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!
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.
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.
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 http://dmoz.org. 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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