently the least valuable, so why spend any time talking about internal links between two pages on your site? Some search experts believe that search engines pay little attention to internal links, but we believe that some internal links can be helpful to search rankings.
Frequently, what you might consider your "site" might be considered multiple Web sites to a search engine. Although you know that www.yourcompany.com is from the same organization that brings you www.yourcompany.com.uk and www.yourcompany.de, the search engines sometimes give more credit to links between those domains than they would to links within the domains. So, the first way that internal links can help rankings is that sometimes they look like external links.
Some search experts believe that internal links can help in another waythrough careful use of anchor text. The experts mainly agree that internal links do nothing to help your site's page ranking factors. Because internal links are biased, search engines do not weigh them heavily to decide which pages are the highest-quality ones. But some believe that the anchor text for those links is considered as a query ranking factor.
No matter who's right about what the search engines do, it's not hard to optimize your anchor text, so it's worth doing. Figure 13-13 demonstrates how you can change your writing to emphasize keywords in your anchor text, just in case the search engines are paying attention. To optimize for the phrase digital camera, the figure shows how little attention it takes to boost those keywords in the anchor text.
Figure 13-13. Optimizing anchor text for internal links. Search engines might use anchor text on internal links, so write it as carefully as possible.
Internal links might not affect search rankings much, but because they are under your control, you might as well do whatever you can. (You know they are important to drive Web conversions.) Let's turn our attention to the kinds of links that make a big difference in search rankings.
The most overlooked source of links stems from your existing business relationships. Most companies, especially large companies, have an extensive set of partners that they do business with. Resellers, dealers, affiliates, retailers, suppliersit does not matter what you call them. These partners often provide the easiest and most valuable links you can attractwhat we call relational links.
Relational links are valuable because they are from neutral partiesany of these companies can freely decide to link to your site or not. If their relationship with your company ends, the link will, too. These companies are independent from yoursthat is what makes a link from them such a valuable endorsement.
And, although we have said that the harder a link is to get, the more valuable it is, these links are not tough to get. It is far easier to attract links from your existing business partners than from a company you have no relationship with at all.
So start making your list. What companies will want to provide links to your site? Do you manufacture a product they sell? Are you a reference customer for a supplier? Do you have a deal to sell another company's product? Will your customers provide testimonials on their Web sites? Stop and think. What relationships exist between your company and others?
Depending on the nature of your company's relationships, you might be in a commanding position. If your suppliers want your reference, you can insist upon a link. You can require that all affiliates include links. Examine all of your relationships and see whether you are in position to request links (preferably one-way links) that they are very likely to agree to.
Even if your company already has plenty of links from your partners, you might still have work to do. Frequently large companies have an abundance of links to their home page, but not enough links to interior pages. Snap found its digital camera accessories suppliers already had links to the Snap site, but the links were all to Snap's home page, using Snap Electronics as the anchor text. Snap went back to each company and requested a link to the digital cameras product category hub page, with some variation of SnapShot digital cameras as the anchor text. Snap's experience is the norm for big companiestheir big link totals are mostly links to their home page using the company name as the anchor text (as we saw earlier for Nikon). To nudge your search rankings for informational and transactional queries, you need links to your interior pages for your individual product lines, such as digital cameras. One way to find the best anchor text is to examine paid placement results. You will see what paid keywords are being entered by searchers that click through to your pages, so you can request those variations in your link partner's anchor text, too.
An opportunity often missed in large companies is sponsorships. Whenever corporate largesse funds a nonprofit or industry activity, it is customary for the funded Web site to thank your company and provide a link back to your site. If your company sponsors research at a local university, or endows a chair, get links to your site. Perhaps your company sponsors an external organization, or one of its programs or events. Because you probably do not need any more links to your home page with your company name, ask instead for a link to an interior page of your site that is focused on the event topic. IBM's Globalization team, for example, sponsors the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) conference, which dutifully placed a sponsor link on their site to IBM's home page. A quick e-mail from IBM got the sponsor link pointed to the IBM Globalization home pagea much more relevant link for that page. This link generated more qualified visitors following the link as well as improved search rankings. Your site might have similar opportunities.
