Step-by-Step Link Building for Your Site


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:

  • Make your site a link magnet. The best way to get links is to create a site so excellent that it draws links without them being requested. You can take specific actions to make your site attractive to linkerswe show them to you.

  • Perform a link audit. As with anything, you have to measure your success. You need to know where you stand before you can track your improvement.

  • Identify sources of links. Before requesting any site to link to yours, you have to explore all of your options and determine why each site will give you the link you want.

  • Negotiate your links. How do you request a link? What can you offer in return? Are there alternatives to just promising a reciprocal link in return? Why would the other site agree? Learn how to bargain for the links you need.

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:

  • A complementary product or service. If your landing page shows an offering for sale, you must approach sites with related but noncompeting offerings. Ask yourself which companies would link to your product. How would it complement their product line?

  • Valuable information. Many link landing pages provide important information. The information could be an article, a set of FAQs, a blog, a newsletter, a white paper, an e-book, or something else. What sites have visitors who need your information? What makes your information a "must-have" for them?

  • An authoritative source of information. Your landing page need not have original informationit can be the right place to find links to the most trustworthy pages on the Web about a subject. In scientific research, "survey papers" examine all the other papers about a subject and critique them. Your landing page could list links to the important documents on a topic, along with your review of each documentyou would be creating a small Web directory on a particular subject. Which sites could use your page as background for their visitors?

  • A desirable tool. You can attract many links with a software tool that provides value to the visitor. If you can develop a simple (or not-so-simple) program that does something useful, you will attract links to it. In this book, we have shown you numerous free tools to help with your search marketing, but you can develop a tool on just about anything people need help with. A life insurer can provide a calculator to determine how much coverage is needed. A charity can show how much of a contribution is tax deductible. A travel site can suggest vacation ideas based on interests. If your tool helps people, you will get your links. To get the most links, your tool needs to be both helpful and uniquegive people something useful that they cannot get anywhere else and see how many links you get.

  • A business relationship. Don't overlook the built-in links you can request from your business partners. If you are a manufacturer, get links from your resellers. If you are a retailer, use your affiliates. Every organization has relationships with other organizations. Use yours! In addition, you can create a business relationship by purchasing linksa careful purchase can often provide good results. Be sure each link goes to the most relevant page on your site, not just the home page.

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?

  • Reinforce the topic. To attract links, you must know what the subject of your page is. Why should people link to you? Why should visitors follow the link? You should have a strong idea of what you want the anchor text to be on the linkuse that same text as a prominent heading on the page and in the title tag. Remember that the visitor to that page could have been anywhere on the Web before reaching you, so smooth the visitor's transition to your site by showing that the link topic followed is exactly what your page is about. Avoid cutesy marketing namesbe 100 percent sure that the heading of your page is exactly what you expect visitors to call your topic.

  • Never change the topic. After you have attracted a number of links, do not change the subject of the page. We know that it makes perfect sense to you to put your new MP3 player on your withdrawn PDA page, because they seem like they would attract the same customers, but the links to that page will be all wrong. Those links will flee and you will attract fewer links to the rest of your site because linkers believe you will pull another switcheroo. Better to leave the old PDA page up, saying that you withdrew the product but that you have a new product that they might be interested in if they click to a new page. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to building strong links to your site.

  • Deliver excellent content. Your page must be well written and high quality in every way. If you have a well-known brand name, use it. The people whose links you must attract have many choices of pages to link toyours must be the best, or you will draw far fewer links. The better your page is, and the more it completely fulfills the visitor's need, the more links you will attract. The single most important tip to attracting links is to make your landing page one that sites must link toor else their visitors have missed out on a gem. Create that gem, and the links will follow.

  • Use link-friendly URLs. Make your URLs short and easy to spell and remember. Use "URL rewrite" techniques (covered in Chapter 10) to transform dynamic URLs. You must make your URLs look like they are never going to change; the shorter and more readable they are, the more fundamental they appear to your site. Check out Figure 13-5 for examples and decide which URLs you would link to and which you would not. Link landing pages should look like they have always been there and will never disappear. Unfortunately, some Web sites have the opposite problem with URLs because they use the same URL for multiple documents (usually through frames or tricky programming). This shared URL technique is death for link campaigns because there is no way to link to the exact page desired. Make absolutely sure that every link landing page has a unique URL, as well as a short one.

