Is an aggressive linking strategy alone sufficient to garner high search engine rankings? A company in England says it is, and has built a web site to prove it.
LinkingMatters.com is a web site with a dual purpose. The site is operated by a search engine marketing firm that has developed a linking strategy to help improve the rankings of its clients' web sites.
In addition to offering a rich resource of information about the importance of links to search engines, the site's owners are also trying to prove the effectiveness of their strategy by promoting the site solely using their linking strategy.
This strategy is outlined in a free, 33 page report available for download from the site. The strategy described in the report has been used with major corporate clients and small businesses over the last two years, according to Ken McGaffin of Linking Matters.
It's a clearly written explanation of how search engines use link analysis as a component of relevance ranking. In addition to the report, the site offers worksheets and links to online resources concerned with linking, providing a useful roadmap for anyone trying to enhance the link popularity of their own site.
After 2 weeks of using only a linking strategy to promote the site, LinkingMatters' McGaffin says that the site achieved eight first-place rankings, 13 top 10 rankings, and 15 top 20 rankings, for the keyphrases "linking strategy" and "linking matters." Some of these top rankings were in Google, despite the site having a PageRank of zero, as reported by the Google Toolbar.
After 5 weeks, the site still has eight first-place rankings, but has now achieved twelve top 5 rankings and 23 in the top 20. McGaffin says, "For keyword phrase 'linking strategy' we are No.1 in LookSmart and MSN, and 11 & 12 on Google, AOL, IWon, Netscape and Yahoo web matches."
The site's home page also now has a PageRank of 4 out of 10, which changed last week, after Google updated its database in its regular monthly "Google dance." Interestingly, the relatively low PageRank scores attracted some naive criticism, and led some people to doubt the veracity of the strategy.
"Some webmasters took PageRank as a yardstick rather than the quality of the content," said McGaffin. I'd bet that these were inexperienced yet vocal participants posting to search engine forums. Knowledgeable webmasters realize that PageRank is just one component of Google's ranking algorithm, and that the reported value on the Google Toolbar is often virtually meaningless.
Despite these criticisms, the strategy of gaining top positioning through linking appears to be working. Of course, there's more to the story than a site simply getting links. The site was designed by search engine optimization professionals, so it's search engine friendly from the get-go -- though not overly optimized. Just competent blocking and tackling.
A far more important factor that has led to the success of the linking strategy appears to be the high-quality content offered in the free 33 page linking strategy report. More than 1,000 copies of the report have been downloaded, according to McGaffin.
It's clear that many of the links to LinkingMatters.com have resulted not only from people linking to quality content, but as a way of saying "thank-you" for the report. For those of you trying to improve your link popularity, this is a useful lesson: consider offering something of value like this report, rather than simply asking for reciprocal links.
McGaffin is also quite willing to share other lessons learned from the experiment. He says:
"A linking strategy is an excellent way for a new site to appear early in search engines –- we appeared in Google just 3 days after our linking strategy launched. The process of researching potential target links is in itself very useful research and gives a great overview of any industry. It is also a great way of making contact with a lot of influential people."
What about paid listings, or paid inclusion programs? Many search engine optimization professionals have all but abandoned "organic" techniques, and rely solely on these paid options to drive traffic to their sites.
"We decided not to pay for a listing in Yahoo, express inclusion on AltaVista or any other type of paid-for listing," says McGaffin.
"This was for two reasons. First, we wanted to test out a pure linking strategy on its own. Second, we went way over our budget in creating a free resource that generates no direct revenue. However, such paid-for listings are a reality for any site serious about link building, so we will be reviewing our position on this."
What about the "quality" of links? Isn't it more important to focus on getting a few, first-rate inbound links, rather than hoping for dozens or even hundreds of links from less significant sites?
"Not all links are the same," McGaffin agrees. "For us, there are three important types." These three important types include:
Communities that already exist and are willing to tell their members. "E-consultancy gave us a great launch and immediate assess to an interested audience. Follow-up forum postings also kept the number of referrals high," says McGaffin.
Editorial coverage is also important, but it also brings sudden peaks of activity. An article featuring Linking Matters' appearing in Clearlybusiness.com generated about 120 downloads in a day. However, this activity is transient, and quickly dissipates as the articles cease to be news.
Perhaps most important are links from recognized experts or sources of information. These types of links bring steady traffic every day, and are also regarded more highly by search engines in determining a site's overall link popularity. "A link from Eric Ward brings us daily visits," says McGaffin.
For those that still doubt the importance of a linking-only strategy for improving search engine visibility, McGaffin has this to say:
"The whole exercise has been inspirational. We are even more convinced of the importance of linking and the need for guidance on how to implement linking strategies."
Going forward, McGaffin says LinkingMatters.com intends to publish new resources on a weekly basis and share some of the case studies they are currently working on. Undoubtedly garnering even more good will in the form of links from grateful webmasters who learn and benefit from the high quality content offered by LinkingMatters.
LinkingMatters.com is a 33-page report and web site that aims to help webmasters understand the importance of link popularity and how it can affect their search engine rankings.