Interview with Link Building Expert Bob Gladstein of Raise My Rank Services

The following interview was conducted in 2004 by Julia Hyde of Persuasions Copywriting.

Julia: Welcome Bob. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about link building for Marketing Works! subscribers. I'm going to jump right in ask you why Web sites need links?

Bob: There are a number of reasons to have links pointing to your site. But let's start with the reason they were created in the first place. The original purpose of the Internet was to enable the sharing of information. For example, if a scholarly paper existed on a server at the University of California, and a professor at Oxford wanted to read it, the Internet made that instantly possible. Now, if the Oxford professor had a paper that referenced information from the UC paper, they could link directly to that other document rather than just quoting from it. So a hyperlink was intended as a way of connecting data, ideas, and references together. It's like saying, "if you'd like further information on this topic, here's a place to find it." When the Google search engine was created, its developers took this into account, and drew the conclusion that a link was an indication that the page being linked to was relevant to some particular subject-matter.

So that's a rather long introduction to a short answer to your question. Web sites need links because they send traffic that's already targeted to their subject matter to other sites, and because they help the search engines determine both their theme and what the web as a community deems their importance to be. Basically (although not absolutely), the more links that point to a page, the more relevant that page is determined to be. In addition, links are now considered the most reliable way (apart from paying) to get a site into the search engines in the first place. While both Google and Yahoo allow you to submit a site to their index, it's clear that the best way to get the search engines to pay attention to your site is to get a page that their spiders already know about to link to yours. The spiders then follow that link to your site, and add it to their index.

Thanks, Bob. But there are different types of links aren't there? Can you explain differences?

As we discussed in the previous question, there are text links from other sites. Some of these are reciprocal (that is, they link to you and you link back to them) and others are one-way (the owner of the other site decides, for whatever reason, to link to your site and doesn't expect you to link back).There are also image links: banners, buttons, etc. These have the advantage of standing out visually from the rest of the page, but many people have become immune to the standard banner ad and just ignore them, because it's assumed they're just advertisements, and as such, not necessarily relevant to the page on which they appear.

Then there are directory listings, where a link to your site appears on a page containing links to numerous other sites in what the directory editor has determined to be your particular niche. An important thing to consider regarding getting a link is the code behind it. If your primary concern is to send traffic to your site, this isn't important. In that case, what you need to think about is whether the link is going to send the right people to you. But if you want the link to be recognized by the search engines and to contribute to your ranking in searches, you need the link to be in simple HTML, without JavaScript or other code that will hide the link from search engine spiders.

There are also links that won't help you at all, or will put you in danger of losing your position on the search engines. Guestbook spam, the practice of going to a site's guest book area and posting a message like "Nice site. Come visit mine, at..." will do you no good. The search engines know that such links carry no value, and just ignore them. The same is true for free-for-all links pages, on which you can immediately add a link to any site, without any editorial oversight.

Link farms are a far more dangerous subject. These are networks of sites that are heavily cross-linked and offer to link to you as long as you link back into the network, or host a page on your site that serves as a directory of sites that the link farm has linked to. The idea here is to abuse the power search engines give to links by exponentially increasing the number of links to your site, without regard for theme or value. You link into the farm, and you have hundreds, perhaps thousands of links pointing back to you. But the links are only there to increase link popularity. The sites on which the links reside are not intended to actually be viewed by people; they're just intended to give search engine spiders the mistaken impression that your site is extraordinarily popular.

So, what's the best way to get legitimate and relevant sites to link to yours?

Before you can get a site to link to yours, you first have to find it. You need to do research on the subject-matter of your site by searching on the keywords you hope people will use to find it. The results of those searches will give you a list of sites that are already performing well for those keywords. You should then study those sites, so that you can write to the webmaster and request a link in such a way that demonstrates that you understand the purpose of their site. And give reasons as to why you think their audience will find your site of interest. You can buy links from sites as well, sometimes on a single page, and sometimes all across the site. These are just like any other form of advertising. So before you part with your money you need to determine if they're worth the purchase price by deciding if they'll send you enough of the right traffic. That's why sites that offer the opportunity to buy links will make claims about how much traffic they get and how their audience is made up of "decision makers."

Finally, there are directories, which normally require you to drill down to find the most relevant category for your listing. You can then (depending on the directory) either contact them with your information, or fill out a form on the directory itself and request a listing.

What would you say to Web site owners who are reluctant to use links because they think it will take people away from their site?