    Figure 13-5. Link-friendly URLs. If each URL was pointing to this month's market analysis report, which ones would make you more likely to link to them?


  • Take down the roadblocks. If you think that people will link to pages that immediately pop up a registration page or a "choose your country" page, you are wrong. You will drive away many more links than you attract. We know that the marketing department wants to collect the e-mail address of everyone who downloads the white paper, but forcing entry before viewing just will not fly. You might coax some people to comply, but you will see many more visitors abandon. Worse, you will drastically reduce the number of sites willing to link to you in the first place. Take down the roadblocks for all link landing pages.

  • Keep good company. If you have links to other sites on your link landing page (or pages surrounding the landing page), make sure they link to very high-quality sites. Potential linkers often examine a site carefully before they link to itthey look at far more than the landing page. Don't let questionable links on your site damage your linkability.

  • Draw visitors deeper. Just as with search landing pages, you must be sure that visitors know where to go after they get to the link landing page. Be sure that they are invited into your site so that they can complete their task.

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.

Table 13-2. Displaying Inbound Links with Yahoo! Search (Combining operators shows total or external links both to individual pages and to entire sites.)
 

Search Query

Link Count

Links to a single page

link:http://www.studyusa.com/articles.htm

About 642

External links to a single page

link:http://www.studyusa.com/articles.htm

site:www.studyusa.com -site:studyusa.com

About 50

Links to an entire site

linkdomain:www.studyusa.com

About 12,900

External links to an entire site

linkdomain:www.studyusa.com

site:www.studyusa.com

site:studyusa.com

About 10,700


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:

  • Finding links. Most tools can help you identify pages that are good link candidates for your pages, through two main methods. The first, shown in the table as Keyword, identifies every link that contains a particular word or words in its anchor text. The second link-finding method, referred to as URL in the table, displays the sources of links to a particular URL (usually a competitor's page). When you see these lists of links, you can evaluate whether those site owners might be approached to link to your site.

  • Scoring links. Some tools can evaluate each link to identify the ones that might have the most value. Different tools use different scoring methods, including the number of visits to the linking page by users of the Alexa toolbar (www.alexa.com), whether a link is "in-family" (from the same C block in its IP address), the relevance of that page to the theme of your page (whether it contains appropriate keywords in its title and its body text), or by its Google PageRank score.

  • Managing links. A few of the tools help you to manage a full-blown link campaign, which we discuss later in this chapter.

Table 13-3. Link Audit Tools (All link audit tools count links to your pagehere are some of the most popular, along with the other features that each offers.)
 

Finds Links

Scores Links

Manages Links

Pricing

Arelis

www.axandra-link-popularity-tool.com

Keyword and URL

Alexa

Yes

Trial version: Free

Standard version: $100

Business version: $300

Link PopularityCheck

www.checkyourlinkpopularity.com

No

No

No

Free

MarketLeap Popularity Checker

www.marketleap.com/publinkpop

No

No

No

Free

OptiLink

www.optilinksoftware.com

Keyword and URL

In-family, theme, and PageRank

No

Up to 10 links: Free

Unlimited: $149

PR Prowler

www.prprowler.com

Keyword and URL

In-family, theme, and PageRank

No

$67

PR Weaver

www.prweaver.com

Keyword

In-family and Page Rank

No

Free Beta

SEOElite

www.seoelite.com

Keyword and URL

Alexa, in-family, theme, and PageRank

Yes

$167

Zeus

www.cyber-robotics.com

Keyword and URL

In-family, theme, and PageRank

Yes

Up to 50 categories: Free

Unlimited: $195


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:

  • Filters by Google PageRank. Whereas some tools will score links by PageRank, SEOElite enables you to limit your list of links to just those pages higher than a particular PageRank value. You can ask for a list of links that have a PageRank of four or higher, for example, eliminating links from the list that you would not consider as candidates. Remember, we do not advise that you cull your list exclusively by PageRankunknown sites might be high quality but as yet undiscovered by linkers.

