Link Development Strategies
High-quality link development is rarely an instantaneous occurrence. It takes time and patience. With careful planning and implementation, quality link development can help a site receive and maintain targeted search engine traffic.
Web Directory Submission
One of the quickest ways for a site to receive legitimate, objective, high-quality, third party links is to submit the site for inclusion in the major Web directories.
When submitting to Web directories, there is no “magic” formula. All Web directories are unique, generally having different categories and different rules for submission. Directory submission can be quite time consuming because each submission must be tailored for a specific directory. Some Web directories allow 15-word descriptions. Some allow 30 words. Some allow up to 200 words. Therefore, when submitting your site to the most popular Web directories, always keep their unique characteristics in mind.
Planning an effective Web directory submission campaign is crucial to your site’s search engine visibility. And, in some ways, directory submission is even more important than search engine submission because, with Web directories, you basically have one chance to submit your site correctly. As long as a Web site’s directory listing is factually accurate, directory editors have no reason to modify the listing. Directory editors’ main concern is not how Web site owners market their Web sites. Directory editors care that the information in their directory is unique, timely, and accurate.
Some Web directory results come from human editors who find sites through their own research and surfing. Although this is not a common occurrence, most Web site owners prefer the opportunity to write their own titles and descriptions. So rather than risk a directory editor finding your site and writing a title and description you don’t like or isn’t effective for search visibility, plan and implement your unique Web directory submission campaign.
Planning a Web directory submission campaign
Before submitting your site to the Web directories, create a log file to keep track of your submissions. Web directory editors keep records of all submissions and can verify this information quickly. In the event your submission is rejected or the current listing must be modified due to factual errors, careful record keeping will help your directory submission campaign run more smoothly. Directory editors will appreciate your careful record keeping as well.
In this log file, keep records of the following information:
- Name of the Web directory
- Name of the person submitting the Web site
- URL submitted
- Date(s) of submission
- Categories selected
- Web site title
- Web site description
- Any additional information entered in a “Comments” field
- Relevant contact information of the company and organization including physical address, telephone number, and fax number
- If using paid submission, a copy of the receipt and the tracking or order number
I prefer to make the email address of the person submitting the Web site a generic and unique email, such as email@example.com. In the event that the person in charge of a site’s link development leaves the company, then the submission email will not have to be modified. Email address of the person submitting the Web site
An effective Web directory campaign involves careful keyword research and copywriting. Remember that search engines look at anchor text, and text that is near anchor text, when calculating a URL’s (and a site’s) link development.
How many of you truly, honestly spend hours researching the most appropriate directory categories and writing the best descriptions so that both the Web directories and your site can benefit? Does your site really have unique content or does it contain the same content that other sites contain? Web site owners, or a company’s marketing department, tend to write the descriptions that benefit the business or organization more than the Web directory and actual searchers.
If you plan on using the Web directories as part of your online marketing plan, try not to think solely about your own Web site. Try to imagine how the Web directory and Web directory users might benefit from your information. That is what directory editors are thinking about when they evaluate your submission: what sites add value to their directories. Web directories do not benefit from keyword-stuffed titles and descriptions. Categories with keyword-stuffed titles and descriptions denigrate the search experience. Web directories directly benefit from sites with unique, quality content that is placed in the most appropriate category (or categories) and is described accurately with the searchers’ language.
So help directory editors reach their goals. Build a good Web site and do your research before you submit.
Selecting the best category
One of the biggest mistakes Web site owners make during Web directory submission is not doing the necessary research on each directory.
To select the most appropriate category (or categories) for your Web site, type in your selected keywords in each Web directory, and study the results. Remember the 20- to 30-word keyword list you came up with in Part 2? These are the words that you will be entering in the Web directory search boxes.
Let’s look at our fictional TranquiliTeas site. From our keyword list, we know that we must perform a search in each directory using the following keywords:
* organic teas
* green tea
* herbal green tea
* tea recipes
* decaffeinated tea
* whole leaf teas
* English teas
* porcelain tea sets
* organic tea
* organic oolong tea
* organic tea recipes
* herbal tea recipes
* decaffeinated teas
* tea accessories
* Indian black tea
* gourmet teas
* oolong tea
* organic green tea
* herbal teas
* black tea
* loose leaf teas
* Chinese teas
* tea sets
Make sure you are searching in the Yahoo directory results, not the Yahoo spidered results, when researching the most appropriate category for the Yahoo directory. The Yahoo directory results will show categories listings with categories listed above the URL.
You might want to begin with the most generic search term, such as the word tea. When you begin with a generic search term, categories might appear at the top of the search results. In all likelihood, your site will belong in one of the categories that appear at the top of the search results.
Sometimes, you can search for your top keyword phrases and discover that no categories appear in the search results, only Web sites. If this happens, look underneath the descriptions of each Web site. You will find different directory categories listed there, as shown below:
When you perform a search on the Yahoo Web directory for the keyword phrase “organic tea,” a number of categories appear in the directory search results, including local or geographically specific listings. If you scroll down to the bottom of the screen, you can see the different categories available for an organic tea site.
Do not automatically select the category that appears at the very top of the Web directory search results. Your Web site must truly be suited to a category in order to be accepted. Are your competitors listed in that same category? Is the type of information you are offering on your Web site similar to the information offered by other Web sites in that category? You might find that your site can easily fit in multiple categories. If this is the case, then it is safe to select the category that appears at the top of the list.
For the TranquiliTeas Web site, the most appropriate category in Yahoo is the following:
* Business and Economy > Shopping and Services > Food and Drinks > Drinks > Tea > Organic
The Open Directory displayed multiple categories that might be appropriate for the TranquiliTeas site:
* Shopping > Food > Beverages > Coffee and Tea > Tea
* Business > Food and Related Products > Beverages > Tea
* Recreation > Food > Drink > Tea
* Home > Cooking > Beverages > Tea
* Shopping > Health > Alternative > Herbs > Teas and Tonics
The first Open Directory two categories contain a large number of tea sites, and the TranquiliTeas site will probably be buried in the search results. It might be better to find less populated categories. However, based on the types of sites listed in these categories, a submission to either category would be appropriate.
