Link Building 101: What Should Be Evaluated With Each Link Opportunity

While having dinner with a colleague the other day, we were discussing the particulars of effective link building campaigns. Not necessarily social media or blog strategies, but raw, traditional link building: finding prospects, evaluating websites and soliciting link requests. This post is about the factors website owners should be aggregating when researching and evaluating possible link opportunities and what sort of existing, tangible benchmarks you can set in your prospecting strategy.

I look at traditional link building the same way I may look at working in a “boiler room” or telemarketing office. You need to gather as many opportunities as possible with the expectation that many of your link requests and link strategies will go unopened or unreplied. The key is in gathering opportunities and understanding – holistically and through available data, what link opportunities are the most important and what ones you need to turnover quickly (to avoid ineffective time management).

On-page factors related to link building
First, define some of the characteristics associated with the actual location and creation of the link. These questions can/should be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No”.

  • Where will the link be placed?
    • Within the main body of text? (preferred)
    • Within a standard navigational element?
  • Will there be an opportunity to get specific keywords directly in the link text? (preferred)
  • Will there be an opportunity to get specific keywords in a supporting description or around the actual link? (nice to have)
  • Will the link be text based? (preferred)
  • Is the link 302 redirected, nofollowed or some form of JavaScript? (which makes it less valuable or not valuable at all)

These factors can be compiled, by column, in a spreadsheet and then evaluated with simple “Yes”/”No” answers.

Factors you can get real data for
Now that you have an understanding of how your link may be placed and formatted, here are some specific (and available) website variables that you can aggregate, for purposes of assigning a numerical value of website “quality” or “importance”.

  • Domain age
  • Inbound links to the site according to Yahoo
  • Google PageRank
  • Alexa Rank
  • Compete Rank
  • bookmarks
  • If it’s a blog:
    • Bloglines subscribers
    • Google Reader subscribers
    • Technorati Authority

Tip: Almost all of these factors can be aggregated using the SEO for Firefox extension from SEO

Somewhat subjective site specific factors
Even though you have the numerical data on a website, there can be arguments made on the value associated with each variable, so I still feel it’s valuable to review websites and web pages to make some personal judgments on value as well. The subjectivity arises in the fact that aggregating link opportunities and making assessments will require some form of taxonomy or definition system, and no two systems (or opinions) will be exactly the same.

  • Type of website
    I usually try to categorize the overall site in some form of classification system, be it a blog, portal, directory, news syndication etc etc. The difficulty in this type of system is that there are many sites that fall in multiple classifications (a website with a blog and forum and directory etc etc).

    Here are some things you can easily identify, outside of a general classification system:

    • Is the site in the same industry or topically related?
    • Does the site have multiple contact points (blog authors, general submissions, PR submissions etc)
    • Are submissions to the site free, paid, review only?
  • Objective of the web page
    It’s worthwhile to make a judgment on the actual web page your targeting for a link. This includes what the objective of the page is (assuming it’s an existing page) or what the objective may be, if your submission/request would generate new content.
  • Quality of website
    This is the most subjective of all criteria for evaluation, but it’s necessary because there are so many factors that can sway data one way or another that may not be immediately realized. Perhaps it’s a situation where the site is new, redesigned or recently acquired. Perhaps you already know (through log reports etc) that your users tend to come from that link opportunity (in the form of referrals), so there is some existing relationship already in place.

    You could create a point scale and assign values based on all of the other criteria collected, which may be valuable for those that really love numbers. I don’t get that deep into the analysis though (simple notes on quality or importance are what I would recommend for most).

  • Additional criteria to document
    Above all else, you need someplace to send your link opportunity, preferably a name and direct contact information. The degree to which you may want to find specific people and details can be determined by the collective review of the others factors listed. In some cases, a general submission may be the only way (and best way) to go. In others, you’ll want to invest the time and energy to meet particular parties and establish a relationship that goes beyond a simple link request.

Tying it all together
It seems unlikely that most people will go to this extent when it comes to aggregating and collecting link opportunity data, but if you have a method for obtaining data in large volumes, this may be an effective way to organize and prioritize the submission/communication schedule for actually contacting websites.

I’ve created a proposed link opportunity template for this work and you can download the spreadsheet and add/modify as desired. But more importantly, does this type of link evaluation/analysis work for you? What pieces of information do you find valuable in your link building efforts and what information presented here seems less valuable than other factors? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.


6 Responses to “Link Building 101: What Should Be Evaluated With Each Link Opportunity”

  1. Link Building this Week (Oct. 26) | on October 26th, 2007 2:58 am

    […] Derek J. Edmond’ lists some great tips about How to evaluate a link building opportunity […]

  2. Halfdeck on October 27th, 2007 2:53 am

    Thanks for a good read. Since I’m doing some link building for a client, I can relate to most of what you mention in your article.

    Initially, I pulled backlink data using LinkHound and then loaded CSVs in a spreadsheet, manually checking each link to see whether I wanted to pursue a link or not. After 1 week of that, I decided that just doesn’t scale.

    So I wrote a tool that automates 90% of the process.

    My first concern was to just weed out obvious spam out of thousands of links. My second concern was to filter out link networks (since my client is in the real estate niche and they’ve been recently been hit pretty hard for excessive recips). Finally, the tool would analyze on-page/off-page factors to prioritize link acquisition. I also built in an auto website-type detection algorithm (to figure out if a site is a blog, forum, article syndication site, directory, etc), since each type requires a different method of acquisition.

    My goal was to reduce hours of detective work down to 0 hours so I could spend more time acquiring link targets instead of looking for link opportunities.

  3. Tomaz on October 27th, 2007 8:23 am

    Good points. While the internet related topics get incoming links quite easy since everyone understands the importance of them and good webmasters often link out, some more home or sports related websites don’t know much about link building and will never link out unless asked to.

  4. Derek Edmond on October 29th, 2007 8:54 am

    @Halfdeck – I totally agree with your logic and this is exactly what I have been trying to do. One of the difficulties I’ve had is that I end up finding new ways to measure things and new variables to account for (every 6 months or so). I can’t say I am a gifted programmer, so I’ve probably spent more hours than needed in figuring out some of the logic – but hopefully sharing the experience will help others figure out the way

    @Tomaz – Very true that depending on the niche your communication strategies will vary. My bottom line is this: 1.) get your opportunities as fast and as effectively as possible. 2.) Treat your link requests like you would any conversation. There’s (hopefully) a person at the other end of that computer monitor, so you need to mix your pitch effectively with your communication.

    If you already have the mindset of building your website content for your users, teh idea of building your pitches to the webmaster just extend this process. I hope that helps or makes sense!

  5. SiteMost’s Weekly Blog Recap 31/10/07 at Brisbane SEO Blog on October 30th, 2007 8:42 pm

    […] gives some good tips in Link Building 101: What Should Be Evaluated With Each Link Opportunity […]

  6. boris on November 4th, 2007 9:42 pm

    What’s the ROI of any link? Before you consider building links you should consider the ROI.