Process and Method
Using Data to Acquire External Links
It is unlikely you will find a website high on the SERPs for which the person or team responsible for that placement has not done the necessary competitive research. Link prospecting does not stop at knowing the sites to target; you also need to group those sites and pages, provide some definition on their value, and then formulate your approach. Let's take a data-driven look at inbound link prospecting.
Much of the discussion on how to actually build links,
however, is shallow and void of any practical value. Personally,
if I hear the phrase “quality content” one more
time I might literally explode. Let’s mix it up by addressing
real ways to target real valuable links, and how to go
about actually doing it for a business’ benefit.
First, we must understand what is meant by the term
“link popularity”. Used by all the major search engines,
link popularity is a measure of the quality and quantity of
links pointing to a Web page. Many variables define the
link popularity of a website; including how well
its incoming links from external sites are
treated and trusted by the search engines,
relevance and environment
of those links, and yes, even
If you need a primer on SEO, consider reviewing the
feature story in the April 2011 issue of Website Magazine
— SEO: The Modern Elements of Optimization.
Those responsible for an SEO campaign need to realize
that the factors that influence the ranking of a website
— and its pages, of course — are many and varied,
and often change. Unfortunately for many, so are the
processes used to acquire those links.
That changes today.
Most search engines are “black boxes” where little
in the way of practical information flows. But conducting
data-driven research and staying organized throughout
your link building prospecting — and taking a
scientific approach to it — will reveal a great deal about
the link profile of those sites you are aiming to surpass
on the search results pages. With this information, SEOs
can then competitively position their own sites.
Determining Optimal Link Targets
There are several factors to keep in
mind as one starts link prospecting.
A simple and easy way to do this is
to perform a subjective analysis or use one of the many available SEO software solutions to
answer the following questions.
• Does the target website use keyword-based anchor text in
their outbound links?
• Are the inbound links pointing to the target site or its pages
from categorically diverse sources?
• What is the quantitative link popularity of the prospective
page providing the link, and the global link popularity of
its root domain?
That may seem repetitive, but knowing that these are indeed
the primary factors in ranking shows us what to look
out for, and what to avoid. Ultimately, the most effective SEO
campaigns rely first and foremost on the quality of link
Understand the Competition and the SERPs: What an SEO
should ultimately be after is an understanding of the sites that
are dominating the search results pages. For the keywords you
are interested in ranking for, develop a spreadsheet with the
websites that appear as the top search results. From there, consider
using one of the many available SEO software solutions
profiled at WebsiteMagazine.com (http://wsm.co/ez397a) to
dig even deeper into the link profiles of those sites identified
Assign Value: Search engines apply very sophisticated algorithms
when determining link quality. You can effectively get
a handle on this by assigning and understanding some of the
key metrics outlined previously. For example, how relevant is
the site — are there keywords in the title, body text or H1
tags? What sort of value can this site provide — does it have
high visitor traffic, established Page Rank, or does it use nofollows?
These metrics and others tell us much about the
“value” a site’s link will provide our own. Develop your own
methodology for assigning value and in the future you will
be able to target those sites that are deemed most valuable to
your site’s SEO campaign.
Focus on the Optimal Opportunities: Digging up every possible
link opportunity is downright unmanageable at best but
most likely even impossible. For this reason it is important to
separate raw link building lists into “opportunities” by categorizing the sites found when searching for
your target keywords and phrases. Note
the most relevant results, the number of
total results, and identify those URLs
which are “noteworthy” — those that repeatedly
appear within the first page of
search results. This will provide a meaningful
view into the optimal opportunities
for building links.
Data-Driven Outreach: To initiate a relationship
in order to build links it is necessary
to have the right contact information
on hand. Data collected should begin with
the targeted page from which you desire to
obtain a link and the contact’s name and
email address. After contact has been
made, note the date of contact, follow-up
date, information on whether the link was
ever placed (and if so, where), the date of
the link placement, the URL to which the
link arrives (on your website) and the anchor
text used. When requesting links via
email, note the subject line used, opening
line and any offers you made to help acquire
the link. This will help determine the
most effective approaches.
Asset Inventory: No link was ever built
without leveraging one of your assets —
typically creative and content assets. For
example, if your CEO is willing to do a few
interviews with industry bloggers, he or
she can be considered a link inventory
asset — something you can leverage in the
future to acquire an inbound link. The aim
is to provide content in exchange for a link.
Link building asset inventories include
information on the type of asset (e.g. an
infographic or guest blog post) and the
expected difficulty of execution. For example,
writing a guest blog post might be
easier and more efficient than having your
CEO reserve time for an interview.
The methods once used to acquire
links are increasingly invalid and may
even put your website at risk. Those
responsible for the success of search engine
optimization campaigns must rely on a scientific
approach to link prospecting. Doing
so ensures that the very best sites — those
which will aid in your SEO efforts — will
link back. In the end, only by understanding
the competition, assigning value to the
sites and pages you find, focusing on the
optimal categories and reaching out directly
to those that matter most will ensure
your future search success.