Don't overlook trade associations. Your company might be a member of one or more of these industry organizations. Each trade association has its own Web site, and most have a member list page, as well as other pages on the site that might link to member Web sites. Make sure that your organization is listed in the member directory of each trade association you belong toand the Web directory entry links to your site. Investigate whether there are other opportunities for your company to provide news or information for posting on the site (along with a handy link back to your site, too). These links are especially helpful in establishing your company's credentials in searches for the name of your industry and other industry terms.
For many companies, press releases are a surefire way to grab links to your site. If you have a Public Relations team, it probably already sends out press releasesyou just need to get that team to "think link" when it does them. Snap Electronics changed its press release procedures to add the URL for the Snap Electronics home page (www.snapelectronics.com) in the "About Snap Electronics" title (in the company biography section at the bottom of each press release). Snap also added the URLs for interior pages for products and other related information in every press releasethey made sure that the reader of the release could always go to the Web site for more. These techniques prove quite useful in printed press releases to drive traffic to your site, but they have more value, too. Press releases are increasingly read on the Web, so visitors can click through and come to your site. If you distribute your press releases through PRWeb (www.prweb.com), PR Newswire (www.prnewswire.com), or another press release distribution service, they can feed the search engines and relevant blogs with your release as soon as it is issued, providing many ways for people to reach your site. For the search marketer, these press releases will contain highly relevant links from important sites that help the search rankings of the pages on your site that they link to.
Look for opportunities to create new business relationships, too. If you can create a software tool that people need and make it available on your Web site, you will draw links. Just make sure that you are drawing qualified visitors. Snap will not raise conversions by adding a tool for planning your retirement, but offering a scrapbook for digital photos might be very enticing to their target market. Sometimes, like Atomz, you can offer software for use on other Web sites, as long as they agree to show "Powered by" links back to your site.
Relational links can often be the easiest ones to get, and they are frequently those precious one-way links. Don't miss this big opportunity for your site.
When most people think about link campaigns, they have solicited links in mind. They have heard about the process of contacting strangers and wheedling and cajoling a link out of them. If it sounds like hard work, you have analyzed it correctly, but it can pay big dividends, both in terms of visitors following the links to your site and raising your search rankings. Those benefits are yours, however, only through careful selection of the sites to link to yours. Here are the kinds of questions you must ask yourself before soliciting a link from another site:
These questions should seem familiar; we asked some of the same questions when we thought about your outbound link philosophy. In the rest of this section, we provide ideas on where to find potential link partnersfor each partner, you need to ask yourself these questions before adding them to your list.
The most important links to your site come from Web directories, as we first explained in Chapter 3, "How Search Marketing Works." The Yahoo! Directory (www.yahoo.com) and Open Directory (www.dmoz.org) are the two most important directories that every Web site ought to pursue. However, many other directories can boost your site's traffic and search rankings:
Locating specialty directories can be a bit time-consuming, but you can use the search engines to help. Michael Wong suggests combining keywords related to your company (product category, industry, and locale, for example) with the words listed in Figure 13-15. For example, you could enter a search query for financial services directories"add url" + "financial services"that would show all the pages with those words. (Although some of the terms in the list are parts of URLs, the queries will work just the same as for words on the pages, such as "submitasite.html +insurance.") You will find thousands of results for some of these queries, but you need not look at them all. See whether the ones at the top of the list make any sense by asking yourself the previously listed questions. Many of these sites are not worth the electrons they are printed on, but some might be valuable link partners.
Figure 13-15. Finding directories. Clever use of search queries can locate specialty directories relevant to your site.
Source: Search Engine Optimization eBook (5th edition) by Michael Wong
If you look over a directory carefully, and do not see these telltale signs of a link farm, go ahead and request the link. In the unfortunate case that you do get tied up with a link farm, tell the search engines what happened and turn in the link farm yourself. The search engines are not out to penalize anyone for an honest mistake, and they will be much more likely to believe you made an honest mistake if you are the one reporting it to them. You are unlikely to be banned for this kind of infraction, but you should expect that the links to your site from link farms will be devalued. If links from link farms are the majority of links to your site, you should expect your site to be penalized in the rankings.