The fourth category is not the best category for home page submission because upon careful inspection, most of the listings specifically mentioned recipes. Even though the TranquiliTeas site contains recipes, the majority of its content is geared toward selling tea.
If a company or organization has a physical location, then the site often can have an additional Web directory listing under geo-specific, or local, categories.
Sometimes, after performing several searches, you might not find a Web directory category that accurately reflects the content of your Web site. In this situation, you can suggest an additional category to the directory editors.
To be safe, suggest a category that is similar to other categories in the Web directory.
For example, a particular state (in the United States) might display a specific category, but a different state might not. This situation arose when I submitted a Web site from a domestic violence shelter located in Waukegan, Illinois. A domestic violence shelter listing belongs in a directory’s regional section. In all likelihood, a person who is seeking domestic violence help in Connecticut is not going to travel to Illinois to seek an emergency shelter.
When I performed a search on Yahoo, I found that there was a category in Woodstock, Illinois for domestic violence shelters
Regional domestic violence shelter category in Yahoo.
However, there was no domestic violence shelter category in Waukegan, Illinois. In this situation, it was safe for me to suggest an additional category to Yahoo because there were similar categories in other regions. To be sure that my additional category would be accepted, I also checked other states. I found the same categories existed in Texas, California, Minnesota, and North Dakota regional listings. I even found domestic violence shelter listings in other countries.
Types of Web sites that belong in regional categories are physician sites, hospitals, landscaping firms, real estate offices, restaurants, local government offices, Chambers of Commerce, and any other organization that does business in specific areas. If you do not see the appropriate category for your type of business and organization, check out categories in other states.
Yahoo’s submission form does allow you to suggest an additional category in a field called “Additional Information.” Other directories might not have this field. If you find yourself in that situation, feel free to suggest an additional category in the “Comments” field in the submission form, if it is provided:
Yahoo’s Additional Information field in the submission form.
Writing an effective Web Site Title
Most of the time, a Web site’s title will be the official company name, and, as previously mentioned in Part 1, Web directory editors are looking for the official company name in one of four places:
* A header or footer
* The About Us page
* The Contact Us page
* A Locations page
The About Us page should always contain the correct spelling of your company name. So even if you use your official company name in other places throughout your Web site, it is still a good idea to always place that information in your About Us section.
Do not try and trick directory editors into using a company name that contains keywords if the official spelling of your company name does not contain keywords. For example, an unethical search engine marketer might not like that the official company name of TranquiliTeas Organic Tea, Inc. does not contain the plural version of “tea.” He might change the official company name in the submission form to:
* Tranquili Teas Organic Tea, Inc.
Web directory editors are aware of all the tricks unethical search engine marketers do to artificially inflate directory positions, including stuffing keywords in titles. Not only will they check that you use the correct spelling of the company name throughout your site, they will also check your domain name registration to be sure that your company’s information (company name, physical address, and other contact information) matches the information that you typed into the submission form.
If you are submitting a page that is not your home page, then your title can be a bit more descriptive. Let’s say, for example, the TranquiliTeas site contains information on the history of the Japanese tea ceremony. If site owners were to submit this particular page (or set of pages to Yahoo), the title might be:
* History of the Japanese tea ceremony
Notice that the titles in both of these examples are factual and contain no sales and marketing hype. The keywords “organic” and “tea” are in the home page title submission. The keywords “Japanese” and “tea” are in the individual Web page submission. Even if your keyword research showed that your target audience typed in “teas” more often, the acceptable titles do not use that form of the word.
Writing an effective Web site description
At first, it might seem that Web directory editors and Web site owners have conflicting interests. Directory editors want to preserve the quality of their directory results. They want descriptions to accurately describe the contents of a Web site without any sales and marketing hype. Web site owners do not necessarily want their description to be objective. If a slogan or a set of keywords has worked for their businesses over the years, they want to preserve that branding and marketing strategy. With these seemingly conflicting goals, how can Web site owners have their Web sites displayed in directories the best way possible?
In reality, Web directory editors and Web site owners actually have the same goals. As a Web site owner, you have complete control over how your pages are displayed and the content that you place on your pages. You would not like it if complete strangers ordered you to change the content on your site because they did not agree with what you had to say or the manner in which you stated information. No stranger should control the contents of your Web site.
Likewise, Web directory editors must deal with thousands of strangers telling them, every day, how they should display the contents of their Web sites. Directory editors have a tough job. Viewing hundreds of submissions a day for hundreds or thousands of different categories while preserving the quality of the directories must be a daunting task.
Approach Web directory submission knowing that the editors must deal with thousands of submissions every week. Directory editors are trying to preserve the quality of the information they deliver. So by making their job easier and following their guidelines and examples, your submission is less likely to be modified or rejected.
To best accomplish this approach, after you have determined the most appropriate category for your Web site, review all of the descriptions listed in that category. How many words, on average, does the directory editor appear to allow on the page? If you notice that most of the descriptions contain 12 to 15 words, then you know that the directory editor might prefer a 15-word description instead of a 25-word description, even though the guidelines might state you can submit a description of up to 25 words.
What appears to be the writing style of the descriptions that are listed? Even though your description should resemble the description style of other sites listed in your targeted category, your description should be unique. So if your company specializes in three types of services, mention those three services in your description. If your company targets a specific audience, mention the audience as well.
Do not write a description that is identical to other descriptions in your targeted category. Web directory editors understand that their end users do not want the same information delivered to them over and over again in search results. Editors want to know that each Web site they accept offers unique and valuable information. So make sure one of your unique selling propositions (USP) is somehow shown in your description.
Also, do not stuff too many keywords into the description. Directory editors and people who view search results do not want to read a list of keywords.
I tend to follow a basic description format and tailor the description based on directory research. This description format appears to satisfy the needs of both directory editors and Web site owners:
* (Keyword phrase 1) firm specializing in (keyword phrase 2), (keyword phrase 3), and (keyword phrase 4).
