Link building is an essential part of SEO. Matt Cutts addressed the value of links yesterday in the Hot Google Topics & Trends keynote he did with Amit Singhal. The biggest question is, how do you get the most reward from link building while minimizing risk and staying on Google’s good side? Aaron Shear, Russ Jones, and Dixon Jones are going to tell you. Get ready to put some great information into action!

We don’t waste any time with pleasantries, and instead Moderator Adam Sussman just jumps right in by introducing Aaron Shear. He’s presenting about Real World Links and linkbuilding for e-commerce. [Check out the session we did on SEO for e-commerce as well.]

E-commerce Link Ideas

Building links for e-commerce sites can be challenging. He’s going to present a couple of alternatives. He asks if anyone here has an affiliate program with Commission Junction, and with Google. The problem is they “massage” the links, so no matter how many affiliates you have, it will never be enough. He’s brought up this modern bit of technology with both of them. It’s called a “cookie.”

He talks about cookie-based tracking. There are crawling problems, and you won’t get any credit that way. He mentions a tool called LinkConnector, and says it’s a great way to harness your affiliate network.

Irresistible Link Bait

  • Widgets that add serious value can be worth a huge amount of linking value
  • This could be as simple as a sizing chart for a pair of shoes

He shows a client widget called a Random Outfit Builder. You can match clothes with shoes and a handbag. It combines products you wouldn’t normally find on one page. You can reach out to your affiliates and bloggers to get widgets out there.

Reach Out to Bloggers

  • Just asking for a link doesn’t work. You have to give them something they want
  • There’s an endless selection of bloggers that may be fanatical about your products
  • Most of these bloggers do not monetize their blogs
  • Consider sending them a gift card to buy something and ask that they write about their experience, and maybe give you a link

Social Signals

They’re extremely important when it comes to linkbuilding for e-commerce. Don’t let the social gravy train pass you by. Twitter links and some other bookmarking sites are valuable

Working Social

  • Google really looks at social signals
  • +1 and Facebook Likes seem to be counting as well
  • Pushing signals to a page that has a high bounce rate is not a good idea; Google will not rank it anyway

Pressing the Press

If you just pump out press release after press release, it’s like crying wolf. No one’s going to read any of them. You’re going to get skipped. Instead, archive your posts and press releases. Make them easily crawlable.

Are you Special?

Are you selling something exclusive? Most likely not. Some manufacturers have pages with a list of vendors. Can you get those vendors to link to you?

He shows the number one linked-to page on Zappos. It’s a live stream of the products being sold on a map, so you can see where they’re being sold. So you can see someone in Effingham, IL, bought a sweater. Provide value, and people will link to you.

Next up is Dixon Jones.

First, he’s going to talk about the risk bit. We want to come up with low-risk ideas for linkbuilding. He’s going to show a live example. Has anyone heard of beautifulpeople.com? [It’s a dating site.] It did a great linkbuilding campaign, but it had some interesting after-effects. They put out a press release that said they were going to kick out “fat” members. It worked! They got links from BBC, ABC News, all kind of press outlets.

There was a huge correlation between their links and traffic rate. They had a spike when all those links came in. It got them traffic, no doubt about it. But then look what happened. They did another PR stunt later, and got a smaller spike, but traffic over the long-term died.

They missed the REAL secret of linkbuilding: Links are about relationships. Especially on a dating site!

Ten Low-Risk Linkbuilding Ideas

  1. Get testimonials from your customers. Majestic has partnered with Raven Tools, and it’s gotten them a lot of links. It’s because of the relationship that they’ve gotten links.
  2. Organize blogger meetups. Try to meet them in person. Majestic sponsors events for people to meet.
  3. Send samples. People love free stuff. It really does work.
  4. Speak at conferences. Majestic has a one-person marketing team. By having a relationship with other companies like SEOmoz, they’ve gotten links.
  5. Run a good cause website. Do something good that doesn’t just serve your own needs.
  6. Give badges. SEOmoz does this. But Majestic doesn’t have the community that SEOmoz does, so they had to do something better. They created the Majestic Million, the million top sites in the world judged by inbound links. Anyone can get a badge, and the widget will tell you where your site falls in the top million, as well as how many people are linking to your site.
  7. Share private information with a select few. Before Majestic released their Majestic Million, they shared a private BETA with a handful of select industry bloggers.
  8. Contact mainstream press
  9. Tweet. But you have to build up your followers first so they can share and get your info out there.
  10. E-mail. They also e-mailed tens of thousands of opt-in customers, and every e-mail linked to the blog post about the new release.

Dixon reiterates that links are about relationships.

Now Russ Jones takes the mic to talk about the biggest misconception about linkbuilding: Paid links are riskier than non-paid links. He’s going to describe how you can mitigate the risk of buying links.

[NOTE: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the speakers we’re covering, and not necessarily of Outspoken Media.]

He asks who thinks it’s riskier for Zappos to give a blogger $100 gift card to buy something and write about it or to try to place a thousand articles out there?

Internalizing Link Cost

  • Price of link – Actual cost of link plus time, energy, etc. How long did it take to build relationships with bloggers, to do the legwork, etc.?
  • Price of removing link x likelihood of necessity – How difficult is it to remove that link?

Measuring Link Value

  • MozRank Passed – MozRank of page divided by the number of links on that page
  • MozRank anchor text pass through – Exact anchor MozRank of page divided by the number of links on that page
  • Topicality of page – LDA (Latent Dirichlet Allocation) measurement of topic relevancy of page to keyword

Risk vs. Reward

He hopes people are doing guest blogging. It’s a very effective way to get links. He also recommends press releases, and targeted paid content.

Every Link Has a Reason

If you’re buying links, you probably don’t have a reason for that link. The reason is to rank, and Google knows it.

Reasons a site would link to you

  • Fact citation link – this page verifies the content that is on this page; easy targets are Wikipedia and syndicated Wikipedia content; but there’s no anchor text control, and the links are nofollowed
  • Content attribution link – this cool image came from your site; easy target is paid infographic placement; create infographics tied to your industry, and be willing to pay for placement on related blogs and websites; you have control over alt text and link targets
  • Interest link – genuinely sharing

How do you make paid links look like organic links? Let’s say you want to rank for poker rooms. You find sites about them. But do you just put the link in a sidebar? No, that’s obvious. Next, you can put it in a sentence, but that can still be obvious. Instead, use the anchor text as a fact citation, for example, about the decline of use of poker rooms.

Analytics-Driving Linkbuilding

  • A link isn’t a link until it’s indexed
  • Percentage of referring links not indexed
  • Deep site analysis – complete site audits based on latest SEO

Automated Referral-Based Linkbuilding

  • Capture all inbound referrals
  • Determine if that referring URL has a fully qualified link
  • Determine if page cached in Google for that referring URL has link
  • If not, link to it using an “As Seen On” widget that links out to the source

That’s all for now. See you guys after lunch!


About the Author

Michelle Lowery

Michelle Lowery is an ardent word nerd, but is also known to say "y'all" from time to time.



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