Remember: Link Building is not just for SEO

In this post I've taken a step back from practical tips, to discuss something more strategic that's been on my mind for a little while, regarding the occasionally skewed view of Search Marketers to think only in terms on rankings, and not broader website success - but this doesn't by any means apply to everyone in the industry.

In many ways, the post is a précis to some research that I'll publish here in due course.

It's not what you do, it's why you do it

The work that Search Engine Marketers do for clients can be fairly well defined, and has a clear value to them. By improving their ranking for certain keywords, we attract more visitors to a site  - visitors who have expressed an interested in a subject relevant to the site.

However, there are occasions where building the search engine visibility of a site is not a suitable marketing strategy; if you want people to enter a competition or watch a video that won't be around for long, then the site may be able to receive more visitors or a higher quality by referrals from other websites. Thus, linking to the site from relevant, well trafficked sites can be very valuable.

For the Internet Marketer (it should already be clear that I believe a a title beyond 'SEM' is required) building links for traffic can be rewarding, as well as a fun break from traditional thinking. Analytics logs will show you exactly how many visitors (and conversions) each link resulted in - this means you quickly refine your link building strategy to focus on the techniques that give most worthwhile returns.

Additionally, the close relationship between creating a link and receiving visitors means that the middleman (Google, with her impenetrable algorithm) is out of the equation. This means that you are suddenly free from concerns about:

  • links behind logins on forums
  • nofollow links
  • image links without anchor text
  • penalised sites
  • links from bad neighbourhoods
  • exactly on-target anchor text.
In addition, you can now buy links with impunity. They are just an advert (just make sure you nofollow them, to avoid impacting on the traditional SEO work being done on the site.) Again - given that you can assign an exact value to the visitors from each link, you'll soon know what's worth spending resource to create and what's not.

LinkBuilding for SEO and Traffic - A variety of link sources

2 Birds, 1 Stone?

So, the links we build are broadly either for traffic, or for search engine strength. In fact, in the 'random walk' model of link graph analysis, all links should do both. A link from a page with visitors will deliver some of those visitors to the linked site.

However, the web has failed to continue to work like this, in both directions. I will often place a link knowing that it will provide significant search engine benefit, but will barely ever refer visitors (e.g.: from a strong, but low traffic directory) and some links, such as  ad banners, tweets and Wikipedia references bring traffic (and lots of it) but no search engine benefit.

A savvy Internet Marketer should be building links for referred traffic as well as rankings, because it will ultimately benefit the target website, making it more successful and profitable.

A savvy website owner hiring an IM/SEM should not get hung up on their search rankings or (god forbid) how many links have been built. They should care about - and judge their Internet Marketer on - the amount of high quality traffic that arrives at the site.

A question that I will answer in a future post is: is there a correlation between the search engine benefit a link provides, and the traffic it sends? Is there some way we can identify links that provide the best overall benefit, and avoid spending time and money on those that provide neither?

In the mean time, I'll be trying to discover if website owners would really prefer to increase links, rankings, visitors or conversions.

Your contributions are invited, and these are particular questions that I'd like to have other people's thoughts on:

  • If your job title looks like 'Search Marketer', is that really what you do?
  • If you are involved with / in charge of a website that you own or for a client, how is success of the site measured? Does this correlate with how you are measured? Does it correlate with the work you aim to do on the site?

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