Link Building 101: Links As A Larger Online Marketing Strategy

From the archives…

Today, I gave a talk about link building and focused particularly on:

    • Understanding what links are most valuable
    • Link analysis: assessing where you’re at now
    • The importance of anchor text and how to get the text you want most


Years ago, I worked in marketing for a small startup. I didn’t really know a lot about marketing then, so it was a great experience for me. Since our marketing department consisted of two people, we had no silos. I created the web site, wrote brochures, auditioned “talent” for manning our conference booth, worked with agencies on product packaging, organized events, and placed ads in magazines.

One thing I learned is that everything that is customer-facing can be marketing. I wouldn’t have thought of product packaging as marketing, but of course, it very much is. When you’re in the grocery store trying to decide what cereal to pick, the box itself probably influences just as much as those multi-million dollar TV ads you may have seen.

Marketing on the web is no different. In many cases, the web site is the product and the packaging can be anything that frames that product for the consumer, including the links into it.

Your goal in link building should be to present your product where you audience is likely to see it and be interested in it (your box of cereal will find a much more interested buyer base on the cereal aisle than with the beer and wine), and to present it in a compelling way that makes your audience want to grab it off the shelf. I mean click on the link. Possibly I’m taking the cereal metaphor too far.

What Links Are Most Valuable?
People often ask me (and today’s lunch was no exception) about the weighting of various algorithmic factors with links. Is it better to get a link from the home page of a site than a subpage? How much credit do you get from internal links vs. external ones? Is a link from a PageRank 9 site eight times better than one from a PageRank 6 site or twelve times better?

I always answer the same way, quite possibly to the exasperation of everyone around me. The algorithms change all the time. That signal that used to count for 22% will count for 25% tomorrow and then 18% the day after that. If you chase after algorithms all day, you will lose your mind, end up joining a traveling band of harmonica players, and telling the world that you have been to the tubes and they were indeed clogged full of poker chips. No one wants that.

Even if you managed to get Matt Cutts to take a break from Sprite long enough to do some tequila shots so that he said what the hell and sketched out the complete algorithm on a napkin, you wouldn’t want to define your link strategy based on his scribblings. Because your strategy would fail as soon as the algorithms were tweaked. Which would be the same day Matt was waking up from his hangover, wondering when his Sprite got so salty and limey.

Instead, you want to build your strategy based on what the algorithms are trying to accomplish — because that won’t change any time soon. And for now, the search engines are using links as one method of figuring out what pages on the web are the most useful, valuable, and relevant for any given query.

Which means that the best links are ones that:

  • Are from authoritative sites (a link from the NY Times is more valuable than a link from the Tahlequah Daily Press).
  • Are relevant (a link from a knitting blog to your online yarn store is more valuable than a link from a fishing blog)
  • Use keywords in the anchor text for queries you want to rank for (A link to your Maine vacation rental is more valuable if the anchor text is “summer vacation rental home in Maine” than “click here”)
  • Bring you actual traffic.

New sites in particular are eager to build links because they aren’t ranking well for anything. If you build the right kind of links, you will not only boost your rankings over time, but you’ll get a steady influx of traffic to tide you over until the boost happens (and will keep bringing you relevant visitors long term).

12 thoughts on “Link Building 101: Links As A Larger Online Marketing Strategy

  • Bob Gladstein

    Exactly. Think about how you’d build links if there were no algos involved, and you’re going to seek them out from highly trafficked, authoritative, complementary sites.

    And I think the cereal metaphor worked quite well, and you certainly didn’t take it too far. If you’d brought up the question of how crispy your links stay in milk, we might have a problem.

  • Larry Hosken

    Those shelf-exchanges between the breakfast cereal and the ice cream… they never turn out well.

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  • Larry Hosken

    Whoa, the protagonist of this book I’m reading (Thirteen Moons) just traveled to Tahlequah, of all places.

  • Arnie

    Your very last bullet might be the best – always try to get links for traffic, if you do that, everything will take care of itself.

  • Vanessa

    Larry – I went to high school there! (It’s very small.)

  • Terry Van Horne

    “Silly wabbit! Reverse engineering SE link algos is for kids not real SEOs!”

  • Paul Burani

    Links that “bring you actual traffic.” I like that! How often we forget to factor in the results a link brings about. Lesson learned for all SEOs: don’t overlook the forest for the trees.

  • Tin Pig

    it’s nice to see somebody talking about SEO (or at least a part of it) as part of a larger marketing effort.

  • Eugene Jones

    I do not really know what SEO is all about. I need traffic in a big way as I have a beautiful site that links to ebay but what good is a site without TRAFFIC.


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