  • Uses the Google API. Currently, only SEOElite and PR Weaver comply with Google's terms of service by using the application programming interface (API) provided for search tools. Google's link counts using the API are accurate, even when the Google toolbar itself is inaccurate. To make it even friendlier to the search engines, SEOElite uniquely offers a "courtesy pause" between each query, which keeps the search engines from being bombarded with queries.

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.

Even though Black Hat did not have links from the most authoritative pages, it had a huge number of linksmore than 9,000. The next step in the link audit is to see where those links are coming from. You remember that "in-family" links (links between two sites with the same C block in their IP addresses) a devalued by search engines because they are likely to be controlled by the same site owner. Snap decided to randomly check some of Black Hat's links to see whether multiple sites shared the same C block. To do this, Snap performed a reverse IP lookup on Whois Source (www.whois.sc); for $15 a month, Whois Source displays the names of the site owners along with their IP addresses. Figure 13-11 shows the resultshundreds and hundreds of domains from the same C block, many of which are linked to Black Hat's site. Moreover, they all have odd-looking hyphenated domain names, raising suspicion of a spam technique called a link farm.


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.

Table 13-4. Reporting Spam Violations (The major search engines all have mechanisms for reporting deceptive practices related to their search results.)

Search Engine

Contact

Ask Jeeves

jeeves@askjeeves.com

Open Directory

staff@dmoz.org

Google

www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html

MSN

support.msn.com/feedbacksearch.aspx

Yahoo!

add.yahoo.com/fast/help/us/ysearch/cgi_reportsearchspam


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:

  • Your search term and the URLs that were found that you believe are inappropriate.

  • The spam technique you believe is being used and your evidence for that belief.

  • Why you believe this technique is detrimental to searchers finding the best results. (It is not enough for you to want your competitor penalized unless you can explain why it hurts searchers.)

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?

HOW IMPORTANT IS A SITE'S PAGERANK?

In Chapter 12, we introduced page ranking factors, a search engine's way of evaluating your page's quality. The most well-known compilation of page factors is Google's PageRank, which is often used as a shorthand way of referring to page factor scores for any search engine.

You can find any page's PageRank by navigating to the page in your browser and checking the Google toolbar. Rolling your mouse over the green PageRank bar will reveal a number between zero (not indexed) and ten (the meaning of life) that shows Google's perceived importance of that page. The toolbar shows the page's PageRank on the PageRank scale, so it will display "10/10" for a page with the highest possible PageRank score.

PageRank is not calculated on the normal linear scale, but rather an exponential scale. That's a fancy math term that means that PageRank 4 is not one better than PageRank 3it is six or seven times better. So the difference between a PageRank 5 page and a PageRank 8 page is much larger than you might think.

We have discussed how search engines transfer some of a page's authority to your page when it links, so you want links from the pages with the highest PageRank scores, right? Yes you do, but it is more complicated than that. Remember that the authority conveyed is relative to the number of links on the pagethe fewer the links, the more authority is passed on each link. So, it is frequently more valuable to be the only link on a PageRank 5 page than one of hundreds on a PageRank 7 page.

Don't fall into the PageRank seduction trap. It is most important for your pages to be linked from sites that will drive heavy, high-qualified traffic to your site, regardless of their PageRank. So, use PageRank as a tool to help validate your own judgment of the quality of a potential link source, but do not blindly follow PageRank or any other scoring system when you make your list and check it twice.


So what kinds of links can you get? They fall into a few major categories:

  • Internal links. They might not be the most important to search engines, but you have the most control over them. See what you can do to make the links within your site the best possible.

  • Relational links. Your company probably has many existing business relationships that can be parlayed into Web links. Suppliers, resellers, and even customers can be tapped.

  • Solicited links. These are the links that everyone talks about, when you "cold call" someone and request a link to your site. What sites would want to link to yours? We help you make your target list.

  • Paid links. Can you pay for links without wasting your money? We show you how.

