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)
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
- del.icio.us 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 Book.com.
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.
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