[adv] What's a Link Worth, Anyway?

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Story Text:

"Many variables influence the value of a link. A scientific approach to determining the value of a link can help webmasters decide which links are worth the money--and which links are snake oil."

By Andy Hagans for Text Link Ads

When a webmaster is considering a link opportunity--whether trading links with a related site, renting a link from an authority site, or submitting to a directory--he always wonders one thing: is this link worth the price? That price could be a link back from the webmaster's own site, a small fee to be reviewed by a directory editor, or a hefty sum to rent a link from the authority site.

Of course, in any cost/benefit analysis, the determining factor is not the cost, but the ratio of cost to benefit (in other words, the return on investment). This presents a problem for a webmaster who is considering a link opportunity, because the benefit from any given link is often quite unclear. Most webmasters usually do not consider taking a good calculation of a link's value. They often gauge value on only a limited set of criteria.

But there are several variables to take into consideration when determining the value of a link. Taking a scientific approach to analyze these variables can remove much of the guesswork and help a webmaster to accurately predict the return on investment of any given link. The main variables affecting the value of a link include the following.

  • Theme of the linking page.
  • Traffic of the linking page.
  • Incoming links to the linking page.
  • Outgoing links on the linking page.
  • Location on the linking page.
  • Anchor text of the link.

Theme of the Linking Page

Many webmasters have long held the belief that the type of theming described in the Hilltop paper has not been implemented with much effectiveness. Analysis of anecdotal evidence (the SERPs) suggests that major search engines however are beginning to place more weight on theming in their algorithms. As algorithms are getting "smarter" every day, it is likely that this trend will only increase in the future. Therefore, if the theme of the linking page is related to the theme of the target page, the value of that link is higher for SEO purposes.

Furthermore, if the visitors on the linking page have come there looking for content that has a similar theme as the target page, it is likely these visitors will have an interest in the content of the target page. Therefore a referral from a linking page with similar content as the target page is relatively likely to convert into a sale or lead on the target site.

Traffic of the Linking Page

An oft-overlooked but significant aspect of a link is the potential for direct traffic. If the linking page receives a high volume of visitors, it is likely that it will send the target page relatively more traffic.

The quality of the traffic is just as important as the quantity. For instance, let's assume that the target page is part of an e-commerce site. If the linking page receives visits from affluent online shoppers that are likely to convert into sales or leads, this traffic will be quite valuable to the target page. Conversely, if the traffic to the linking page is mostly made up of visitors looking for freebies or warez, then this traffic may be virtually worthless to the target site.

Incoming Links to the Linking Page

The incoming links to the linking page must be analyzed in multiple ways. Firstly, a link is more valuable from a page with both numerous and heavily-weighted incoming links (PageRank would be a rough measure of this). Most webmasters only go as far as this point when analyzing a link's value.

But PageRank is only a rough indicator of the value of a page's link popularity; the quality of those incoming links must be analyzed, too. For instance, a link from a PR7 page with numerous .edu and .gov incoming links would be highly valuable. Conversely, a link from a PR7 page that has obtained its PageRank simply by renting a single PR8 link will not be as valuable.

Finally, the theme of the linking page's incoming links must be analyzed. If its incoming links are on-topic, the linking page will be strongly entrenched into its topical neighborhood in the eyes of search engines, and thus may carry "authority".

Outgoing Links on the Linking Page

The outgoing links on the linking page are important because they will place the target site in a neighborhood. If the linking page is linking out to off-topic, spammy sites, then the target site may become associated with a "bad neighborhood" in the eyes of major search engines. Likewise, if the linking page is linking out to on-topic, authoritative sites, then the target site may be seen as part of the authoritative topical neighborhood.

Location on the Linking Page

The location of the link on the page is important for two reasons. Firstly, a link within the content block, or above the fold on the menu or header, will tend to have a relatively high clickthrough rate, thus sending the target site a high amount of traffic.

Secondly, while there is no evidence that major search engines are currently using block level link analysis of the type described in the VIsion-based Page Segmentation (VIPS) paper, it is possible that they will in the future. When an algorithm such as VIPS is applied, links from the content block or above the fold will probably be considered more important and thus will have more SEO value.

Anchor Text of the Link

The anchor text of the link is also important; ideally, the anchor text of the link will contain the target keywords of the target page. It is wise however to use caution when attempting to optimize anchor text, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, major search engines may penalize a site if a large percentage of its incoming links have identical anchor text. Secondly, the implementation of algorithms related to Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) allows for a wide variation of anchor text in a page's incoming links without diluting the relevancy boost for its target keywords. For this reason, a webmaster should seek to obtain links with anchor text that accurately describes the content of the target page, but should also allow for anchor text variations, as well as some links with anchor text that is not descriptive whatsoever. (This will appear natural.)

Holistic Link Evaluation

The preceding aspects of links, if analyzed correctly, will help a webmaster sort out valuable incoming links from the snake oil. It is important to remember, though, that no link is going to be perfect; very few incoming links will excel in all possible areas. But by using the criteria outlined above, it is easy to compare the potential value of different incoming link opportunities, and act accordingly. I've heard it said that SEO is both art and science: don't forget the science.

