The Latest In Link Development

Rae Hoffman has released her second annual set of interviews with link building experts. This year, she talked to 11 people in the search industry who are well-versed in the art of link development. Link building is a fundamental pillar of search engine optimization. Links from authoritative sources are strong reputation signals for factors such […]

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Rae Hoffman has released her second annual set of interviews with link building experts. This year, she talked to 11 people in the search industry who are well-versed in the art of link development.

Link building is a fundamental pillar of search engine optimization. Links from authoritative sources are strong reputation signals for factors such as PageRank that determine how highly a site is ranked. Anchor text from links play a big part in what search engines think a site is about. And, of course, links can bring substantial visitor traffic to a site as well. It’s difficult to get search engines to crawl pages that have no external links (much less get search engines to index and rank those pages well). Savvy link builders can help sites get relevant, authoritative links with descriptive anchor text that boost visitor traffic as well as search engine rankings.

Below is a brief synopsis of what the link builders had to say, but there are lots of great details in the post, so click over for in depth explanations and examples.

What are the best “open” link sources (generally sites that enable you to add content and links of your own)?

  • Build profiles on social media and networking sites for your niche.
  • Make sure to make sure of established community-driven sites such as Wikipedia, Yahoo! Answers, Digg, and YouTube.
  • Submit to reputable directories such as the Yahoo! Directory, DMOZ, and Best of the Web.

Do you fear retribution from the search engines for link building?
For the most part, the interviewees said they used link building tactics approved of by search engines, but some expressed concern about being too vocal about their techniques in case it caused the engines to focus more intently on those techniques and potentially devalue them.

Note that the search engines don’t condemn link building as a practice. They consider it to be part of legitimate search engine optimization much as they think of creating descriptive title tags and using alt tags for images. What search engines don’t condone are artificial linking activities, particularly those that create links that are of no value to visitors.

Interestingly, only Google has come out unequivocally against paid links. Yahoo! has said little about the subject and Ask and Live Search both stress that they are interested in links that are valuable for users, whether those links are paid or not. For instance, Matt Cutts of Google has said:

“Buying or selling links that pass PageRank violates our webmaster guidelines.”

However, Ask told us:

“Our primary focus is to distinguish high quality links from low quality ones regardless of whether they are paid or organic. We are not interested in penalizing sites that buy or sell links as long as the links are relevant and useful for searchers.”

And Live Search said:

“We think of links as a signal to ranking in as much as they reflect actual value to an end user… Paid links are a gray area. Are they of value to the end user? Sometimes they are. Often they’re less valuable and less relevant than the organic links on a page. We reserve the right to treat them that way.”

What about internal linking?
It’s underrated, more easily controllable than external linking, and has high impact (on both ranking and traffic). Good site navigation is useful in lots of ways, but spamminess…not so much.

What are the most important concepts in link building?

  • Becoming skilled at link baiting/viral marketing/social media
  • Creating useful content worth linking to
  • Understanding the various link factors/signals and fundamental link building tactics (measuring link value, understanding the importance of good anchor text, doing competitive analysis, doing link analysis, requesting links…)
  • Knowing how link building can go wrong (create a negative brand impression, violate search engine guidelines…)
  • Learning to ignore the Google Toolbar visible PageRank

How do search engine changes impact link building strategies?
Legitimate, solid link building will stand the test of time, although it’s always useful to capitalize on new opportunities (for instance, the integration of video results into Google’s web search)

How do you feel about reciprocal linking?
If it makes sense for visitors and brings traffic, then go for it. But maybe don’t reply to those “let’s trade links” emails from random strangers.

How do you think search engines currently handle (and will later handle) large bursts of new links from viral marketing (like you see from things like hitting the Digg home page)?
The respondents were a bit mixed on this one, with some feeling that search engines likely gave diminishing credit to links gained over a short period of time, and others thinking that the engines were hip to the latest in social media and thus counted all links equally. So, whichever way you answer this question, you can bask in the warm glow of having the experts agree with you.

Are SEOs beginning to distrust Google? What does the future hold for links as a primary measure of page value?
Some SEOs have stopped drinking the Google kool-aid, but most responding to the questions feel that Google and other search engines are primarily focused on the best searcher experience possible and will continue to evolve based on that aim. Michael Gray is one of the interviewees. If you’ve read his blog, you probably have a pretty good guess as to his answer to this one.

How do you think Google will change its treatment of links in 2008?
More focus on paid links. More manual evaluation. More algorithmic pattern detection. Use of additional signals to determine link value.

What unnatural footprints do link builders mistakenly leave behind?

  • All links have the same anchor text
  • All links are to the same page
  • Lots of links at once for no good reason
  • Lots of links from similar sites (sites that all have the same PageRank or the same niche topic, for instance)
  • Association with spammy sites (link exchanges, spammy directories, non-relevant links…)
  • Use of brokers, link networks, or link software
  • A burst of new links that subsequently never receive clicks

If you were building links for a new site that after 90 days could never have link building efforts devoted to it again, what would your tactics be?
Explain that link building is a long-term commitment. But then:

  • Build super-relevant links to the site
  • Create compelling viral content that gets the site on the social media audience’s radar
  • Distribute an RSS feed
  • Submit to quality directories; create social networking profiles wherever possible
  • Create a valuable, useful blog
  • Do competitive backlink analysis and reach out to the most valuable sites
  • Build an email marketing program that alerts subscribers of new content

Postscript: SEO Scientist has a post out this week about link building that theorizes that an influx of new links brings a temporary boost while search engines process them and assign a more permanent valuation. If the incoming links are high quality, the post theorizes that the long-term link credit could be even higher, but if the incoming links are low quality, the final credit could dip.

Generally, the post hypothesizes that bursts of link building initially give sites a value spike that settles down to a lower level that’s higher than it was before the link building effort.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Vanessa Fox
Vanessa Fox is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.

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