Optimizing Your Existing Links

When your website has been around for some time, but you still aren’t ranking high enough for your desired search terms, optimizing the incoming links to your site is the best next step. Existing link partners are a great help, but they aren’t all perfect.

What Can You Optimize?

Links you receive as a result of having great content, being talked about, or a request aren’t likely to be perfect in many ways. For instance:

  • Is the link located on the best page within their site?
  • Is the anchor text good for ranking on your desired search term?
  • Is the link directed at the page you want to have ranking for that search term?
  • Is the link natural in the eyes of search engines?

All these factors could be optimized easily. After all, these link partners have already shown their willingness to promote your site.

Splitting up Link Building

One strategy I often use is splitting up link building into two stages. First, focus on getting a link from your desired site. Then, after a few months, try to convince these link partners that changing it is in both of your best interests.

It’s much easier to hide search engine optimization (SEO) as an ulterior motive, or even to introduce it as just one of the many reasons how it could benefit both sites.

Reasons for Changing a Link?

With your request to change a link, you need a probable reason why they should do so. This reason is always linked to what you want changed (exit page, anchor text, or landing page) and how you initially got the link.

If you have a time sensitive link (e.g., one archived in a news article), don’t waste your time. If you have a link that is almost perfect, but probably is only still there because they forgot about it, you’re probably better of leaving it alone. But if the link is on their site because your site provides additional information on a topic they write about, this is the perfect candidate for optimization.

To get a perfect anchor text, you could initiate a URL change. This might sound weird, but it goes like this.

You should provide even better information on another URL or change the URL of the original content, backed up by a redirect. Now contacting your link partner with a good reason is easy: “You’re currently linking to a redirect. Could you change the URL to [insert URL here” and while you’re at it change the anchor text to [search term you’re optimizing for here”?”

In my experience, 75 percent of the requests are honored, including the anchor text change (of the remaining cases, 10 percent change the URL without changing the anchor text, 10 percent do nothing, and 5 percent remove the link entirely).

Pitfalls in Link Optimization

Changing many links in a short period of time indicates to search engines that you had full control over the link changes. So this might be seen as unnatural and could trigger filters that dampen the value of those links. To avoid this, spread the activity over a longer period of time.

Perfection isn’t the goal of link optimization. So don’t try to get the exact same link from every partner. A natural mutation should be the aim of your effort.

Select specific link partners that are likely to change a link. Start by testing with less important partners to get the hang of it.

The previously mentioned 5 percent of partners that remove a link after a change request can be much higher. Selecting the correct partners is the most important stage of link optimization.

Don’t focus too much on just the search term you’re working on right now. Any change in incoming links can and will negatively effect the existing ranking for some other search terms. Make sure these are the less important ones.


Link optimization is an effective way to increase your ranking, but it requires some practice. The pitfalls make it easy to slip up, so start small and test before you start contacting everyone linking to you.

Join us for SES San Francisco August 16-20, 2010 during ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week. The festival is packed with sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, ad networks and exchanges, e-mail marketing, the real time web, local search, mobile, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an expo floor with 100+ companies, networking events, parties and more!

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