By Andy Hagans for Text Link Ads

Andy Hagans works as the Strategist for Text Link Ads. He blogs about his link marketing and SEO research at Link Building Blog.

Comments

Hope you all enjoy our

Hope you all enjoy our first, brave sponsored post - thought we'd kick this off with a cracker, thanks andy :)

Very good info

There's a few things I'd include:

1. Ranking for the term you're targeting (site & page)
2. Global Link Pop (via PR or # of inbounds)
3. Local Link Pop (Lots of links from topical community?)
4. Temporal Nature of Link (How long will it last, will it be updated, etc.)
5. Trust of Site (Is it CNN, The Economist Online, the BBC, a University, a big non-profit, or a relative unknown)
6. How many visitors will click on it? WIll they be of high quality? What will be their conversion rate?

The company you keep

Also, what other links yours is included amongst.

Good Stuff

Good post. Always enjoy Andy's articles on link building.

Hilltop's day has come and gone

I'm amazed that so many people in the SEO community still invoke Hilltop as if it were the Holy Grail of search result ranking. Google has de-emphasized the impact of multiple directory links on rankings in the search results. They had to do that because of all the DMOZ clones.

Their latest bag of tricks includes empasizing the DMOZ description associated with the link as the primary text (versus the actual text on the page). I am beginning to think that may be a byproduct of an attempt by Google to filter out duplicate directory listings (basically, they seem to want to convert all the shadow directories into supplemental results, but in doing so they have managed to tag a lot of primary content).

Google has de-emphasized the

Google has de-emphasized the impact of multiple directory links on rankings in the search results. They had to do that because of all the DMOZ clones.

You don't think duplicate content filters can pick up the DMOZ clones? Many of the DMOZ clone sites swiftly end up in the supplemental results.

DMOZ clones and Google dup content filter

Quote:
Michael: Google has de-emphasized the impact of multiple directory links on rankings in the search results. They had to do that because of all the DMOZ clones.

seobook: You don't think duplicate content filters can pick up the DMOZ clones? Many of the DMOZ clone sites swiftly end up in the supplemental results.

Aaron, that is very close to my point. The DMOZ clones are not being shown as frequently as they used to be. So, why should we assume that their link values help any?

one link?

One thing I thought about when reading the article was "one link"? I mean, one link just don't cut it unless your topic is very special (in which case "on-page" might do it alone). You would want more than one link, and (some say) especially a variety of links.

However, putting all that effort into every single link, wouldn't that mean that you spend all your time evaluating links all of a sudden? It seems like a lot of effort to me. How will TLA help me with all this? (I'm not asking for business secrets, I'd just like to know a little about what it is you do and how) - being a sponsor and all that...

All things in moderation

>However, putting all that effort into every single link, wouldn't that mean that you spend all your time evaluating links all of a sudden?

I suppose it could mean that--if we're talking about 1000s of one-off links. All things in moderation.

Meanwhile sometimes one or two links can have a huge effect on traffic and rankings--the pertinent question being, "but what is the ROI?" And in such a case I think a thorough analysis will pay for itself.

>How will TLA help me with all this?

We won't, necessarily. Obviously any link builder / buyer needs to perform due diligence and analyze value based on their particular knowledge and business situation.

That said, we do tend to buy inventory on sites that excel in most or all of the areas above. I guess the bottom line of the article was "here are the variables which affect the value of the link -- a really good link will excel in most or all of these areas". And that's the type of inventory we are actively building.

>I'd just like to know a little about what it is you do and how

We sell text links on high quality niche publishers. Rather than bore everyone with a long-winded explanation, if you're interested, just visit our site http://www.textlinkads.com :-)

p.s. in case anyone doesn't know, notredamekid = Andy Hagans = Text Link Ads employee

Worry

My main worry about this stuff, apart from the forum claims about negative effects and FUD, is how do you know before you try? Fair enough for clients with budgets but for your own sites how do you know where to put your money and how much it is going to cost to acheive some sort of return? Maybe I am just too clueless to see it but it would be nice to have some sort of table comparing text links, contextual ads, banners, etc pros and cons and example costs for, say, chilli sauce/underwater bagpipes/framed cat photograph/widget site

depends....

Unfortunately for each site the return for different methods will be widely different. From the top of my head,

1. The profit margin of different sites / products varies widely
2. The SEO situation of different sites varies widely -- for some sites, 20 powerful rented links will yield huge returns in the SERPs, while for others, it will sandbox them into oblivian.

Nothing is 'simple' in SEO anymore IMHO - it all depends on individual situations. It is impossible to survive without doing your own research and knowing 'how your business compares'... not to mention having a good handle on your site's SEO situation.

Aaron, that is very close to

Aaron, that is very close to my point. The DMOZ clones are not being shown as frequently as they used to be. So, why should we assume that their link values help any?

I wasn't saying the clones were still counting but some others may count a little.

I feel though we (perhaps me) sorta hijacked this thread though, so back on track ... good informatinve article Andy.

:-)

Thanks :-) I'm going for the Pulitzer

What's a "Link Worth"

What a clever way to rank for a competitor's name.

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