I know, it’s sacrilege to say this, but linkbait isn’t always the best way to promote a site. Yes, it’s fun, creative and, when it works, highly effective. But it’s not always the best.
Linkbaiting has garnered a bad name for SEOs, especially among social media sites. Of course, that was just adding to the bad name we already had because of spammy SEOs. It’s well established that Diggers hate the slightest whiff of SEO. Still, getting onto the Digg or Reddit homepage has become a well established method of garnering links throughout the Internet.
But something Rand said yesterday really struck me:
Sometimes when we see a page ranking and run a few checks on the strength of the domain and the links pointing in, we might scratch our heads thinking, “how the heck is that ranking above my page?” I’ve experienced this queasy feeling plenty of times and found that after some careful analysis, it looked like many of the pages pointing to my domain and page weren’t nearly as “connected” as the pages linking to my competitor. While links in number and authority are very powerful, there’s little doubt that semantic connections and topical relationships play their part, too.
I think that by “connected” Rand means semantically relevant. Though we can debate how much semantics really influences Google’s results (but let’s not, okay?), what if he’s right? What if links from sites that are highly relevant to yours are weighted more heavily than links from just any old site?
Search engines may not be there yet, but it’s a logical future step. It’s interesting to read a YOUmoz post that made it to the SEOmoz blog a few months ago, “Anatomy of a Super Digg.” In it, the author tells of how his most successful piece of linkbait had nothing to do with the client’s business. However, the high volume of incoming links seemed to improve some of the client’s site’s rankings for their keywords, despite the fact that the inbound links pointed only to the linkbait page, which wasn’t interconnected with the rest of the site:
Google’s latest crawl (7 days after the Digg) resulted in a huge increase in our rankings for our targeted keywords. We jumped up anywhere from 20-300 places, with most of our most important keywords ranking in the top ten (many in the top 5).
Is most linkbait completely unrelated to the subject of the site? If so, the inbound links will probably come from sites that are also completely related to the subject of the site. Do you think Google will work to try to counter the “Super Digg Effect” Daniel experienced?
Do I expect the entire industry to lay off linkbaiting? Of course not. In fact, Andy Hagans just posted a list of 17 niche social media sites that you can successfully leverage with linkbait. By appealing to more tightly-focused social media sites, you can garner links from sites more closely related to yours. Even if Google isn’t already compensating for the “Super Digg Effect” of links that aren’t really related to your site, wouldn’t you think that links from sites closely related to your own would yield better qualified visitors?
[If you want to discuss SMO further (aside from here in the comments, of course), Tamar at Search Engine Roundtable points to a thread on Muhammad Saleem's Pronet Advertising post, "SEOs Are a Part of the Problem" at cr8asite forums.]