Our next installment of ongoing ad:tech Chicago 2006 coverage provided by Online Marketing Blog focuses on link building.
This SEO related session was two thirds full, which dispells my earlier suggestion that interest in SEO might be slipping here at ad:tech. What was to be a rounded topic of on-page and off-page optimization turned out to be focused on linking as one of the presenters was not able to attend.
It was good to see different speakers on SEO here at ad:tech, but SES or Pubcon veterans would have balked at some parts of Dan Perry’s presentation as being too basic or not entirely useful. However, this is ad:tech and many aspects of SEO are still a mystery to most attendees. As a result, the information presented by Dan may have been more palatable and provoking of questions as there was a good Q/A session afterwards.
Rob Garner of iCrossing had started things out by talking about the importance of understanding the impact of a site redesign on search engine rankings. He provided a worst case example of a re-launched site with renamed urls and no redirection plan. The results were disastrous with lost rankings, traffic and worst of all, lost sales. The lesson is to preserve “your url equity”.
When planning a site redesign, it is important to bring a search strategist in early. Here are some questions to ask your web marketing team:
1. How can the URL architecture be included in the business and technical requirement?
Many have the mis-perception that SEO is done in the middle and at the end of a site desig/redesign and it is important that these considerations are part of the site planning from day one.
2. How much value do you currently have in your URLS? Look at the quality of the inbound and site wide links. Look at the age and history of domain URLs. Look at your files to see whether links are driving traffic or not.
3. How can we preserve the existing URL structure?
4. what impact will other development and business requirements have on URL equity?
Rob also offered some further insight on valuing links and calculating deeplink ratio. Rather than use Rob’s formula, there is a tool that calculates this pointed out in Dan’s presentation below.
Overall, redesigning a site does not have to have negative consequences on your site rankings. If the search marketing experts can be involved as soon in the process as possible, and proper planning is in place, negative effects can be minimized.
Next up is Dan Perry from Career Education Corporation who discusses various aspects about linking. Dan does the “here’s why I am up here and you’re not” speech which is a bit odd. Since his company manages .edu sites, it is easy to get inbound links. They are however, very conservative about outbound links.
Dan emphasizes that it’s not the quantity it’s the quality that matters with links because the search engines care about quality and so should you. When link building, Dan says it is important to think about how likely would someone visiting your site convert if they came from a particular link source? If you don’t think site visitors would convert, then don’t bother asking for a link from that site.
Dan’s linking tips are divided between Basic, Advanced, Expert and Bonus. I am not sure I would have labeled them that way as the Advanced and Expert tips were a bit old hat. At least to an old SEO like myself.
The fundamentals include submitting to directories. Here is a list of directories from the Search Engine Watch Forum. A useful tool is Google directory, where sites are listed by page rank.
The advanced linking tips offered included competitive intelligence using MarkeLeap tools and Link Hounds Link Harvester tool. Link Harvester provides deep link percentage and segments inbound links by type. It also shows whois, archive.org, Google cache, home page text, Dmoz listing, Yahoo and MSN listings.
As for expert linking tips, Dan offered up a backlink builder tool that allows you to enter a keyword and display links to possible linking opportunities. This tool uses variations of the keywords you enter and a predefined list of phrases often found on websites that encourage submissions. Dan offers this tip with a bit of caution as it may not be right for every web site in terms of quality links.
The other expert tip focused on researching links to a site on Google using the syntax: @ www.domain.com rather than link:www.domain.com to identify all the sites linking to a particular URL as well as all the pages that mention the URL but do not link to it.
Now it’s time for the bonus tips: Use the $80 PRWeb option which Dan says will get you into Yahoo News which is much more popular than Google News. Also, be sure to post releases to your web site which will help attract long tail search visibility.
Another bonus tip is to require a link in your contracts with vendors and partners.
Dan mentions that link building work is a great task for a summer intern who can clean up current links and perform competitive research.
With only two presenters, there is ample time for audience questions.
Audience: What do you think about paid text links?
Both Rob and Dan believe that eventually search engines will devalue paid text links.
Fionn: Focus on links for traffic. Paid links for benefit on search engines can get you in trouble.
Audience: Do you have to be a publicly traded company to distribute on PRWeb and can you have links in the press releases?
Dan: No, PRWeb will take press releases from anyone. Yes you can have links in the releases.
Audience: What’s the best way to get links from .edu sites? Can I buy links from your .edu sites?
Dan: Not from us. .edu domains are acquired differently than regular domains. One tip is that students at some schools are selling links from their home pages.
Fionn: Create some content that is useful to visitors to a .edu site. When you contact them for a link, you can offer something of value to link to.
Audience: What weight would you give on page vs. off page?
Dan and Rob: More weight towards links. Too many “on page” factors can be spammed and links still serve as credible indicator of page quality.
Audience: Are there analytics packages ideal for measuring the value of links?
Rob: If you see a lift in your positioning, then your web analytics can be used to determine the source of the traffic, allowing you to assign value to links.
Audience: What is your advice for asking for links?
Rob: Email is inefficient. A phone call can be a lot more productive.
Dan: The prevalence of link spam is reducing the trust worthiness of link building email.
Fionn: Content is the best way to get links. A link directory of many different websites on your site can get you penalized, so remove it.
Rob: Many web marketers are realizing that they are now publishers. So content is inline with effective link building.
This session was a bit more like basic link building than links and content optimization, but it did reinforce sage ideas about focusing on what is important for the user as well as focusing on quality rather than quantity. What I would like to have seen more of was information about using linkable content, viral linking and link bait. Perhaps those are topics for the next ad:tech.
For more coverage of ad:tech Chicago 2006, visit the ad:tech blog.