We start with the easiest part of any link campaign: optimizing links between two pages on your own site.

Internal Links

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.

Relational Links

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.

AFFILIATE LINKS: THE LOST OPPORTUNITY

If your company runs an affiliate program (where Web sites drive traffic through links to your site in return for a sales commission), you might believe that all of those affiliate links to your product pages are just what the doctor orderedhigh-quality, one-way interior links. And they might be, if the search engines can see them. Unfortunately, most affiliate links are completely missed by search engines.

Because affiliate programs pay your affiliate every time a visitor follows a link to your site and buys your product, you have implemented an affiliate tracking tool to accurately count all visitors from affiliates that make a purchase. All affiliate tracking tools provide this essential function, but Rob Key, the CEO of Converseon (www.converseon.com), a leading affiliate program management company, says most tracking tools are not search-friendly.

Every affiliate tracking tool forces your affiliates to code the links to your site in a certain way, so that the tracking tool can perform its function. Unfortunately, many affiliate tracking tools require your affiliates to use links that employ the fancy redirection techniques that we advised against in Chapter 10. Others use strange-looking dynamic URLs that search spiders might choose not to follow or that accrue no value to your site. If your affiliate tracking system requires each affiliate link to add a tracking code to the end of a static URL (such as www.snapelectronics.com/digitalcameras/?afflink=affiliate327), the spider might treat each URL with a different affiliate code as a unique page, leaving the main page (www.snapelectronics.com/digitalcameras) with no credit for each link.

So how can you tell whether your affiliate links are adding to your link popularity score? Go to one of your affiliates and check out the link for yourself. While viewing the page, mouse over the link and check the URL in the status bar of the browser. If you see anything on that link other than the unvarnished URL for your page, you might have a problem. If the URL looks okay in the status bar, you should perform one more check by viewing the source HTML of the pageyou should find a tag that contains your page's URL (in the "href" attribute). Make sure that it has your exact URL coded with nothing added.

The bottom line is that your affiliate tracking tool might force your affiliates to create links that are invisible to search spiders. So all of those fantastic one-way interior links will not help your search rankings one bit. A couple of affiliate tracking systems that do seem to work are My Affiliate Program (www.myaffiliateprogram.com) and AffiliateShop (www.affiliateshop.com). Carefully inspect your affiliate tracking tools to see whether the links your affiliates use can be tracked by search engines. If they cannot, changing to a tracking tool that supports links that spiders can see will provide a vital boost to your organic search marketing efforts.

The basic purpose of affiliate tracking tools is to ensure that your affiliates are paid for the traffic they send to your site, so if you are stuck with a tracking system that trips up the spider, just remember that your affiliate program is extremely valuable to your business apart from its impact on search. If you can adjust your tracking system, however, your affiliate links might help you in search, too.


Solicited Links

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:

  • Does the site contain credible, well-written information? Most experts would have phrased this question, "Does this site have a Google PageRank of at least 5?" But that's not the way to think about it. Having a high PageRank can be very good if the content is being maintained and continues to be well written and credible. But sites change. A site allowed to atrophy might lose its high standing. Similarly, if you have found a site that you think is very good that search engines have not yet discovered, now might be the best time to request a linkit might never be easier to get. (Perhaps you can pass along some tips for search marketing that will help the site gain the search engines' attentionafter they link to you!) You know the subject matter of your site's contenttrust your own judgment on whether a site is high quality.

  • Does the site's content relate to yours in a strong way? There is no use getting links from a local accountant to your digital camera page, even if he loves your cameras. Your visitors would not place any stock in an accountant's recommendation, so why should a search engine?

  • Are the visitors to the site the kinds of visitors you want at your site? If not, why do you want them to visit your site? Remember, you are not looking for higher rankings or more referralsyou want more conversions. Make sure the links you solicit drive qualified traffic to your site. Plenty of such sites are out there, so spend your time soliciting them.

  • Is the site a competitor of yours? You need to think broadly about this question. A consulting firm probably would not want to link to a software company whose product performs one of their services. Don't waste time requesting links that you will never get.

