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Blueglass LA Session: Links matter: How to measure and attain them

Moderator:  Chris Winfield


Rand Fishkin, CEO and CO-Founder, SEOmoz

Dave Snyder, Partner, Search & Social

Rand is up first, so here we go!

Strategic Link Analysis for SEO

Step 1 – Determine your goals

The links match in different ways to different goals.  If you’re in marketing and you want to attract a specific person, you don’t want to do a SuperBowl ad – you want to do a niche campaign.

The most common goals we see –

  • Individual Competitive Rankings
  • Greater Indexation
  • Improve a Site’s Ability to Rank Pages
  • Dominate the SERPs

Match Goals to Competitive Analysis

Once you know what you need to do – whether it’s a few phrases or several, the question is:

What do I need to rank here?

I like to perform a basic competitive analysis here for a phrase.  Keyword difficulty, broad match search volume, exact match search volume, then domain authority for the top 10 pages that rank for that, and the page authority of those top ten pages for that phrase.

You can then dig deep in the analysis – looking at domain authority, root domains linking to this competitor’s site’s root domain, page authority of the page that shows up for this competitor in the SERP, # of partial keyword match anchor links, # of exact keyword match anchor links.

From this you can eyeball it or set up processes to look for opportunities.  For example, to compete, I might need to obtain links from more high authority sites, or I might need more links direct to this page…

Indexation – How do I get Google indexing more of my pages?  Or if they’re all indexed, maybe I need to focus on more content… For getting more pages indexed, I’d look at other sites in the same industry and see what are the differences in metrics that got them there compared to the site I’m working on.

(Note from Alan – link analysis is important to the process though I would first start with on-site factors – maybe a competitor has clean internal links that the search engines can crawl – maybe the site I’m working on has AJAX page navigation that prevents indexation right out of the gate…)

Domain Rank-Ability

How do I get to rank like Wikipedia?  Find sites that consistently have top rankings – not necessarily sites in your industry that rank for the long tail.  Find out the top 10 or top 20 consistently.  You want to execute on a campaign that will get you links to fill in where you’re missing value.

SERP Domination

This can be for reputation management, branding…

Run analysis of current SERP then do an analysis of what pages you have that can ultimately rank, which ones you want to rank, or if you need to create new content…

Identify Potential Verticals in Google (the left sidebar of Google – related content)

  • Images
  • Video
  • News
  • Blogs
  • Books
  • Updates

You will probably want to prop up pages you have already ranking somewhat with content / profiles on powerful sites…  (Mybloglog, Twitter, Myspace… )

Go after link sources from flexible applications.  Have a consistent bio that includes 4 or 5 links where you determine the anchor text and the target.

Employ the right metrics for your needs

Raw Link Juice is okay but it’s not necessarily important.  MozRank, external MozRank, other data… Link quantity & domain Diversity, anchor text…

If you do this right you’ll save yourself a ton of work on the back side by doing research on the front end.

If you’re going for links for individual rankings anchor text matters.  For greater indexation, quality of linking source is more important… so think about your goals as you determine what metrics matter.

Up next is Dave Snyder

Linky Goodness

Based on vertical, it’s always going to be different so this is higher level…

The key to dominating the web is links.  The reason links are the core of the algorithm is because they’re the core of the web.

Links are the core concept of the web even before the search engines.  People sharing content, information.

Withe Google’s PageRank came the advent of links as a commodity.

If you want to generate traffic, you have to get links.  People usually start with blog spam, other things that won’t help.

1.  Monetary Response

I’m not telling you to do that – if you do, you’ll get penalized.

2.  Emotional Response

Giving a link means you had some kind of emotional response and that’s the reason you want to share this content.

Monetary response is simple – people love money and they’ll do disgusting things to get it.  If you start spreading money all over the web, you’ll get in trouble.

Emotional response is psychological

Eight emotions: Anger fear sadness disgust surprise anticipation acceptance, joy.  If you can base your content on one of these responses, there’s a good chance you’ll get links.

If you look at resourceful content – if I trust the source, I’ll link to it.  People will link to conspiracy theories – fear.  It all relates to emotional response.

How does this work?

You have an initial point of contact, which leads to thoughts, then feelings, followed by actions and finally results.

This is one of my favorite link bait examples – Joy – some hippie put up info about a vegan support group, then someone else created information about a carnivore in opposition to that… They got almost 500 links from humor based sites.

I don’t want to start from the initiation point – I want to start from the Action – desire is a link. What feelings and emotions do I need to focus on?  How do I trigger those?  You need to create content that provokes thoughts on a personal level in your audience.

High level process:

Step 1: Mine Data

What are people lijnking to in your vertical?

What content is garnering the links to those sites?  Try to ascertain why.

