Practical Ecommerce

SEO: Managing Inbound Link Equity

Links point to your website from all corners of the online world. Some links, like friends, come and go. However, some are very rare, and making sure you keep them current and connected is critical to your website success.

I’m not talking about new links. I’m talking about links that your website already has. This could be in the form of a directory link, an acquired website that has a lot of links, a link from a blogger, or more. All these links are important.

Why Manage Inbound Links?

So why do you need to update links if they are already pointing to your website, or they come from another website that you own? Here are four reasons.

  1. Getting rid of an old page and not properly transferring that link equity to a new page can affect your search engine rankings. Plus, all that link equity is lost if it’s not 301 redirected or canonicalized (linked to the actual, new URL) to another page.
  2. Acquiring a website and just letting it sit there doesn’t help you, either. Use it, point that link equity to a page or pages via a 301 redirect, and invest those links. Unless of course this site is going to exist as a separate brand.
  3. Pointing an acquired website to your existing server with a duplication of your existing website, but not strategically 301 redirecting key pages to related pages, can dilute your link equity. Again, point that link equity to related pages you want to expose on the SERPs (search engine results pages).
  4. Discovering the people that like your website so much they are willing to submit it to industry specific directories, write about it in blogs, and talk about it in articles or forums isn’t just a high five. It should be a strategic investment to find these links and, where possible, enhance the anchor text so you can improve the link equity to these pages.

How to Identify, Manage Inbound Links

The next step is how do you find these links, and then what could the success be if you were to apply 301 redirects and saved them appropriately.

Use the following roadmap to collect all your in-bound link opportunities.

A. Speak to your IT department or host provider to discover a list of all the domains your company has purchased, acquired or is statically keeping on the web.

B. Use a backlink analyzer tool that’s going to help define all your existing external links pointing to your websites. Software tools like Covario’s Organic Search Insight or Back Link Analyzer break out these types of links pointing to each site, and more importantly, each page. Core insights these software tools provide you are, among other elements: defined external links by .gov, .edu, Technorati, Wikipedia, StumbleUpon, DMOZ, and key industry hubs. They also show you how many of these links incorporate your targeted keyword in the link or just use the URL itself.

C. Export these lists and consolidate them so you can discover the equity of these links by priority. This is a key step. You need to know what these links (pointing to your website) are worth to you. Yahoo! Site Explorer can easily define how many links each domain has. Record the page rank of each link, as this is another metric that will help you to prioritize the importance of that domain.

D. Prioritize this list based on the quality of links the domain owns, the number of links pointing to that domain, and the defined text used to point to that link and PageRank. Then break the list into two categories:

  • Owned pages and/or domains that you can redirect to a new related page; and
  • External links that you can modify text to improve the equity passed from that link.

E. Now contact your inbound-link sites. Through option A., above, you contact your IT department or host provider and get them to 301 redirect the specified page or domain to the page you are marketing. Through option B., you go to the website of the provided link and record contact information so you can now contact that company to modify the link text to better support the page to which it is linking.

Know that through option B., you will likely have to follow up multiple times. Be polite in your email or phone call and express to them what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re modifying your links. If you’ve contacted them at least five times, you could chalk that company up as a loss and move on.

Case Study: B2C Website

If you follow those five easy, yet time intensive, steps, you can reap a terrific return on your investment. Listed below are actual results due to link re-allocation from a business-to-consumer website that’s a client of Covario, the firm I work for. For the purposes of this explanation, we’ll call the client “Tango,” but that is not its real name.

  1. Results from owned pages and/or acquired domains. We discovered 35 acquired websites that the company had purchased over time. They were pointing each one of these individual domains to the “Tango” web server so that there were now 35 mirrored websites of the same domain.To correct this, we 301 redirected each domain to a related page that would best represent the links coming into that domain. We also then performed link modifications to enhance each targeted link coming into those domains to further retain the link equity found.
  2. Results from external links. After identifying all existing links pointing to the website, we discovered about a 1,100 links that we could pursue for a link modification strategy. This included links from bloggers, articles written about products, partners and industry targeted directories.To do the modification strategy, we worked with the “Tango’s” public relation team to re-establish “best of breed” partner links that incorporated key terms. We also collected webmaster details for all other external linking sites. We then individually contacted each webmaster with a specific message and need. Some of these happily changed the links, others we followed up and they changed, a couple we called on the phone to further discuss requested changes. A few never responded.
  3. Overall results for “Tango.” Out of the 1,100 links, we were able to get 10 percent of them modified; 42 percent of the partner links accommodated our changes. Many just didn’t have the capacity to meet the request.Grouped with some SEO on-page optimization, as well as the 301 redirects, we improved rank results on 14 of the company’s core marketed keywords, resulting in a visitor increase over a six-month period of 28 percent. This was significant for “Tango” due to its overall traffic numbers.

    The link investment also resulted in an external link increase of 56 percent. “Tango” went from having 9,600 links to 15,000 links over a six-month period with a significant increase in deep links pointing to pages outside of their top level domain.

Summary

When you are giving consideration to redesigning, revamping, dropping an old page, or acquiring a new site, think about the link equity you have currently invested into those pages and make sure you re-invest them in the right way.

If you’ve tried this, please share your success with this community so we know what worked for you. But please also share any setbacks, so we learn what to avoid along the way.

 

Amanda Barnes

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