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The Art and Science of an Effective Link Building Campaign

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Is it wrong to buy or sell links? How far is too far in optimizing your internal link structure? If you operate a network of sites, can natural interlinking be perceived as link spam?

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2004 Conference, March 1-4, New York.

A longer version of this article with specific tips from Google and Teoma, as well as strategies from some of the world's most accomplished link building experts, is available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member
.

These were just some of the questions that a panel of experts tackled at the Advanced Link Building Forum held during the Search Engine Strategies Conference in New York. The panel included:

  • Craig Silverstein, Director of Technology for Google
  • Paul Gardi, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Growth Initiatives for Ask Jeeves
  • Debra Mastaler, Owner of Alliance-Link.com
  • Eric Ward, CEO of EricWard.com
  • Greg Boser, President of WebGuerrilla LLC

Craig Silverstein, Google

Silverstein set the stage with a general discussion of why Google spends a good deal of time evaluating links. "Links are the proxy for human judgment of page value," he said.

PageRank, Google's system for ranking web pages, is about "relevance," he added. In determining relevance, hypertext analysis is important.

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. But Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."

Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search.

To achieve high PageRank, Silverstein said you want the expert sites in your market linking to you and hopefully nobody else.

Paul Gardi, Ask Jeeves

Gardi followed with the Ask Jeeves/Teoma perspective. "We serve 20% of the web. What makes us different?" he asked.

First, Ask Jeeves delivers its primary search results using Teoma's search technology. Teoma search technology uses sophisticated algorithms and subject-specific popularity data to generate relevant and authoritative results.

Second, instead of ranking results based upon the sites with the most links leading to them, Teoma analyzes the Web as it is organically organized -- in naturally-occurring communities about or related to the same subject -- to determine which sites are most relevant.

Gardi said the Teoma approach offers better vision, expert validation, context, experience (both peer and personality) and what he called "smarter navigation."

Debra Mastaler, Alliance-Link.com

From a search engine marketing point of view, Mastaler provided a ton of practical advice. "Start any link building campaign with a trip to your stats to find out where your traffic is coming from," she said. "Armed with this information, you'll have an easier time maximizing your linking efforts in the right markets."

She begins by using her keywords and the keywords she's gleaned from reading stats. She runs those through Gigablast, Teoma and Google and reviews the top 30 sites she finds.

"By submitting or swapping links, I try to get my site added to as many of the top 30 results sites as possible because 'supposedly' the top sites returned are authority sites," says Mastaler. "They are there because of text and link analysis and are grouped according to topic. We want links from these sites."

According to Mastaler, "There are additional ways of securing links -- submitting articles for publication, creating an on-site library and asking for content in exchange for a link, back linking your competition, offering link incentives, hiring a link building firm, etc."

"Don't forget to search and find your industry and geographic specific directories and blogs to add your optimized link to," she advised. "A lot of the specialty directories will let you add your business twice, once topically and again geographically. This is where I strongly advocate paying for a link. There are a number of directories I think it's worth paying to be listed in, with Business.com heading the list."

Mastaler also said, "Reciprocal linking is and continues to be a great tool to help increase link popularity and drive targeted traffic when used in a thoughtful marketing strategy. It also continues to be the topic of popular debate."

She said, "I use reciprocal linking in moderation," adding, "There isn't anything wrong with swapping links with someone even if you do it a great deal. Know the sites you swap with and where they are linked; you don't want to get involved in linking schemes and link farming."

Eric Ward, EricWard.com

Ward tackled some of the thorniest issues: Link reclamation and deep links.

He said that one of the most challenging link related issues you can face is when you have a site that's been around for some time, maybe even for years, and then you have to make a major change to your content. Important changes such as moving to a new content delivery system that alters all your URLS, changing domains, or a major site reorganization can have a significant impact on the link popularity of your site.

"For large sites with hundreds of inbound links this can be overwhelming," Ward said. "When every URL on your site changes that means every link from every other site to your site becomes useless, unless you take steps to prevent that from happening."

Ward said, "The steps to take to make content transition and link reclamation go smoothly will vary depending on your particular situation. The best-case scenario is a domain name change where all directories and file names stay the same. That way a single 2-minute change fixes everything. The worse case scenario is when you change domains, change directory structure and files names (like when you migrate to a dynamic content delivery), but you don't have any log data from the prior site to analyze, and you serve a generic error 404 page."

Ward gave the real life example of eLibrary.com, which had to abandon its URL. The old site had 310,000 links pointing to it. Moving to a new URL, High Beam Research, they were able to reclaim 900 of the most important links after 45 days with lots of labor.

Greg Boser, WebGuerrilla LLC

Boser wrapped up the session with some additional advice. "It is hard to build links one-by-one," he said. "That's why we believe in content syndication."

Boser offered a number of link building strategies:

  • Write and distribute press releases
  • Publish press releases on your site
  • Ask a reporter for links
  • Develop RSS feeds of your content

Boser also recommended, "Give something away free on your site - some type of tool - and provide cut-and-paste copy to that giveaway page."

Boser wrapped things up with a thoughtful suggestion. "Think about highlighting nonprofits you believe in." He urged everyone to build worthwhile links to a mythical site, networkforgood.org.

Greg Jarboe and Jamie O'Donnell are the co-founders of SEO-PR, which combines search engine optimization and public relations.

A longer version of this article with specific tips from Google and Teoma, as well as strategies from some of the world's most accomplished link building experts, is available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member
.

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