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3 cornerstones of a good linking strategy

July 12, 2010

Three good posts this past week focused on linking strategies and why they’re important. What’s a linking strategy? Here’s how we define it in our book: It’s a plan of action with the objective to become a hub of authority on your area of expertise. A hub of authority is a site that a lot of authoritative sites want to link to because it contains a lot of original, relevant content on a particular subject. If you become a hub of authority, you will naturally get PageRank from Google, which is the most important factor in ranking well for the keywords your target audience cares about.

Mike Moran pretty much echos what we wrote in our book, except that many of his points were written before we wrote our book. So let’s just say we agree. To wit: Don’t spend a lot of effort trying to get links to your pages, at least not from people outside of your friends and followers.Focus on creating good content.

David Brown has a great summary of why PageRank matters. Again there’s a lot of convergence between what he writes and what we write in Chapter 7 of our book. The main thing I want to focus on here is his point about selling and trading links, which is the fastest way to get knocked out of Google’s index if you are caught. This is an example of working too hard to get links, and it’s unethical.

Jason Prescott wrote a great post about some new features of the Google algorithm, which includes a lot of link building advice. Again I hear harmonies with what we wrote in our book. The main thing I read in his post is that there is no substitute for original rich content in garnering links. The things people share and ultimately link to tend to be videos or other rich media. So a good content strategy should include video, demos and other rich media.

Together the three blog posts provide independent validation for our views. In this post, I want to do a deeper dive into those conclusions because they are foundational to an effective linking strategy.

What not to do

Rather than starting with what we think you ought to do, I’d like to start with what you ought to avoid in your linking strategy. A lot of advice out there and whole software applications focus your attention on developing link swap relationships. Before Google caught onto this practice, it was a way for site owners to increase their ranking by getting more links into their pages. In extreme cases, link swappers would agree to place a bunch of redundant links on each others pages to mutually pump up the link juice.

Google is ruthless in its attempts to rid its index of pages created by owners attempting to rig the system. So it didn’t take long for its engineers to develop ways of detecting link swapping. Needless to say, we highly recommend that you avoid this practice. To the extent that you share links between your site and other relevant sites, it should be an organic process. We especially warn against buying or selling links. These are the easiest forms of link swapping to detect because the link exchange networks are often affiliated with other exchanges with questionable netiquette, that is, bad neighborhoods.

What to do

As I mentioned in the intro, the goal should be to become a hub of authority on topic or topics of interest to your target audience. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of site ownership because authority is not self designated. If you try to say that you’re the leading authority on some topic, it will ring false and you could end up doing damage to your reputation. The only way to legitimately become a hub of authority is to create great content that other authorities on the subject recognize as authoritative. Fortunately, if you adopt these three practices, you will get there eventually.

1. Build your network. Find the people from whom you want to gain recognition for your work and connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. If the authorities on your topic don’t know about your work, you will not get links to your content. Even if they do know about your work, it will take time for them to acknowledge it. But you won’t get anywhere without developing these relationships. The good news is, it’s what I recommend for your professional development overall, so it is a natural extension of other activities that are necessary to building your personal brand. You can start building that brand with microblogging while your major content efforts are just gaining traction.

2. Get content discipline. There’s no substitute for well researched and written content. This doesn’t happen without a content strategy. What I have in mind for the strategy is to start with developing a unique point of view that dovetails with other content in your field, and then develop an editorial calendar or curriculum that makes sense of this point of view. Dovetailing the curriculum with your field is a matter of listening well to what the experts are saying and making sure that your work fills gaps or otherwise makes a positive contribution to the conversation.

For example, our unique point of view is to connect relevance theory from linguistics with media determinism from rhetoric. We found this connection creates clarity around the essential aspects of Web content strategy. From this point of view, we built a curriculum as expressed in the chapters of our book. This blog is a way to fill in the gaps in that curriculum as it relates to what the experts are saying and develop strategic connections between the curriculum and the folks in our network.

3. Build rich media into your content strategy. We focus on digital writing in this blog, but we can’t over emphasize that text alone isn’t enough. One of the best ways to get people to notice and link to your work is to get third parties to share it with folks in their networks. Videos tend to get shared more than any other form of content on the Web. So producing original, high quality videos should be an essential part of your content strategy.

That doesn’t mean that you just post videos on YouTube and consider your work done. Your content footprint should link to videos on YouTube. And there are ways to post videos to YouTube and have them load and play in windows within your experiences. Videos by themselves don’t get picked up and shared. If you develop good content as a wrapper around the videos, you can get them listed in your SERP pages, and links will naturally develop to these assets.

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