Dig this scenario: You have a healthy amount of unique content indexed. Your site architecture and server-side issues have been resolved. You have implemented on-page search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. You even achieved top rankings. However, you are starting to slip, as your organic traffic dashboard begins to look like an EKG flat line. Sound familiar? STAT… You need link donors!
Links are the lifeblood of every successful SEO campaign. While on-page edits play an important role in establishing a foundation for SEO, you can only tweak the page titles, tags and text to a certain extent. At some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. More importantly, on-page factors only account for part of the ranking algorithm.
The search engines want a second opinion about your website's theme and popularity. After being burned by black hat techniques like cloaking and keyword stuffing in the past, the engines have learned to utilize the web itself to validate the credibility of a given website as a trusted resource on a particular topic.
Essentially, the search engines are looking at the number of inbound links to your site, what those links say about your site (the anchor text used), and who is saying it (relevancy and strength of the sites linking out to you). Consequently, if you want to be successful in your SEO efforts, you must develop a large number of topic-relevant inbound links in order to influence your link profile and increase your rankings.
This is where link donors come into play. Just as a blood donor might offer type-specific blood without reciprocal expectations, a link donor is willing to provide a relevant one-way inbound link. But how do you find the best link donors?
Link value factors
Before learning about the strategies behind successful link building, it is important to understand the elements that make up a strong link:
- Relevancy of page title tag
- Relevancy of home page title tag
- Relevancy of links inbound to page
- Relevancy of links inbound to domain
- Relevancy of content on page (especially the text that will surround your link)
- Relevancy of outbound links on page
- Relevancy of anchor text (ability to dictate keywords used in anchor text)
- Age of domain
- Internal linking structure of domain
- Number/quality of links inbound to domain
- Number/quality of links inbound to page
- Rank of domain (for the target anchor text keyword)
- Depth of page (number of directories deep in relation to the root directory)
- Amount/quality of content on page
- Number of outbound links on page
- Link position on page
Link research and development (R&D) is a two-phase push strategy in which you identify websites with content relevant to your site's theme and contact them to negotiate a link.
Phase one: link research
Identifying the best sites to get links from is a tedious but rewarding process.
- The easiest sites to get links from are the ones that you already have a business relationship with. Start by compiling a list of your business partners and sponsorship opportunities, along with website URL.
- Scan the strongest general directories and topic-specific directories, both free and paid. Select your category and submit your page(s). Limit yourself to quality directories and use (but vary) the keywords in the anchor text and descriptions.
- Scan other categories in each directory for websites that are "information only" industry resources or provide complimentary products and services. Since they aren't competitors, you can likely work out a business arrangement.
- Review the search results for your primary keywords and determine who your competitors are. Identify the strong and relevant sites linking to your competitors.
- Identify the strong and relevant sites that link to the strongest of the sites identified in step three and step four. These sites can help you expand your link popularity and diversify your link profile.
Phase two: link development
Acquiring one-way links from quality sites is a tough task. Websites with high page strength know their web page real estate is valuable, so you need to offer something valuable in return for a static link with relevant anchor text.
- Often, monetary investment is required. Your investment can buy static link text ads, links within old content, or even an entire page on another site. If you can negotiate a link, ensure that you base the link's value on both relevancy and strength (see link value factors above).
- If your company has strong brand equity and/or provides expertise on a particular topic, you may even be able to persuade other websites to link to you for free. This is often accomplished through an exchange of unique content. Articles, guest blog posts and testimonials can all be easily optimized to include a quality link without appearing commercially motivated.
- Another way to garner free links is through "link baiting." In essence, link baiting is a pull strategy similar to viral marketing, but focused on link development. By producing creative content that is compelling to the right type of internet user (bloggers and social media users), you can get hundreds of unsolicited links. An entire article could be devoted to link baiting strategy and implementation.
Revitalized site rankings
Creating sound site architecture, optimizing page construction, and developing quality content are by no means obsolete SEO strategies. But on-page SEO tactics will only get you so far in a competitive market. By identifying link donors and developing business relationships, you can validate your site's credibility in the eyes of search spiders.
Inevitably, the increased trustworthiness and authority will lead to improved rankings. Unlike on-page editing, link R&D can be done ad infinitum for every page on your site, consistently providing value. So if your web presence is suffering from a slow bleed in rankings, revitalize your site with a new transfusion of link donors.
John Faris is search engine optimization (SEO) analyst at Red Door Interactive. Read full bio.