Using this format, a possible description for TranquiliTeas look might be:
* Wholesale organic tea distributor specializing in oolong, green, herbal, decaffeinated, and black teas. (13 words)
This description (a) objectively and accurately describes the contents of the Web site, making the directory editors happy, and (b) contains the keywords that the Web site owner is targeting.
This 13-word description contains the following keyword phrases:
* Organic tea
* Organic teas
* Wholesale tea
* Wholesale teas
* Wholesale organic tea
* Wholesale organic teas
* Oolong tea
* Oolong teas
* Green tea
* Green teas
* Herbal tea
* Herbal teas
* Decaffeinated tea
* Decaffeinated teas
* Black tea
* Black teas
* Organic oolong tea
* Organic oolong teas
* Organic green tea
* Organic green teas
* Organic herbal tea
* Organic herbal teas
* Organic decaffeinated tea
* Organic decaffeinated teas
* Organic black tea
* Organic black teas
If Web site owners have a specific target audience, then it might be a good idea to include that information at the end of the description.
* Wholesale organic tea distributor specializing in oolong, green, herbal, decaffeinated, and black teas for stores and restaurants. (17 words)
Sometimes, Web site owners have more keywords they would like to target. For example, the Tranquiliteas site might offer teas as loose tea or in tea bags. This information is important to the target audience: store and restaurant owners. So another possible description might be:
* Wholesale organic tea distributor specializing in oolong, green, herbal, decaffeinated, and black teas. Choose from loose tea or tea bags. (20 words)
This 20-word description contains an even longer list of keyword phrases:
* Loose tea
* Loose teas
* Organic tea
* Organic teas
* Loose organic tea
* Loose organic teas
* Wholesale tea
* Wholesale teas
* Wholesale organic tea
* Wholesale organic teas
* Wholesale loose tea
* Wholesale loose teas
* Wholesale tea bags
* Oolong tea
* Oolong teas
* Oolong loose tea
* Oolong loose teas
* Oolong tea bags
* Green tea
* Green teas
* Green loose tea
* Green loose teas
* Green tea bags
* Herbal tea
* Herbal teas
* Herbal loose tea
* Herbal loose teas
* Herbal tea bags
* Decaffeinated tea
* Decaffeinated teas
* Decaffeinated loose tea
* Decaffeinated loose teas
* Decaffeinated tea bags
* Black tea
* Black teas
* Black loose tea
* Black loose teas
* Black tea bags
* Organic oolong tea
* Organic oolong teas
* Loose organic oolong tea
* Loose organic oolong teas
* Organic oolong tea bags
* Organic green tea
* Organic green teas
* Loose organic green tea
* Loose organic green teas
* Organic green tea bags
* Organic herbal tea
* Organic herbal teas
* Loose herbal green tea
* Loose herbal green teas
* Organic herbal tea bags
* Organic decaffeinated tea
* Organic decaffeinated teas
* Loose decaffeinated green tea
* Loose decaffeinated green teas
* Organic decaffeinated tea bags
* Organic black tea bags
* Organic black tea
* Organic black teas
* Loose black green tea
* Loose black green teas
* Organic black tea bags
Notice that the target audience was eliminated from the 20-word description. If the words used to describe the target audience (stores and restaurants) are targeted keywords, why should they be eliminated from the description? Many directories allow 25-word descriptions. A longer description would still follow directory guidelines.
When submitting your site to a directory, remember to always follow the lead of the editor. If you noticed that the current listings in the directory have a shorter description, then a longer description stands a higher chance of being modified. You might not like the way the editor modifies your longer description, especially if the editor eliminates one of your most important keywords. I recognized that “stores and restaurants” was not one of the keyword phrases on the keyword list I came up with in Part 2 of this post, I eliminated that phrase to make the description as concise as possible.
Since all Web directories are different and vary in the number of words they will accept in their submission forms, write descriptions of varying lengths. Write 7-, 10-, 15-, 20-, 25-, 30- and 50-word descriptions and save them in a text file. When you begin the directory submission process, you will be able to easily cut-and-paste the appropriate description into the submission form.
When writing your descriptions for Web directory submission, remember editors are most likely to view your home page first. Therefore, on your home page directory editors should be able to see the products or services you highlighted in your description. If editors and site visitors are unable to determine that your site specializes in the very services that you claim to offer in your description, editors are likely to modify your description.
If your budget allows, use the paid/expedited submission programs whenever possible. Since most of the major search engines measure link development as a part of their ranking algorithms, the faster your site can be listed in the Web directories, the faster your site can receive the external link development boost.
Paid submission does not guarantee that your site will be accepted into the Web directory. Rather, the fee guarantees that your site will be reviewed within a specified time, generally 48 hours to one week. The fee pays for the time it takes for a directory editor to evaluate your title, description, and Web site plus the time it takes to add your site to its database, if your site is accepted.
Multiple listings from a single Web site
Getting multiple listings from a single Web site in a Web directory is the exception rather than the rule. Again, Web site owners and directory editors appear to have conflicting interests. Web site owners desire multiple listings to increase their site’s popularity and overall search engine visibility. Directory editors want to list URLs with unique, quality content. Web site owners’ ultimate goal is to sell their products and services. Directory editors’ ultimate goal is to find sites that provide information and that add value to the Web directory.
One way to determine whether a site can be successfully submitted for an additional listing is to ask, “Can people benefit from visiting your site without having to spend money?” If your site provides information such as free tips, a how-to section, recipes, a dictionary or a glossary, your site provides information for the clear benefit of your target audience. Both Web directory editors and end users like to see this type of information.
If your Web site has been approved for admission into a directory, then your specialized-topic Web page stands a better chance of being selected for a different category. Once your main site is accepted, you know that your site has met the Web directory’s rules and guidelines. The editors found your site’s content easy to read and informative.
You will have to go through the same submission process as outlined for your main site. You will have to suggest an additional category and write a unique title and description for each additional URL you submit.
