No presentations -- just plenty of time to put questions to search engine optimization and link building experts who are in the trenches about issues relating to linking. Moderator:
* Danny Sullivan, Conference Co-Chair, Search Engine Strategies San Jose
* Mike Grehan, Vice President, International Business Development, Bruce Clay, Inc. * Debra O'Neil-Mastaler, President, Alliance-Link * Jim Boykin, CEO, We Build Pages Internet Marketing * Greg Boser, President, WebGuerrilla LLC
This is a question and answer session.
Q: I was curious about run-of-site links and their implications and their problems. Greg: Purchased links or..? Followup: What if they aren't purchased? Greg: It depends on why they're there. There was a time when Google treated external links the same way as internal links, so you could get a link buy on a 50k page site and life was good. It doesn't work that way anymore. I don't see that benefit. It creates huge backlinks that your competitors can see and it's not good. Jim: If your link is a sitewide link like in the footer, I don't think it carries as much weight as in the body.
Q: I understand that Google is penalizing for paid links. Is that true? What's the consequence? Mike: 3 months in jail. (Everyone laughs. This obviously is not true.) Jim: The rule is that Google will try not to pass the PageRank on those links. But from Google's history, you have to be really bad to get banned like this. Greg: That can change. My suggestion could be to stay away from brokerages in the future because you're going to see "seek and destroy" where these people will be penalized. It's better to do work to get links even if that means to buy them. A lot of these brokerage firms have open inventories that are obvious. Debra: Most links are paid links in some fashion, but you might want to stay away from Sponsored Links. Danny: Unless it's AdSense. Mike: Buy buying them, it might take a sweat to get the great link, but it's harder to discover if it's paid or not.
Q: What about links on chambers of commerces where you pay minimum fees or local marketing? Greg: That's a slipperly slope. Look at Microsoft as a charitable foundation - their link equity comes from them as a sponsor in many cases. Debra: Their issue is that they are afraid of buying links to manipulate. Greg: If you help the Boys & Girls Club, that's okay.
Q: How do you think universal search will impact linking? Debra: I think that's wonderful. Link builders have always focused on a content issue or a quality issue. But now these are going to show up in your search results - it's an incentive to get that quality content on your site. Mike: I think that you shouldn't think that you're Steven Spielberg. A lot of what comes out in universal results comes from end user data. They're only going to be put in there if they're popular with the end user. Greg: Google talks about universal search as the greatest thing since sliced bread. In the big picture, I don't see it even popping up a lot for day to day queries. But for high profile terms, you may see it. Mike: On a tangent, the end user data will need to be aggregated over time to be displayed on the search results. They need to keep out questionable data like pornographic data, so it will take time. Take notes now and think for the future. Jim: For most of the searches our clients are targeting, video is often going to be ignored by many people anyway. Danny: Universal search is the future, and you really need to get your content out there, regardless of it being image or video. Those are new opportunities.
Q: What do you believe is the value of unpaid PR0 and PR1 links, if any, and if they're relevant? Greg: You need to separate the idea of PageRank and anchor text. You can definitely get a lot of links from low-PR sites. I wouldn't worry. But over time, if it's a low PR site, then you might want to reconsider. Jim: Check the page and find out if the page is in the supplemental index. Danny: Why do you care about the PageRank? Followup: We've been asking for links in return for supporting some of our partners. Danny: It's not an issue of the PageRank. It's a question about the network of sites that are linking to you. The idea is even if you have some dodgy links, you'll still have some natural links that point at you, and those links will balance each other out. Jim: The most natural way to ask for links is to ask them to link to you without telling them how. That means the anchor text is varied. It looks natural. Greg: It looks a lot less spammy. You can write a script that changes the alt text for buttons that give some variation on the text links. Debra: It takes a lot of work but do some keyword analysis and determine what your competitors are doing. Jim has a post about why a site with 50 backlinks is better than a site with 1000 backlinks. He explains that if you have a relevant neighborhood, it may be more valuable than having links from unrelated places. Debra talks about TouchGraph, which is a cool site that lets you see your link environment.
