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Link Building - It's all about Quality. Or is it?

Lately it seems as if all you hear about is link building: link building this, or link building that. You need links from .edu and .gov sites. You need relevant links. You need high quality links. Quality is more important than quantity.

If you regularly tune into any website that watches search engines, or deals with search engine optimization then you know that much of the talk these days is link building.

And one of my favorite topics is the whole discussion over link quality versus link quantity. Many people believe that link building is most effective when you build a select few high quality links, while others hold to the belief that more links is better.

So the question becomes – which belief is correct?

Right now, if you go to one of the more popular search engine forums you will hear that link quality is the most important factor in search engine rankings.

And while I don't necessarily disagree (I agree that quality is important) I have a real problem with this whole “quality” argument.

Sure it's easy to say “go find yourself X number of high quality links” but who determines that quality? Better yet, how do you decide if a link is a “quality” link?

I mean, it's obvious that the engines have figured out some sort of quality indicator, but have they shared that with anyone? No.

That means its up to you to determine what a “quality” link is.

Or is it?

Do we really need “quality” links to have a successful link building campaign?

Well if you are following my logic here then you'll realize that you don't in fact need just a handful of quality links. That's because you (and everyone else outside of Google, Yahoo and MSN) don't know what that means.

So do what I do – just go for volume.

Now I'm not saying you should go out and buy some automated program that will submit your link to thousands of blogs or forums. I am saying keep with the tried and true manual link building methods.

I am also saying don't dismiss a site as a potential link just because it doesn't meet with your own quality standards. After all, who's to say that your quality standards are even remotely close to Google's (or Yahoo's or MSN's)?

Just because a site has a low PageRank (according to Google's Toolbar) or a low link count (according to Yahoo's Site Explorer) doesn't mean it is a low quality site. There a many many more factors aside from PageRank and inbound link count which are used to measure quality.

So if not link count or PageRank what then?

As I said above, there are way too many factors impacting a site's perceived quality – from the age of the domain to the number of reachable pages it has, to the depth of those pages, to the optimization on them and so on, and so on.

At my last count engines like Google had over 150 factors which they use to determine a page's rank. That means they use 150+ factors to determine that a page should rank #1 for “widgets.” It is many of these same factors which the engines also use to determine if a link is valuable.

Now, obviously there is no way for us to process that amount of information in a reasonable and timely manner to determine if a link is “quality” is there? So why bother?

I'm not saying throw quality out the window, but I'm saying don't rely solely on this mysterious “quality” factor.

Instead, look at some real, tangible evidence that we can use to determine if this site might be good.

For example, look at the site's PageRank. Granted this isn't a 100% reliable method but it does give us an idea – a snapshot at some point in time – as to how Google perceives the site.

Also look at other links found on the site. Are they doing well in the engines?

Finally look at the page in question – you may have decided that the site is quality but the page you want a link on already has more than 100 outbound links. To me this indicates that this isn't a quality link because ultimately your site will receive little, if any, link popularity transference from the site.

That's not to say that you shouldn't submit to the site, just that you shouldn't stop with this one site. In fact, I'd suggest that if you can find 20 or 30 similar sites to get links from, then those 20 or 30 “so-so” links will be worth as much (or more) than one of those mysterious “quality” links.

What then – don't submit to quality sites? Do submit? What? I'm so confused!

My feeling is that if you are confused after what I said here (and believe me, it wouldn't surprise me – link building is as much art as science) then do what I do – go with your gut.

If you've come across a site (or group of sites) and your gut tells you “ya go for it – these are good links” then do it.

After all, no one knows your business better than you. Therefore there are few people who may be able to tell if a link is a good fit for your site. If you think the link is good then make the submission. If not, then move on. If you are unsure then save it somewhere (bookmark it, save in a spreadsheet) and come back to it in a month or two to see if your feelings have changed.

So what's better – quality or quantity?

In the end I feel it's better to submit more link requests than less, and it's better to have more links than less. After all, the worst thing that will happen (unless you are severely spamming the engines and get yourself banned) is that the engine will find your link and say “sorry not related” and discount it.

I've never ever heard of a site getting penalized for links. Because if that was the case, then do you know where I'd be? Submitting all our competition to sites to get them banned . :)

Seriously, though. Don't be afraid to submit to many sites. Unless your gut tells you not to, go ahead and make the submission. It's not going to harm you and, in fact it may even help.

Rob Sullivan
Search Engine Marketing and Brand Development Strategist
Get In Position

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