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  A Linking-Campaign Primer

by Eric Ward

The climate surrounding linking between sites has changed remarkably over the past couple of years. While it's still possible to secure high-quality inbound links to your site at no cost, the very task of overseeing an inbound-link campaign -- finding sites from which to link, and managing them -- is far more complex than it used to be.

Believe it or not, the process of developing an inbound-linking program is much more administrative than you might think. For example, let's say you have identified 50 sites that you'd like to have link back to your site. Some are directories with no strings attached, some are topical site guides, some are more specific to certain regions, and some are even at other sites in your industry that look promising. Overall, you've come up with a nice mix of target sites.

But now comes the hard part: You need to begin asking these sites to set up links back to your site.

Starting off on the Right Foot

As you approach these sites, here's a list of the most important data you'll need to manage:

  1. The name of the site

  2. The URL

  3. The name and email address of the person who runs the site

  4. The date you contact the person who runs the site and the date he or she responds

  5. The resulting deal (Some will say yes, some will say no, others will not reply at all, others will want a link back from you, some may want money for links, some will be out of town and take weeks to reply, etc.)

  6. The status of the deal

  7. Verifying that the link is in place

  8. Checking the site periodically for the link (Yes, some folks swap links and then pull yours for odd reasons.)

So, as you can see, at any given point in your inbound-link campaign, you have many sites and link-negotiation deals to keep track of. And remember that linking campaigns never really end; you should constantly be looking for sites from which to set up inbound links.

Choosing the Best Expert: You

Personally, I do not believe in outsourcing 100 percent of an inbound linking campaign. Why? Because there are simply too many areas where little mistakes can happen, and because nobody will care more for your site than you.

The main problem is judging performance. If you pay someone only for the links he or she generates for you, then he or she will be more inclined to look for the sites that are most likely to grant a link, regardless of the site's quality. There are a million free-for-all-links pages out there; but I wouldn't pay a cent to be on any of them, because their quality is poor.

So, if you opt to pay based on numbers of links generated, set some quality-control standards right up front. And reserve the right of approval for any link deals.

The Truth About Outsourcing

The other challenge with having someone else handle your inbound-linking campaign is that since each site contacted will have different demands, your third party will have to be given the right to negotiate on your behalf. Are you willing to give this person that authority over your site?

If this person contacts someone who says you'll be given a link in exchange for a link back to your site, do you want someone other than you making that kind of decision? And what if a site says that it will give you a link for $10 a month? Do you want your money spent this way?

Know Your Options: Slim to None

One option (the one I prefer) is to reserve the right to say yes or no to any linking agreement someone negotiates for you.

However, if you do this, it slows the process down so much that it makes it nearly impossible for your third party to make any money. Other problems include verifying that the link is up and working right and reviewing the site from time to time to make sure it hasn't dropped the link (yes, that can happen) or put up a porno banner right above your link (and that can happen too).

And all this before you even know if your link on their page will generate one single click and deliver someone to your page.

The bottom line is that it will take weeks, possibly months, to coordinate and negotiate the deals with each site you've located. Without a tracking tool or spreadsheet, it's impossible to do an efficient job.

All this brings me back to the key point: You must take control of your inbound-linking efforts on your own, because nobody cares about your site as much as you do.

Target-Site Discovery

There is one aspect of the campaign you can pay a third party for: target-site discovery. It can take a long time to locate top-quality sites for inbound linking.

I'm finding that I'm doing more and more Link Planning for clients. I do the research and discovery and provide them with a list of sites that make the best strategic sense for them to be linked on. They then pursue the link-seeking themselves, negotiating each one as they go along, using a tracking sheet as they do it.

The client saves time and money, we each use our individual url to full advantage, and there is no abuse of the system or cracks for things to fall through.

Until next time, I remain,

Eric Ward, the Link Mensch

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