A Well-Balanced Linking Strategy

I believe “Google Bowling,” the act of putting a rival site into a bad-link neighborhood, is about as widespread as weapons of mass destruction are in Iraq. But if you’re convinced your site has been bowled, and you’ve exhausted all other logical explanations as to why your site recently lost positioning within and referrals from Google, then a major link project could be in order.

An authoritative link to your site counts as one vote toward your link popularity. Non-authoritative links, including most reciprocal links, three-way links, and, certainly, purchased links, count as nothing. Generally speaking, a lot of nothing adds up to nothing. But problems can arise if the majority of links to a site originate from sites that Google has penalized or banned.

To figure out if Google has banned a site, use the Google Banned Tool. Or, try the site:www.thedomain.com command in Google to see how many site pages are indexed. If the top-level domain isn’t indexed by Google, it either is a brand-new site or has been banned. Since a banned link generates zero traffic to your site, it’s logical to request the link be removed.

A simple email to the site’s Webmaster requesting the link be removed gets the task accomplished 70 percent of the time. In one instance, a Webmaster asked if we wanted to be removed from all of his “automatically generated” content sites (think link farms and contextual content scrapers). As a result, that single email request got 30 links pulled from 10 banned sites.

This strategy won’t extract links from forums or blog comments. You’re pretty much stuck with those types of low-quality links unless you can convince the forum or blog proprietor to deploy the rel=”nofollow” link attribute throughout the site. These types of links aren’t typically that harmful. Links from sites delivering malware, spyware, or other questionable downloads are what you want to disassociate yourself from. Make certain your antivirus programs are up to snuff before you start link hunting. I managed to kill a computer during the process once.

Keeping Score

As you hunt down and eliminate bad links to you site, gather good links. Link building is about bringing more pre-qualified traffic to your site, not manipulating PageRank — at least, not anymore. Consequently, link-building campaigns aren’t easy. It takes time to seek out sites, blogs, and directories that are relevant to your business and worthy of being your business partner on the Web.

If you think about it, that’s what link-building really entails: finding viable business partners willing to endorse your site. There are a lot of tools that can help you manage the process and keep score of your link additions and, to a certain extent, deletions.

Zeus saves a lot of time if you focus on trading links. Zeus crawls the Web to find sites for you to trade links with, organizes the links, helps with email, and helps create a link directory for your site. Yet it’s only a tool. How you use it determines if it will actually improve your search engine visibility via link popularity.

Arelis is another link-building organizational tool that comes with prewritten templates for email you can readily send to select Webmasters. You’ll have to personalize your email messages for link additions and deletions to motivate others to comply with your requests.

Like Arelis, OptiLink finds relevant link partners by searching for sites that link to competitors’ sites, along with sites that offer products or services complementary to yours. OptiLink also has a handy addition that allows you to optimize your site’s internal linking structure. SEO Elite and PR Prowler (at least for potential link discovery) offer much the same.

If cost is a factor, most sites link-building programs discover can be found with free tools or advanced search commands and managed via a good, old-fashioned spreadsheet. Jim Boykin’s Backlink Checker is an exceptional free tool that also provides you with the anchor text associated with the links. Yet not all free tools are accurate. GoLexa, based in part on Alexa results, is inherently inaccurate.

Parting Thoughts

Make no mistake about it: the major search engines can identify reciprocal-linking strategies, including three-way linking schemes and purchased links. These link types offer little value to your site.

If you want authoritative links to come to your site, one of the best tactics remains providing access to great content worthy of encouraging natural linking to your site. Some of these links will be logical and sequential; others will be completely subjective. But the back links will all add up to a well-balanced linking strategy that delivers more relevant search traffic to your site.

Join us at Search Engine Strategies in Chicago, December 5-8, 2005.

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