What should you do, as a polite and plucky link builder, if some of your inbound links just aren’t up to snuff? Do you risk alienating a well-meaning webmaster by pointing out that he’s linked to an old page that no longer exists? That he’s spelled your company’s name incorrectly, or, even worse, your URL? Do you ask for a link where your site is mentioned, even if it’s an unfavorable mention? How will making changes to your existing inbounds affect your site in the future?
If it’s broken, why fix it?
Current inbound link analysis often gets overlooked in the promotion of new content and the quest for new links. Most people simply don’t have time to poke around in the dark recesses of their inbound link profiles, even though they should. As you may know, the biggest issue with making any sort of changes to your current inbound link profile is the risk that you take in sending out signals that something fishy is going on. After all, why would a three year old link suddenly change from your home page to a new landing page? If the content that the original link was on has itself not changed in two full years, how weird will it look when it’s suddenly updated?
If you’re changing inbound links that have previously been pointing to 404s, that should be ok. If Google can easily identify links going to 404 pages, and we know that they can based on the information in the Google Webmaster Tools, then they should logically be able to determine that a link change to a non-404 page has now been made and is thus ok. You could of course throw in some 301 redirects here, but why not just contact the webmaster of the site that has the incorrect link and ask for it to be changed? Point it out nicely, of course.
Pumping up your link profile
What about if you see a link pointing to a page that really isn’t the best page for the anchor text/content? Maybe you started your site with just a few pages, and everyone linked to your home page, but now you have hundreds of pages of great content and there are links that could go to more relevant sections? Well, if that’s the case, you have to decide whether it’s worth the effort to contact the site owners and point them to the more relevant page. That can take a lot of time and, after all, nothing’s broken.
Depending upon whether your deep link profile is any good or not (and with many sites it’s not, sadly) you may want to simply shoot an email to the webmaster, alerting him or her to the more relevant page, and say by the way, thanks so much for the link. If a link still goes to the same basic URL but goes to a different page on the site, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Common linking advice will tell you to look for mentions of your site/company that do not currently link to you, and ask for a link. I think that’s sound advice. It’s a very natural thing to link to a site or company that you’re mentioning, but not everyone has always done it, so if you can, ask the webmaster to add in the link for you. Most will, from my experience. If the anchor text matches the link URL, again, I can’t see why this would produce any negative effects.
Not all links are created equal
However, what if you find a negative mention of your site or company? View it as not only a chance to get a link, but also a chance to make amends, something that always tends to be good press. If the mention has to do with something you can fix, by all means contact the person who wrote it and try to work it out. This type of situation isn’t limited to major corporations who do bad things. Many people, for whatever reason, will become upset with you and blog about it. They’ll get on Twitter and call you out (and also blog about it) so it can easily become a public relations nightmare for you.
The other day when I was at Starbucks, a customer wearing a suit asked to speak to the manager so that he could complain about someone who had been in the same Starbucks the previous day, and seemed to not like men in suits. Yes, I am serious. There’s always someone who’s going to get upset about something. If you see a mention that you can somehow change to make it better for you, take the chance and do it. All that can happen is that the person says no. And maybe blog about it…
In summary, yes, by all means check out your inbounds, and if they don’t look as great as they could look, take some time (or make your intern do it) and reach out to those people who have been gracious enough to link to you, and nicely ask for the change that you want. If it’s not going to happen, at least you’ve made an effort, and you’ve again made contact with someone who has somehow been affected by your site and what you represent. If that isn’t interacting with your community, then I don’t know what is.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.