Link Building with Debra Mastaler - 5 Question Interview
Debra Mastaler is president of Alliance-Link, an interactive link marketing agency that has been in business since 2000. Debra will be speaking at Search Engines Strategies Toronto on June 18th as part of the "Link Building: The Basics & Beyond" panel on Day 2.
One Degree:What type of businesses benefit most from link building? Is it small businesses only or can big brands benefit as well?
Both large and small businesses interested in high search engine rankings, building brand and driving targeted traffic will benefit from a well designed link building campaign. Search engines use complex algorithms to determine where a site is displayed in their results, one component of those algorithms is link popularity which is driven by the number and type of links pointing to a webpage. No matter what size the business, you need inbound links in order to succeed both algorithmically and promotionally.
One Degree: What are some considerations for anchor text when you’re working on link building programs? Should you ask for links to be labelled with your business name or product keywords? Or a mix?
Definitely a mix and there are several reasons why. First, the majority of your webpages have been optimized for certain terms, it's best to use all of your keywords as anchor text so you achieve maximum reach and return on those phrases. Anchor text is a component of link popularity and is used as a query indicator, meaning, both humans and the search engines use it to help determine which page is relevant to the query.
It's a good idea to build links using your company name especially if you have a well known brand. People tend to type in a company name when they equate the name to the product. When they can't they'll search by keyword.
Another reason to mix up your links is related to indexing. Inbound links play a big part in the number of pages from your site to be indexed. Without links, pages drop from the index and can't be return through a search query. Invisible pages means invisible income - neither is a good thing!
Probably the most important point here is one of algorithmic link diversity. Search engines like to see a wide variety of inbound links from many relevant sources; if they see the same link text over and over they can assume the link has been negotiated and manipulation is underway. Search engines consider this a form of spam and often discount the links, rendering them useless as a source of link popularity. It's best to avoid using the same anchor text over and over.
So bottom line regarding anchor text:
- Mix up your anchors and use all of the keywords you've optimized your pages for when you're building links.
- Develop your links so they point to your internal pages and not always your main dot com.
- Use your company name when you build links especially if you're well known. These links can point to the home page but can also point to internal pages.
One Degree: So many directories seem to be equivalent to ad farms – is there really value in having a link in directories?
Yes sadly, some of the directories are a step away from ad farms but there are a good number of established directories worth submitting to.
The concept of merit based inclusion is what makes securing links in the better directories desirable. It’s reasoned search engines bestow hub authority on directories because of the human review element. Since this review process is part of the co-citation process search engines are programmed to reward, it stands to reason these types of sites pass link popularity.
I use about 20-25 general directories in my link building programs and make directory submissions a part of each linking campaign I take on. Directories are a great way to jump start your linking, they are relatively inexpensive, most are life-time links and allow you to use keyword anchors in your links.
It would be naive to say everyone in the directory business is in it to make the world a better place, clearly a number of directories are less than reputable. Here's my submission criteria list:
- Is the page my link will sit on in the index of Yahoo and Google? If no, why? Is it something simple like it’s a new page or is something blocking that spider?
- Do the directory pages host an inordinate amount of Adsense? If they do, I pass. Same applies for site wide links.
- I am not paying to submit to a directory where Adsense overpowers the submissions.
- If it’s a paid directory, is it a lifetime or annual submission fee? I go for lifetime with the exception of the Yahoo! Directory which I advocate using if you’re a new business.
- Are you allowed to use keyword rich anchors or do you have to use the name of your business in the anchor text? If they allow keyword anchors I mix up using the name of the business and my keyword phrases to help with anchor text distribution.
- How long has the directory been online? My threshold is two years.
- And lastly – does the directory allow you to edit submissions? It’s helpful to be able to change your descriptions/anchors to reflect the changes on your pages and within your business.
Don't overlook all the niche directories available, if you have a blog there's a large number of blog directories available and most of them offer free submission. There are directories for RSS feeds, podcasts, videos, niche topics and those based geographically. A very good listing of directories can be found at ISEDB or by doing a bit of utility linking such as:
- directory + "your keyword"
- niche directory + "your keyword"
- resource center + "your keyword"
One Degree: Is it worth doing a “link exchange” (I’ll link to you if you link to me) or does that cancel out any “Google juice” your link might create?
Here's a real marketing answer for you- it depends! This is a tough question to provide a blanket answer to since it really depends on the situation, the site and the links being swapped.
Generally, in reciprocal linking, the power behind the tactic lies in the control you have over what keyword rich anchor is used, where it's placed and the internal pages it points to. It's best to avoid trading links with sites already hosting quantities of links and/or to have your link placed on a links.htm page. Try negotiating for space on an established, indexed page where your link is used as a reference point in a body of content. And always swap links with sites in your industry as relevance does play a part in the ranking algorithm.
Reciprocal links are also great candidates for link reclamation programs provided the links have been in place for at least a year. Contact your reciprocal partner and ask him/her to change the anchor text and/or page it's pointing to. We don't advocate making a lot of changes in a short period of time, this may raise flags to the search engines and alert them to what you're doing. Make your changes gradually, over the course of a year and be sure to mix up your anchor text between your phrases and the name of your company.
One Degree: What is the biggest mistake you see people make when they are working on their link building program?
The biggest mistake I see people make when building links is to use the same technique over and over and over. You not only send up red flags to the search engines, you also limit your advertising potential.
If you owned a bricks and mortar business it's doubtful you'd take out an advertisement in the various telephone directories and be done with it. You'd do that, and buy radio time, billboards, newspaper ads, mailing inserts and pay for sponsorships. In other words, you'd do a wide variety of advertising tactics because each one reaches a different demographic or showcases a different part of your business.
It's the same with link building. If all you do is swap links or pay for directory submissions, you're limiting the amount of reach your brand has and you're telling the engines you're accumulating links on your own instead of having your site attract them naturally.
Search engines dislike manipulation because it affects their search results. Sites with good content attract links naturally or as a result of many different types of promotions. And there are many different kinds:
- Directory submissions
- Attracting links through article writing/article directories
- Developing partnerships with bloggers by contributing content
- Reciprocal linking
- Creating controversial content and promoting it through the social media sites such as Digg and Fetch
- Developing a presence on the social book marking sites by becoming a topical authority
- Securing authority links
- Creating incentive programs as a way to attract links
- Adding "how to link to us" directions in all your outbound correspondence such as order confirmations and thank you cards
- Securing trust links from Chambers of Commerce, your Association and the BBB
And so on, there are many more. The success of any linking program rests with the quality content you offer. Develop good content, promote it with targeted link building and the links will come. It's not just linking, it's marketing!
You can read more of Debra's link building tips, tools and techniques on her blog - The Link Spiel