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:

  • Yellow Pages. Many sites provide the Web equivalent of the telephone book's White Pages and Yellow Pages. Many of these directories receive top billing in search results, especially when the search engine believes the searcher is in the same area as your company's location. We cover the leading Internet Yellow Pages providers in Chapter 14, "Optimize Your Paid Search Program."

  • Specialty directories. Sometimes known as niche or vertical directories, they cover only a single subject area. No matter what your organization does, there are sure to be several specialty directories for your industry, location, and many other purposes. Links from these directories can be very powerful evidence to the search engines as to what your site is about, which can translate into boosts for certain queries. The California Energy Commission developed a specialty directory to promote solar energy (www.energy.ca.gov/links/solar.html), as shown in Figure 13-14.

    Figure 13-14. A specialty directory. The California Energy Commission's Solar Energy resource page promotes renewable sources of energy.


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


So how can you tell which of these sites are legitimate sources of links, and which ones are link farmsmere shams to try to fool search engines? Unfortunately, it is not always easy, even for experts, but you can use a few clues to spot a spammer:


  • More form than function. The site appears to have many links to sites that do not seem very valuable, especially if those links look like advertisements. Large collections of links labeled "sponsored links" that are paid placement or contextual advertising spots are a red flag.

  • Trade secrets. Although many companies are listed in your industry's category, you do not recognize any of the company names.

  • Link "unpopularity." The site has a low Google PageRank, or is an accident waiting to happen. Some spammers artificially inflate a site's PageRank for a while, but if Google catches on, it is penalized and gets a low PageRank. If you are unsure about a potential linking partner, try waiting a few weeks to see whether its PageRank suddenly drops.

  • Non sequiturs. Your directory has links that seem irrelevant to its topic, or it seems to have no central theme at all. Links to pharmaceutical, banking, or e-business services all sit side by side with no rhyme or reason.

  • A family affair. A large number of the links in a category come from the same Class C blockuse an IP checker to detect this.

  • The more the merrier. Each directory category has far more links (more than 100) than any visitor could ever use. When you click the links and look at the sites, many seem to have long hyphenated URLs and the sites resemble each other.

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:

  • Trade magazines. Their journalistic integrity makes them highly respected links. Make sure that when your executives are interviewed or your product is reviewed that you work with the reporter to sneak your URLs into the story. The reporter will be interested if the pages you suggest have short URLs and provide a legitimate service for readers seeking more information. You will get more visitors to your site and higher search rankings from the online versions of the articles. Remember that your company can write articles for many of these publications, too.

  • Blogs. Most blogs have blocked the spamming techniques that plagued them not too long ago, so blog links are once again very valuable. If you can interest well-respected and popular bloggers to write about your company and link to your site, you will benefit from strong endorsements to your page.

  • Research sites. If your product is innovative in some way, you might be able to attract links from educational or commercial research sites that show the relationship between your product and the innovation. Many researchers are proud to link to commercial uses of their inventions or other inventions in their field. If you can find research papers that touch on some aspect of your product, you might persuade researchers to link to your site.

  • Related sites. Be creative. Snap created pages filled with tips on taking digital pictures, and then solicited links from travel sites. Use the search engines to search for your targeted keywords and see which sites come upthe noncompeting sites would be excellent link partners. What can you provide that will cause them to link?

  • Your personal network. Do you know anyone whose site might be helpful? Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, or even friends of friends. One of the hardest parts of soliciting links is the "cold call" nature of the initial contact, so anything you can do to warm it up can go a long way to success.

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.

Paid 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:

  • Paid links. The answer is simple: You give them the cash, and they give you the link. If you are dealing with a link broker or link auction site, you just follow their procedures; but what if you are negotiating directly with your potential link partner? First, ask for references from their satisfied link customers. Make sure you have a deal in writingmaybe a formal contract is overkill, but at least insist on a signed memo or a traditional media insertion order (sometimes called a "terms sheet"). Get the details in writing somehow. When does the link start and end? Where it is from and to? Just make sure that you both agree on what you are getting for the moneyin writing. And always pay using a credit card or an escrow service such as PayPal (www.paypal.com) so that you have some recourse if your partner fails to live up to your agreement.