Q: I have a question about internal linking. When Google acquired YouTube, they added nofollow to many links on their site. What do you think about this? Can you pass around authority with this tactic? Greg: You can use it to control the flow of juice. You may not want the "About Us" page to rank, so you can nofollow it. Thus, it's a strategy worth exploring. Debra: From my understanding, Google views a page nofollowed as one not to be trusted and they don't follow through with it. If you don't care about the page being indexed, it doesn't matter. But you never get a straight answer about it from them. Mike: Bruce Clay is a firm believer of using nofollow in internal linking and he creates silos where he tries to pass link juice down a specific vertical.
Danny explains that nofollow, for those who don't know, is like a link condom; you touch the site you link to without actually touching the site. Nice analogy. (Rhea made me blog this.)
Q: I try to keep external link ratio to internal ratio about 40/60. Do you have a magic number? Greg: I've never broken it down on a percentage basis.
Q: What's your opinion on linking to nonrelevant sites? Greg: I once worked for a client in that space that got penalized. This is where the engines are at - if you get a large group of people who collectively conspire to conspire the engines on a grand scale (like a real estate site where they all link to each other on many directories that have misleading anchor text) - some of these places have thousands and thousands of sites. You can get banned for this because it's clear manipulation. There's no reason why a real estate agent from California should be linking to one in Maine. It happened to more than one particular company in my experience. That whole industry needs to rethink how they develop links. It's a dying model.
Q: There are many ways to get links, but what's the best way to get links? Debra: It's hard to say one thing because every site is different and some are more competitive than others. Link building overall is hard. Greg: It depends on what your goal is. Blogging can develop links but they may not help you rank for the products that you sell. Jim: Finding good resources yourself (not through networks) and writing to these people proving that you're human may yield better results. Mike: I agree with Debra. There's no one-size-fits-all solution. Look at certain niches: some B2B places might benefit from PR tactics, etc. But you need to think about the content and understand what the content means. Is it compelling copy or is it a great tool? Some services may benefit from having a mortgage calculator. Others may benefit from other products. Debra: You may want to want to set up incentives to ask for links. You can go through a lot of networks and obtain information. Mike: Find niche newsletters and focus on them. There's a likelihood that people link to it. Jim: There's a problem with linkbait. People link to the bait but it's not selling the product. If you link to the wrong page with the wrong text, it may not be good. Getting links is good, but you may want to write to people and request that they place the link a certain way. Debra: Bait is great for exposure but one-on-one linking can be achieved by asking.
Q: Is it ethical to have people who write content and link to "grey" areas? Jim: If someone writes an article and submits it to lots of places, you may be penalized for duplicate content. But if it's on one page, then don't worries. Debra: There are so many places that have guest writers. You know that they can put links in there. Jim: If someone said "this guy paid me money to put this page there," you might trip a filter. Be careful about that.
Q: We have a site that ranks real well. The content is high-quality and relevant. A few years ago we ranked in Sponsored Links. Should we nuke those? I don't want to trip any filters. But I don't want to change it because it could affect our great rankings. Greg: Odds are it's not passing any juice. But if you turn it off and you do slip, can you get it back? Followup: If Google knows, who will be penalized? The advertiser or the publisher? Greg: It's not really a question for this session. (You should check out coverage of Search Engine Q&A on Links where representatives from search engines will answer these more authoritatively.) Jim: If your site ranks well now, I wouldn't change anything. But if you hear eventually that you'll get penalized, remove it and put your competitor's site there. (Yes, he was kidding.) Danny: With Yahoo, you can report inlinks as Spam. Maybe that will help you. But that's a good question to ask the search engines.
