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What exactly are you trying to optimize? Think Before you Link

Yesterday I received an email from someone telling me that they had included my URL on their website and requested a reciprocal link.  Now, I do understand the whole idea behind the link building part of search engine optimization (SEO) and include links on my website to my clients and to resources that relate to the business I am in and I am listed in a multitude of professional directories and on appropriate websites.  But I believe that there are two foundational principles when building links on your website:
  1. The link should be mutually beneficial.
  2. The link should make logical sense
These days, amidst the “optimization craze” that just seems way too much to ask for.  You see, the website that was linking back to mine was a directory of hotels in Paris.  If logic were to prevail, you would think that my site would have some sort of focus on travel and hospitality, wouldn’t you?  It doesn’t.  I am a writer.  My services include writing and training (in the areas of business writing and corporate communications).  There is nowhere on my website that my visitors would possibly be looking for a hotel in Paris.  I have done some travel writing but never to Paris and it’s not the main focus of my services.  So, why in the world would I have a link to a directory of Paris hotels on my website?  I did think about it for a minute though.  I stretched my imagination…maybe on my writing tips page I could include a suggestion that to overcome procrastination (which is one of my workshop topics) you should consider taking a break and going on vacation to, let me see…maybe Paris!  Oh, and by the way, here’s a link to a handy list of Paris hotels.  It just seemed like too much of a stretch to me. 

This whole SEO, link-building, list-building and gathering followers on FaceBook and Twitter is simply getting out of hand.  The word “optimize” means to make something as effective as possible.  Cramming hundreds of links or key words in the copy of your website will actually drive you back down to the bottom of search engine lists as search engines are programmed to watch for these types of spammy efforts.  Some websites actually have pages that don’t appear on their main navigation bar but just include long lists of website links that may or may not have any relevance whatsoever to the host site.  They’re just adding nonsensical links to bump up the numbers.  Eventually the law of diminishing returns will kick in.  There’s a point at which the numbers game can turn on you.    If I get hundreds of people blindly clicking through to my site from the Paris Hotel directory, what’s going to happen when they land on my site?  They’ll realize I’m not offering any deals on accommodation and they’ll leave disappointed.  The hits on my page might go up but it won’t convert into new clients (so my conversion rate ends up going down).  Maybe one in a trillion might think, “How opportune!  I’m actually looking for a freelance writer!”

This practice is also forcing real SEO experts to defend their strategies.  Actually, the good ones will be able to outline their plan for you and show you how the results are tracked so, ask.  And, if you are working on optimizing your efforts always remember to “Think before you Link!”

By the way, this blog is not hosted on my website (as you can tell).  If you’re interested in seeing what I do professionally have a look at my website at If you're reading this and you're an SEO expert, feel free to leave your comments and a link to your site too.

P.S.  I am writing this a week after the original post to add a great resource.  I just sat through a webinar presented by WordTracker on link building.  The presenter, Ken McGaffin, was fantastic.  He covers the subject thoroughly and the hour flew by.  He is, of course, demonstrating their Link Builder software, but the information is valuable whether you use their software or not.  I intend to take it for a trial run!


susanthecoach said…
So true, if its going to be effective it can't be spammy. I want people to come to my website and find things that interest them and potentially help them and I don't want those things lost in a sea of rubbish!

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