A general guideline is to not submit multiple pages from the same site in the same branch of a directory. For example, in the Open Directory, the category selected for the TranquiliTeas main site was:
* Business > Food and Related Products > Beverages > Tea
Suppose TranquiliTeas site owners had a collection of unique organic tea recipes and wanted to submit their main Recipes page to additional categories.
First, they would have to find the most appropriate category. After performing multiple keyword searches in the Open Directory, the most appropriate categories might be:
* Home > Cooking > Beverages > Tea
* Recreation > Food > Drink > Tea
Notice that both of these categories are not in the Business branch of the Open Directory.
Since the sites in the first category contain tea recipes in their descriptions, the first category is probably the better selection.
Before submitting the Recipes page, the TranquiliTeas site owners should check to see that: (a) the site’s recipes are unique, and (b) the content is substantial. Some of the sites listed in this category have a single tea recipe that is unique. Other sites have collections of tea recipes. Therefore, if the TranquiliTeas site has a collection of unique organic tea recipes, the Recipes URL is likely to be accepted into this category.
Assuming that the TranquiliTeas site does have a collection of unique organic tea recipes, the site owners can now write a unique title and description for this submission. Many of the sites listed in this category mention the company name. So it might be appropriate to submit a title such as:
* Organic tea recipes from TranquiliTeas Organic Tea
A directory editor might not like that title due to the repetition of the keyword phrase “organic tea.” So another appropriate title might be:
* Organic tea recipes from TranquiliTeas
This title is more concise and still accurately conveys the necessary information. If site owners wish to keep the full company name intact without giving the appearance of keyword stacking, another appropriate title might be:
* TranquiliTeas Organic Tea recipes
Additionally, no Web sites in this category specifically highlight organic teas. So another appropriate title might simply be:
* Organic tea recipes
Since the sites (in the targeted category) that contain a collection of tea recipes mention the company name in the title, follow the directory editor’s lead. Submit a title containing the company name.
Now that both the title and category are selected, it is time to write an appropriate description. Note that in the initial TranquiliTeas site submission the word “recipes” was not mentioned:
* Wholesale organic tea distributor specializing in oolong, green, herbal, decaffeinated, and black teas. Choose from loose tea or tea bags.
Search engine and Web directory users do not want the same sites appearing over and over in the search results. In general, end users and directory editors do not want to see the both the TranquiliTeas main site and the individual Recipes section appearing together in search results.
Keeping the words “recipe” or “recipes” out of the initial description was a strategic move. If a search engine marketer kept the word “recipes” in this description, the main site might show up in search results for the search query “organic tea recipes.” And the additional listing might be rejected.
When people perform searches, they do not necessarily want to go to the home page. Searchers prefer to go straight to the page that contains the information they desire without having to surf. By keeping the word “recipes” out of the main site submission and using that word in the additional submission, the TranquiliTeas site owners are thinking about their target audience by delivering them directly to the Recipe section.
In some cases, multiple listings are difficult to obtain. Even if your site offers a variety of products and services, do not submit each service to a different category, even if the category is in a different branch. Most of the time, a single submission with a well-written description will satisfy Web directory editors. Content must be truly unique to warrant multiple listings.
Additionally, the site owners are helping to preserve the quality of the Web directory category. If the TranquiliTeas site offers a unique collection of organic tea recipes, the site provides free information for visitors without forcing them to go to the home page first. Therefore, the additional listing benefits everyone. End users are delivered directly the appropriate page. The directory has unique and accurate information. And site owners have an additional listing.
Most of the time, site owners have only one chance to “do it right” with Web directories. Modifying a directory listing can be very difficult, if not impossible. Nonetheless, with proper planning and execution, Web site owners can reap the rewards of directory listings years after submission.
Third Party Web Site Submission
New Web sites often achieve initial search engine visibility from fresh Web directory listings. To maintain this visibility over time, however, a site should receive links from noncompetitive, industry-related Web sites. The quality of third party links always carries more weight than the quantity of links.
Thus, the focus of all link development is to think as your target audience thinks and to understand their search behavior. What types of Web sites does your target audience tend to visit, bookmark, and revisit periodically? These types of Web sites are good places to research and analyze for high-quality link development opportunities.
Usability testing for search behaviors
In an ideal situation, usability testing should be the first step in a competitive link analysis. Why should usability testing be the first step? The reason is simple: Web site owners need to determine the most common search behaviors, particularly the querying behavior, of their main target audience.
Many Web site usability professionals create profiles or personas to assist them in the Web development process. A persona is a user archetype that drives the design and interface of a Web site. A profile is somewhat similar to a persona, but it is not as specific. People who fit the descriptions of a persona or profile are the best ones to observe for search behaviors.
For example, if you know that your target audience primarily consists of information technology professionals, you can give your persona an appropriate name and job title to make the persona seem like a real person. Without a name or a visual image, a persona will not become a concrete individual in the minds of the business team (content providers, developers, marketers, search engine optimizers, etc.). My favorite persona name for an American male is Bob, just because the name often conjures images of a likable person. If the business team likes the persona, then the team tends to work harder to make a Web site easy to use for Bob.
Until a persona is clearly defined, the persona is too elastic. This elasticity commonly results in the persona sharing the same characteristics as business team members. When you optimize a Web site, you must use the words and phrases that your target audience types into search queries, not necessarily the words that the site’s business team wants to use. Usability professionals often chant the mantra, “Use the users’ language.” They do not chant, “Use marketing hype.”
Of course, I am not saying that a Web site should contain no sales or marketing language. A successful Web site generally strikes a balance between user expectations and business goals. Sales and marketing language encourages site visitors to take desired calls to action and is necessary for a site to achieve business goals. Nonetheless, very few people link to a site that merely acts as a giant ad for a company or organization. Finding and maintaining the balance is crucial for long-term search engine visibility.
Once Web site owners have six to ten participants for usability testing, they should observe how these participants use the commercial Web search engines for the products, services, or information offered on their Web sites. The idea is not to monitor for search engine positioning but rather for how participants formulate queries and which types of Web sites they gravitate toward.
