Themed Links a Waste of Time?
Note: The following is based on member’s request that I review an article that was released about ten days ago. I released the information to the SEO Revolution members and it was spread around … so I’m going to post it here publicly, but remove the name of the author. I have nothing against him and I have never met him. I’m just here to report the facts … and that is what I do.
Beware of “Common Sense” SEO?
Every once in awhile I come across an article that has what I like to refer to as “Mind Crime” but rarely do I read an article that calls the truth “Mind Crime”. This is going to be fast and furious. Try and keep up ….
Now, first of all, as a warm up you should read an article I wrote last year on a report that placing errors in your code would give you a higher ranking in Google. Seriously, it will be worth your time and give you an eye-opening look at some of the reports that come out. It should give you a new perspective.
This article ranks right up there. He warns you to “beware of assumptions” as they are often very, very wrong. I test SEO for a living and before that I was a software tester for about a decade. Testing is in my blood. It’s what I do. Believe me when I say a tester doesn’t understand the word “assumption”.
There are two “myths” that the author feels are bogus:
Theme-based Linking – The claim is simple: You don’t need links from theme-based sites to rank well. He references the following site as an example:
Keyword: search engine optimization
Rank: #3 in Google
The site ranks #5 today in Google which is about week later than his post, but that is still a good ranking. He states that by checking the backlinks in Google (link:submitexpress.com) the majority of the links this site has are not from search engine marketing sites. In other words, the links are “non search engine marketing themed”.
Let me be right up front here in explaining what is wrong with this theory and paint a picture that’s easy to understand.
Showing a few examples to “prove” a point is dangerous. Why? Because I can show you examples of how a 28% keyword density can rank #1 in Google for a competitive phrase. There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. That is very true with search results. Instead, you want to know what works ACROSS the board … with a few dozen, or preferably, a few hundred sites with keyword phrases that actually drive healthy sales, not just “tire kicking” traffic.
Let me give you an example of this misleading reasoning, and I am trying to be as kind as I can while making sure SEOs and webmasters alike don’t fall for incorrect information and assumptions. While this example is an exaggeration (on purpose) it is meant to bring reality back into the picture. If an athlete ate at McDonald’s and still performed at a high level, I could state that eating a healthy diet wasn’t needed to perform well. Of course we know this is not true. The hidden issue here is that the athlete could perform at a MUCH higher level if they had a healthy diet. That statement you know to be true. It is just common sense.
The same is true with your site. While you can rank well without themed based links, are you hitting your full potential? Testing results say no. In a test I ran in the Spring of this year, replacing twenty non-themed links with twenty theme-based links rankings increased in every instance on 62 domains. And yes, I went to great lengths to ensure that the swapped links were as equal as possible. Now, while getting themed links is not always possible, it should be looked at as “value added” in your marketing plan.
Let’s spin this a little more. Would anyone argue with the following statement?
To rank #1 for any keyword phrase, publish 1,000,000 pages of unique, on-topic content and acquire 1,000,000,000 quality links to your site with hundreds of variations of targeted anchor text.
That’s great, but who has the time, effort or budget to accomplish that? Not many. Still, what you REALLY want to know is:
What is the LEAST amount of work I need to do in order to rank well for my targeted keyword phrase?
That is why you trust the experts like myself, Leslie Rohde (God of Linking), Russell Wright (Theme Zoom) and others. It is also why you use the right tools and focus on understanding how the process is put together.
So, with that understood, let’s break down the article and give you clear thinking into the ranking process. We left off with the author doing a backlink check in Google. He should know better. Doing a backlink check in Google has never shown an accurate list of links. Google has admitted publicly on numerous occasions that it does not show all the links they count on purpose. Oh, and they also show links that they don’t count on purpose too. It is Google’s way of protecting their ranking criteria. If you want to understand the linking process, that is a concept you must remember. So, what should you use? While not perfect, Yahoo! Site Explorer will give you fresh results, usually within 6-10 days of acquiring the link. Compare that to Google who updates their public link information once a quarter.
Fact: Using old, outdated information leads to making poor decisions.
The next problem is the author focuses solely on the theme of the site instead of the theme of the page. Focusing on just “link popularity” and inadvertently ignoring “link reputation” is a mistake a lot of online marketers make. Remember what Leslie Rohde preaches: pages are on islands. You must look directly at what the page itself is doing and what links are coming to that page. While it is true with a large site you can often use your internal linking structure to enhance a single page’s importance, the bottom line it’s the page itself that is graded. This is a benefit of themed content. It allows the internal linking structure to support all pages within the theme.
