In this article I will examine 5 commonly made mistakes in external link building. They are so common because most website owners and in-house website care-takers don't know they are making them. After examining them I will explain how you can avoid the pitfalls and improve your external link building strategy. One of the most important questions I ask any website owner who asks for advice is "what external link building strategies do you use?" - some come back with 'I've no idea' and others roll out a long list of ideas of how they've built links ... I then scratch the surface and ask some detailed questions about link styling, it is here where many begin to understand why not all links are equal in the eyes of search engines.
1 - Judgement by Trust Alone!
Good external linking strategies attempt to obtain links from many different sources. The problem here is that not all websites are equal to search engines - there is a "trust value". But how do you judge what is a good website?
The answer is you look for what is known as Authority. In days gone by many SEO's and Website Owners relied on something called PageRank. PageRank was a commercial scale from Google, which measured the authority of a website - A number out of 10 was assigned to show the ranking of a website. The problem was that PageRank was and is fairly misleading, no body except Google know what effects PageRank and how much it truly effects search engine rankings. Another issue is that it is a pseudo measurement, meaning the value doesn't represent today's authority but rather authority from when last PR was updated (usually months!), SERPs can change from second to second sometimes. So here is where the first common mistake is, a reliance on PageRank to show authority of a website.
So how do you judge the authority of a website?
You take into account measurements from places such as SEOMOZ and Website Grader, the higher the score the more authority in theory. PageRank is a part of some of their scoring systems. Next take a look at review websites, comments on their blogs etc - see if users trust the site, if they do you can be pretty sure this is a good target for links.
Importantly, double check the relevance of the website and it's content to your own, exact match is the best but near match is good too - if its not related at all take a look elsewhere first.
2 - Not Varying Keyword and Phrases
The first thing most SEO companies will ask when designing your link building strategy, whether internal or external is "What keywords or phrases do you want to be found for?"
The problem here lies in that you set a certain number of keywords, say 5 to 10. The strategy is then to get as many links as possible using those words... so you could end up with 100 links saying "bobs garden". Now whilst if it's your company name this can be fine, if it's not search engines will begin to wonder why they are all exactly the same.
The aim of link building is to create a natural profile for your website, if you've thousands of links saying different things you're doing great, but if lots say just one phrase it can be spammy.
The message here is use different keywords when building your links, if you get towards even 50 links with the same text tweak it a little - instead of "garden centre" try "gardening centre" simple changes make a big difference.
3 - Targeting Millions of Links
Many website owners, and SEO companies, make the mistake of thinking that for a website to be competitive the more links the better, regardless of how many links that is. So if they can get a million links great. Erm - No.
To find the best target number of links for your site consider your competitors links. Use one OpenSiteExplorer from SEOMOZ to see how many they have and aim for 5 to 10% more than your competitors.
Remember millions of links to a site mean they are probably worthless links from sites without authority, such as link farms or huge directories. Whilst all links have some value, it can be negative value.
Setting a goal using the technique above also gives you a reality check and tells you how your site is doing. Through links alone you can usually tell who your main competitors are, and who are using spam techniques and that you can ignore. It also allows you to build a real time scale for generating links, if you need 100 links maybe 3 months is a good target - don't rush it.
4 - Using Competitors Keywords & Phrases
This is unfortunately one of the more common mistakes. Website Owners and Website Care-takers often decide on keywords based on 2 things: 1) their niche - this is good, 2) what their competitors use - this is very bad.
Being successful in Link Building means you need to take into account probably the top 5 or 10 websites that appear consistently in your industry within SERPs. Take a look at their linking activities in detail, compare them to your own and ask what you can do to improve - it may be more blog commenting, it could equally be less blog commenting.
5 - Homepage Only Linking
Many website owners make a huge mistake when creating a website strategy, namely they want only links to the homepage to be targeted. The reasoning is normally, what if this or that page disappears, as products become unavailable or the content is no longer relevant.
But if I were to ask "is you homepage content led, or does it lead to content pages?" The answer is almost always 'no my homepage doesn't really have content'.
And so I ask why they desire links here again, to which they are stuck. The solution is that your external link strategy should be aimed at your content pages firstly, and "lead to" pages secondly. Never the other way around.
So if you are an online camping store, say CheapTents.com or WebTogs, then you may sell a specific tent - getting links to this tent should be a priority over your homepage.
But what if the page disappears I am asked? The solution is to prioritise content pages within your strategy so if a product will be around for a long time link to it, then link to semi-longterm pages etc. If the page does die, use a 301 redirect to a category page or the next nearest relevant information or product. 301 redirects are permanent and most search engines will understand content changes and allow "link juice" to flow through your redirect - so you don't loose that link.