Linking out is a valuable marketing strategy on a number of levels.
It increases the utility of your site. People will see you as being helpful. People will see you as non-partisan i.e. not always favoring your own stuff. Webmasters may see your inbound link in their logs and follow them back to you. Links are, at the most fundamental level, a connection between people.
If you've read something about the HITS algorithm (.pdf), you may have noticed that HITS looks for, and evaluates, both authority and hub pages. i.e. pages that contain multiple links out to authority pages. HITS stands for "hypertext induced topic selection", and, like PageRank, is concerned with link graph analysis.
HITS uses two values for each page, the authority value and the hub value.
"Hubs and authorities exhibit what could be called a mutually reinforcing relationship: a good hub is a page that points to many good authorities; a good authority is a page that is pointed to by many good hubs...An authority value is computed as the sum of the scaled hub values that point to that page. A hub value is the sum of the scaled authority values of the pages it points to. Relevance of the linked pages is also considered in some implementations."
Simply for this reason (and these are purely my own thoughts and opinions): I believe that PageRank has always been flawed. I believe that Kleinberg's HITS algorithm (and the variations on it), being closer to subject specific, provides more relevant results. A few years ago when Teoma was launched, there were lots of comparisons made about Jon Kleinberg's HITS algorithm. What many people didn't realise was, Kleinberg's algorithm had suffered its own problems: Namely "topic drift" and "run time analysis" delays. Monica Henzinger, now head of research at Google, played a major role in developing solutions to the "topic drift" problem (curiously enough by introducing a little element of PageRank in the recipe). But the "run time analysis" problem remained. In simple terms, the results from the HITS algorithm were more relevant, but they took an eternity (in web search expectation time) to compute.
Has Google rolled hub analysis into Google? Who knows. Whilst it is generally agreed that linking out currently doesn't have direct ranking advantages, linking out provides a number of marketing benefits that can, in turn, lead to higher rankings.
Some people fear that by linking out, there is less PageRank available to spread amongst your own internal pages. Whilst this may be the case, link hoarding is unlikely to win you many friends. Unless you're running an established brand, or you buy all your links, you're going to need friends to link to you in the first place.
Let's look at ten linking out marketing strategies.
1. Hey, I'm Here!
By linking out to a site, you you announce your presence to the owner of that site. Webmasters often follow back links to see who is linking to them. Simple enough, right.
Take it a step further.
When you link out, give the person a good reason to link back to you. Think about ways to add value to their site when they link sites to yours. This could be in the form of a great review, or praise, or a quote.
2. Become A Hub
Google is the ultimate hub.
Google has made a fortune by sending people away from Google. It's counter intuitive, but it works because if you provide sufficient utility, people will bookmark you and keep coming back.
No one person has all the answers. If you provide people with answers, even if those answers aren't on your site, people will still see that you provide value. Time spent on your site may actually increase as people bounce back and forth to find more information.
You may also be perceived as an authority, in a wider sense, even if you lack the content, simply by helping people find the answers they seek.
Consistency matters. Blogs that create new posts regularly will more likely be considered hubs, at very least by their readers, whilst dead blogs - not so much.
3. The Contrarian
Is everyone in you niche saying the same thing? Try going against the grain. Stand out.
"SEO sucks! It's useless! It does not work, and everyone who practicies it is clearly an idiot!".
Contrarian, right. At very least, you should create some lively debate!
Being contraian works because, by definition, it stands out. If you link out to individuals whilst being contrarian, you invite them to counter your arguments. Often, they'll do so by commenting and linking back. Google doesn't care if a link is negative or positive. A link is a link.
4. Praise Be
People love being praised.
It's one of those simple human connections. It also invokes a feeling of reciprocation.
Do so using links.
5. Give Forward
Try to give forward well in advance of when/if you need to ask a favor, otherwise reciprocation becomes a straight swap, and may be evaluated purely in terms of relative advantage.
Build up the link karma. One step at a time.
People look for their names. They ego search.
They also may see their names in links if they are evaluating keywords in the link text pointing to their site. Who wouldn't be curious to see that not only is their name being mentioned, but that name is also mentioned in the link?
Nothing sells like controversy, especially when it becomes personal, so it can be worthwhile, in terms of link development, to flame people. Be very careful, though. You risk damaging your reputation and credibility, and you'll certainly burn bridges.
Best to only flame people who truly deserve it :)
8. Deep Research
By linking to deep, academic research, you are more likely to be perceived as an authority by association.
Always be on the lookout for obscure academic research. This type of content isn't often marketed, as commercialization was not a primary consideration. Also, this research might not show up at all, because it exists in the deep web, beyond the reach of spiders. Not only do you increase utility to your visitors, and become a valuable hub, you may also be seen in search results for queries concerning that unreachable document.
Combining multiple deep citations, and/or formatting the information for easier consumption, can help make people want to cite you.
For example, "Hey I saw your great post about x and I made this image to help me better understand the concepts...do you think this is ok?"
If you graphed the web, the link graph does not look like a group of planets, floating isolated in space. It looks like a blur of interlinked sites. Typically, a site will have a number of links pointing to it, and a number of links pointing out.
Sites that don't link out appear "exceptional" on these graphs, and probably not in a good sense. Ideally, you want to be seen as both and authority and a hub, with lots of links flowing in both directions.
10. Temporarily Extend Your Site
Linking out allows you to temporarily extend your site. You could start off with, say, a directory of resources, then look to house similar but better content on your own site later on. This way, you provide utility and start building up karma immediately, with very little effort involved.
The Open Source movement works well because it is easy for people to contribute to - so many people do! Likewise, if you do not link out, you may not become insular and disconnected. You may miss opportunities to leverage off, connect with, and build upon, the work of others.
Not linking out goes against the nature of the web, and ultimately becomes self-defeating.
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