A lot of you seem to be interested in the expression “SEO external links”. So, okay, here is a post about SEO external links. But before I spam SEO external links to death for you, let me digress for a moment about optimizing for long-tail searches.
Some of you have already noticed that I am using the keywords people give search engines to find sites like SEO Theory. Since we don’t rank first for all those expressions (yet) it’s obvious (to me) that some of you are either looking for very specific information you believe may be found on SEO Theory or you are clicking on a lot of listings to see what everyone says.
Search referral optimization is a good way to build your search engine traffic, but unless you put the indexable content into place first, you won’t get many search referrals. If you’re chasing long-tail traffic you have to create content that is relevant for many obscure expressions. Seeding your content from search referrals is not a first-round strategy for Web site optimization.
So, let’s talk about SEO external links. You may find more information in our Link Building category or our Link Theory category. Naturally, some posts will be duplicated in those categories but I do try to focus on content that is uniquely relevant to both categories.
Today I think it’s best to discuss the theoretical aspects of external links as well as the practical approach to building those links. We’ll take the theory first.
Link Theory: SEO External Links
External linkage, as everyone seems to know, is important for crawling and indexing. You need inbound links just so the search engines can find you. But merely having links, even a large number of links, doesn’t guarantee you’ll be included in any particular search index.
Depending on what you hope to accomplish, you can wield your link building strategy like a sledge hammer and bludgeon your way into every possible index or you can focus on specific indexes. The sledge hammer approach works best for spammers but they tend to get mostly low quality links from sites that are so exposed to manipulation their outbound links are not worth much. A good spammer realizes, however, that a thousand weak links can still be as good as one really strong link.
But there is no art in sledge hammer link building. Your link strategy should be precise, carefully finessed, and substantially below the radar. That is, you want as slim a link profile as possible so that most SEOs will assume your site is not very well optimized. They’ll scratch their heads over why your pages rank so well and assume that they just cannot find the links. Most SEOs, after all, still use Yahoo! to study Google backlinks (and that is a completely useless exercise).
You want two kinds of links for your Web sites: the best possible links that pass great value and a smattering of inconspicuous links that don’t look very useful. Don’t confuse inconspicuous links with spammy links. I don’t advise anyone to seek links from untrusted sites. But you should indeed seek links from Web sites that are not likely to link to your competitors — at least not with the effective anchor text you get.
The Best Links are Not What You Think They Are
Although some people strive to capture only “powerhouse links”, they usually go about the process the wrong way. Think of a link as the bud of a flower, and the page on which the link is embedded as a seed. If you design your strategy properly, you’ll get a smattering of inconspicuous links each month that blossom into major influencers over time.
What I am suggesting is that you look for links on up-and-coming pages that have not been drawn into the link scamming frameworks that most SEOs rely upon. And when I say “most SEOs”, I mean that probably between 85% and 95% of you are building links through unreliable networks of resources. You share too many ideas with each other about linking. While I applaud the sense of community, your good intentions have made it harder for people to build links, and the harder you make it for yourselves, the more you force yourselves to seek out new linking sources.
So you want to build relationships with Web sites that have not fallen into the link building trap. They don’t want to reciprocate with anyone. They just want a little attention and traffic and they’ll be grateful for any help you can give them. Promote your future influencers before they become influencers. Groom the next generation of powerful Web allies who will help you build your own success.
Link Building: SEO External links
So the practical side of that advice is a bit strange until you follow it a few times. You have to think completely opposite to the way a typical SEO thinks about linking. They’re all out there sending emails to EDU sites, GOV sites, and media-driven hot topic sites, asking for links. The rate of return for requested links is usually 5% or less. That means you can expect to be rejected about 19 times out of 20 when you simply ask for links.
Some SEOs have been reading this blog and my forum posts and have started sending press releases to Webmasters. That’s a huge mistake (at least, it is with me). I’m not interested in press releases. I can grab their headlines from press release distribution services. If you email me a press release that tells me you haven’t put any thought into your Web site promotion. You’re just following a game plan someone else put together a few years ago.