So, what makes a quality link? What will help you accomplish the most with the least effort?
Let’s discuss quality first. Here is what you should consider for a link to be quality:
* Is the page linking to you currently indexed in Google and is the cache version fresh (within 20 days)?
* What is the page linking to you discussing? Is it on-topic?
* What is the Title tag on the page linking to you? Is it on-topic?
* Where is your link on the page? In the navigation? The gutter? The footer? In the body text? At the top, middle or bottom?
* How many other links are on the page?
* Does the page meet YOUR quality guidelines?
* What is the surrounding text of your link? Is it on-topic?
* What is the PageRank of the page linking to you? What is the PageRank of the home page? Is there a large gap?
The above is just a small snap shot in the “linking game” and it does play heavily into the equation of Link Reputation. Do you ever wonder how a page with just 50 incoming links can rank better than your page that has 400 incoming links? Link Reputation is how. Link Reputation, in my view, should get the majority of your focus. That is what made Google great, remember?
I have seen Leslie Rohde rank #1 for a page that was blank (no text and no, the page was not cloaked). It ranked #1 solely on the merits of Link Reputation. Before we move on, let me just state that Link Reputation should NOT be your sole focus in marketing. It is what will give you the biggest bang for your buck, but there are other areas that are also important. I don’t want you to drop everything and just focus on Link Reputation. Understand that there is a balance. Let’s continue…
Now, if Quality Linking is what made Google great, what about Quantity Linking? That is where Yahoo! and MSN come in. How are their diminished market shares working for you?
Yeah, me too. That is why we focus on Google.
KEY POINT: With all things being equal, testing PROVES that a link from a page that is themed will improve your site more than one that is not. Just as a link from the Yahoo! directory will provide a bigger benefit to your site than a link from your neighbor’s blog. Unless, of course, your neighbor is Matt Cutts. Remember: theme, authority, reputation, trust, etc. when it comes to links.
So, how did Search Submit rank so well? Let’s look at three strong indicators that I love to look at: Title Tag, Incoming Link Anchor Text and Body Text. Two on-page factors and one off-page factor:
How did I get the above results? Simply do a search in Google:
allintitle:search engine optimization
We see from these results that the site has a strong Title and the Body text is also strong as the site ranks #4 in both of those areas. For “incoming link text” (allinanchor) it ranks #5 which is also solid and where the site actually ranks in the SERPs. In fact, if you do the “allinanchor” search, the results are basically the same (depending on your datacenter) as doing a regular search. In looking deeper at the results, the rankings are pretty much in successive order based on “allinanchor”. In other words, the sites that rank the best in Google’s algorithm for this keyword phrase are the same sites that rank well for the incoming anchor text (allinanchor). Notice also that if you do a link check on the sites that are in the Top 10, the QUANTITY ranges from 40 million with Wikipedia down to just over 3,000. However, they aren’t listed by the QUANTITY of the links.
Note: The allinachor operator is a great tool to uncover how sites are ranking in Google. However, it is not perfect, and there are always exceptions.
The next important aspect to analyze is to determine if this keyword phrase is even viable in the market. In other words, does is convert? If it doesn’t, who cares about it? I did a week long test with PPC traffic to five different lead generation programs. The best campaign did 0.12% … not 12% but 12 hundredths of a percent. One campaign was a “click to call” and the feedback I received this morning from the merchant was that about a third of the calls were “phantom” calls . Meaning, it was a competitor posing as a customer or someone doing research. The quality was extremely poor according to the companies I sent the traffic to. They weren’t happy.
This is why it is vital to TEST the keywords in PPC PRIOR to optimizing. You don’t want to optimize for a dud keyword phrase.
I got distracted again, let’s get back to the article. The author next shows a smaller site that ranks #1 for a highly competitive term and claims they achieved it purely on the number of backlinks.
Keyword: free cell phone
Rank: #1 in Google
That is an impressive ranking, as “free cell phone” is a highly competitive keyword phrase. However, WireFly.com ranks #4 but has 3.1 million backlinks. Yes, that is right, 3.1 MILLION backlinks. Why aren’t they #1? And what about Free-Cellular-Phone-Deals? They have less than 4,000 links and they rank #3? In doing an in-depth analysis on the links from these sites, it is clear that while quantity is important, it comes down to reputation. Having less than 4,000 links and ranking #3 for the keyword term is a great example of how to get a top ranking with the least effort. And THAT is what we all want in the industry. And while most will look at 4,000 links as anything but “least” effort, in the cell phone industry it is. It is a highly competitive field.