Even if you find a legitimate directory, remember to verify that the directory page your link comes from is itself indexed by the major search engines. Then, check out the nature of the link itself, the way we did in Chapter 10. Many directories use fancy redirect techniques to let them count the number of visitors they send your way, but search spiders will not follow the link. So maybe you get visitors from the link, but it will not add to your link popularity with search engines. Check the links from directories the same way we showed you how to check affiliate links. If a link will get you qualified traffic, that is the most important thing, but know going in that these redirection tactics will not help your PageRank at all.
Before leaving the subject of directories, here is one more tip. A directory is more than just a great way to get a link; it is also a great place to find sites that will link to yours. As valuable as directories are for listing your business, they might even be more valuable for the lists they provide of thousands of other businesses neatly categorized for you to explore. Google proves especially helpful in this regard, because it lists the Open Directory in PageRank order (at www.google.com/dirhp). But you can mine specialty directories for link partners, too. Every time you find a quality directory that you want to be listed in, go the extra mile and examine all of their current listings in your category. You might find a company in the list that is a perfect link partner for you.
Directories are only part of the story for solicited links, however. Many other sites on the Web make great link partners if you know where to look:
It will not take long for you to develop a wish list of potential partners to approach. Before we discuss how to go about requesting each link, however, some of you might have the budget to pay for links.
You might never need to pay anyone to link to your site (except maybe the Yahoo! Directory). But paid links can be helpful if you must raise your search rankings in a hurry and you just cannot wait for all those solicited links to be agreed to. Just as paid placement can be used temporarily while you are building organic search rankings, you can also pay other Web sites to link to yours while waiting for the rest of your link campaign to bear fruit.
Because search engines put such a big premium on links, they have soared in value. It stands to reason that some links that were given freely a few years ago might require payment today. Some people believe it is unethical to buy links, and the search engines certainly devalue paid links when they can identify them. But those same search engines are quite happy to sell you links themselvestheir paid placement programs are nothing more than links bought by the highest bidder. A cynic might say that search engines are against paid links when anyone besides a search engine gets paid. (We would never say such a nasty thing.)
Paid links are valuable because they drive qualified traffic to your sitewhether you pay search engines for paid placement links or you pay a popular Web site to provide a link to yours. But you know that already. What you want to know is whether paid links can help your search rankings, and the clear-cut, definitive answer is . . . sometimes.
Let's start with the simplest part of the answer: Paid placement links you buy from the search engines never help your organic search rankings. Search engines can easily identify paid placement links as being paid links rather than unbiased ones, so they assign them no credit. Now for the tougher part of the answer: Sometimes your other paid linksthe ones you buy from popular Web siteswill boost your search rankings. But sometimes they do not. Let's examine why.
You certainly cannot buy your way to the top of organic search listings by opening the money spigot to pay for lots of valuable links from other Web sites. The secret to link popularity is more complex than that. If it wasn't, every company with deep pockets could buy lots of links and boost their organic rankings. Search engines wouldn't like that, because it would make their organic results less valuable to searchersthe richest companies would show up at the top rather than the most relevant ones.
Search engines also have another reason to dislike paid linksthey reduce the incentive to buy paid placement keywords from the search engines. (Gee, there is that cynic coming out again.) There is only so much search marketing budget available, so the more search marketers spend on paid links to popular Web sites, the less they have to spend with paid placement programs from search engines.
Whether from altruism (protecting the integrity of their organic results) or from greed (wanting search marketers to spend every nickel with them), search engines have strong incentives to devalue paid links in their link popularity calculations for organic search rankings. To devalue paid links, however, search engines must first identify them, which is very hard for them to do. Examining the page does not reveal anything different about a paid link versus an unbiased onethe HTML looks the same. The money changes hands out of the sight of even the most inquisitive search spider. Spiders are smart, but they cannot check your accounts payable ledger.
