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Link Building For Life: Determining Lifetime Link Value
The ideal goal for some SEOs is to minimize maintenance and effort for a given website. Get to number one for all desirable keywords, sit back, and then move on to the next website while the previous domain rakes in the cash. This dream scenario is unfortunately rarely the case, because there are other competitors that make number one an increasing difficult mark to hit – and, also, most notably – the link graph has a rapid rate of attrition.
Losing Value – Losing Links
Every website succumbs to the reductionist nature of the web. Although the number of pages increase, the link graph also has a way of deteriorating – meaning that many of the initial links you receive could end up declining in value or otherwise, outright disappearing.
Your backlink profile, if ignored, will shrink considerably, and that number one ranking – or any ranking at all – could be lost. If that ranking’s future value is taken care of like a child and nurtured into adulthood, it’s even possible you can let it off into the real world – without needing but a phone call or two to maintain the same connection.
What you need to do to maintain your link graph – and/or insure its links appreciate in value – is be rigorous in the evaluation of the domain you’re attempting to get a link from. There is much, much more to the value of a link than the present value of the page. SEO is a long term game, so it only makes sense to future-proof your links.
Doing so can make one link, of seeming equal value to another link now, worth 2x as much in terms of lifetime link value (LLV).
Like the much referenced business methodology customer lifetime value (CLV), lifetime link value is a process – and an ideology – that can separate a highly profitable SEO campaign from one that barely covers your bills for McDonalds.
Determining Lifetime Link Value
Although I don’t suggest you plug approximate values in an equation to determine the LLV of any given link, keeping it in mind as a strong delimiter in determining link value is something every SEO should do.
A link with the a high lifetime link value has the following characteristics:
- It will exist on the page as long as the page exists. That is, it is not a “rented” link or a link that faces temporary restrictions, like a listing as a speaker on the frontpage of a major conference website, or as a sponsor of an upcoming, yearly event.
- Its positioning/stance in the current site architecture makes it unlikely it will ever “fall off” the link graph. Many websites, namely blogs, have a temporal state that poorly aligns with site architecture, meaning that your link will eventually be more than 10 clicks from the homepage. When this happens, and no other external links have been obtained, it is a near certainty that it will eventually be worth but a sliver of value, or completely fall off the link graph.
- It exists on a domain with an upward backlink growth trend. If a webmaster is still actively promoting his or her website, it is a near certainty that link growth continues to trend upward. On the opposite side, if a website is trending downward, it is probable that the webmaster cares less, the topic isn’t as important, and overall, future link value will decline.
- It is not off topic on the domain in question. Manipulative, off-topic links trigger disdain in the users that observe them. Even if historical trends show an upward climb, if your link is off topic and prominent, now, that’s a good sign that the future value of the link will trend downward.
Breaking Down Link Characteristics
Many SEOs don’t apply their own on-page evaluations to off-site link evaluation. This happens because we get lazy, because links are hard to get, and because we rarely put in deep consideration for domains that aren’t our own.
This lack of deep consideration – or even, deeper than standard consideration – can handicap some teams into getting links that aren’t worth much, that won’t continue to move the needle, and will cause long term costs to be much higher than they have to be.
Temporal Link Factors
How do you know if a link will be removed by a webmaster or other omnipotent party? If you acquired the link manipulatively, there’s a pretty good chance they are likely to do that at whim – especially if you use the popular “link renting” practice that will obliterate LLV. If you sponsor an event that’s yearly or have a link placed on content that doesn’t have perpetual value, you may face the same fate.
Perpetual value is the same concept that pervades with “evergreen content“. Evergreen content won’t succumb to temporal factors that will make the webmaster update them and potentially remove your link. A static page on the best plugins for Chrome is way more likely to have a receding LLV as opposed to a link on a page about “How to Tie Your Shoes” – as I think we’ll be tying them the same way for a long time to come, and those Chrome plugins, and Chrome in general, are way more likely to become extinct.
Site Architecture Of The Hosted Link
Many blogs are poorly constructed. They have posts that fall off the link graph and then just as quickly fall off our lives. They do a bad job of internal linking, there are no pages that serve as homepage-hosted HTML sitemaps – and as such, the best link in the world from the strongest domain can just as quickly become one that disappears if no external domains link to it.
So, in blogs, look for those same things you profess with your own blog. First, archiving and/or tags in the sidebar. The best blogs in the world probably won’t have these, but everyone else (the links you’re probably getting most of the time), should.
Many “big” blogs, such as TechCrunch or The New York Times, can’t possibly do this due to the less-than-amazing look this setup provides, the sheer volume of content they create, and also, because maximizing ad-space is a must. They make up for it through strong internal linking practices in their individual posts. But for those casual bloggers and other micro-sites with less-than-adept webmasters, you’re likely spending a lot of time getting a link from a blog with a terrible LLV.
Similarly, increasingly popular Tumblr is horrendous for SEO purposes, because there is no way to archive anything, and internal linking is terrible. It can offer some real traffic which can turn into other links, but for the pure power of a link, you’re better off twiddling around Blogger.
As it comes to getting posts on blogs (or any site), you should strive for a link that will always be two clicks from the homepage. Any more and you run the risk of losing the power of the link if the domain drops in value, your post is pushed back, or nobody else links to the post.
Historical Backlink Growth Trends
If we’re trying to determine where a potential linking domain is going and has gone, there’s no better option than Majestic SEO’s Backlink History tool.
There are several options to select with this tool to help determine the velocity of link growth for your domain. It’s not perfect, but with a keen eye, it points out clear situations where a domain has hit a wall or is declining, as opposed to a domain that’s growing exponentially.
If we look at Empire Promos and Amsterdam Printing*, two competitors in the promotional items space, we can see an example of this in action. Although both domains have positive growth trends going forward and aggregate domain strength, they aren’t equal domains in terms of probable LLV. The current map shows that it’s likely that Amsterdam will outgain Empire in the future – even if the current value, at least as this graph is concerned, is comparable for both.
Off Topic Link Placement
Manipulative, off-topic links are a sure sign of a domain that will begin to recede in the future. Even if the webmaster isn’t aware of it, the presence of these will mark the future steep decline of the domain – because they greatly impair user experience.
Understand that they will very frequently mark the beginning of the end for the website you’re placing them on. Your time would be better off obtaining on-topic links on evergreen pages – with the site architecture and backlink growth trends that offer a Lifetime Link Value that would make any economist drool.
*Disclaimer: Amsterdam is a former client and current acquaintance. No prior affiliation with Empire Products.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.