For one thing, a Web site without any off-site links is a dead end, and there is some evidence to suggest that search engines view sites that don't link out as being less valuable.

Unless you're willing to pay, you may have a hard time convincing people to link to you if you're not planning on linking back to them. But it's still possible, especially if you've got content that's so good people will want to link to you anyway, but it's definitely harder to get one-way links than reciprocal ones. I'm not suggesting that people link directly to their competitors. The idea is to link to sites that complement the content that you're providing. By doing so, you're contributing to the impression that your site is an authority on your theme: not only do you have great information, but you have links to other sources of information. That's another reason for people to come back to your site more often. And if you're still worried about sending people away from your site and never seeing them again, you can set your off-site links to open in a new window, by adding target="_blank" to the code for the link. If you do this, however, it's a good idea for usability purposes to let people know that the link will open in a new window. Otherwise, people who have their browser windows maximized may not realize what's happened, and should they try to get back to your site by hitting their back button they're likely to be confused when it fails to take them anywhere.

We often hear the term "Anchor text". Can your explain what this means and why it's important?

Anchor text is the part of a text link that's visible on the page. For example, the code for a normal text link looks like this:

<a href="http://www.juliahyde.com/">Search Engine Marketing and Copywriting Services</a>

On a Web page, that would look like this: Search Engine Marketing and Copywriting Services. "Search Engine Marketing and Copywriting Services" is the anchor text. What's important about it is that it tells both the user and the search engine spider what the page the link points to is about. In a search engine optimization project, getting links to your site that use your keywords in the anchor text helps to get your page to rank higher for those keywords. That's why it's important to have something other than "click here" as anchor text.The power of anchor text can be seen by the example of the practice of "Googlebombing," in which numerous sites will link to a particular page using the same anchor text. If enough sites do it, Google will rank that page at the top of its listings for searches on that text. George W. Bush's biography page on the site of the White House is still number one in Google for the query "miserable failure" about half a year after that particular Googlebomb was created. Whether or not you personally agree that those words do a good job of describing Mr. Bush, Google accepts what it sees as the opinion of the general online community. If enough pages tell Google that miserable failure = George W. Bush, then as far as Google is concerned, it must be true.

Another thing we hear a lot about is Pagerank™ — a tool webmasters often use to determine whether a site is worth linking to or not. What does this mean?

PageRank (not to be confused with "page rank") is a part of Google's algorithm for ranking pages. There are numerous theories as to how it's calculated, but only Google knows for certain. In any case, that's not important to this discussion. What matters is that PageRank is a measure of the value of a page based on the links pointing to it, the value of the pages on which those links reside, and the number of other links that are on those pages. It's strictly numerical, and has absolutely nothing to do with relevance or value to the reader. In other words, if I have a page about Shakespeare, and I link to two pages, one about Shakespeare, and the other about the care and feeding of parakeets, the same amount of PageRank will be passed to both of those pages. The fact that one of those pages is about the same subject as my page does not enter into the calculation. You can see an estimation of the PageRank of a given page if you have the Google toolbar installed. But it's important to keep in mind that PageRank is not everything, nor is it the most important thing. It's one of many factors Google takes into account when it ranks pages for queries, and it's not at all uncommon to see that a site that ranks on the top of a SERP (search engine results page) has a lower PageRank than the pages below it on the SERP.

One of the reasons people believe that PageRank is important is that if you do a backlink check in Google by typing "link:www.site.com" in the search box, youll generally (but not absolutely) only see pages that link to the URL in question and have a PageRank of 4/10 or higher. People have taken this to mean that a link from a page with a lower PR doesn't count, and that simply isn't true. It's true that, all other things being equal, the higher the PR of a page linking to yours, the more PR it's going to pass to your page, but as I said, PR is just one aspect of Google's algorithm, and every link apart from the troublesome ones we spoke of earlier has some value.

It's also worth keeping in mind that a page that shows a PR of 2/10 in the toolbar today may have a 5/10 or 6/10 a few months from now. When I'm looking for sites from which I may wish to request links, the only time what I see in the toolbar matters to me is when I see that it has no PageRank at all. Assuming the site isn't new, that can sometimes be an indication that the site has done something which caused Google to demote it. That is, it may be what Google refers to as a "bad neighborhood," and as such, you should be extra careful in checking it out before you agree to link back to it.

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with my subscribers, Bob! I hope you all will check out Bob's site at: www.raisemyrank.com for more information about his company.