Optimize for inbound links or on-site SEO?

I’ve started many new domains over the years (RainCityGuide.com, 4realz.net, spinnio.com, and DustinLuther.com come to mind, although I’m sure there are probably another dozen that didn’t last long to even come to mind). However, it’s been a few years and the last one I remember creating, which was b2b.dnb.com… and that was only creating a subdomain on a high ranking site, so it’s definitely not a typical new site.

I say all this because I was a bit surprised when I noticed that this site started ranking in Google only days after adding the first two pages:

It seems obvious that the Google Sandbox is long gone!

And yet, I’m stuck in my ways and thought I’d start this new blog with a post on some SEO best practices that haven’t changed at all over the years.

And maybe my favorite example of this is from a blog post I write in Dec 2005

I remember at the time of writing this post, I would have these long conversations with people about the importance of driving inbound links and people would look at me like I had two heads. The people creating business websites back then, especially real estate websites, were so focused on creating “wonderful” user experiences, they that forgot to create content people would share (probably one of the reason the post hit a nerve and generated 137 comments!).

You’d think that over a decade later, everyone would agree that a blog should be used to drive inbound links… and yet… I’m pained to say that we went the other way. Way too many blog posts became “optimized” for google bots with unreadable and generic content that nobody would ever share.


I think most people did this with the  best of intentions. Creating content people want to share is hard while optimizing a blog post for keywords is easy.

However, the result is that I feel like I could write the same Linkation, Linkation, Linkation post in 2018 that I wrote in 2005.

So, what generated this little rant about the importance of driving inbound links? Earlier today, I tweeted that I was pleasantly surprised how quickly google let this site out of their sandbox, and a most wonderful Realtor named Laura Fangman asks a simple question: “Any tips?”

And so I shared with her my thoughts on the importance of creating structured content.

In a nutshell, at D&B, we knew we wanted to rank for business credit related terms, so we created a Business Credit Guide and then loaded it up with tons of content in a very structured way so that google would easily be able to understand how to prioritize the content.

Things near the base of the directory, like https://b2b.dnb.com/business-credit/ , were super relevant, while things that were much deeper, like our Veteran Supplier Diversity page: https://b2b.dnb.com/business-credit/contracts/supplier-diversity-programs/veteran-owned/ , were long-tail terms. The beauty is that the site structure was able to quickly teach google the most important content on the site.

Thanks to the fact that we were consolidating hundreds of pages and multiple sites, we were quickly able to build out a very robust guide and google has rewarded the site with highly targeted and free traffic for years.

However, the logical structure and comprehensive content were only one part of why the site ranked so well. We also made sure to have tons of content on the subdomain that was optimized for inbound links, including blog posts, podcast episodes, expert profiles, webinars, etc.

If I had to summarize some of the things I’ve learned over the years, it would be that a well-functioning business website should have:

  • A community section that’s optimized for driving inbound links. It could be a blog section, a message board, a podcast, etc. What’s most important is that that section is designed to drive inbound links from other blogs and social sites.
  • A section (I’ll call the “guide”) that’s optimized for driving onsite SEO value so that Google will send it’s most wonderful free traffic

As a bonus, when the guide is set up right, just about EVERY post that goes up in the community section should have a reason to link into the guide (internal linking at it’s best!)

(In addition to a community section and a guide, there’s a key third element that’s should be part of every business website… I’ll call the credibility-building section, but leave that for a different blog post!)

In this way, the community section is optimizing for SEO when it’s optimized to drive inbound links. I would happily argue that anything that distracts from driving inbound links is hurting SEO for this section.

  • Is there a pop-up on your blog posts that’s stops people from wanting to share your posts? Get rid of it!
  • Is the title so optimized for SEO that it looks spammy? Use a “real” title instead.
  • Is it loaded with CTAs so that nobody would ever tweet your blog post? Get rid of them!

Seriously, think of your blog as something optimized to get people to share the link. Anything that causes someone to hesitate to share the link should be removed.

In terms of the guide, this authoritative section of your site is where you should make sure to optimize your site for onsite SEO. This is where you really do want to make sure that the Google bots can easily understand the structure of your site. The content on every page here is important as it has potential to pay the bills for years to come.

Especially as this is the first blog post on a brand new blog, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Do you agree it makes the most sense to have a section of your site purely designed to drive inbound links? 
  • Do you have an interesting example of anyone else who’s created this kind of deep and structured content? (would love some more examples to point to!)

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