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Building Links To Your Website

Links are a vital part of the ranking methods of all the major search engines. As with the adage "All Roads Lead To Rome," all links on the Internet lead somewhere, but until a significant number of them lead to your website from other high-quality websites, your website will perform poorly in the search engines - especially Google. That's right, we're going to talk about building links: how to get links for your site that will help you to get higher ranking and more targeted traffic. In these days of Google's Panda algorithm, a smart webmaster has to know the right way to build quality links, both incoming and outgoing!

How To Get Links To Your Website

All website owners should make adding fresh, original content to their sites, and building more and more links from other quality websites a part of their ongoing maintenance. All of the major search engines use incoming links as a major ranking factor. Adding original content enhances a website's search engine ranking potential in several different ways, including adding quality internal links. Google's ranking system pays particular attention to the quality of incoming links. Their scheme is based on a formula called "PageRank" which was developed by the company founders while they were students at Stanford University in California. Links are the foundation of the World Wide Web, and so links are simply and undeniably the fundamental basis for all users finding your website directly, or indirectly through search engines. Unless you have at least one link from a good quality website, your site will not even be included in the major search engines at all.

Top Ten Link Building Techniques

Yes, it's another Top Ten list on the web. I changed this page to incorporate this feature in order to make the ideas I want to present more palatable and easier to absorb. But before we get to the list, I want to remind you that the object of the exercise is not links, or even rankings. The object is to build more targeted traffic to your website. It's that old "Keep Your Eye On The Prize" idea that you have to hold onto when it comes to search engine optimization and marketing.

  1. Provide a Useful Function or Service: Whether it's simply a matter of supplying helpful information or as practical as an online tool of some kind, giving users a compelling reason to visit your site is the best place to start your link building efforts. If you have something worthwhile to offer, there's a good chance that other webmasters will want to tell their readers about it.
  2. Do Original Research or Reporting: Beyond being a simple functional resource, a great information resource will naturally attract quality links. But you have to put in the time. It's not just a matter of scouring the Web for other websites and rehashing their content. It means generating all-new, original content that will interest users that makes a website special. Give users information they can't find anywhere else on the Web, or be the place they turn to for reliable references and you'll soon be in the driver's seat.
  3. Find a Creative Niche: Quality content isn't limited to just tools and dry facts. Creative expression is another category of content that can give users a reason to vist and re-visit, and hopefully link to your website. Online cartoons, videos, short stories, or whatever you have a particular talent for doing could be a staple of a successful website. Business websites can focus on a particular product category in which they specialize, and emphasize it on their website with featured links and original product descriptions.
  4. Write Some Useful Scripts: When you're trying to publish scripts online, it's easy to get the impression that all of the good ideas have been done to death. With due deference to the brothers Gershwin, "It Ain't Necessarily So!". Yes, the chances are pretty high that your simplest ideas have already occurred to other programmers. But your approach may have some special appeal. Perhaps your approach is easier to add to a Blog or Forum than the commonly found versions. Maybe your script produces a more appealing visual result, or works better on smartphones and tablets or with newer versions of other common software packages. Don't let the competition stop you from publishing anything you've created that you feel has merit.
  5. Live Blog: If there's a newsworthing or simply intriguing event in your part of the world, blogging about it can give your site some buzz that can generate both links and traffic. Of course, you'll need to actually leave the office, attend the event, and be prepared to transmit your sterling prose to your blog. Fortunately, between Wordpress' facility for accepting posts by Email and the ever-increasing power of mobile devices, the process is simple enough that anyone can do it. The trick is to choose events with a strong appeal to your target audience and to make your reporting engaging enough that people will remember your website and be inspired to spread your business' fame online to others with similar interests. If you can't live blog, at least take enough notes and pictures so you can post something juicy when you get home. That smartphone's camera is good for more than selfies.
  6. Make Lists: Yeah, like this one. It's a tried and true formula that lets you quickly generate some noise. Make your list fun, make it sassy, make it good reading that leads to something more substantial on your website, and you can use this technique to its full advantage.
  7. Create Controversy: I'm an old-school Minnesota boy, so I don't do controversy the way most people think of it. I do cajoling. I do convincing. I do nice. I don't do snarky condescension, or crudity for its own sake. But that's not to say that I don't do criticism or opinion. See my Top Ten Myths About SEO, for example. I take a few shots at people I think deserve it. Taking principled, well-reasoned stands on issues you care about can be a powerful way of building your site's credibility. Mouthing off and demonizing people with different views puts you in the same league as the legions of blowhards who have no perspective and nothing to say that's worth reading. You can get occasional spikes of traffic with such methods, but nothing that lasts. And do you really want to be that guy or gal? But engaging your users in spirited discussions about topics where you share a passion, if not opinions, is a great way to enhance your website when it compells them to revisit it.
  8. Spread The Good News About Your Website: While we all ideally prefer to obtain unsolicited links originating on similarly-themed websites simply because other website owners think their users would like to see our content, you have to "prime the pump", so to speak, with links that you build on your own in order to start the flow of user traffic that will eventually lead to those unsolicited editorial links we all covet. The basic method is simple. Find other websites that are relevant to your site, contact the webmasters of those sites to suggest that something on your site might be of interest to his users. You can offer a reciprocal link (see below) or not. But you have to promote your site continuously to be successful over the long term, so it's a good idea to get into the habit early so you can develop relationships and techniques that will make the process a much lighter burden over time.
  9. Link To Other Sites In Your Content: If you scan this page, you'll notice that it contains a healthy number of links to other websites. Linking to other websites just because they have something of value to offer is the smart thing to do in many ways. First of all, you enrich your own content by supplementing it in this way. It takes advantage of one of the best features of the web - the common link - and it can also help in your link building. As your website traffic grows, it stands to reason that the number of people who see these links will click on them to visit other sites. Between the incoming traffic shown in their server log files and the appearance of your website in the various link reporting tools, some of the webmasters of those other sites are going to notice your link and they might well be curious enough to visit your website to see where and how you linked to them. Imagine their surprise when they arrive at your site and discover that not only have you given them an unsolicited quality link, but you have lots of great content to offer to their users. Your site will be better and the other site may return the favor in some way. And there's always the notion that such links build your website's "authority" in the eyes of the search engines, but that's completely speculative. But you will definitely build your authority in the eyes of users! Think "Miracle on 34th Street" re: Macy's and Gimble's and you'll unerstand what I mean.
  10. Leverage Your Participation in Social Media: If you're active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or other social media, use them to your advantage when you have something new and shiny on your website to show off. Don't be the shameless huckster who only talks about his own business. Engagement is critical to successful social media marketing. Build your credibility by building relationships and actively participating in these outlets. Find ways to share that don't always focus on your website and you'll find that people pay more attention to you when you do something strictly for self-promotion.
  11. I'd Hate To See The Grindstone: Nobody remembers "Roxanne" anymore, much less "Miracle on 34th Street", either (Obscure movie references are my life). But at least the movie is still on Netflix streaming. My point is that persistence is as crucial to successful link building as it is in any other aspect of running a business. Simply put, you have to keep working at it. Short sporadic bursts of link building activity have a similarly short shelf-life to their benefits.

