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Linking to other web sites has been part of the natural order of things on the web ever since the web began. Even so, it wasn’t until about two years ago, when the search engines started factoring external links into their rankings, that people with web sites started getting serious about link building.
I’ve always preached that regardless of what the search engines do, a network of links pointing to your site is the simplest, easiest, and most cost effective method of building traffic there is. I see evidence every day to prove this sermon correct. Yet even so, there are many sites that do things that discourage links. You’ve probably heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but what about Linking Optimization (LO)? Linking Optimization isn’t about content. Let’s assume you have great linkable content and a strategy to get it linked. Link optimization is the process of making your existing great content linkable at the URL level.
The easiest way to make your URLs linkable is to remember one core rule: Shorter URLs are better than long URLs. Why? First, have you ever received an email message that had a URL in it that wrapped to two lines? A URL that wraps to two lines will often become broken, so clicking on that wrapped (broken) URL does one thing: sends the clicker to a file not found page. The moment your email software wraps the URL, that URL is no good unless the reader copies and pastes both lines of the URL into their browser window perfectly and then hits the enter key. What a hassle, especially for those who aren’t online as much. Or for anyone who is challenged with a mouse. I’ve been online for 10 years and I still have problems copying and pasting two line URLs into the browser window easily.
So if given the choice of the two URLs below, in an email message, which would result in getting the reader to the page?
Answer: The second URL, since the first one is broke when it wrapped and now sends clickers to a file-not-found page.
The same holds true for linking by another web site. Which of the above URLs would a webmaster be more inclined to link to? It’s human nature to take the easiest path, and in this case the easiest path is the shorter URL. Having conducted linking campaigns for several Fortune 500 companies, I have experienced first hand the problems with getting links for long URLs. I’ve had to apologize for long URLs, put directions for copying and pasting, send shorter redirect URLs, etc. It’s no fun to go link seeking and have to apologize for your links in your link request Email.
URL wrapping in email is just one area where long links will hurt you. Another area is on discussion boards that only permit a certain length of text per line. Try sending a post to forum board with a long URL in it, and watch is it is rendered useless from a clicking standpoint. I promise you that this one seemingly small glitch is enough to keep people from coming to your site. It takes a split second to click a good URL, it takes 15 or twenty seconds to try and copy two lines and paste it them back into the browser URL window. That friction/annoyance is plenty to keep readers from even trying. The wrapped/broken URL is the silent deal breaker of clicking.
Many deep content sites have content located at long URLS. If this describes your site, one workaround is to use redirects for linking. I’m doing some linking work for WARNER BROS and using short redirect URLs that sends the clicker of the URL to a longer URL on the WB site. In my Email link request, I explain that I have sent them a short URL so as not to cause them to have to deal with a wrapped (broken) URL. While some webmasters don’t like to link to redirects, if there is a legitimate reason why it has to be done, most will link to the URL you ask them to link to, even if it’s a redirect. Likewise with forum boards. I post the short URLs, or in some cases, both the long and short URLs, explaining that if the long one isn’t clickable, use the short one.
Thus while redirects are scorned in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) community, they are accepted and often necessary in the Linking Optimization (LO) field. If the primary objective is to simplify things for the person you are sending the URL to, then of course it’s completely acceptable to send a shorter URL that redirects. But to be on the safe side always explain to the reader of your link request message or forum post why you are redirecting them, as otherwise your linking motives might be questioned and the link wont be granted.
Link well my friend,
About the Author
Eric Ward founded the Web’s very first service for announcing, linking, and building awareness for Web sites, back in 1994. Ward is best known as the person behind the publicity and linking campaigns for Amazon.com, Weather.com, The Link Exchange, Rodney.com, AMA.org, and PBS.org. His services won the 1995 Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web’s 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. In 2009 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes. In 2013 Eric wrote The Ultimate Guide To Link Building for Entrepreneur Press. Eric has spoken at over 100 industry conferences. Today, Eric publishes LinkMoses Private, a subscription-based linking strategy newsletter read by people in over 20 countries. He also consults and trains others on how to maximize their online presence. Eric has written linking strategy and advice columns for SearchEngineLand, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, Search Marketing Standard, SearchEngineGuide, Web Marketing Today, and Ad Age magazine. Learn more about Eric and his content publicity services at ericward.com|Contact Eric