Q: Do you know if it’s valuable to post links on Yahoo/MSN Group sites? From what I can see, the home pages of the various groups are indexed, but the links pages typically aren’t. Have you heard of people doing this to assist in link building?
A: There are a couple of ways to think about the value of this technique.
First, if you’re thinking about a straightforward participation marketing approach, in which you set out in good faith to join in on discussions, give advice based on your expertise, and position yourself as a “person of authority” on a relevant subject, then there can be great value in posting links within group discussion. The chief value, of course, is that you are creating a positive awareness of your company for a targeted audience. Added to your thoughtfully written and useful information, a link in your signature might just entice some of those targeted folks to click through and visit your site. Participation marketing is time consuming, requires good writing skills and a thorough knowledge of the topic at hand. Incidentally, “thorough knowledge” is the reason that this kind of marketing is best done by a representative of the company itself, and is hard to farm out to a professional SEO.
Secondly, you might be wondering about the ranking boost you might gain from links posted to groups such as Yahoo and MSN. As you may be aware from reading our book, we are not the kind of searchies who follow the algorithmic importance of various linking techniques, because we are much more preoccupied with how these things affect the user. But, your question piqued our curiosity, so we took a few minutes to look. In the five minutes we spent looking at public and members-only Yahoo groups, we were drowning in spam postings and/or announcements from moderators talking about the proliferation of spam postings. Ick. Are the links indexed? Well, in the 15 minutes we looked into this, we couldn’t find hard evidence either way, but we suspect they aren’t. Not surprisingly, it appears that a group’s introductory page is likely to be indexed while the pages containing the actual postings are not.
What does this say to us? Well, it says that spam on forums is a huge problem, and if we realized that after looking for 5 minutes, then the search engines have already noticed it and have probably chosen to devalue or ignore links posted on these pages. It also means that the average group member is up to his or her ears in spam and won’t give the time of day to anything that’s not 100% appropriate and related to the topic of the group.
So, yes, there can be great value in being a useful and active member of a forum in your site’s topical community. But, in case you were thinking of tossing out random links (and we’re not saying you are!), don’t bother.