Directory websites can be a good source of links and user traffic for new websites as long as they're high quality - meaning they don't just list you in exchange for a backlink. Start by registering your website at The Open Directory Project at The Open Directory Project is a non-profit website operated by America Online. They can be maddeningly slow to accept or reject your submission, but a listing there is of significant benefit because it is edited by humans who evaluate each website for worthiness before listing them - which is something Google considers important in evaluating their links. The rule with The Open Directory Project is to submit once and forget. Re-submitting puts your submission back at the end of the line, so don't make that mistake. This is a long-term investment of three minutes of your time. Noted Google engineer Matt Cutts offers some help on his blog for Getting Links that offers some sage advice for improving your website so that it attracts links naturally.

An article on building links I read recently had one of the best pieces of advice I'd ever seen. The advice was "publish everything." Don't hold back useful content that you've created. Share it with the world by publishing it on your website. Doing so will make your site more attractive to users and will naturally help attract links from other webmasters. It's so simple and so undeniably effective that it bowled me over. Like most web designers and programmers, I have a small bag of tricks that I've developed over the years that I have hesitated to publish because I was reluctant to give away my hard work. But I came to the realization that I had more to gain by sharing than by hoarding. So I started to add more and more to my Tools and Scripts for Webmasters, and it's paid off with a slow but steady rise in natural links to my site. It also helped me thrive in the era of Google's Panda and Penguin updates.

Search Engine Watch publishes a regular series on Promotion and Link Building that you can browse through for some great advice from expert SEOs and marketers. While many of their strategies are designed for large sites, their overall approach can usually be applied to websites of any size. You can absorb the Zen of their link building advice and profit from it.

Blogs are still blossoming all over the Internet, and they can be a good source of links. Many blog webmasters are hungry for ideas for new articles. Invite them to visit your site and write about your business. Maybe you just created a new page that has something particularly relevant, or maybe you just started a new sale or promotion. A few moments of your time contacting blog owners can pay off in a big way. Not only can you get a nice link, but you can also benefit from the direct traffic from the blog article.

The often-shunned practice of reciprocal links is still one of the simplest methods for new websites to build links. When you're just starting out, you have to work to get your website's link foundation started, and link exchanges are simple and effective in getting your site off the ground floor. The search engines are becoming more and more resistant to the effects of these links, but they do still have a place in your search engine marketing aresenal. The key is to keep the number of link exchanges small, and to exchange links with other quality websites whose main topic is closely related to yours. Google's Guidelines prohibit "excessive link exchanges". What's excessive? If you have to construct a multi-page directory to break down your links by category, that's excessive. If you have a tool on your site that exchanges links automatically and indiscriminately, that's excessive. If you have 10-20 links that you've exchanged with related websites, you're almost certainly within the guidelines.

