Old school media people are increasingly vilified by those of us who wear skinny jeans and throw out references to social media as casually as we breathe, but I’m quickly discovering that they really have their heads on straight with one major point about links: they’re also good for traffic (ahem).
If you’ve never argued with a site owner about where exactly on a page they should place the link they’ve so lovingly agreed to give you for what is — naturally! — a reason borne only of sheer relevancy, you probably will soon.
For many, the primary focus of a link building initiative is indeed to move a site up in the rankings but why not kill two birds with one stone and milk a link for all it’s worth? How likely is a user to click on a link that’s a few page scrolls down on a site, in font so tiny that anyone with even a slight amount of myopia will immediately develop a headache upon trying to read it? If that link were instead placed in a nice prominent place on the site, it would thus be capable of potentially driving traffic to the site in question …. something that tends to make site owners dance like Gene Kelly on their way to the local animal shelter to volunteer.
Now obviously there are times when may not want a link to be visible, such as getting a link from a site that’s not that relevant to your area and where you fear you’d get called out if Google spam fighting chief Matt Cutts hand reviewed things. For our purposes here, of course, let’s assume that you’re doing nothing like that, since you’re all nice people who put quarters in the parking meter even when there’s time left on it.
Link placement on a page is tricky business, too, even though you might just assume that you could easily tell a site owner where to put your link in order to maximize its click rate. Human intuition is helpful here, as most people can determine the difference between a truly horrible section and one that delicately says "click me" with high accuracy. However, if you’re dealing with seriously high volume and quality link placement has the potential to bring someone utter loads of relevant traffic, it’s worth taking this seriously enough to do some research into click heat maps, eyetracking, human factors, and all that New Age-sounding stuff.
During the course of any day, my link builders will show me links that are truly poorly placed, ones in tiny font at the bottom left corner of the screen in some weird zone that is barely noticeable unless you happen to be looking for the link that you asked for, sadly. These links will pass juice, hopefully, but the odds of someone clicking through to the targeted site from this are quite slim. A nicely placed text link in a paragraph near the top, well that’s another story, potentially.
When you’re going after a link, hopefully you’re doing things like trying to make sure it’s placed on a page with decent page rank, one that’s indexed, one that’s been crawled since John Lydon was Johnny Rotten, etc. Think of what your call to action should be, and figure out where you’d tend to look to find it if you were a user and not some dirty little link buyer. If you’re going to all the trouble of being nice to the site owner and negotiating (not to mention taking the risk of link buying), why not specify exactly where you’d like the link?
In my experience, many site owners are quite happy to do whatever it takes to get that $100 out of you so they can buy more geeky T-shirts, but some of them, especially the old school ones who wrote their site in Cold Fusion and still brag about it, aren’t going to be easily persuaded to do anything nice for you. Now is a good time to fake some Southern charm.
Eyetracking and click heat research tell us that users of a site tend to view content in an F-shape, moving across a page for two horizontal lines near the top, then down to what could the left nav with proper placement. This same research tells us the least likely places for a user to look as well, and that’s mainly anywhere other than the above-referenced F. Bearing this information in mind, it makes sense to specify where you’d like your link, gaining as much prominence for it as possible, provided it’s relevant, of course. If you’re doing anything sketchy, all bets are off with link placement, as I’ve said earlier.
Obviously you’ll get links for the simple fact that they do tend to help a site move up in the rankings, which should technically bring in more traffic anyway, but if the site you’re getting that link from is a high volume one and everything is on the up and up, you really should go the extra mile.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.