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Building Links That Matter

Posted on 3.10.2011

Gone are the days when adding multiple links from any website would immediately bump your own site to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). Today, Google and other SEO-centric search engines (like Blekko) are spending a fair amount of time and resources figuring out the differences between an organic or natural link and those links that have been “built”. SEOs need to adapt. Link development – the practice of building deep links – is the new link building.

The Basics of Link Development
Link development is not the same as link building. Unlike traditional practices of acquiring links – any links – by whatever means necessary, link development is based on strategy to build organic backlink growth. Developing links of the highest quality (and best value to search engines) requires that we follow some basic guidelines.

1. Site placement matters
• Links that are part of the content are more valuable than footer links or blogroll links.
• Links on the left side of a Web page (believed to be indexed first) are more influential than those on the right side.

2. Anchor text
• Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta recently said that one of the factors search engines can most easily detect is anchor text frequency. Constantly link building for one or two keywords and using those terms repeatedly in anchor text will set off red flags with the search engines as nonorganic link building.

3. No-Follow/Do-Follow Blog comments
• Spammy blog comments are simply a waste of time.
• However, if your vertical is heavily influenced by blogs (fashion, tech gadgets), it is beneficial to engage with these blogs as an enthusiastic user and consumer. Do this regardless of whether the links that point to your site are follow or no-follow. The cumulative effect of participation will benefit your brand and SEO efforts.

Powerful Link Development Techniques
Now that we have a grip on a few basic but essential link development techniques, it’s time to look at some ways to build highly valuable links through more intricate means. The following tactics might take a little more effort, but they will provide extreme value now and for a long time to come.

1. Building widgets
Building useful widgets is a powerful link development technique. However, it’s a tough nut to crack. Creating a widget is simple. Getting mass adoption is much tougher. Make sure the widget has a strong value proposition – strong enough for hundreds and thousands of other owners to add to their own websites. In the age of niche advertising options remember that you are competing for website real-estate with the likes of Google AdSense and a plethora of different retargeting/ remarketing display advertising agencies offering anywhere between $0.50 - $5 CPCs.

Here are a couple of examples of widgets that have had great success in being adopted.

• Bizrate provides e-commerce websites with a “stamp of approval”, which helps with on-page conversions. According to Open Site Explorer, 50 percent of Bizrate’s backlinks are attributable to the widget, seen here in this example from Zappos.com.

• The Yelp Review Widget provides small and local businesses with quality, trusted third-party content, including a map to the business’ location. Many businesses use the Yelp widget to add legitimacy to their brand and functionality for users.

2. Infographics
Infographics are a great way to develop topically relevant links to your website. The sole purpose of the infographic should be to create viral-worthy content and gain user adoption. Of course, to succeed, the infographic must be useful and/or entertaining.

Tracking/Reporting
Tracking your link development process is extremely important — you are driving blind without measurement. Tracking SEO campaigns will help you put a finger on which strategies are working versus those that are not. You can then double your efforts the winning strategies for even greater link development. Here are some ways of tracking your link graph.

1. Open Site Explorer (opensiteexplorer.com)
Open Site Explorer is a robust tool (if you use the API) that gives insight into your site’s link graph, anchor text distribution and trustrank.

• Link Graph: You can plot your very own link graph by tracking changes on Open Site Explorer’s “external followed links”. By plotting the number of links that point to your site each week you can keep a close watch on your link graph.

• Anchor Text Distribution: This metric helps with competitive sizing. You can compare the amount of keyword-specific anchor texts that are pointing to your competitor versus your own site. Although anchor text volume is not the only ranking factor, it helps benchmark yourself against the competition.

2. Google Webmaster
The Google Webmaster Tool has come a long way since it started — it now offers day-by-day updates on your site’s health, internal and external links, keyword ranking, visits and click-through data. This is extremely powerful data for all SEOs. Some of the most useful features are:

• Monitor internal links
• Monitor external links
• Evaluate site performance
• Project traffic/revenue based on search query analysis
• Track duplicate Title/Meta Tags
• Track crawl errors
• Submit sitemaps

Out the features above, my personal favorite is the Search Query Analysis. This tool can be used to predict the effect of increasing a keyword’s rank, on traffic and even revenue.

Google Webmaster’s Search Query Analysis
Overall, link building as you knew it has changed. As SEOs, we must evolve and adapt with the practice of link development. Building value and not just volume will provide sustainable SEO practices and — most important — relevancy, in both the virtual eyes of the search engines and with our users, who are increasingly influencing SEO.

About the Author: Prashant Puri has more than eight years of online marketing experience and has successfully built numerous sites into multi-million unique visitor sites through a combination of SEO and SEM. Puri is the Co- Founder of AdLift.com (an SEO firm). Previously he was Head of Global SEO for Shopping.com (an eBay Inc. company) and guided display advertising and Internet marketing teams at Yahoo! and AT&T Interactive. Follow Puri on Twitter, at twitter.com/puriprashant.

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