Figure 4-5 A query for the keyword phrase “green tea benefits” (without the quotation marks) on Google yields some potential link development opportunities, including an About.com guide and some news sites.
Which Web pages do participants read, and which pages do they skip? Are participants likely to bookmark a Web page because its content was helpful in some way? The results of these usability tests will reveal some of the sites to target for future link development opportunities and further research.
Observing querying and other search behavior
Many information retrieval and usability professionals have identified a number of different search behaviors, including but not limited to:
o – Refining
o – Expanding
* Browsing or surfing
One landmark search behavior that was identified long before Google came into existence is berrypicking. Many of the aforementioned search behaviors are actually components of berrypicking behavior. What is so phenomenal about berrypicking research was the conclusion that search is not a linear process.
Though Marcia Bates did not specifically mention the Web in her research (http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/bates/berrypicking.html), her observations are applicable to the Web and the commercial Web search engines. Many people consider the word search to only mean only querying behavior, when, in fact, “search” encompasses a wide variety of behaviors.
For example, a single Google query involves many types of search behavior. After a searcher types in a series of keywords in Google’s search box and clicks the search button, the searcher will either read or scan search results to see which listings best match the query. If the search results are unsatisfactory, the searcher might add more keywords in the search box. Then the searcher might read or scan more search results.
Like link development, usability testing, analysis, and results implementation should be an ongoing process. The idea behind search usability™ is to accommodate a wide variety of search behaviors, not only querying behavior. By making the information on your Web site easy to find externally (via the commercial Web search engines) and internally (after people arrive on your site), a site can meet both business goals and user expectations.
If the searcher visits a site after clicking a link from a commercial Web search engine, the searcher will read or scan the page to determine if the page content matches the query. Browsing a site for further information is also a common occurrence. Searchers often pogostick between search engine results pages and commercial Web sites to find the best answer to their questions.
Look at all of the search behaviors I just mentioned: querying, scanning, reading, refining, and pogosticking. In reality, pogosticking is a negative search behavior because it indicates that the searcher is unsure of the information presented and is less likely to take a desired call to action.
What does search behavior have to do with link development from objective, third party Web sites? By observing the search and querying behaviors of actual users who fit a desired profile or persona, Web site owners can determine the types of sites they like and actually use, and the types of sites they dislike and abandon. The sites that usability participants like and use are targets future link development and link development research.
Link development procedure
As I mentioned previously, in an ideal situation, usability testing should be the first part of link development research. Gathering a list of Web sites and their corresponding URLs from target audience members is an important part of the competitive analysis process.
In the event that your company or organization does not have the time, budget, or other resources to incorporate usability testing, then optimizers can research competitor Web sites on their own. Keep in mind, however, that there is no substitute for user observation and analysis. Even seasoned search engine optimizers are making educated guesses (and often false assumptions) without usability testing.
The following list is the process that I use for determining link development opportunities and link requests:
After Web directory research, search for useful content on all major search engines. This process is probably the most time-consuming part of link development. Google ranks content different from Yahoo. And MSN’s Live ranks content differently from Ask. What you are looking for are sites that appear on all of the search engines results pages consistently over time.
A one-time search for keyword phrases might yield poor quality sites (that achieved search engine positions through unethical means). To get the best return on investment, you want to find sites with high quality content and long-term search engine visibility. These sites are usually the ones with the most credible information.
2. Read the site’s content and see if the site has a section for external linking. What you are looking for is a content “hole.” You might have content available on your site that is not available on the other site. If the site allows external linking, then there is an opportunity for link development.
Make sure the site is not your competitor’s site. Only in rare instances should your site link to a competitor. You also do not want to link to a site that is considered search engine spam.
Search engines will not penalize a Web site for incoming links because Web site owners do not have any control over whose sites link to their sites. However, they will penalize sites that link to poor quality sites. The reason for this is that Web site owners have complete control over the sites they choose to link to. So be selective about the sites you link to. Yahoo’s Site Explorer tool can help you determine whether or not a site is part of a poor-quality link farm.
Send a personalized message to the Web site owner, editor, or guide via a form or email. If the link request is in an email, it should originate from your company’s or organization’s email address, not the address of a search engine optimizer.
Once you have determined some link development opportunities, find the form or email for requesting the link. I like to keep a database (or an Excel spreadsheet) of URLs, email addresses and/or form URLs, and submission dates. If the email has a person’s name in it, always address the person by name.
5. Always be polite and sincere. Show the Web site owner that you have content that will benefit his target audience. Additionally, prove to him that you have read the content on his Web site. If you found the site’s content to be particularly helpful, let him know how and why it was helpful. Mention the specific URL or headline of the content that you found helpful. Don’t lie or stroke an ego just for the link. People can usually detect insincere flattery. Then, let the Web site owner know about your supplemental content and how it might help his site’s visitors.
6. Give the site owner all information for linking back to your site, making it as easy as possible for him to provide the link. Present a suggested title, description, and URL. The title and description do not have to be a Web page’s HTML title-tag content or meta-tag description. Personally, I recommend following the writing style of the Web site owner so that your suggested link will blend in seamlessly with the Web site’s owner’s content.
7. Follow up. If a Web site owner links to your site, thank him. If the Web site owner does not link to your site right away, follow up with a second or third link request. If sending multiple submissions, make sure the email’s content changes a little.
Figure 4-6 Yahoo’s Site Explorer is a great way to get a snapshot of a site’s link development.
Figure 4-7 Type the URL of a competitor site or a link development target into the search box and click the Search button.
Figure 4-8 The search results page will display the URL (or a collection of URLs, if you entered a home page URL in the query). What you are interested in determining are the external, third party links pointing to the target URL. Click on the hypertext link named Inlinks.
Figure 4-9 The search results will display internal links (from site navigation and cross-linking) and external, third party links. For link development research, you only want the external, third party links.
Figure 4-10 From the Show Inlinks drop-down menu, select “Except from this domain.”
Figure 4-11 The search results will display a list of external, third party links.
Do not be a pest. If a site owner is genuinely interested in linking to your site, they usually will link after a third request.
