Apex means the very top, as in the top of a pyramid. An apex keyword is a highly important one or two word keyword phrase. Link Jamming is a strategy for ranking a home page for your apex keyword in a scenario where your competitor is a seemingly insurmountable BehemothDotCom. Link Jamming incorporates the realization that while BehemothDotcom has thousands or millions of inbound links, they are not in control of those links, many of which go straight to the home page. Link Jamming recognizes the inherent vulnerability of BehemothDotCom’s inability to control their link profile. Link Jamming makes BehemothDotCom’s weakness it’s cornerstone strength by driving relevant links to major top level sections of a website to build sitewide relevance for the apex keyword- thus sidestepping the issue of having to match a million links with another million links. Link Jamming is using a finesse strategy to compete against the non-strategy of simply being large, well known, and established. Being big is not a link strategy. The old analogy about bringing a knife to a gun fight no longer fits. It is a mistake to cling to that way of conceiving the link building competition. You don’t have to match big links with big links. Take a look at the SERPs, you know this hasn’t been true for a long time.
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Linking out is good- Just don’t help your competitors
In Brett Tabke’s original Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone post in the WebmasterWorld Forum, he advised linking out to the top ranking sites for whatever phrases you are trying to rank for. The way I interpret that is, at the time, and likely to this day, the page a site links out to was counted for what the page originating the link was relevant for. As I recall, the original Stanford paper said it was common to use that as a ranking signal for the originating page, but that Google’s innovation was to use that as a signal for the page being linked to. The Stanford paper alludes to Google also using the outgoing link as a signal for what the originating page is relevant for, which I think is still the case today. There are other factors alluded to in the paper, like font size, bold, italics, position of phrase, etc. But in this article I’m going to focus on links and the inherent advantage a small site has over the larger million link websites and how to wield this power to your advantage.
I personally believe it is a good practice to link out to sites as a reference citation. For instance, if you’re discussing a specific law, medical condition, or travel destination, linking out to the specific .gov, .edu, .org or .com web page discussing that specific topic is good for your page, good for the user and very likely good for your rankings. That is a specific one-to-one match between web pages. It does not have to be a link to the home page of your behemoth competitor. The key is if the page you are linking to has direct relevance to the topic under discussion and the link makes sense. For instance, a movie review may benefit from links to a director’s previous films, the name of an actor can benefit the reader if it used as an anchor to an internal or external link to a bio or list of previous films. It’s the traditional hyperlink the way it used to be done in the nineties, a way of linking, citation, that is done less nowadays. This doesn’t mean it’s ok to link every occurence of the word Academic or College to your SEO optimized education affiliate web form. That’s out of context.
I’m not convinced that linking out to the home page of the number one ranking site will help your rankings. What works for me is looking at the most relevant web page that matches the context of the discussion on your web page and is useful to your site visitor. Simply linking to the home page of the top ranked site is not, in my opinion, the way to do it.
You do not have to match links one to one
One of the issues in the way some web publishers think of the SERPs is that there is something special about the links the number one listed site contains. The old analogy of having to bring a gun to a gun fight no longer fits. You do not have to match links with an equal amount of links to compete. This is one of the dead ends of typical competitor research strategies because the focus is on duplicating competitor backlinks instead of coming up with your own superior backlinks. I have trounced aggressive competitors with better and more relevant links simply because the competitors were so focused on duplicating each others aggressive linking. They were all under the mistaken assumption that aggressive crap was needed to rank since aggressive crap was all that was ranking. No, no, no. I went nationwide with two word phrases simply with links with better backlink profiles that were highly relevant for the phrase.
Doing what everyone else is doing is never recommended. While poaching easy to take competitor backlinks is a good thing, you do not need to duplicate or poach the backlinks of a top ranked competitor, you simply need to compete with your own cloud of relevant backlinks. It’s your cloud of backlinks (I prefer to call it Link Clique). If the number one ranked competitor has a million backlinks, that does not mean you also need a million backlinks to compete. You simply need a sharper focused backlink cloud, especially a set that is unique and minimally shared with Behemoth Competitor. Again, I’m not advising to avoid poaching Behemoth Competitor links, low lying fruit is good. I am simply pointing out the importance of bringing your own set of superior backlinks to the SERPs. BehemothDotCom wins with quantity but your advantage is being able to compete with anchors + link quality + backlink focus on key pages of your site- not just a massive spike to the home page.
I have a site that competes with a multimillion backlink competitor, BehemothDotCom, that has been around since the nineties and is currently owned by EvenBiggerBehemothDotCom. Yet I beat them for our main two word phrase for about half the year and drop to the second or third position (beneath BehemothDotCom) for the balance of the year. While there is some crossover between our backlinks, I am able to compete because I have an active campaign on variants of the two word phrase, as well as a unique (unshared with BehemothDotCom) group of sites linking directly to my most relevant page with the two word phrase, plus internal links linking to the top level sections that are variants of the two word phrase. I’ll break down that formula, which I call Link Jamming, into it’s main components.
This is important but less so than in previous years. I have created top three rankings simply by getting branded links to the important pages for the three word phrases associated with the two word phrase. Not just the pages linking to my top level pages are exact match relevant in topic, the entire site is an exact match relevant in topic. PageRank is irrelevant.
2. Link quality
High relevance, regardless of PageRank. Links from link pages, resource pages, blogroll type links are A-OK, regardless of PageRank. A particular sign of quality that I like about these sites is that they are not associated with SEO, particularly with their backlinks.
3. Backlink focus
This is where your status as a nimble entity can be put to use outpacing the BehemothDotCom. A large entity is not always in the position to build links to key sections of their websites. For a small site, this is an important advantage to exploit. I will repeat. Your agility in focusing exact topical match links to top level pages is your advantage over your Behemoth Competitor. In many cases BehemothDotcom is ranking on the fumes leftover from direct links to the home page. You are not necessarily constrained by being big so are able to formulate the strategy for building inbound links straight to the top level pages that will then feed your relevance for the important two word phrase you covet back to the home page.
4. Link out to relevant web pages
Link out to relevant web pages. Just don’t link out to your competitors or those that are trying to rank where you want to rank. You are building your own cloud of relevance, bring your own reference points. Make your case. BehemothDotCom often cannot do this. You can.
Putting the Link Jamming pieces together
My suggestion is first to identify the variants of your important keyword phrase through a service such as Google’s External Tool. Secondly, identify the top pages on your site that correspond to those variants. A search engine site operator search will give you the top page for each keyword phrase. Thirdly, run those satellite phrases in Google to note where your site currently ranks. Anything that ranks second page or lower should be marked for improvement via link building. Fourth, link out to relevant web pages that are not trying to compete with you but are relevant for the topic under discussion. Once those ranks have improved then I believe your site will be in a prime position to rank best for the top level phrases. Site architecture plays an important role for distributing link relevance to what you feel are the most important top level sections for each important topic, strengthening the home page for the apex topic.