So, what do search engines do? They play the odds. They look for patterns that are associated with paid links, and they devalue links that fit those patterns. Sites tend to get links from smaller sites before slowly attracting the bigger fish. Links from several high PageRank sites typically do not come out of nowhere unless they were purchased, which means that the endorsement is suspect. Those links do not indicate that the page is high quality, but rather that the site owner is flush with cash.
So search engines look for link patterns that resemble paid link activities and devalue those links. For example, search engines pay close attention to a sudden jump in a page's link popularity. If Google saw your page had links from a dozen PageRank 3 and 4 sites last month, but sees five PageRank 7 links added today, those new links will be viewed with suspicion. Odds are that those new links were purchased. Those links fit a particular pattern of being from sites much higher in PageRank than your other links, and cropping up suddenly rather than gradually over time. The new links will likely be discounted when calculating your page's PageRank.
Search experts refer to the "Google sandbox effect"what Google and other search engines do to discount the effect of a quick change in link popularity. They say that your page can play around all it wants, but it will stay in its sandbox, without breaking into the top rankings for any queries. If its new-found popularity, over time, remains constant or even gradually grows larger, the search engines begin to remove the discounts and give full weight to the link popularity, allowing search rankings to rise. You can think of this technique as a probation period for the links. As with any insight to relevance ranking, search engines change all the time, so keep up with the ebb and flow with the materials we list in Chapter 16.
Occasionally, sites do come out of nowhere and become instantly popular. Perhaps your company was plastered all over the news for discovering a new wonder drug, or you executed a TV ad campaign that grabbed people's attention. When these kinds of events occur, your site's new-found notoriety can suddenly attract unbiased links. In this way, it is possible to shoot up in the number of links to your site without having bought any of them, but search engines will be suspicious, regardless, because that popularity jump fits the purchased links pattern. Your site will be placed in the "sandbox" anyway, at least until the search engines determine your sudden popularity is no flash in the pan.
So if search engines will not count your most expensive paid links, how can you purchase links for maximum effect? That depends on what effect you are looking for. If you want to drive the most qualified traffic to your site, buy, buy, buy! Find the sites that drive the traffic and forget about the search engines. You will get visitors to follow the links and you will get the conversions you want. Eventually that increase in traffic will result in more unbiased links to your siteso the search engines will have to sit up and take notice.
But if, against our advice, you are buying the links primarily to boost your search rankings, buy links from relevant sites that have a PageRank similar to or lower than yours. It can be higher, but just a little higher. Over time, you can buy links from pages with increasing PageRank without raising search engine suspicions.
Let's repeat that advice so you notice we said to buy links from relevant Web sitesbuying links from higher PageRank sites that are not thematically related to yours is at best pointless, and at worst a sign that you are trying to spam the search engines. Relevant links are what make search engines take notice, so unless you are willing to work as hard as spammers do, you are better off playing it straight. Buying a link from a relevant site is just good advertising.
So where do you find the sites to buy links from? One way is to look for them using the same techniques we showed you for solicited links. Whenever someone turns you down for a free link, you might be able to sweeten the pot with a little cash. Sometimes offering some money to someone agreeable to a free link might get you a more prominent link that drives more traffic, or might garner a link from a more highly visited page.
Link brokers and link auctions are two more sources of paid links. The TextLinkBrokers (www.textlinkbrokers.com) offer links for sale at fixed prices and even provide an alert service whenever a new link opportunity becomes available on your specified topic. Another link vendor, LinkAdage (www.linkadage.com), sells links at auction, so that the highest bidder walks away with each link available. Thousands of links are available for sale, and the use of a middleman gives you some protection against fraudulent operators that try to cash your check but renege on providing the link.
Another way of buying links is to buy an entire Web site. Many Web sites are started by people with a passion for a certain subject, such as digital cameras. They create Web sites with excellent content and build a following, but they cannot figure out how to make enough money to quit their day jobs. Because they cannot quit their day jobs, they cannot find the time to maintain the sites at the expected level of quality. This situation offers a huge opportunity for your company to buy a Web site. You might buy the domain name and content and have your own employees update it, or you could hire the original owner to do what he loves to donow for money. You can add subtle promotions for your products and links to your site in return for your investment. Keep in mind that some unethical search marketers purchase popular Web sites and then use them to link to all sorts of unrelated content, just trying to capitalize in the short term by inflating their page factors. We are not advocating any such tricky tactics. If you buy a Web site and use it to increase its popularity and improve its content, while driving more traffic to your site, everyone wins.