As a general guideline, if a Web site owner genuinely found your content to be helpful, reciprocation should not be a requirement, especially if you are not completely confident that the link opportunity is 100% spam free. Nevertheless, all Web sites should have a Links and/or a Resources section for link development purposes and to supplement content that would not normally be available on a particular type of Web site.
One example of a supplemental and useful Links page for a graphic or Web design site is one that provides links to stock photography sites. Most graphic and Web designers use stock photos as part of the design process, but these types of Web sites rarely sell stock photography as a part of the main Web site.
Figure 4-12 A specific stock photography links and resources Web page.
Legitimate vs. search engine spam link requests
Because link development is part of the fundamental core of effective search engine optimization, many unethical search engine marketers have created entire networks of low quality Web sites purely for link popularity purposes. Here are some ways to tell whether you are receiving a legitimate link request vs. a spam link request:
* The site requesting a link is off topic. Do you ever receive link requests from a site whose content has absolutely nothing to do with the content on your site? For example, this book has a companion Web site at http://www.searchenginesbook.com/. From my book site’s contact form, I get many requests to ecommerce sites, software sites, etc. In other words, I receive thousands of link requests from sites that have nothing to do with search-engine friendly Web site design. Many search engine marketers send out a link request template email once they see a high PageRank score (a number between 1 and 10) on the Google Toolbar. Do not reply to template emails, and do not grant links to sites that fail to provide useful, unique content to your target audience. Link development should always benefit your site visitors.
* Reciprocation is required. I feel that the whole reciprocal linking and Web ring strategy was fundamentally flawed. If I find another Web site’s content to be useful, I will link to that Web site. No reciprocation is required. However, if a Web site owner will not link to my content without reciprocation, that person must not have found my content to be that useful, did he?
* Link request is from a competitor. Sometimes, common sense does not appear to be a part of the link development process among search engine marketers. Why would anyone link to competitor Web sites and provide them with high quality link development? However, if some colleague sites have very informative newsletters that do not compete with the products and services your site offers, you might want to link to that section of their sites because their newsletters contain credible, unique information about a specific topic. But do not link to any colleague who spams the search engines. Ultimately, it will hurt your site’s overall link development.
* Email request demonstrates that a person has not read your site’s content. Many link requests to my book Web site originates from Web positioning software companies. Interestingly, I state very clearly in this book and in my companion Web site I do not use nor endorse position-checking software. Clearly, the person who sends me these types of link request has not read my site. When requesting a link, you should prove to the site owner that you have read his/her site.
* Email request mentions PageRank. I understand that receiving a link from a site with a high PageRank might be a tempting offer. Who doesn’t want high-quality links? But PageRank is not flawless. Sometimes a high PageRank is the result of a large free-for-all spam link farm, which is spam.
Look at the Web site with the high PageRank. Do some digging. If the site is poorly designed and has a wide variety of unrelated topics and links, that high PageRank site is probably due to a link farm. Additionally, many Web sites with a low PageRank generate thousands and millions of dollars in sales.
And many Web sites with a high PageRank generate little or no income. A number between 1 and 10 yields little useful information as to the success or failure of a Web business.
These rules are certainly not applicable 100% of the time. However, these guidelines have helped me save hours of time filtering out low quality link requests.
Search Engine Submission
The guidelines for submitting to search engines are different than the guidelines for submitting to Web directories and third party, industry-related Web sites. With directories, a human editor evaluates your Web site and ensures that it is placed in the most appropriate category. With search engines, no editors or categories are involved. In fact, over time, most search engines will find a naturally spider-friendly site without direct human submission.
Search engines begin finding Web pages through lists of heavily used servers from major Internet Service Providers and the most frequently visited Web directories, such as Yahoo. Because the major Web directories are a starting point for many search engine spiders, submitting your site to directories is the first step in effective search engine submission. The popularity boost can greatly affect search engine visibility.
Planning a search engine submission campaign
Many Web site owners feel that they will get maximum search engine visibility by having every single page on their site listed well in the search engines. This belief is a common misconception. Every page on a Web site does not have to be optimized in order to obtain effective search engine visibility. In fact, many successful small business sites only need 20 to 25 optimized pages, and larger sites usually do not need more than 200 optimized pages.
Ideally, Web site owners should never need to submit their site’s URLs to the commercial Web search engines. Search engine spiders should be able to discover new and updated content with little human intervention.
Generally speaking, if a Web site has: (1) a URL structure, (2) at least one navigation scheme, and (3) relevant horizontal and vertical cross-linking that search engines can follow, and if the site has some high-quality, objective, third-quality link development, then search engine submission is an unnecessary process.
If Web site owners are finding it difficult to encourage search engine spidering, or if they find that search engines will not crawl their sites without site map submission or participating in a paid inclusion program, then the Web site probably has a substandard site architecture and interface. Or a site’s external, third party link development might not be substantial enough to encourage deep crawling.
Either way, end users (be they qualified prospects or Web directory editors) are not finding the site to be intuitive and easy to use. Perhaps desired information and clear calls to action are difficult to find. Perhaps the navigational elements are confusing. Maybe clickable elements do not look clickable, and unclickable elements look clickable. In other words, the site might not clearly communicate desired information to both humans and search engine spiders.
Coming to the aforementioned realization after a site is built is a more common occurrence than one might expect. If a Web site receives thousands or millions of visitors per day without search engine visibility, then one logical conclusion is that there must be something wrong with the commercial Web search engines. And the search engines should change or make exceptions to accommodate a clearly user-friendly site.
I am always fascinated with this conclusion. Reason? I would never have the audacity to demand that the Wall Street Journal newspaper publish one of my articles on its front page, every day, and provide a link to my Web site. I doubt that any major company or well-known organization would, either. Yet people who work for these same groups have no problems making the same demand of the commercial Web search engines.
