23 May 2008

The Achilles Heel of Free and Natural Links.

Last month I was having a chat with a SEM guru who knows a lot more than me in many SEM and website optimization areas, but he said something about "links" that I’ve regretted not giving my 2 cents on.

He said "Hey, I’ve got this client who’s been around since 1994, a big national brand company, and they’ve got over a million natural backlinks….now you can’t tell me that they need more links?"

For one reason or another I choose to not state my disagreement with that statement at that time….but it’s been bugging me ever since….so I’ll vent my thoughts here.

….I wonder what phrases this company targets. I can’t help but thing that a company of that age and stature might "deserve" to be #1 for some short tail phrases.  I wonder how they rank for those main industry phrases…. I wonder how they currently target those phrases on their site ….ok…a nicely optimized page helps (mentioning the phrase a few times naturally)….great content , serving what the searches intent is…maybe even content so good that people will start to naturally link to it….good internal backlinks to the pages your targeting….good title tags……but something’s still missing……they’ve got all this but they’re not on the first page for "dream phrase"….do you know what they’re missing? I do….

Getting to the top of search results often includes all the aspects I just listed above….but there’s one aspect that often will make all the difference between being #11 and being #1…..and that is Focused Link Text Linking to Targeted Pages.

Free links are great and certainly help the overall "health" of a website. These are all great to get:

Free links because your content was so great and you attract natural backlinks
Free links because your company is so well known & people just naturally link to it
Free links because  you got on Digg’s homepage and lots of blogger saw you and blogged your link too.

But in a sense, you do pay a price for a Free Link. You pay the price in that often the pages you’re targeting don’t get links using the phrases you’d like to rank for.

When getting Free backlinks it’s nearly impossible to get people to link to you using your targeted phrases….often when getting free links, is kinda like begger can’t be choosers….I can see us writing to an edu "Hey professor, here’s another great resource you should add to your page at …., would you mind using "Health Insurance" to link to us instead of the company name?" (Like he’ll do that….freakin SEO’s!). If Mr professor is going to give us a link, I’ll take it any way he gives it, and I’m going to try not to smell like an SEO when approaching him….same philosophy holds true most of the time when seeking "free" links be it an edu or not. And if people are naturally linking to the site, how many are using the "dream phases" as natural link text (probably a very very small percentage).

It’s basically the same arguement I made on my post in Jan 07 "LinkBait alone won’t do it. You need Link Ninjas", where I said:

I honestly believe a Link Ninja can beat a Link Baiter in the rankings, here’s some reasons why.

A Link Ninja can get focused link text. A link baiter is at the mercy of the person who links. (It can be really hard to rank for anything unless you’ve got some focus on getting text links with specific targeted phrases).

A Link Ninja can also get a site into the neighborhood that it needs to be in. A link Baiter often gets links from tech sites and blogs….but often not from the sites in the neighborhood.

…  A Link Ninja can get on older trusted pages from authority sites that might not be seeking to add more, unless a ninja influences them.  A Link Baiter often gets links from tech sites and blogs….but like I said, often not from the sites in the neighborhood.

A Link Ninja can control what pages get the link…and can get links to specific pages , homepage, product pages, etc….A link Baiter gets a link to a great content page mostly….but it’s not usually the page the site owner really wants to rank for anything.

Now I’ll give you, a mid level Ninja can do both, after all, true SEO is a combo of links and text, and the better of each you have, the better you’ll rank.  The better the content, the easier it is to get backlinks (via asking, or not).  (yes, we offer linkbait  content creation at WBP).

I can totally agree that the best backlinks in the world (and often easiest to get) are those that came because of great content (or call it Link Bait)….but without some Focused and Precise Link Building, you might not get to where you want to be.

Do you believe it?

I still do believe that. It’s the same logic as the old natural site with a million backlinks. I know from experience because we work with some sites like these….they’re basically nice in that they’re "Not Over Optimized" (Unlike sites that have had a lot of previous SEO work done on them, where most of those are "over optimized" (all homepage links with the same text)).

The natural sites that are "not optimized" in their backlink text  are fun and easier for us in that all they need is a small steady stream of focused link text and they’ll be feeling lucky, and then they get the rankings they deserve 😉

What are your thoughts?

Sphinn me 😉

Comments

  1. Hawaii SEO May 23, 2008 at 3:43 PM

    It’s true. I worked for a big company that had zillions of natural links but still had a hard time ranking for transactional terms because they just didn’t have content built around those phrases or internal links using those phrases or external links pointing to the website with those phrases in the anchor text, etc… However… Because the site was well established, it didn’t take very much content or very many well targeted links to solve the problem. But… Someone had to do it. It simply doesn’t happen all by it’s self. And… If you have a well established website already… I would seriously recommend working with someone who knows what they are doing. You don’t want to inadvertently kill the goose who lays the golden eggs. ;^)

  2. Andy Beard May 23, 2008 at 4:45 PM

    Jim you can get free links with whatever link text you like, as long as you are willing to syndicate content.
    Share A Post which I wrote about yesterday is going to be extremely fun to play with.

