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4 Steps To Implementing A High-Traffic Linkage Campaign

by Jonathan Mizel

One of our clients runs a free e-card site. Outside of a few advertising deals, it doesn't produce much cash flow, so the promotional budget is practically nil. Our job was to increase traffic without spending a lot of money. Here's the story...

Initially, the site relied on free traffic, both viral (card sending), and through search engines. Over the past 6 months, however, we tracked a large increase in visitors (as much as 15% of all traffic) who came from other sites that put up a link because they enjoyed the cards, and wanted to share them with their visitors.

Some of these links came from other card sites, some card-specific search engines or directories, and some from online businesses that dealt with a holiday theme and were looking for relevant content.

Almost immediately, these inbound links created a phenomenon known as "Link Popularity", which gave us higher ranking in the search engines, creating more visitors, who then gave us more links, and so on, and so on.

Therefore, we decided to capitalize on this momentum and implement a formal linkage campaign, knowing the more legitimate in-bound links we had, the more traffic we would get and the higher we would list on engines like Google.com (who consider link popularity above all else when ranking sites).

We turned to one of our clients and friends, Scott Smith, of LinkageXpress, who implements "hand-tailored" link campaigns. Within 30 days, we saw an additional 12 sites on our referrer logs, and an increase in direct traffic by over 25%.

Even more exciting, a few weeks after that, these inbound links improved our search engine rankings so much so we now have 7 separate search words and phrases within the top 10 listings for Google.com, AltaVista.com, and Excite.com.

These 3 search engines now produce 150–250 unique visitors a day for the client, and Scott's campaign is only 15% implemented!

We sat down with Scott to ask him what steps he takes to set up a professional linkage campaign, and how business owners can do it themselves.

Here are the highlights of our interview:

Online Marketing Tips Free-Zine: What exactly do you do and why is it so important?

Scott Smith: We increase the number of visitors to your site by finding you high quality link partners quickly. This generates traffic, and more important, improves your "link popularity" which helps you get the best possible positioning on the major search engines.

OMT: So a successful linkage strategy gives you both direct traffic and improves your overall findability?

SS: Yes, you get direct traffic because it makes you more visible to your niche market. Other than search engines, the most common way for people to find a site is through a link. In a sense, a link on a popular site is an endorsement.

Plus, if these endorsements come from a site within your target niche or "theme," then search engines like AltaVista.com rank you as highly relevant, which translates into much better positioning.

For search engines like Google.com, Lycos.com, and Excite.com, link popularity is critical because it indicates other sites have already looked at you and decided you're "worthy" of a link.

In fact, Google.com currently gives link popularity more weight than any other attribute, and as the default search engine for Yahoo, getting a listing ranked there can produce a windfall of traffic for free!

Let me give you an example: We did a campaign a few months ago where direct traffic substantially increased in only 2 weeks. This is fast. We tell people it usually takes 30 days, so this campaign was very successful.

Anyway, the client was happy. However, they got a lot more excited when they started to see a dramatic increase in their search engine traffic. Because of the link popularity we achieved, they were the #1 spot on Google.com for their primary keyword! Plus, they were #2 on Alta Vista.

This was a big deal in terms of traffic and dollars for them. The only thing they did was implement the linkage campaign, so clearly that made all the difference.

OML: What are the steps a site owner needs to take to implement an effective linkage campaign?

SS: The actual process is not hard, but it is very time-consuming. If you want to do it right, which means "by hand", it's a 4-step process:

1. First, identify sites that are relevant to your target market and have excellent link potential. If they already have a links page or recommend other sites within their content, clearly they're open to the idea and are a hot prospect.

We find these sites by using Dogpile.com. This is a meta-engine that searches multiple search engines and directories, and gives us the most relevant results. We also look at individual engines like AltaVista and Google.com. We want to work with sites that are currently ranking well themselves. It's a good indication they get traffic and have strong link relevancy.

There are other ways to find link partners, but we have found this approach generates the best returns. We suggest you go after the top 10-20 sites on each engine you research.

This means you have to visit each site, look to see if they have a links page or recommended resource page, study whether or not they include links to others within their content, find a specific site owner name and e-mail address (if you can), and keep detailed records. We recommend using an Excel spreadsheet or database program.

Once you've done the basic research, you'll want to narrow it down to the best sites, the ones that are the strongest match for your own site. In terms of time, figure 15–30 minutes to find each high quality link partner.

2. Next, in a polite, straightforward (but flattering) e-mail, request a link from them. The approach here needs to be personal, instead of something generic like "We are looking for a great website to trade links with us, might that be you?"

Today everyone is getting spammed to death by potential link partners, advertisers, and people trying to sell them stuff, so you have to mention something that demonstrates you actually visited the site in the first line or two to get their attention.