If your boss, clients, or other powers-that-be insist on search engine submission as a job responsibility or a required client service, the pages you should submit to the search engines are the home page, site map, and/or site index, and pages that are properly optimized. Some search engines only need your home page URL, and search engines should be able to crawl the rest of your Web site from the links on your home page and subsequent navigation schemes and cross-linking on other Web pages. Nonetheless, always be sure that your home page is properly optimized.
To get optimal visibility in search engine results, keywords and keyword phrases must be placed strategically throughout your Web pages. To summarize, keywords need to be placed in:
* Title tags
* Visible body text
* Within or near hypertext links
* Meta tags
* Alternative text
* URL (subdomain, subdirectory, and/or file names)
Your title tags, visible body text, and anchor text are considered primary text because all of the major search engines place a great deal of emphasis on this text. Meta-tag content, alternative text, and URL structure text are considered secondary text because not all search engines use this text to determine rankings.
To ensure that the search engines are able to find your optimized pages, your site designer should provide multiple means for the search engine spiders to access those pages. Effective cross-linking within your site is beneficial for both your site’s visitors and the search engine spiders. If cross-linking is too difficult or time consuming to implement, creating and submitting a site map will give spiders access to many URLs within your site. However, a site map is often used as a Band-Aid for poor or substandard information architecture. Be prepared to re-evaluate your site’s information architecture and interface if you find that the only way search engines access most of your site’s content is via a site map.
With free submission, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for your pages to appear in the search results. If your search engine marketing campaign has specific deadlines, using paid inclusion programs and pay-per-click search engines are your best options because of the quick turnaround time.
To succeed with both paid inclusion programs and pay-per-click search engine advertising, remember their unique characteristics. Pages submitted to paid inclusion programs must be properly optimized to rank well. Select only your best optimized, most targeted pages for paid inclusion programs.
Effective pay-per-click search engine advertising involves careful keyword research and selection as well as writing a series of ads. Designing and/or selecting appropriate landing pages for your pay-per-click advertising are also essential. Design landing pages and write a series of possible ads before you sign up for any pay-per-click program.
Search engine submission checklist
To avoid potential spidering and indexing difficulties, duplicate/redundant content delivery, spam penalties, and wasted time and effort, review your site using the following checklist to be sure your site is ready for submission.
Are you creating Web pages with content your target audience is interested in reading?
Does your content contain highly focused keyword phrases rather than phrases that are too general and competitive?
Are you optimizing your Web pages for at least three to five keywords at a time?
Are you using regionally specific keywords, when applicable?
Are you using the most commonly used variations of your keywords, based on your keyword research?
Does each optimized page contain unique HTML title-tag content?
Are you using multiple keywords in your title tags, using the power combo strategy, when appropriate?
Are your most important keywords (a) appearing above-the-fold, and (b) throughout each optimized page?
Are you including keywords in hypertext links whenever possible?
Does each optimized page have at least one appropriate primary and secondary call to action?
Does each optimized page contain a unique meta-tag description?
Do your meta-tag descriptions contain both targeted keyword phrases and a call to action?
Does each optimized page contain a unique meta-tag keyword list?
Does each set of meta-tag keywords contain words and phrases that you actually use within the visible body text?
Do you place common misspellings of your keywords within your meta-tag keywords?
Do your graphic images contain descriptive keywords within the alternative text attribute when appropriate?
Do you provide at least two means of navigating your site: one for your site visitors and one for the search engines?
Does your site have a site map and/or a site index to assist both your visitors and the search engine spiders?
If your site uses frames, is your site navigational with and without the frameset?
If you are using Cascading Style Sheets on your site, did you place the style sheets in an external .css file?
Do you have any redirects on your site? If so, have you placed the Robots Exclusion Protocol or appropriate 301 redirects on pages that use redirects? Search engines will list the destination URL.
Are your most important optimized pages placed in the root directory (along with your home page) on your Web server? Or if your site’s URLs are dynamically generated, are the most important URLs as short and easy to read as possible?
Is your robots.txt file placed in the root directory on your Web server? Did you remember to transfer your robots.txt file before you transfer any other Web pages to your server?
Are you using subdomains or subdirectories, and is the content for each subdomain or subdirectory unique and substantial?
If you are submitting pages to non-U.S. search engines, are you writing your pages in the appropriate language?
If it is within your budget, do you submit your optimized pages to paid inclusion programs?
If you use pay-for-placement search engine advertising, are your keyword purchases based on detailed keyword research and selection?
If you use pay-for-placement search engine advertising, do you carefully monitor your bids to get the best search engine visibility at the most reasonable cost?
Did you name your Web pages something that your target audience will remember easily, using keywords whenever possible and appropriate?
Did you design or select a series of landing pages for your pay-for-placement advertising? If the landing pages do not contain substantially unique content, did you place the Robots Exclusion Protocol on those pages?
Do the search engines and your site visitors view the same content? (The only exception to this rule is sites that participate in XML-feed programs.)
The time between page submission and addition of the page to the index is called the search engine lead time. You will not see results in your site statistics software until the lead time has passed.
Position checking software
Many search engine marketers like to check positions using automated query software to see if a Web page listing has been added to the search engine index and to see how the page ranks.
Unfortunately, all of the major search engines frown on this practice. The goal of this practice is primarily to tweak a site for positioning purposes, not to create content that truly benefits site visitors. Furthermore, the use of automated position checking software places a considerable load on the search engines’ servers. For these reasons, many search engines have tried to limit or ban this software usage.
Too many search engine marketers focus only on positioning without reviewing the Web site’s entire online marketing processes and how they interact with each other. Top positions are useless if your target audience is not clicking on the links to your site and converting into customers. In addition, search engine positions alone do not communicate desired user behavior, or the roadblocks that inhibit desired user behavior. Instead of overzealously focusing on maintaining top positioning, online marketers should spend more time and money measuring and analyzing visitor behavior.
Therefore, when checking the effectiveness of your search engine marketing campaign, do not rely on position checking software. Rather, monitor your site statistics software to see how your target audience is finding and using your site.
How To Resubmit a Listing
If your site is listed in one or more of the major Web directories, search engines usually will find your new and updated pages without resubmission. Therefore, resubmission is not a necessity. However, resubmission alerts the search engine spiders and directory editors that you have made changes to pages on your site.
