Learn link lingo, and the low-down on link lust

There’s a lot of focus on link building these days.  Maybe a bit more than usual, in fact.  It seems people just cannot get enough information about links.  This “link lust” drives webmasters crazy.  It makes otherwise rational people participate in crazy schemes all in an effort to rank better.  Coveting thy neighbor’s links is practically a career choice nowadays. This week we’ll take a closer look at some key questions around links.

What’s a good link?

You could argue any link is a good link, excluding, obviously, links from spammy websites.  But there are various levels of goodness across links.

A reciprocal link is good for a new site seeking to be found early in their lifecycle.  You gotta start somewhere, and in addition to potentially being a discovery point for a new site, that link could send direct traffic to the new site from the more established website.  These links don’t hold a lot of value for organic ranking per se, but in reality, you need to build your site for more than just pleasing the engines.

A direct link inside the content of the page is really what you want.  These types of links usually happen because someone is talking about either you, or the topic you’re related to.  In many cases, this is positive and we see those signals as being beneficial to you.

Site wide links often happen, and while they can be beneficial in terms of maybe driving direct traffic to your site, they are much less useful for organic ranking.  A site wide link is less of an endorsement than being mentioned in the body copy of the page.  Plus, site wide links may often see links to you from pages of content unrelated to your own content.

Links in press releases can provide some value, but by their very nature, press releases are self-promotional, which kind of defeats the whole idea behind organic links.  Just because the press release is hosted by someone else doesn’t meant we won’t understand the self-promotional nature of the link.  Now, if the release is picked up by a news service, and a story is posted on their site, the link from them to you could be helpful, but there are limits…

This last group we’ll call relational links.  While a link from CNN could drive a ton of traffic your way, its value to organic rankings is somewhat muted.  You see, CNN is in the news business.  For this example, we’ll say you’re in the heli-skiing business.  See how they are not really related?  Now, a link from a major manufacturer of skiing products, that would have value in helping your rankings.

How to build links?

There are really only two approaches here, and versions that fit within the two.  First up we have the approach of building excellent content that people want to link to.  This approach can even work for so-so content if your site grows in popularity.  Not every single item of content needs to be a home run, but consistency helps keep people engaged.  And it’s those people who build the links, so set high standards for quality content production and stick to them.

Sharing your content socially falls into this category.  If you’ve built a solid social foundation, you’re sharing useful content beyond just your own, and people see you as a useful resource.  This approach will encourage them to share, retweet and basically recommend your content to their own networks.

The second approach is to simply ask for a link.  Yep, old school and still works.  Your ask can be direct to the website, or might come as an offer to guest blog, for example.  In either case, you’re seeking to trade the value of your content to the other website’s visitors for a link to your own site.

This approach is a tough nut to crack.  Many sites will simply ignore the request.  Others will insist on a link exchange, negating, essentially, any value the link would have provided towards organic rankings.  Still, there are times when it just makes sense to approach the website.  If you’re a known resource on a topic, and the website has a section listing resources, you should probably be in there.

Just remember, as we said last week, to watch the amount of time you invest in link building, as it’s payback might not reach the level you hope.

Best to avoid any kind of link building schemes as well, which means you can skip three-way link exchanges, you can skip buying links, you can skip link farms and all the other shortcuts people might try to tell you will boost rankings.  At best they won’t help.  At worst they could actually hurt.

Outbound links – is there a limit?

There is, but it’s not a solid number.  Having 100 outbound links on a page doesn’t trip a wire any more than having 50 trips a wire.  You have to ask yourself: what’s the purpose of this page?  When we look at a page, and see a lot of outbound links, we’re sometimes left wondering if the goal of the page it to have the visitor read the content, or if the goal is to get them off the page as fast as possible.

This falls under the user experience header.  We see way too many sites every day post short blog articles – I’m talking really short – a few sentences to maybe two paragraphs.  Surrounding this is a template for the website page loaded with links to all kinds of other pages, external and internal and more.  You have to ask yourself: is this the best user experience?

How to track inbound links?

There are tools available online that track links for you.  Paid and free both exist, though it’s tough to beat data from the source.  Inside Bing Webmaster Tools, under the Reports & Data section, you’ll find the Inbound Links report for your site.

In this report you’ll see all the inbound links Bing is aware of that point to your site.  Up top will be a graph of your inbound links count for the site itself over whatever date range you have specified.  Very useful for seeing sudden drops in inbound link counts.

Below that you will see the URLs form your site, sorted by the number of links for each URL shown.  Clicking on any of the URLs or numbers will show a popup telling you where the link is coming from and the anchor text used for the link.  All of which is exportable.

Now, this nicely covers inbound links to your own website.  But what if you want to perform some competitive link analysis on another website?  Read on…

Performing competitive link analysis

This is where the Link Explorer tool, found under the Diagnostics & Tools section, comes into play.  Being able to see inbound links to your own site is only part of the job.  Understanding the bigger picture of where links are pointing can help you know what’s missing from your own mix.  Link Explorer lets you do this by allowing you to enter a domain and telling you the links Bing is aware of that point to the domain specified.  Filters allow you to drill down for deeper refinement.  And the data is exportable.

So if it’s link data you seek, log into your webmaster account and we’ll show you what we know about.  The rest is up to you.  Unless you want advice on what SEO work you should look at for your site, too.  The SEO Reports we offer can help there, but that’s another blog post.

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