Link Strategy

Changing the Link strategy

I’m going to criticise the current practice of cross-linking amongst FWBO websites, explain why it’s basically a good idea, but why the status quo doesn’t really work and what can be done to improve it.
The good news: the solution is pretty dang simple.

If you trust me on this, you could just skip to the section on the solution at the end of this piece and do what it says. If you’re not immediately so confident, plough on through.

The what and why section

It’s well known that acquiring links to a website improves its Google rankings. In principle, given that there are so many of us, this should make the FWBO web presence formidable. In practice instances of cross-linking amongst FWBO websites are somewhat patchy.

When I took on the job of Internet Worker, there was a common understanding that every FWBO website should have a copy of a common single links page, but this has never been implemented by everyone. The links page was supposed to list links to the homepage of every site in the FWBO network, but there have actually been several lists, neither of which were completely synchronized or authoritative.

Even when a single page has been implemented, my sense is that they’ve been seen as a one-off job rather than a task that needs regular (if infrequent) updating.

The status quo needs adapting to accommodate the rate of change and also because:
* A single page is too long for humans. Very few humans will read the list unless they’re actually looking for something specific. [ 1 ] If someone has called up the Ipswich Buddhist Centre site, are they likely to be interested in Centres in Australia? I doubt it: if that was the case they would have already searched for ‘Buddhism Australia’.
* Because it’s so long a human can’t easily find the general interest sites (the kind of thing you might be interested in whatever you’d originally searched for). Depending upon which version of the link list you have (and how old), FreeBuddhistAudio.com is towards the bottom, way past the point at which someone will scan.
* Our single page is too long for Google. Google are cagey about quite how many links per page they’ll take into account when they visit: they know that there’s a cottage industry in exchanging links (at it’s worst it’s a spam practice), so they say – about 100′ [ 2 ] is the limit. Our current common links page is pushing 150 … and growing. Google actively recommend breaking links pages down into sub pages, rather like we already do on www.fwbo.org/contacts/addresses.html.
* If common link pages aren’t updated, they may even do minor harm: they sustain references to long since dead sites and pages.

Categorization

Categorization is important because it helps Google understand what a page [ 3 ] is about. Just because your homepage has lots of incoming links it doesn’t follow that your site would rank well for any and every topic you’re ‘selling’. In other words, if you want to rank well for any particular topic, say ‘Buddhism Ourtown’, Google has to work out that out. Listing links in categories helps Google do that.

If categorization was usefully multidimensional (i.e. listing pages that present yoga or Tai Chi classes, for example) obviously a single long list would become mind bogglingly long.

In the early days of our Web presence of course there were relatively few websites. Categorizing them all was straightforward: Centre, Retreat Centre, Business. Google probably found that fairly helpful. A few humans would have too. Nowadays there are a lot of us, we’re ‘selling’ more diverse services and we’re increasing both at a steady rate.

(As an aside, there’s also a big question about inclusion: what constitutes a distinctively ‘FWBO’ website? Who makes that decision?)

So I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s basically a lazy strategy that probably doesn’t work very well either.

It sounds like a faff: do we have to?

If you’re really concerned about Google rankings, then yes, we do. One of the reasons www.fwbo-files.com sits smugly where it is in a search for ‘fwbo’ is because we can’t get our act together on this.

If I bother to link from my site to yours, the logic goes that I think your site’s important for some reason. Thus a link to your website implies a ‘vote’ for it. Obviously the more people that link to your website the greater the implication that it’s significant in some way.

As I said, this doesn’t mean that your site will immediately come out on top in a search. The Search Engine still has to work out what you’re significant for. Buddhism? Footwear? Sheep?
Consider an example. Lets say we all think that Wildmind is a great place to learn meditation, so we create a page of links with a list of sites I like including:

www.wildmind.org

So Wildmind gets a vote. But a vote for what? How is Google to work out why we think it’s important? The domain name is poetic, so doesn’t help all that much. We could give Google a hand by wrapping the link around a phrase someone might actually search for:

Buddhist meditation

Or even better

Learn Buddhist meditation online with Wildmind.

By doing this we can legitimately influence search returns. The important point in all of this, though, is that context is critical. One should be a specific as possible: ideally a page listing beginners’ meditation classes links directly to pages with dates and times of classes, not just to a Centre homepage.
The page a link is placed in needs to say something coherent about why the link is there. That’s why categorization is also important, it emphasizes context.

A solution

This isn’t a complete solution. It’s not multidimensional in the way I mention above. It’s an improvement and a step in the right direction, though because

  • Any site can be included
  • A human can quickly track something useful down
  • Google and other Search Engines get fed useful information which hopefully improves search returns
  • It necessitates the minimum number of updates to the minimum number of websites.

What you need to do

Keep that links page: just edit the contents down.
If you’ve read the previous piece on The Website Admin Team, this is a clear job for your Editor. S/he basically needs to transform the list into a couple of sensible paragraphs, weaving those around references that include the links below. Hand that onto your Webmaster and ask him/her to effect the actual links.

As an example: take a look at any Wikipedia article. Do what they do.

The following list of pages (note again I’m talking in terms of ‘pages’ not ‘websites’) are the ones I currently think should be included. I have to own and emphasize that the selection is my own opinion of what to include, however I’m convinced that the key ones are the directories (numbers 3, 11, 15 and 16) because they include the sites most likely to change or expand in number.

Nb: pages marked * are pages that already get a good ranking in Google.

About Buddhism

1 www.fwbo.org/buddhism.html*
2 www.freebuddhistaudio.com
3 www.fwbo-buddhist-articles.org
4 www.clear-vision.org/Students/AskaBud.aspx

About Buddhist meditation

5 www.fwbo.org/meditation.html*
6 www.wildmind.org

About the FWBO & TBMSG

7 www.fwbo.org/fwbo.html*
8 www.tbmsg.org/index1.html
9 www.fwbo-news.org
10 www.karuna.org and www.karunaappeals.org
11 people.fwbo.org
12 www.videosangha.net
13 www.facebook.com/pages/FWBO/#/pages/FWBO/27731048911?ref=ts
14 web.mac.com/surya4/LightsInTheSky/Home.html

FWBO Centres

15 www.fwbo.org/contacts/addresses.html*
16 www.goingonretreat.com

Centres in your region

This is the bit you have to use your own initiative about.
Link directly to Centres within reasonable travelling distance of your own. It may be that someone who lives in Brighton works in Central London: getting to0 the LBC for a beginners class might be more realistic than the Brighton Centre.

If you were in, say, Croydon, you should link to all the London Centres, Rivendell and even Brighton. Don’t forget to emphasize local FWBO projects! In Croydon’s case, this would mean Oasis Yoga and Health www.oasisyoga.org

Notes

[ 1 ]
Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox, How Little Do Users Read? , (May 6, 2008)
Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox, Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy , (November 12, 2007)

[ 2 ]
Google Webmaster Guidelines

[ 3 ]
Note ‘page’ not ‘website’. Google examines and ranks individual pages, not whole sites

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