As I mentioned before, the search engines look beyond simply counting the raw numbers of links to include the quality and relevance of the sites in question. Naturally, this means you must have already prepared a page on your own website where you can post the other parties' links in return. Do some searches for your most important keywords and compile a list of the websites you find. Visit each website on the list so you can evaluate it as a possible link partner and then locate the contact information for each webmaster. Then contact the webmasters of those websites you like and invite them to exchange links. When I'm helping a new website get established in the major search engines like Google, I usually start their link exchange campaign by contacting the websites listed in the 15th or 20th rankings because I know they'll likely be hungrier for links than the websites that are already near the top. If you're reluctant to contact direct business competitors, try close offshoots. I once worked with a friend who sculpts neon lights into works of art, so I'm contacted sites dealing with home/office room decor. I was once helping another website that sells two specific lines of scrapbooking supplies, so I'll check out hobby and crafts sites for linking leads. The key to link exchanges is to keep the numbers low - no more than 10-20 of the best websites you find who will partner with you. Look for websites whose business is geographically close to you. If you're located in Minneapolis like I am, for example, you'd focus on looking for other related businesses in Minneapolis or St. Paul, or an adjacent suburb. Your primary link building targets should at least be located in the same country. Google is very sensitive to artificial links, so you only want to do link exchanges when your website is just starting.

Once you spot a candidate, check their website for a links page. If they don't have one up and running, you'll not only have to convince them to exchange links, but also create a new page for it. If there is an existing links page, check it out carefully. A page with too many existing links will help a new website get into search engines' index, but the ranking benefits of such links will be minimal at best and detrimental at worst. This is especially true of sites that are obviously using an automated link exchange system. If you see a site that has a link directory with dozens of unrelated categories and hundreds or even thousands of link partners, you should move on to the next candidate.

Be sure to check out the linking method by viewing the HTML source of the page where your potential link partner post their links to other websites. In the eyes of search engines, not all links are created equal. Some sites route their outgoing links through a redirect script. That is, the HREF attribute in the <A>nchor tag link will point to a URL similar to:

instead of simply:

Others may add the 'rel="nofollow"' attribute. The only benefit such links is to allow a live user to eventually reach your website. It is not going to be of any benefit in terms of search engine rankings because the link doesn't point directly to your website or it's value has been negated. Any link to your site has value in its potential for sending visitors to your site, but in cases such as the above, you simply have to be aware that the trade is grossly uneven and make your decision in that light. This principle applies to both standard websites and directory websites.

If you find a good website that's related to yours that doesn't have a link exchange page, contact the webmaster anyway and suggest that he link to your site in an appropriate spot just because it might be useful to his users. Be open to doing the same when other webmasters contact you. Linking to good sites is just good practice because it makes your site that much more valuable to your own users. When users start to think of your website as the place to get reliable information, they'll keep coming back for more.

You can make this dreary process easier by creating a boilerplate message that you can copy and paste into your EMail program when you send out link exchange invitations to other webmasters. Do yourself a favor: spell-check AND grammar-check it. It doesn't have to be dry and humorless, but make it clear that you're serious about the business of running a website. And even though you're working with a boilerplate message, its always a good idea to customize it for each recipient webmaster to say why you would especially value a link from their particular website and how the link exchange would benefit both of you by attracting more traffic. And be sure to keep the subject of your EMail something that isn't likely to be mistakenly deleted as Link SPAM, which are mass mailings sent out by SEO companies to mindlessly garner links. I use a simple subject like "Invitation To Exchange Links With My (topic) Site". Anything that sounds automated, hyped or overly cute is unlikely to ever be read in these days of never-ending torrents of EMail SPAM.

Avoid joining programs or installing scripts that are designed to obtain links for your website automatically. Many of these programs violate the search engines' guidelines or Terms of Service and you are putting your website's search engine ranking in jeopardy by participating in them. I recently examined the website of one such scheme, just to see how they stacked up. The first thing I check is the Google PageRank score of the website's main page. In this case it was a grey bar, which is a clear warning sign that Google doesn't like this scheme. Then I checked to see if the other major search engines were using this site's internal pages to pick up links. I was not very surprised to find that none of the major search engines had any pages from this website in their index whatsoever. It's always best to do your link building without resorting to automated schemes of any kind.

Like all small businesses, websites close all the time for a variety of reasons, and their links die with them, so you need to keep your supply of links fresh and growing. It's a good idea to periodically check how many websites are linking to yours, and to be sure your link partners are continuing to fulfill their agreements and that the quality of the sites that link to yours is steadfastly high. I use Bing's Webmaster Tools to check links of sites I don't own because it's one of the best free link-checkers now that Yahoo!'s Site Explorer no longer exists. To check the links of your own site, use the Google Webmaster Tools console. It's reasonably accurate and includes a great deal of information that you don't find with other online link checkers.


As I said at the beginning of this SEO tutorial, building links should be considered required routine maintenance for both webmasters and website designers. Be persistent, be patient, and be focused on quality, and no matter how much it feels like drudgery, to quote "Galaxy Quest", "Never Give Up! Never Surrender!"

This page was last updated on April 25, 2016

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