I wrote a post in this space over a year ago that advised small businesses on how to attract links to their Web sites. In that article, I offered the somewhat contrarian advice that spending lots of time begging sites to link to you might be time better spent building content that entices them to do the same thing, but without you having to ask.
Recently, someone commented on that post, asking why their link building efforts aren't working and wondering how to do better. Here is part of what was asked:
I built this site over 60 days ago, spent 45 days linking with search engines, Squidoo sites, my blogs, etc, but now when I do a link search thru webmaster tools, i see 128 links, all mostly from a few sites that i know. I don't see anything from pages that i purposely linked to mine, and what about the submission to 800 search engines and 45 directoriess a month ago. I get email every day that I have been added, but still only 128 links. If i do this same link search in Yahoo, I get a totally different number and higher.
So, link building, done the old-fashioned tin cup way, can be quite difficult. As the questioner has learned, Google doesn't like to come clean about how many links you really have. Yahoo! tells you a lot more, but with the move to Bing, it's hard to know how long Yahoo! Site Explorer will be supported. So, it's not easy for you to keep track of your links and it might start getting harder.
Image by Sifu Renka via Flickr
And why are you keeping track of links anyway? The SEO gurus tell you it is all about link juice, that elusive quality that search engines assess in determining the quality of your page. For Google, that algorithm is called PageRank, and the gurus tell us that the quantity and quality of the links to your pages pass that coveted link juice, which provides Google the information it needs to know which pages shine above the rest. They don't merely contain the search terms being searched for, but they are good pages because they attract links from other places. The gurus are right about all of this, but they go off the rails when they suggest that you go out of your way to get people to link to your site through begging for links. It can work, but that kind of thinking can quickly get out of control.
I am more and more frequently hearing about companies buying links to improve their link juice—some lament that there is no other way to do it. You should realize that if the search engines get wind of what you are doing, you will be penalized, but what's more, if buying links actually works, the search engines will start deemphasizing links as part of their ranking algorithm. The engines are already beginning to look at social media activity as part of how they decide a page's quality, so sites with many links that get few views, comments, tweets, and other measures of quality will begin to look suspect. Old-fashioned link campaigns will also result in links that fit the same low-quality profile that paid links do.
So, what's a marketer to do? I hate to keep repeating the same old shopworn advice, but you need to focus on your content. If you create content that is truly helpful to your customers, you should expect sites to link to it without being asked. And you'll get the social media activity around that content that further proves to the search engines that your pages are the ones to favor in the rankings. Instead of figuring out how to manipulate your links, it might be time to break down and actually give searchers and search engines what they want.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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