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What Makes a Link Target a Bullseye?

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There can be a substantial expense of time and resources involved with getting some really good links. A lot of the best methods take a long time and a lot of effort.

So if you're going to bend over backwards to go after one, you better be sure that getting it is worth risking a visit to the chiropractor.

We've recently discussed different ways to find potential linkers and some of the more undesirable link partners. But what are some of the factors you can use to determine what actually makes for a killer link target?

Authority

One thing that makes a site really worth link stalking is their authority. That can mean a lot of different things though, depending on how you look at it.

Link equity is one measure of how exceptional a site may be. Looking at the number of someone's global back links is the kind of measurement that "numbers guys" are obsessed with. A high volume of links is usually a good sign.

But if you dig a little deeper and find out that the number is inflated (by oh, say, blog comments or site-wide links), the shine on that diamond becomes a bit duller. In link building many of us shy away from judging anything based on numbers alone. But if you're planning to spend any amount of time trying to woo a potential linker, quantity and quality are both important factors.

Time management is a huge part of link building so you can't just give it away to just anybody. When you're creating an asset or tailoring something specifically to appeal to a particular audience, it's important to make sure the audience is powerful enough to justify the work.

Even if a site doesn't necessarily have a huge number of backlinks, that doesn't mean it should always be written off. A smaller site that is an authority within a niche is a great find, not always because of its link power, but because of the trust that it has built up -- a kind of trust you want passed on to you.

Never underestimate the value of trust when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).

My mother used to warn me that you're perceived to be of the same caliber as the people you associate with. If you sit with the honor students' people assume you're smart; if you run with the potheads, people will assume that's why you reek of patchouli.

Now, granted mom's advice didn't keep me away from all the troubled but fascinating kids in high school. But I can't help but remember it from time to time when talking about trust value in link building.

If you want your site to be associated with trust, integrity, and thought leadership, you need to hang out with other sites that have those things in spades.

Relevance

Relevance can be a tricky subject. I like to think that if you find the right thread you can make any subject relevant to another.

I believe all things in this world are intrinsically connected in one way or another so that stretching relevance isn't really that much of a stretch. But again, if you're working on linkbait that is supposed to reach a specific target, then relevance is a major component in deciding who is and who isn't worthy.

An entire site dedicated to your subject is ideal in terms of relevance. These are the kinds of places that it's almost always worth trying to guest post, network, or collaborate -- with one notable exception: cheap, low-quality sites that most likely will be devoured by a Panda in the near future.

We can't always cherry pick in link building though. If your subject is web design or iPhone apps, you'll find no shortage of other websites that are directly salient to you.

However, if you're talking about metal shelving, you may find yourself struggling a bit more for dead-on relevance. So, that's when we have to lower the bar, just a little, about exactly what constitutes relevance.

We have to open our minds to consider sites that are only relevant in one section, or one blog category. We have to look at the big picture of how our product fits into the world to find relevance.

So while there is probably a shortage of shelving enthusiasts in this world, there are plenty of sites that are, at least in part, relevant to worker safety, organization, and DIY efforts of all kinds. These types of targets, while slightly more obscure, can still be worthwhile. They become even more meritorious when they also fall into the aforementioned category of authority.

Accessibility

In some ways, this one may actually be the most important. A site can be the most dead-on relevant, super authority in your niche but it may be harder to gain access to than the Playboy Mansion.

Getting links from competitors is always an interesting trick without some kind of pre-established connection. And getting links from newspapers, scholarly journals, or huge corporations can take a lot of finesse, strategizing, and relationship building.

I don't discourage these things; in fact I wholeheartedly endorse them. Think hard, make in-roads by communicating, totally. Do it.

But those are long term projects that may take months or even years to fully come to fruition. If you need something a little shorter term, you need to think about access.

A site's availability may be difficult to tell at first glance, but there are a few key indicators of who is an accessible target.

  • Contact Info: A prominent "contact" link isn't always the whole story. Most sites have contact info somewhere, even the biggest ones, but who are you contacting exactly? Is it a team, a department? The more broad and complicated the contact procedure is, the less likely it is you will be reaching someone that has influence. And when it comes to getting links, you want to talk directly to decision makers. Even webmasters aren't necessarily the best people to reach, because often they take their orders from someone else and can't unilaterally decide who and what to link to.

  • About Us Page: This is another place to gauge the reception of your request. If that page highlights one or two individuals, that's a great sign that you may be able to go straight to the person in charge. That kind of access increases the chances of getting a link, and in a timely manner, by a lot.

  • Design: This is usually a big clue. There are so many talented designers out there that can make a WordPress site look like it cost $10,000 to design. So it's hard to tell from a great design exactly how accessible a site is. But you can make a pretty educated guess, when the design isn't so great. Anything that looks like it was done by a beginner indicates that the site may be a labor of love. Or it's at the very least early enough in its development that you can speak to the top of the chain of command.

These are by no means the be all and end all of judging approachability. But they are a few quick signals that can guide your approach and help set realistic expectations.

Summary

Sometimes, we'll take what we can get in terms of links. You want to link to my site about puppy chow from your brand new site about crocheting? Sure! That's fine by me.

But I'm certainly not going out of my way to make it happen. If I'm exerting the time and energy to write a thousand words, create a case study, or develop an infographic, I won't do it for just anyone.

We may develop linkable assets with the hope that it will appeal to a wide audience and attract unexpected attention. But we may also want to hedge our bets by having a few specific people and places in mind that we want to reach out to when the time is right.

When we choose those special targets, we can do it at least in part, based on authority, relevance and accessibility. Because with one, two or even the trifecta of desirable qualities, we can be sure that if we only get one link for our hard work, then it will be a damn good one.


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