  3. Lynxist May 23, 2008 at 5:21 PM

    Amen.

    I also work in a competitive industry as a link builder for a client who operates oneline casinos, if you thought link building was hard, try doing it for an online casino – in gambling, there’s no such thing as a free link.

    The top spot guys bought a lot of links before it was frowned upon and now are fairly untouchable, and the rest of us are now having to play catch up which is super hard given the current views by you know who on you know what.

    I understand why it’s frowned upon, but really, sometimes a ninja’s gotta do what a ninja’s gotta do, pay!

    That said, I beleive neither link bait nor links ninja alone is going to bake a cake – if it’s out there use it, but mix up your arsenal well enough to not make a footprint or discernible pattern.

    Goodluck & linkwell

  4. Link Building this Week (21.2008) | Wiep.net May 25, 2008 at 3:02 PM

    […] interesting read is Jim Boykin’s (you should blog more often! ) post about the Achilles Heel of free and natural links. Large websites that have been around for quite some time may have obtained hundreds of thousands […]

  5. Jeffrey Smith May 26, 2008 at 10:27 AM

    Jim:

    Funny how this rule of thumb hasn’t been swept under the rug. Quality, Quality, Quality mixed with diversity and focused deep links. You have go to love it, something so effective still works like a charm.

    I also agree that link bait is great for a flash in the pan, but the site must be anchored with a plethora of links over time (like the tortoise vs. the hare) to reap authority and those above the fold rankings (WPB) is famous for across thousands of Uber competitive terms.

    Jim, thanks for taking the time to reinforce such a crucial point. Don’t be a stranger to the blogosphere, we miss reading your work. All the best…

  6. Maria Reyes-McDavis May 26, 2008 at 1:39 PM

    Jim 🙂
    As usual, you highlight what really matters and show us how quality still is king in the SEO game!

  7. Internet Marketing Links for May 26 2008 from the Web Success Diva May 26, 2008 at 5:54 PM

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  8. GAllanRoberts.com May 26, 2008 at 6:00 PM

    I think targeted links are better for sales but if your looking to raise your ranks the mass over quality is preferred. But what do know?

  9. Matt Sawyer May 27, 2008 at 3:24 AM

    Really good post Jim. I agree completely that a linkbuilder (linkninja (C)) will always beat a linkbaiter when targeting a specific phrase.

    Personally (rightly or wrongly) I look at linkbuilding and baiting as two strings of the same bow. Having natural links can greatly aid a link profile hiding a multitude of potential sins and the variation in anchor text can save a lot of money trying to make the placed links ‘look’ more natural.

    I’m also pretty sure that Google takes into account the context of a natural link to some extent, as long as they’re placed with some fairly descriptive text, then they should be doing some good.

  10. Mike Bradbury May 27, 2008 at 2:55 PM

    I find that a mix of internal link optimization as well as a few well placed paid links work wonders.

    Why does Google weight anchor text so heavily when it is so arbitrary?

    That seems like Achilles torso instead of his heel in that it is a glaringly obvious weak spot.

  11. Josh May 28, 2008 at 12:54 AM

    @mike the algorithm is flawed, but i have a feeling that the goog is working on new secret sauce.

    @Jim great post, wish you still posted more 🙁

  12. Mike at Pacebutler Recycling May 28, 2008 at 6:21 AM

    Thanks for this post, Jim. We’re just starting an optimization campaign for our site and your article that points out the importance of a well-chosen anchor text helps a lot in bringing more focus to our campaign.

  13. post-article May 28, 2008 at 1:54 PM

    Great post!!

    I’m newer for SEO so I’m very glad to find your article. I’m very lucky for come here today. i have some idea, how to do mywebsite up..

    Thank you so much

  14. Malte Landwehr May 29, 2008 at 7:38 AM

    What you say is true but I don’t think it is right to distinguish between a linkbaiter and a linkninja, Because a really clever linkbait will bring you just the kind of links a ninja would target (among thousands of others).

  15. Wpromote May 29, 2008 at 1:35 PM

    Great post Jim. I agree that strong links from high ranking competitors links and anchor text play such an important role, even for aged web sites.

  16. Anders Saugstrup May 30, 2008 at 3:40 AM

    Nice one. It makes you think though – if a 1994 site with a million natural backlinks needs keyword targeted linkbuilding in order to rank (and not just internal optimization) then it might be an issue that G would like to fix at some point.

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