Deciding how much to pay for a link is not easy. As we have advised throughout this chapter, value the link for the qualified traffic that it drives to your site, treating its effect on your link popularity as a welcome bonus. Some search marketers pay thousands of dollars each month for a relevant text link from a popular page (which Google might score as a PageRank 9). At other times, you can buy a less-popular link that nonetheless feeds qualified visitors to your site for $10 a month.
As with any enterprise where money changes hands, you must beware of scams. Never respond to unsolicited paid link opportunities. Cold calls and spam e-mails are frequently coming from someone out to separate you from your cash without delivering anything of value. Also be aware that link farms are often paid link scamsuse the link farm checklist we offered earlier in the chapter to evaluate any paid link opportunities.
Paid links are not for everyone, but, handled wisely, they can jump-start your popularity with search engines while driving highly qualified visitors to your site.
Negotiate Your Links
In the rest of this section, we offer some specific advice on how to negotiate links to your site. But first, you need to consider a basic question. Why should this site link to you? What's in it for them? You have asked yourself this just about every step of the way in this process, but now you need to provide a personal answerone just for the site you are requesting from. That answer usually depends upon the kind of link you are pursuing:
To get any of these links (with the possible exception of paid links), you frequently initiate the request with an e-mail. Here are some tips for crafting an e-mail that will get you the link you desire:
It will be hard for you to hear, but everything that we have discussed so far is actually the easy part. What's harder is keeping track of all of your link requests. Which ones were sent? Which ones did you get responses to? When should you follow up? Did you say thank you to the people who responded? Did you take down the links from sites that turned down your two-way link offer? Are the sites that agreed to two-way links last year still linking to you?
Welcome to the world of link management. We cover some of these issues when we get to Chapter 15, "Make Search Marketing Operational," but you need to learn a little bit now. Fortunately, software tools can help you manage large link campaigns and can do much of the tracking for you. We identified three tools back in Table 13-3 that perform link management functions, so let's look at their link management functions now.
Zeus (www.cyber-robotics.com) is a full-featured tool that manages your entire link-building process. A spider crawls the Web looking for sites that match the criteria you specify, using adaptive filtering to "learn" to identify the most relevant sites as potential link partners for you. Zeus captures the title tag, metatags, page content, and inbound and outbound links, giving the page a score. Zeus stores this information in a database for you to analyze and organize. You can create an outbound links page for your site and generate custom e-mails to each site owner requesting a link to your site. Zeus enables you to track the status of each request to help you follow up when site owners are unresponsive.
Arelis is an easy-to-use tool that finds potential link partners in two ways. Arelis can show you all the links to a URL that you specify (a competitor's site, perhaps) or find all the pages linked with a particular keyword in the anchor text. Like Zeus, Arelis enables you to choose any of these links to be added to a database. From there, you can classify, analyze, and select your link candidates, and generate a links page for your site. Arelis can send out e-mails soliciting links from templates or can help you compose personal requests for each siteyou have complete control over the message and can craft it for maximum effect. Arelis provides status reporting and reminders of open requests.
SEOElite, in addition to being a whiz at identifying and scoring links, has added management features, too. Neither Arelis nor Zeus are exceptionally strong at scoring links, so some search marketers use one of the other tools shown in Table 13-3 to collect and score the links and then move the best candidates to the Arelis or Zeus database to manage the rest of the campaign. Using SEOElite can save you this extra step because it offers strong scoring features and helps you manage your links within the same tool.
All three of these tools help you send e-mails to site owners and keep track of the status of each request. You might find that the number of requests that you have going at any point in time makes one of these tools a real time-saver. You should know that any of these tools can be abused by a spammer who sends scattershot e-mails to every Web site with a "dot" in its name, but that is not the fault of the tools. Used properly, these tools can help take some of the disorganization and drudgery out of link campaigns.