Should You Only Acquire Links That Drive Revenue?
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I’ve recently heard from a few people over the last year or two that, as link builders, we should only be focusing on links that drive traffic & revenue.
Earlier this week I watched a video posted on Twitter from Wil Reynolds, which you’ll find below. I have huge respect for Wil (interviewed him here in 2012; still worth a read), and in general, I believe that what he says in the community comes from a really good, authentic place.
This idea sounds great in theory, and can get you pretty pumped up. A few other similarly exhilarating mottos come to mind when I hear it (heard throughout the community):
- “Fire your clients! If you don’t like them, then stop dealing with them.”
- “Build a website for users, not search engines!”
- “Just create great content, and the links will come!”
The problem is that we can sometimes swing too far in one direction, whether it’s all the way to the left (i.e. black hat SEO), or all the way to the right (i.e. building a site purely for UX). That can lead to extremes like getting penalties from search engines on one side, and building non-indexable sites on the other.
In this case, the idea of only going after revenue driving links, and not any others, is a perfect example of swinging too far in one direction.
1. Doing something that doesn’t directly lead to revenue
Let’s take the logic of this argument and apply it to other parts of SEO. Read through this and tell me that, apart from a few specifics (i.e. page speed improvements), that any of these improvements lead directly to increased revenue.
We also know that Google loves original content, and that there are many listing-type pages that SEOs create content for that we can safely assume few are going to read. Maybe those product description sweat shops are writing content that people will make purchasing decisions based off of, but there’s a good chance very few people are.
So: it’s OK that every activity we’re doing as marketers doesn’t directly result in driving revenue. That’s a lot of what we do as SEOs, anyway.
2. Links that may or not make an impact on rankings
Wil talked about the concern that the links acquired in a campaign might not have the impact that one hopes to have after the campaign is over.
You could easily make the case that, for anything technical SEO-wise, it’s not a sure thing that an individual fix will impact rankings. Sometimes you’re in the dark as to what exactly is causing the issue. That’s why audits contain a number of items to address, because any individual item may not be what Google is taking the most issue with. So, for anything you’re doing on-site, it’s a risk on some level that it won’t have the impact you’re looking for.
But how does link building compare to other marketing campaign types that involve outreach / outbound elements (i.e. advertisements, PR, etc.)? Most of those, if not all, don’t involve 100% confidence that you’ll get the result you’re hoping for, whether it’s branding, direct sales, or search rankings.
The expectation that a link building campaign should always result in a clear increase in rankings, especially when dealing with a very complex, modern algorithm that may hinder a site from ranking because of numerous other issues, is a bit unfair.
3. Existing well ranking websites & their link profiles
Now let’s look at example. Take the websites ranking for “San Diego Flowers”. The best ranking site in that city is AllensFlowers.com. They’ve got some solid links that look like they drive a few sales here & there. They also have a few links that are much more controversial in terms of the direct, non-SEO value they provide:
They were given an award from a local event. I think it’s safe to say few people have groomed the list of links on this page & made purchasing decisions based off any of them.
They were listed in a resource guide for planning a wedding. If this page got a lot traffic from qualified potential customers (people planning a wedding), then for sure, I could see this link driving revenue. But according to OSE, this page only has 2 internal links, and I didn’t find it ranking well for “san diego wedding resources”, so I doubt more than a handful of people see the page each month, let alone click on that particular link to Allen’s Flowers.
They were cited as an example of using a particular technology. I think it’s safe to say that no sales were driven here (who shops for florists that use mSQL?), and although it’s not niche or location related, it’s still a link from a very aged, DA50+ website.
Do some of these link examples pass traffic/conversions? Maybe; there’s no way of knowing for sure either way. But the point is: these are links I’d want, and whether or not they passed conversions or traffic, they’re legitimate links that pass the eye test & help this flower shop dominate for all of its main keywords. And that end result is worth going out of my way to make sure our link is included on an awards page, or that a local magazine’s resource guide includes their service with the others in the area.
4. My own experiences
Through the clients we’ve had and the projects I’ve been a part of, one of my favorite things to look at in analytics is the referral traffic of the sites we’re building links to. I want to see if some of the links we get are sending any traffic, and if they do, if that traffic converts.
One example that comes to mind is a .gov link project we did for a real estate site. Earlier in 2016, we built ~30 links over the course of 6-9 months (quite a small campaign), and we watched their organic traffic grow ~50% over that time period.
Looking at analytics, since the links were acquired, only 3 of the 30 have sent more than 10 visits. A couple of them did send traffic that met conversion goals! But that wasn’t going to make or break why we did the campaign in the first place.
I remember getting a blogroll link a few years back that sent some serious traffic (mid 4 figures a month), which was awesome. But if I spent time only going after links that would send traffic & conversions, I would’ve built significantly less links, and drove significantly less rankings for my clients & my own sites (which, coincidentally, results in less revenue).
So what’s the takeaway?
I totally understand why a lot people want to communicate this message. The short answer is that you attract bigger & better clients when you say things like this. As someone who writes more as a practitioner, and less as a thought leader, it’s clear that what I’m doing isn’t the best lead generation strategy for an agency (for everyone 1 big budget client that contacts us, we get 50 small business owners unreasonably looking to spend $200/month for great work).
With that said, I think it’s important to understand the meaning of the message, while still keeping things practical. Here’s how we can do it.
1. Check referral sources for opportunities
Scan referral traffic in your analytics for patterns & clues to more traffic/revenue driving opportunities. This counts for both new links you’re building, but also for all past manually OR naturally acquired ones.
If you see one or two links that are sending value, ask yourself “are there other link opportunities out there just like this?” For our agency, we usually come up with a tactic that, at its core, is a single way to get a link, but can be applied to 1000s of sites. You may have just stumbled into something where there are many other opportunities just like it.
For example – imagine an eCommerce niche electronics store finding a link from a local robotics club’s New Member Info page to the store’s Arduino starter kit product page. There are probably 100s of other local robotics club that have website information for new members (and are likely to have interest in that starter kit), so reaching out to each with a discount code for that product could scale really well, and drive a lot of revenue (make sure they mention the discount code at the next club meeting, too!).
2. If you do find a revenue-generating link tactic, treat it like the golden egg that it is
If you do come across one, invest in it to do it right if it can end up paying for itself.
Two general ones that come to mind are press coverage & forum link building. If you’ve got a cool product, paying a PR professional to get you coverage could result in direct sales. If you’re in a niche that has active & passionate communities in forums, invest in becoming a part of them, and understand how you can post links in a way that’s allowed.
So – what do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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