Ask the Link Builders – SMX East 2009
Another strong Q&A session coming at you! Here’s our panel:
Moderator: Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Land
Rae Hoffman, Owner, Sugarrae Internet Consulting
Debra Mastaler, President, Alliance-Link
Eric Ward, CEO, EricWard.com
Q: I had directory links that I paid for 5 years ago and they’re still up. Should I worry about it?
Rae: If you’re not paying them for upkeep then it shouldn’t be a problem.
Q: My competitor is able to get links from blogs that I’ve been targeting for links.
Rae: Your letter might be bad.
Debra: Just because your competitor has a link there doesn’t mean you have to rise to that level of mediocrity. Move on and find better.
Eric: Give them more of a sense that you’re willing to pay.
Rae: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying links. But you have to know that you can be taken out of the index.
Q: Can you talk about link juice? If I have a site and link to a site with no links, do I loose the juice?
Debra: Your authority passes anytime you include a clean link to a page. Are you losing anything from that? No. But whom you link to is something you control. So if you’re linking out with something less than positive in the search engine’s eyes, you could see an effect from that.
Rae: Hoarding your PageRank isn’t natural. It’s not normal for a site not to link to another site. And linking to good sites is seen as “birds of a feather” by Google.
Danny: The exception to that is news sites. They are apparently incapable of linking out in an article. [Editor's note: Really, what is with that?]
Q: If you constantly linking between your site and your blog, is that a cross-linking problem?
Debra: The issue is intent. How would it look if someone went to look at it. If it’s being done for manipulation, not so good.
Q: What’s the single best and single worst thing you can do for linking?
Eric: Make sure the people you work so hard to get to your site can accomplish what you want them there for. Take advantage of the users you already have on site and turn them into link builders for you.
Debra: Following the status quo is the worst thing you can do. Every Web site has a unique tactic for bringing links to. Make your business top of mind for whatever it is you’re selling.
Rae: Create a point of difference from your competitors. Then you can point out that difference to sites that link to your competitors, showing them what value your site adds to the community. The worst thing you can do in today’s climate is buy links. This will probably change. Also, you have control of your internal links. You should use them.
Danny: The link requests I get on a daily basis are alarm bells for me. Ones that don’t come off as real, like ones that try to teach about what PageRank is, even thought they’re sending me the email at searchengineland.com.
Q: Is e-mail still a good way to request a link?
Rae: I haven’t sent an e-mail link request in years. Instead she created a really cool piece of content, compiled a list of about 200 blogs/sites in the space. A MMA-related piece of content got 150 links from the sites they contacted, and from there they get even more.
Eric: I still do it, but only if I’m confident that the person I’m reaching is the person in charge of the site. Generic e-mail addresses that you have no idea where they’re going, I don’t send an email there. It has to be an e-mail direct to the person who pulls the trigger.
Q: What about nofollow on internal linking?
Rae: It doesn’t work internally, and externally, why link if you’re not giving credit?
Eric: Google can choose to follow anything they want, regardless of the little tag. You can’t do a search and not get a Wikipedia result. It seems to always fall in the 1-3 spots. Yet it finds the links on the Wikipedia page to be so useless that they don’t follow it.
Rae: Write something to fill a hole on a Wikipedia page and site yourself and one or two other good sources of the information. It will get you traffic. I guarantee you that you’ll be able to find hole in the content on Wikipedia. Don’t get greedy though. If you anger one editor, they’ll search the whole site for your domain and wipe all the links.
Debra: The key to this tactic is that you find a non-commercial angle for the content.
Q: What do you think about DMOZ?
Debra: I have an interview with DMOZ this week and they seem committed to fixing the directory.
Eric: A link from DMOZ is not something you have to have to rank. It’d be nice to see them return to their former glory, though.
Danny: Google recently removed their suggestion that sites should try to get links from directories.
Rae: That doesn’t mean that they don’t still value links from directories. It’s probably meant to help sites from getting scammed by anyone who throws up a site and calls it a directory.
Eric: You can see the last date edited and find out which editor did it. Search for that editor’s username and you can find out how to contact them privately. They’ll appreciate you took that extra step.
Q: What’s the best publically available linking tool?
Debra: Don’t settle just for one tool. They all have their own quirks. Yahoo! Site Explorer and SEO Book are both good.
Rae: I use my own.
Eric: I also use my own. What’s the most powerful tool out there that tells us in the order of trust with the biggest database of where you should be? Google. Use Google’s Advanced Search functionality because it will tell you what they trust, in the order they trust them.
Debra: Googleguy.de is a good tool for comparing Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Rae: And a lot of times these sites you want to host your link will be on Twitter. Build a relationship with them there.
Q: I was approached by a reputable link buying company…
Danny: In Google’s mind, there’s no reputable link buyer. A company that doesn’t disclose Google’s treatment of link buys is not cool.
Rae: Whether or not you believe Google can detect bought links, humans can. And they will report you. There’s a way to fly under the algorithm radar, but if someone reports you, you’re still going to get burned. Right or wrong, detected or not, you have to be prepared to get banned. And don’t whine about it.
Debra: Paid links are often sold in packages. If you come out of the gate with large numbers of links, you know you’re going to get whacked. Link buying networks are the kiss of death.
Rae: If you’re going to buy links, spread out the time between buying them, use unique anchor text, include them in larger content, and be prepared to lose the site.
Q: How long does a penalty for link buying last?
Danny: It depends on how big the brand is.
Debra: It depends on how pathetic you sound in your re-submission letter. We’ve seen from six weeks to six days. But there are so many promotional tactics that you don’t have to pay for links.
Eric: Also, don’t confuse a devalue with a penalty. It may be that what used to help you no longer does.
Q: If you buy a new site and buy a PPC ad on ESPN, could that hurt you?
Rae: It’s PPC so there’s going to be a tracking code on there so it’s not going to be a straight link.
Debra: The key is to convert the traffic when it gets to you.
Q: Is sculpting links worth the time?
Eric: I don’t use them. It depends on how old your site is and if it’s in a position that you like. Consider site, history, inbounds and rank.
Debra: Decent site architecture is more than enough. But it’s hard when there’s a site with thousands of pages.
Rae: Anything you do now to sculpt PageRank is not going to be seen positively by Google. If they wanted you to be able to do it, they’d have kept nofollow as it was.
Q: Favorite tips?
Debra: Any content that uses data visualization — graphs, charts, any of that type of content is going really well.
Rae: Compilations are our winners. It takes a while to do this. But not only do you get links, rankings and traffic, you can also get advertising.
Eric: TV Guide didn’t rank in the top five for “TV listing”. They did some research to find that college Web sites had a page for new students on getting to know the town, including the TV listings. By providing this they had figured out how serve their audience as they needed to.