Editor's Note: Today we have a guest post from Howard Iken, a Florida attorney with a few years of link building experience under his belt. We frequently talk about how link building has changed over the years, and Howard's stories prove that point. In this post, he takes us through his journey of building links in the law niche and how he's had to change with the times. Take it away, Howard!
I started a legal website approximately 8.5 years ago. During that time the website went from zero traffic to extreme heights. At the height of traffic I once made the arrogant observation that I could sell ice cream in quantity by simply placing a dedicated ice cream page on the site. But then I received the same wake up call as thousands of other websites. Over a one-year period, Panda and Penguin dealt a severe punishment. The website is now down to extremely modest levels. Along the way I learned some lessons about link building. What follows is a quick overview of my link-building odyssey.
I began with a hand written website consisting of approximately 50 pages of semi-decent content. There was a lot of information, a good deal of thin content, and some duplicate content. For the first two years the traffic was growing but minimal. I tried everything that first two years: article marketing, news releases, and reciprocal linking.
Nothing seemed to move the meter significantly. Little did I know at that time that I was creating one of my first problems- duplicate content. Every article I wrote to the website was also released through a half dozen article directories. But that was not enough for me. I found an online service that automatically placed each article with at least 50 article directories at a time. My legion of links was beginning to spread throughout the Internet.
At the beginning of year three, Google was not yet impressed with my efforts. I searched the Internet and found an Indian based linking service. They guaranteed 1000 links a month for what seemed like a modest price. I quickly signed up. Three months, and three thousand dollars later, Google sat up and took notice of the website. The traffic graph began to more steeply upward.
I once attended a small business seminar that offered the saying: “when there is smoke, pour gasoline on it.” My analytics account was showing lots of smoke. I decided to pour all the gasoline I could. Every week of work included hours of time searching out every possible way to create a link to the website. The internet contained thousands of directories and I was determined to be in every single one of them. Bit by bit I increased the links to our home page and main pages by thousands. It did not matter if the directory was law-oriented.
If it had a link submission form, I went ahead and submitted. Google rewarded me at each and every turn. Analytics was showing steep increases every single month. It was exhilarating and fun to look at the graph.
More links = more traffic. That was the formula I had come to believe in and understand. I found even more ways to pump in thousands of links at a time. My research brought me to a now defunct service called “Google Speed Ranking.” This was a service that sold monthly link packages starting with 5000 links a month. They had a software program that automatically posted forum links. I took a look at some of their work. One post I looked at consisted of a short comment followed by hundreds of assorted hyperlinks to their customer websites.
It looked pretty good to me. I signed up and started to receive monthly reports showing thousands of new links monthly. The traffic formula I had come to understand worked as consistently as before. My analytics graph was almost point straight up. Traffic went through the sky. (I now cringe when I see the old links).
It seemed like I could do no wrong. Forum spam, mass directory submissions, press releases, and article directories. They all had one and only one effect. Every minute of linking work produced an upward tick in traffic. And as we all know, eventually it all came crashing down. It was a good 8 years. But it came to an end and I learned many lessons about linking.
So what did I learn from the experience? First of all, I learned I did the right thing until Google changed directions. There was nothing dishonest about it, I had a decent website, and most important – the strategy worked. But it is important to move on and learn. I am now developing several other website properties that are free of the curse of poor linking techniques.
One thing I learned is to value quality and relevance over all other things. Now, a few of the right links each month are infinitely more valuable than thousands of links per month. And I turn away from many linking opportunities. I make a gut level, analytics fueled decision about each and every link.
Currently, I do not value traffic and visitors at any cost. I have come to learn that a fraction of visitors represent potential buyers. It the website content offers value and the visitors are high quality, you can generate the same amount of revenue with fewer visitors.
As for relevance, I try to make sure all of my links come from sites that have some subject related connection with my site. The naysayers among you may notice this guest post is on an SEO site and linked to a legal site. My answer is that loosely related links are ok, but only in very strict moderation. And I make an effort to balance my link profile to include different kinds of links. And I now measure my link efforts in small handfuls, rather than the thousand-at-a-time measure of the past.
I will probably always be a link building knucklehead. Links are good and probably always will be. But I plan to be an educated, careful, link building knucklehead. And I especially plan to have an eye on the future and carefully hedge my Internet marketing bets. All my links take a lot of time and effort to get. They are not easily earned and also always transfer some value to the reader. I believe that is what the search engines want so that is my new direction. I am now a reformed link building knucklehead and I definitely look forward to the next decade of SEO.