If you get the name of the site owner, use it. If there's something special about the site you like or that's relevant to a partnership, mention it immediately. Here's an example:

Hello [NAME],

I just visited your excellent stock-trading site, Day-Traders-Anonymous.com, and wanted to tell you about a free real-time quote service I have. Since we both have resource pages and target the same audience, I'd like to discuss trading links with you. Etc., etc., etc.

You want to get a dialogue going. Describe your site a bit, then explain why your link on their site would be a benefit to their audience. Close the message with an offer to post a link on your site back to theirs. The entire message should be no more than one screen of text to read. Keep it simple.

If you don't have a good reason for them to link to your site, you'll have to find one. If all you have posted is a sales pitch, don't expect many links.

Site owners will only send their visitors to you if you offer content that's valuable or entertaining, like resources, "how-to" articles, e-books, software, audio or video clips, photos, or topical information like news about a particular industry.

3. Generate your links page and upload it to your site. Whenever we can, we'll post a link on our page first, then notify the site owner. This does two things: It qualifies us as real people who are trustworthy, and it also prompts them to visit our URL to see if we really listed them.

Your links page should follow the look and feel of your overall site design. It's well worth spending the time to make it look inviting. Be sure to include a way for site visitors to contact you and request a link from this page. It's a valuable asset that grows over time.

4. Follow up with your potential link partners. A majority of them will link to your site, but it takes time. Our experience has been some sites will add you immediately, while others can take 2–3 months.

Overall, figure about 20+ hours of time to implement a successful linkage campaign, with another 10 hours spent on following up.

OML: You say over 50% of the sites will link back to you, which is amazing. How much traffic does this generate on average?

SS: Our experience has been 60%–80% of carefully targeted sites in a linkage campaign will link to you if you offer content of value. In terms of a traffic increase, a majority of sites we've worked with experience a 300% increase in traffic. This translates to as many as 2,000–4,000 additional visitors per month.

OML: How long does it take for the process to work?

SS: Site owners usually see an increase in traffic within 30 days. In general the increase climbs much higher over a period of a few months, and even more after the search engines spider. It's a steady predictable increase, and the good news is, once a link gets posted, it can stay posted for years. Contrast this with a stand-alone search engine strategy, where you can be hot one day and gone the next.

OML: What if you have an affiliate program or don't have content on your site, are there any special techniques?

SS: There are other ways to generate links, especially if you are paying a commission. You can write articles, allow sites to post them, and include their affiliate link in the contact box at the end. If you have an e-zine, you can encourage them to offer subscriptions or even reprint back issues. You can put up a discussion board, then invite other related sites to link to it. If you have a members-only site, offer site owners free membership if they link to you. You can also join a Web Ring or Banner Exchange, both of which promote linking strategies. The secret is not to have a bunch of links on a "link farm" but to have targeted, niche-specific, high quality links on actual web pages generating real traffic.

OML: Just to clarify for our readers, a link farm is a technique used to manipulate search engines into thinking there are a lot of inbound links to a site, artificially raising link popularity.

SS: Right. A link farm is simply a page with a bunch of links to different sites on it. That page is submitted to the search engines with the hope that it will increase ranking of the listed sites. The problem is that search engines are getting much better at determining who has fake links and who has real links, even going so far as to check who owns the domain of the page to compare with the ownership of the domains of the links. If you get caught, you can kiss your listing goodbye!

OML: There's a software product called Zeus, which finds potential linkage partners. Do you recommend using it?

SS: Zeus is great, but it has some serious drawbacks. Studies show only 10–15% of sites contacted by Zeus become link partners. It's described as a "smart Internet robot" but that means it thinks like a robot, not a person. It certainly can't gauge site quality, visibility, or search engine positioning. By it's very nature, it will never be able to deliver the results of a targeted, hand-tailored service.

Zeus also doesn't work on frame sites or individual web pages not residing on a root domain. Some of these sites are incredibly popular, and by using the search engine method we advocate, you'll catch popular listings Zeus doesn't.

Finally, there are spam issues. Whenever you allow a software program to find links and send e-mail to potential partners, you risk getting accused of spamming, which can get you shut down. To us, this concern alone makes the risk too high, which is why we do everything by hand.

OML: Therefore you recommend either taking the time to do a linkage campaign manually, or hiring a professional?

SS: Definitely!

OML: How much do you charge, and where can people find out more about your service?

SS: The fee for a 1-month campaign to announce your site, get you properly linked within your niche market, bring you pre-qualified site visitors that are prone to buy what you offer, and improve your placement with the major search engines and directories is US $1200. This includes finding and contacting at least 100 targeted sites for your Web business.

A bare minimum of 100 targeted link requests will be made on your behalf, and an optimized page of potential link partners will be generated for easy uploading and integration with your website.

OML: Thank you Scott. Great information!

Jonathan Mizel is a well-known and respected Internet Marketing expert, and is often found advising well known companies such as Microsoft, Intel, and American Express.

 

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