The best Web sites to get links from are link-poor domains that have only been around six months to a year, but they have to provide original content. They have to give their visitors something unique. They have to be so new that they haven’t hit the buzz circuit.
*=> You want links from natural sites, not sites you build specifically for links.
You need to find something you genuinely like about these sites and then you need to give them some of your own link love. Don’t DIGG them. Don’t blog about them. Just put links on good but relatively obscure pages where your visitors will find the links and follow them. You can drop the new site operators an email if you wish but my advice is to say nothing unless you want to set up a partnership (and that has nothing to do with swapping links).
Give value. Plant the seed. Nurture it. Help that new guy become something bigger and better than you so that his links will help you in the future. Time is the SEO’s friend. But too many SEOs act like they have to do everything today.
The more long-term your link planting strategy becomes, the better. The more first links you get from new sites, the better. The more new sites you tell people about, the greater a resource you become. Stop obsessing about PageRank, anchor text, and EDU boosting. Stop whining over Wikipedia.
Tell your visitors about every new site that has not yet been mentioned on blogs or in the media. Be the first or nearly first site to stand up and endorse truly good content.
SEO External Links: Why Linking Out Works
Aside from the obvious link baiting advantages that creating your own great resource provides, the more outbound links you place on your pages, the more natural, unsolicited reciprocation you’ll get. The more open you are about sharing your visitors with other sites, the more open other sites will be about sharing their visitors with you.
People respond very well to generosity. They appreciate free publicity. They love the gentle boost that you can give them, and if they are determined to build a great Web site they’ll poke around and find out where the interested, relevant traffic is coming from.
That’s an opportunity for you to open up the lines of communication with the new Webmasters. You may find they are old-time gurus in other industries who have some great sites that can help you. You may find a kindred spirit who needs a mentor. You may find you just became the number 1 benefactor for the next guy to hit the cover of Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News and World Report.
Meaningful Links Are Also Useful Content
Your outbound links, if you build enough of them about a given topic, will become the relevant content you need to become a prominent name in any new vertical. The news media will find you when that vertical becomes hot. They’ll contact you, asking for interviews, referrals, and answers to very basic questions. The companies that are building out their markets in these new verticals will offer you consulting contracts, merchandising news, and other fantastic opportunities to expand your content.
All these things have happened to me, and many more great things. I’ve found myself the recipient of numerous offers for affiliate relationships, contests, free stuff to give away, even unique free content that I could use to build out my sites. The process continues today, as I’m currently taking on a contest for a major television show.
Being there when the people come out to find the great content is better than chasing them down after you see how hot it is. They’ll link to your site when they partner with you. They’ll list your site in the resources section of their articles. They’ll give back links in thanks for the traffic you send them. They’ll move you forward in directions you never thought to go.
All you have to do is find Web sites you can be enthusiastic about and recommend to your visitors. Even if you run an ecommerce site, there is no reason for why you cannot provide great resources to your customers after they have made a purchase. The recommendation alone will make your ecommerce operation memorable.
One of the most common mistakes business site operators make is thinking in terms of capturing traffic — trying to keep visitors on their sites. Research shows that consumers may take up to 2 weeks to make a purchase decision. You won’t be their only source of information. So how likely will they be to buy from you if your competitor is helping their research more than you are?
SEOs who think they need links to improve their search engine rankings don’t understand what links are all about. Nor do they understand what the algorithms are doing. 1 outbound link may lower your relevance score for a keyword. 10 outbound links may make you the top-ranked site.
It’s often that simple. The process takes practice but it’s easy to learn.
The only catch is that you have to keep your mouth shut. You cannot share what you do with other SEOs. The spammers will see your helpful hints and abuse them to death, and those spammers can build more outbound links than you.
When you stop chasing links because that is what all SEOs are expected to do, you’ll become the most powerful link builder you know. Leaders don’t run with the pack, they run in front of the pack. Be there first and let everyone else play catchup.
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