The search engine spiders will usually find your site’s new information each time they visit your site, generally every two to eight weeks. Web directories are different. Remember, editors are sorting through hundreds of submissions per day. They might not notice the subtle changes on your site. Therefore, if your business has significantly changed, your URL or company name has changed, or your site clearly belongs in a different category, resubmission to Web directories is essential to preserve the factual representation of your Web site in the directories.
Modifying a Web directory listing
Once your site has been added to a Web directory, you should not have to request a modification unless your business or organization name, company location, domain name or URL has changed. Another good reason to request a listing modification is if your company no longer offers a product or service that is shown in your site description.
For example, suppose your business no longer offers a service that is shown in your site description. Directory editors will be more than happy to modify that description because the description no longer illustrates, accurately, the contents of your Web site. If your business no longer offers a specific product and that product is reflected in the directory category, then directory editors will allow you to change your category. Editors want the information in their directories to be accurate.
One of the simplest changes to request is a regional listing. If your site has a regional listing and your main office is no longer in that region, directory editors want you to modify the listing to the more appropriate region. Quite often, if you modify the physical address on your Web site, a directory editor might notice and move your site to the more appropriate regional category without the site owner taking any action. However, it is always best to point out this modification to the editors right away rather than wait for an editor to discover it.
Careful record keeping can make the change process move more smoothly. If you have a tracking or order number, the initial date(s) of submission, and the other relevant information, directory editors will be able to locate your site more quickly and make any suggested modifications.
If a Web directory has a Change Request Form, fill it out exactly as requested. If a directory allows paid, expedited submission with its Change Request Form and your budget will allow it, the change request will be processed more quickly.
Most Web directories do not allow for expedited submission, however, and the change requests might take some time to process. Again, careful record keeping is essential in order to get the best results.
With a Web directory, your site must be reviewed first, accepted into the directory, and then added to the database. This lead time for free Web directory submission is generally between three to four weeks, but could take as long as four months.
If your change request has not been added to a Web directory within a specified lead time, then resubmit the Change Request Form. Wait another three to four weeks to allow directory editors time to evaluate and process your suggested modifications.
In the event that your change request is not processed after three submissions, then contact a Web directory representative via email. Immediately following your third change request, send an email to the appropriate editor. Figure 4-13 shows a sample email to Yahoo requesting a category and a description change for the fictional TranquiliTeas Web site:
Figure 4-13 Sample email requesting a change to a Yahoo listing.
The person who made the initial submission to a Web directory should be the person sending the change request email. If a different person is sending this email, be sure to mention the initial submitter’s name and email address in a short paragraph at the beginning of the letter. Let the editors know that you are the new person responsible for your Web site.
Check your site statistics software regularly to see when the site has been modified in a Web directory, or just search for your listing within the directory. If your site has not been added to a directory within three to four weeks, then resubmit. Keep track of your dates of submission, categories, descriptions, and titles.
In the event that your change request is not accepted into a Web directory after three submissions, then contact a directory representative via email.
If paid submission is within your budget, use this method for directory resubmission. The turnaround time is much faster.
If your submission is rejected
Submissions are rejected for a variety of reasons. The site might be submitted to the wrong category. The site might not offer truly unique content. The Web server might not have been functioning properly when a directory editor was evaluating a submission. The designer left some “Under Construction” pages on the site. The description might not accurately reflect the contents of the site being submitted.
If your submission is rejected, try to find out why. If you can find out the specific reason, it will be easier to appeal the decision. For example, if your site was rejected because it contained “Under Construction” pages, those pages can be easily removed.
Other rejections are not so easily appealed. In one situation, a Web site owner created a unique glossary of over 1,000 terms on her site. The content was truly unique because it encompassed a specific industry, and most of the definitions were not available in other glossaries currently listed in the Web directory. After the main site was accepted, the Web site owner submitted this glossary to an additional category. Figure 4-14 is an email excerpt from Yahoo explaining the initial reason the additional listing was rejected:
Figure 4-14 Excerpt from a Yahoo! rejection email.
If a submission is rejected, in general, you have 30 days to appeal the decision. When appealing via email, above all, be polite. Directory editors are human beings. They are looking out for the best interests of their end users. If they rejected your submission, they have reasons to do so, though you might not agree with them.
Figure 4-15 shows a sample email we helped our client write to Yahoo to appeal a rejection email. After reviewing the contents of this email, the additional listing was accepted.
Figure 4-15 Sample appeal letter sent to Yahoo.
Remember, editors are looking out for the best interest of their directories and their end users. They are not looking out for the best interest of your individual Web site. If they feel that your resubmissions meet their guidelines, then your site will be accepted and/or modified.
Search engine resubmission
As stated previously, crawler-based search engines will find your new and updated pages without resubmission. Therefore, resubmission is not always necessary.
Sometimes, due to technical reasons, a page might be dropped from a search engine index. For example, your Web host might have upgraded or rebooted your server when a search engine spider visited your site, making it impossible or difficult for the spider to access your pages for a short, temporary period. Pages that have been dropped can be safely resubmitted, as long as they are not spam pages.
If a page is already in a search engine index, do not resubmit the page unless you have updated with new and significant information. If the information is significant, then visitors should be able to view that information change in a standard Web browser. Changes in your visible body text, and the addition or modification of a product photo, constitute a significant change.
An insignificant change would be rewriting a meta-tag description or a title tag purely to increase search engine positioning.
To see if your Web pages have been added or deleted from a search engine, go to each of the major search engine sites listed below and type in the string listed below the search engine name. Replace “companyname.com” with your domain.
Yahoo (Site Explorer)
You can also type in the full URL (www.companyname.com/pagename.html) or info:www.companyname.com/pagename.html to see if an individual page has been added to the search engine index. If search engine visibility is important for individual targeted pages within a site, then searching for individual URLs versus a site can be an easier task. The site: search will give you a general idea of how many pages are in the search engine index overall.
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