Q: In your experience, have you seen the behavior with linking differ across search engines? Greg: Microsoft has no clue. The fundamentals are the same. Google is a little farther along in their ability to filter and tweak the leverage of links. But the core concept is the more links wins. MSN: you really can't tell. Mike: Google has been using this type of ranking mechanism from early on. There's a lot of historical data that they have but Yahoo and MSN have relatively new data. But the mechanisms are all based on the same characteristics. Jim: Yahoo is in the same place that Google was in 2003. As Greg said, Google has a history of doing this a little longer. That's an advantage. As Yahoo gets smarter, it will look more like Google. Most of the stuff you do for Google is still good with Yahoo. Mike: Links are a powerful signal. You're going to have different patents of end user data and toolbar data that causes fluctuation.
Q: I have 2 websites that are SEO friendly and generate a good size of revenue. I have to shut down one of them. Can I use the external links into that website and direct them to the other website? Greg: Yes by using 301 redirection on the site you're shutting down. Hopefully the one you get to keep is the better one in terms of links.
Q: Why is it when the keywords appear on blogs, they seem to propel up a result faster than others? If they're consitently posting on the same blog even though they're varying the keywords, why will that push them up? Mike: Legitimate blogs? Followup: No, spam blogs. There is duplicate content - everything is verbatim. They are propagating in the Google results, not Google Blog Search. Danny: Talk to Matt Cutts offline. Followup: Why does the blog propel up the ranks? (I'm thinking to myself that it probably has something to do with fresher content from recent blogs. But nobody says that.) Greg: Much of what you see in that aggressive space shows a weakness in the algorithm. You may want to apply it in a more traditional whitehat way when you stop getting angry.
Q: What's to stop people from having the same links from the same sources? Greg gives out a strategy - when trying to get links, he gets some backlinks for all terms on his competitors and sorts by PageRank. Debra: There's nothing wrong with contacting the same source.
Q: If people link to each other reciprocally and it may not be relevant, what do you think? Jim: The issue is if it makes sense. I'm guessing that there are some filters. If you have 500 natural backlinks and there are 10 people that you're trading with but it still makes sense, then there's no problem. Mike: When you have a look at your website, you need to be brutal and ask 10 reasons why you should link to this website. Danny: You're going to get in trouble if it's not natural. If you're a mortgage website and a realtor site, link together, but otherwise, don't. Debra: Don't utilize this tactic solely.
Q: We're looking to implement a glossary on our site. What are the risks of doing this aggressively by linking internally even if it's valid and good content? Is there any value of this? We're putting a lot of effort into it. Mike: What's the use of it to the end user? Is it beneficial to them? Followup: Yes. Greg: Is it niche specific? Followup. Yes, it is. Is there a risk of quick implementation though? Greg: The thing is with glossaries is that if you create everything on your own page and everything is short, those thin pages all end up being worthless. My suggestion is that you shouldn't scrape content from Wikipedia. If your content is in-depth, that's a great thing to do. Followup: Would you recommend a structure? Greg: If you turn it more than just a definition of the word, like history/application/etc, then it makes sense to do word by word. It's more valuable to the search engines.
Q: Rhea! asks a question. Google is in a philosophical pickle regarding paid linking. They have a lot of confidence and if they did they wouldn't have implemented a snitch report. My question is - do you think this is something they're going to focus on aggressively or are they going to change the algorithm? Jim: I think they're going to try to scare people to stop buying links. FUD! Greg: It's absurd. Jim: It's good. They're doing their job well. Greg: 95% of their algorithm is based on fear. Results are good because people behave because they are afraid of getting kicked out. They are going to exaggerate what they can catch algorithmically. Realistically, that's not how it works. There will still be paid links. I think they're far away from implementing an efficient solution but they might penalize people so that it reinforces that fear. I know they're working on it though. Brokers who do this mainstream will drive this more and more underground which will affect the user. Mike: It makes you be more cautious to get editorial links. Great editorial links are better than paid links. Jim: Just stay under the radar.