What's a link worth? The answer often seems riddled with secrets that aren't secret and lies that are. Don't listen to the false promises of secrets. Don't get taken in by the lies.
Instead, consider some simple techniques and strategies to help determine the value of a link. They'll save you from getting buried under the weight of minute details or complex mathematical calculations.
Top Rankings: Rank at the Top
Fierce debates over SEO minutiae won't help you put a value on links. Tools try to decipher link value with top-secret, black box calculations. In both cases, you'll come up with an answer. Whether it's the wisdom of the crowd, the opinion of a guru, or the educated guess of a mathematical formula, you'll end up too deep in the weeds to see the answer staring you in the face.
Astoundingly, the answer is rather simple when you step back. Ask yourself what are top rankings worth to your company? How much more revenue would your company take in if you were in the top 10 for your keywords? How much revenue would you lose if you lost your top 10 rankings? Are top rankings worth $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, or more per year? That answer will help you decide what to invest into link development with regard to time, resources, and money.
Determining the value of a link is very subjective. You could spend all sorts of time studying minuscule details or choose to examine a few signals of quality and trust. Personally, I do the latter and then focus my time securing quality links. Think of it this way, while you spend time analyzing and debating small link factors, your competition is out there getting more quality links. Focus on a few quality indicators and spend more time actually getting links.
Let's look at three techniques that will free up your time to pursue more quality links.
Age Before Beauty
More often than not, links from older sites have more value and trust to pass on. Forget trying to explain it by registration dates. The reason they have more value relates back to the human world. These sites have had more time to gain trust from users and search engines. Search engines are simply striving to emulate real world relationships.
Consider this for a minute. Would a restaurant review from a 25-year-old newspaper or a 1-year-old newspaper bring in more new customers? Clearly, in most instances, the older established newspaper will drive more people into your restaurant. The older newspaper has had more time to establish its credibility and enjoys a wider circulation.
From my experience working with dozens upon dozens of sites over the years, I can attest that a handful of "quality" and "trusted" links from older, trustworthy sites will increase rankings dramatically. It worked in 2002, and it works today. It's all about getting those quality links. Don't misinterpret this to mean it only takes a handful of links for top rankings. What's required varies, depending on the industry, competition, current rankings, and the individual site. It's an ongoing process, especially for those in a competitive field.
Page Placement and the Perfect Link
By now, most SEOs agree getting a link from within the content section of the page has more value than a link from the sidebar or footer. For link placement, stay focused on the users to maximize value and long-term results. For the most link value, ask yourself, "What part of the page will drive the most click-throughs?" That's where you'll receive the most value. At times, it might be in the content, other times, above the content, or even after the content. A link that drives traffic is the perfect link. More on traffic and user data in part two of this column.
One common mistake people make with link placement is skipping over a great link opportunity because some SEO guru said the placement wouldn't have much value. That's like being given $100 as a gift and not taking it because someone might give you $200. Links add up just as money does.
Query Link Domains: Yahoo!
Inbound links will always be one of the most important ways to judge the value of a link. How many links are going to the site and to the specific page you want your link on? I often use Yahoo!'s Link Domain query to get this data. While results are fluid and not guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate, Yahoo!'s Link Domain query does help establish a baseline for site comparisons. You'll get a good idea of how many different domains link to a particular site. You'll also see who's linking to the site so you can judge the quality of their backlinks. Over time, patterns will evolve and you'll be able to spot great sites without even looking at backlinks.
One common pitfall in link building is to skip over sites that don't have hundreds or thousands of domains linking to them. In search, we are too obsessed with numbers instead of quality signals. What do you think will help your rankings more, a small site with 100 high-quality domains linking to it, or a site with 10,000 low-value links? I will take the small industry journal that has 100 domains linking to it from other industry sites, competitors, and related sites. The first site will have more trust and authority to pass onto your site. Plus, it puts your site in a great linking neighborhood to help search engines determine your relationship within the industry. That is one reason most tools that determine link value fall short. They place a high emphasis on having a large number of inbound links.
These are three easy ways to help determine the value of a link and whether it should be pursued. Before you get entrenched in all sorts of link metrics and online debates, step back and focus on the task at hand -- obtaining quality links. Keep asking yourself what top rankings are worth in terms of revenue to your company.
In part two of this column, we'll discuss the value of cache date, anchor text, and traffic.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!