More whining about SEOs and link building strategies

A favourite sport of mine is to watch the continual twists and turns of the SEO industry. An interesting phenomenon I’ve encountered recently amongst fellow publishers is a fantastical weariness of the SEO industry chasing links, especially in “high value” publications.

I think it’s always good practice to link to a company when you mention them by name – it gives the reader the opportunity to gain a little more context. If I’m writing about a company which has released some research or done something newsworthy I’ll almost always link to them, unless it’s a company that have done something to annoy me in the past. I’m childish and fickle like that, and I think a lot of other writers are too.

Quite regularly, after publishing a piece about a company, I am contacted by their SEO firm asking I move the link from their brand name to some other keywords. The article read like this –

Company X, which makes Product Y

And they wanted it changed to –

Company X, which makes Product Y

Usually I politely explain that I’m not there to help their SEO strategy, and continue on with my life, albeit a little more jaded. I know I’m far from the only writer who feels this way, and it makes me wonder if SEOs are actually hurting themselves by being too pushy in requesting links.

Data

The only data I have on this subject is the massive spreadsheet we keep at Crunch of all our mentions in the press, which records every time we get some coverage (online, print or otherwise) and, among other information, whether or not the outlet in question was kind enough to link back to us.

Mentions vs links

Although the amount of press we’re getting continues to climb, the number containing links seems to top out. So what’s going on?

Some publications just never link out. The BBC and The Times, for example, are particularly link-averse. Three notable small business publications which always used to link to us have stopped recently, though. I happen to know two of the Editors, so I asked. One cryptically replied they had “changed their link policy” with no further information, and the other specifically cited nitpicking search agencies as the reason they no longer link out. It seems I’m not the only one having problems with anchor-text-hungry SEOs.

So here’s my amazing theory: SEOs are shooting themselves in the foot by chasing links (especially non-branded anchor text links) too zealously, and in the process hurting other businesses which would have gained links organically had it not been for their pushy behaviour.

Normally my SEO posts are just a whinge and a goodbye, but as this is something I’ve been looking into recently I thought I’d impart some tips that have worked for me. After all, it’s easier (not to mention nicer) to get links through the value of your work than by pestering poor website owners after the fact.

Target blogs

Blogs are much more happy-go-lucky with their linking than newspapers – it’s just the world they grew up in (I’d actually advocate giving up on mainstream media entirely, but that’s another post altogether. A bit of data on that here). According to the same data I used to make the above chart, you are almost 4x more likely to get a link from a blog piece than from an article on an old-school news site.

Example: So far in 2013 we’ve been in the Telegraph five times with no links, and Mashable twice, with a link both times.

Give them something they can’t host

Follow many journalists on Twitter and you’ll see they quite regularly whine about the limitations of their CMS (especially Guardian journalists, it seems). When you issue a press release (because we’re all doing PR-led SEO by now, right?) include a link to further info on your site. This could be raw data, some kind of interactive data visualisation – something which provides valuable further reading for people who wish to delve deeper that they’ll have to link out to it.

An awesome example of this is OpenSignal’s Android fragmentation study, which is incredibly newsworthy, but also cannot be replicated off-site, so journalists have no choice but to link back to it.

Get them on an affiliate scheme

This one is a bit sleazy, but it seems to work. Many trade websites fill up empty ad inventory with affiliate scheme banners, and the only websites in our data with a 100% record of linking to us in news stories are sites that happen to be on our affiliate scheme.

As a writer and a fan of demarcating editorial and advertising, this makes me furrow my brow; but as someone looking after a company website it makes me happy. Have you ever seen someone furrowing their brow while smiling? It’s weird.

2 thoughts on “More whining about SEOs and link building strategies

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