How are they linking?

Are they linking in anchor text rich formats?  With images?  Infographics?

What topics are people emotional about now?

What is happening right now, like BP?

How have people historically interacted with content?

How have people historically linked to this?

Step 2  Create your Reason for Linking

What emotion do you want ot evoke?  How can you shape this into content that gets traction and will evoke that emotion that responds?

Step 3 Craft Outreach Strategy from that Data

Find a clean list of vertically related sites.  Look at social sites that have led to links in the past.  2nd or 3rd tier sites are the best.  You can interact with more people on a granular level.

Make lasting relationships.

Step 4 Outreach

Don’t send out spam emails “Give me a link”.  Make sure if you’re a finance related site, you want finance related sites – learn their content – talk with them like you would talk with a friend.

Do a post Quality Assurance check on the acquisition.  Go through your site make sure there’s no viagra or other fishy stuff going on in those links.

Quantify and inventory the links.  Make sure you’re not going to the same people all the time.  Figure out what’s this link worth?  How does it relate to what I want to rank.

Step 5 Data Collection& Categorization

Do A/B testing on your outreach – subject lines, approach, open rates, types of links produced from different outreach promotion and methods…

Segment links based on value in the space, what worked, what didn’t work?  What can we refine on?

Step 6 Rinse & Repeat

If you do this, you’ll kill it in your vertical.

Safest and most productive way to approach link building is Will this link increase my traffic and share my content with the correct audience?


Q- We have a big content site – we threw out millions of pages when we launched.  Only 25% are high quality at this point.  Can you talk about overall indexation, crawl budget with Google?

Rand – the concept of PageRank sculpting is controversial.  Some sites that are large find value in it, and a lot of sites don’t so it’s controversial.  It’s not always necessarily the same reality.  So it depends on the situation.  The critical thing – with those quality pages, find ways to  extend that in a scalable way.   How do I get those category / subcategory pages to earn links directly to those pages?  Just a few links could make a big difference.

Dave – sites like Digg or Reddit can help to establish social signals – in addition to links this is going to help.

Rand – sites that get tweets and re-tweets can help a great deal.

Chris – I think the social signals are underrated.  With just a few signals we saw content get to the home page of Google news when it shouldn’t have otherwise belonged there.

Q – In your experience building links, have you found differences for various TLDs – .com vs. .info, etc…

Rand – We did some correlation research and you can see .com does well, .org does well.  but I think that’s more human bias not search engine bias.  Less people will be likely to link to a .info site than a .com site.   Emotions come into play for .mobi or .tt – because a lot of people are unfamiliar with the way the web works.

Dave – in general you stick with .com .org .net as a business – most people are marketing correctly use the .com or .org.  Make decisions not just on SEO – it has to be usability, other factors as well…

Q – What method would you go about to see why a page that was on page 1 is now on page 3?

Dave – have you already been collecting data on links?


Look at which links aren’t indexed anymore, or are themselves lower value than they were.

Rand – either you changed something on your site, someone else changed something on their site, or the ranking system changed. Look to see if those links have changed.  And if they haven’t and my site hasn’t, Google might have changed how they evaluate links.

Dave – if you can keep your link profile clean and sustainable, the value will last.

Q – if you have a site with pretty good authority, exact match page title, how important is exact match anchor text?

Dave – you always want to have a differentiation in your anchor text.  Another example is a link does not have to have toolbar PageRank to be valuable.  There are several factors.

Rand – If the links you acquire are not just natural but the kind of links Google will always count, go for the exact anchor text.  It seems like today anchor text is overpowered so eventually in the long term, that may not hold.

Dave – you need to optimize anchor text, but we also bring in viral, online PR, to make it diverse.

Q – What do you think of the concept of link aging? Does an older link count more than a new link?

Rand – No it doesn’t matter much.  A Fresh link seems to provide a spike in value then it settles down.  It doesn’t seem that you rise back up over time as links are there longer.  That’s my guess.

Dave – We try to put in some aged links – I think that trust is going to play a role for sure.  Again, if your site is brand new, don’t get links from somewhere from 1998.  Everything has to be natural or a mix that makes sense.  Take a holistic approach to acquire links.

Q- Rand – you’ve seen a few tweets get get indexed – do they help it with rank?

Rand – We looked at data – we did not see tweet links influence rankings.  2 Weeks later, Google bought the Twitter Firehose – that timing strongly suggests if we redo that analysis, we’d see some influence…

And that’s it!



Category Careers
Alan Bleiweiss Forensic SEO Consultant at Alan Bleiweiss Consulting

Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites from medium scale to world class enterprise. He ...

Blueglass LA Session: Links matter: How to measure and attain them

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