This really comes down to: “Get me from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. No layovers in Atlanta or Cincinnati, just get me there with a direct flight.”
The above example the author gave doesn’t prove or disprove his theory, but it does show how a smaller site can rank well for a competitive phrase with fewer links, because they were quality links.
Rank: #3 in Google
In the example above, he fails to point out that the Hoodia-DietPills site also has high grades in the Link Reputation department. The site ranks #1 in all three criteria (allintitle, allinanchor, allintext) for the keyword “hoodia”. The one aspect that is amazing about this keyword is the high number of sites in the Top 20 that are 10 pages or fewer: 6.
Keyword: affiliate programs
Rank: #1 in Google
The next example he gives is Affiliate Scout. With over 24,000 backlinks and a top ranking in allinanchor and allintitle, The Affiliate Guide is right on its heels with just a third of the links Affiliate Scout has. In looking at the links, it is clear that the Affiliate Guide does a much better job with themed links, and therefore is ranking well despite not having the strong numbers of links. With just a little more effort, they can overtake Affiliate Scout.
The article states: “One point that has proven to make a real difference, Google is discounting reciprocal links more than it used to. They still matter, just not nearly as much. One-way links appear to be the way to go.”
It isn’t that reciprocal linking doesn’t work anymore, it is the nature of how it is done that doesn’t work anymore. The “link pages” that go on forever yet provides no real benefit for the visitor is the problem. The comment about “one way links appear to be the way to go” but besides buying them (which Google frowns upon) how is the website supposed to achieve them? He gives no advice. You can refer to my 8-part video series and comprehensive PDF on how to do this the right way (sorry, SEO Revolution Members only).
The Themed-Content Myth
According to the Article: Another “common sense” notion about Google is that all of the content on your site should revolve around the same theme, otherwise it won’t rank well for the keywords you want because your theme will get “too diluted”. He says that the number one biggest proof against this notion is Wikipedia.org as it covers almost 2 million very diverse topics, and yet ranks incredibly well for a huge array of keywords. Let’s see if that is true…
If you look at the organizational structure of WikiPedia, the content is organized into folders, which can be seen as themes and sub-themes. He points to the example site listed below that has many themes but still ranks well. The referenced site is a web design site that also contains a “blog” about energy drink reviews. The site has many themes as it has many clients that it has done web design work for. I look at this folder as a themed folder. Others may look at it differently. It doesn’t matter. If you search long enough you can find search results that will back up any methodology you want to prove or disprove.
Keyword: energy drinks
Rank: #2 in Google
According to the article: “So do you have to have 100% related content on a site? The facts say no. Even now, with all of Google’s “smarts”, it’s all about the links.”
The reality is that one site or a handful of sites isn’t fact, and that’s why I have over 500 sites to test with. With Google and competitive phrases, links have always been important and I see no reason why that will stop in the near future. I’ll be updating my comprehensive link document this month to include the testing results mentioned here and expand with examples and screen shots.
Conclusion: Focus on optimizing for keyword phrases that convert and you will be far ahead of your competitors as they fight over keyword phrases that convert at the rate of a fraction of 1%. Because regardless of what market that you are in or what your Call to Action is, unless you “cash register” rings, it doesn’t matter where you are ranked or how much traffic you get, you will fail. Put your efforts in the areas that will give you the best chance to succeed.
Update: I just found out that the author is coming out with a new software product that will “fix” the problem that he reported about ten days ago. I should have seen this one coming and I’m very disappointed for not spotting it. Now it all makes sense. The only reason he came out with the article was a “pre-launch” for his new service. This brings back memories …
Let’s review the “Marketing Plan”:
Step One: Send out article telling everyone that “Method A” doesn’t work anymore (Themed Based Links & Themed Based Content).
Step Two: Make a comment in the article about what works, but don’t give any advice on how to achieve it (Reciprocal links don’t work anymore. The only thing that works is one-way links).
Step Three: Wait 7-10 days.
Step Four: Send out a new email that says, “Hey, I found the solution!” (Three way Linking Service)
Step Five: Jack up the price on the worthless solution. (I have no idea the price tag)
Step Six: Hope not enough people are smart enough to realized your solution doesn’t work as advertised. (Because it won’t. It is building a house of cards and it will come crashing down. Many, many have tried in the past and it always ends up the same – disaster).
This has been done with “The Death of SEO”, “The Death of AdSense” and others. It is a very poor way to market a product as it focused on fear instead of offering a true solution. Building a web business is no different than a brick-and-mortar business. It takes effort and dedication. There are no “silver bullets”. I, for one, know that to be true.