Imagine you have been asked to work on a project where the sole goal is to rank a new site in the top five for the term Christmas Gifts, and your fees would be based on where in the top five that site ranks by December 1st, just 20 days from now. If you don’t rank in the top five, you get paid nothing. If you rank 5th you are paid $1,000 a day for every day you keep that ranking, through December 21st. If the ranking rises, you receive an additional $1,000 for each day you hold that position. Get to position one on December 1 and hold position one until December 21, and that’s a cool $100,000 in your pocket for just a few week’s work. Remember, if you never rank in the top five, you get paid nothing.
When I received this RFP I was, I admit, tempted to take it on. A few aspects of it raised flags for me. No restrictions were made as to tactics allowed. Do whatever it takes. Since it would be well after Christmas was over before any penalty blew the site up, all color of hat and approach were acceptable.
Ironically, one reason I decided against taking the project was that after analyzing the currently ranking sites using every tool known to Man and webmaster, there were little if any telltale signals that would lead me to an actionable strategy that would be likely to work.
The various linking metrics only muddied the waters. The site ranking third had 100x the links the site ranking first did. But the anchor text of the #1 site showed only 50 uniques with those keywords. And the site ranking third showed over 500 links with those anchor words, but from less than 20 uniques. Good gravy who wants link spam for dinner? It appeared the reason the number one ranked site ranked first was because of those 50 uniques with the anchor text, which represented a full 25% of all the links they had, which wasn’t many. Put more simply, one out of every four links the number one site had from external sites contained those keywords in anchor text. Now that’s incredible. And suspicious.
The more I evaluated the sites using linking analytics, the less confident I grew about the findings as they related to my ability to succeed. For this particular search phrase, could Google be hand tweaking? Or was the linking data was such a cesspool of junk that no useful data could be mined for purposeful action? Regardless, I didn’t believe for one second that all I needed was 450 external links, with 60 having keyword anchor text, even if the all the tools told me exactly that.
So, I decided to take the easy way out. I hid behind my long-standing code of link building ethics, said I could not participate in such a project, and I took my link analysis tools and ran home.
But that RFP gnaws at me.
So let me ask you, faithful SEL readers. If any of you received this RFP, or even if you didn’t, tell me what strategy you would use. Or is this a can’t win job?
And lastly, to whoever sent me that RFP, I understand why you did not include the URL or name of your site, and I hope this column doesn’t get you busted. Really I do.
Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.