  • Solicited links. The obvious deal would be to offer a link back from your site, but, because one-way links are so valuable, you should look at alternatives. Are you providing background information on a concept their visitors need to understand? Do you have a product that enhances their product? Will you offer a discount to customers from their site? Will you pay them a commission on sales? It might be advantageous for you to have other value than merely providing a link back. If you do offer a reciprocal link, remember that any link from your site should conform with your outbound link philosophy, so that you are linking only to high-quality sites that are beneficial to your visitors.

  • Relational links. An existing relationship can provide immense power in getting the links you want. If your relationship is more important to your link partner than it is to you, you can demand (nicely) almost anything. When you sponsor an event, you can get whatever links you want. If your supplier wants a customer reference for their Web site, you can get a wonderful link in return. For relational links, the value of the relationship can help you get one-way links.

  • Internal links. Although seemingly the easiest of all, sometimes you need to negotiate these too, especially in large companies. As discussed in Chapter 9, "Sell Your Search Marketing Proposal," you need to be very persuasive with your extended team as to why you need their help. If you are, you will get whatever links you want.

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:

  • Address it to a person. If you are stuck sending your request to an impersonal address, such as webmaster@pleaselinktome.com, your odds of getting the link drop sharply. Identifying a personal e-mail address along with the person's name will improve your chances enormously.

  • Use a compelling subject line. Your first job is get your e-mail opened, so a subject of "Link request" is not going to get it done. You thought through why your prospective partner would be motivated to say "yes," so put that thought in subject line: "Free Digital Photo Album from Snap Electronics" or "SnapShot Digital Camera Sale Just in Time for Summer Getaways." Make sure your subject also includes the name of the target company so that it does not look like another spam offer.

  • Use a simple body format. Don't use HTML e-mail. No pictures. No colors. Make it simple with a universal, nonproportional font (such as 10-point Courier), so you will know how the e-mail will be formatted in any e-mail program. There is no e-mail easier to ignore than one that makes your brain hurt because its lines are wrapping in all the wrong places.

  • Prove you visited the recipient's site. In the first paragraph, compliment something about the site to distinguish your request from all the other generic e-mails received every day. Show that you took the time to send a personal request so that you look like someone to pay attention to.

  • Sell. Explain why this link is good for visitors to your partner's site. This is the most critical part of the e-mail. You need a very simple but compelling reason for an endorsement to your site. Your e-mail will only be read once, probably hurriedly, so make the sale in these few sentences. For two-way link requests, make sure that you have already placed your link to your partner's site and that you identify what page on your site has that link.

  • Identify the page to be linked from. Obviously, choosing pages with high PageRank and few links is nice, but you need to get the link from the page on your partner's site that makes the most sense for visitors, not for search engines. Don't be afraid to include the sentence with the anchor text, or a description of where the link is headed on your site, if that fits with the page you have identified. You can even send the actual HTML for the linking site to use. Anything you can do to make it easier for the Webmaster to add the link is to your benefit, but just be careful not to use the same tired anchor text and description on every request. You want variation so that the links appear natural to search engines and so each searcher will find a link pointing to your site no matter what keyword variation was used.

  • Identify the page to link to. Be specific about the exact, existing URL on your site you want the link to. Make sure that your URL looks permanent so that the Webmaster does not think it will disappear soon. Make sure that it starts with "http://" and that it is shortan incomplete URL or a URL that wraps to the next line in the e-mail makes it much harder for the recipient to click it to go to the page. As discussed in Chapter 10, use "URL rewrite" techniques to shorten your URLs if necessary. It sounds silly, but the ability for a busy Webmaster to click your URL from the e-mail can mean the difference between getting a link and having your message deleted.

  • Ask for a response. As with any sales pitch, close with a call to action. If you can inject some urgency into the request, that's even better: "I will keep this link to your site on my page for the next two weeks while you consider my request." Or "My summer blowout sale on digital cameras starts on June 6, just in time for vacation travelers, so you will want to have your link in place by then."

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.



    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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