Ever since Google’s latest Jagger update was associated with possible changes of how Google views incoming links to a website, link building has been in the spotlight. Let’s go back to the basics and see what link building is all about, and how it can help (or hurt) your website’s ranking.
What is link building?
Link building is the process of obtaining incoming links to your website. There are several ways to get incoming links for your site. You can
- Submit your site to directories and search engines
- Exchange links with other sites, which means you link to them in exchange for them linking to you
- Buy links outright – there are companies that offer to sell links on various sites on a monthly basis
- Obtain links through public relations activities, for example by including your website address in press releases or in interviews of company staff that are published online.
Why should you have incoming links?
Incoming links are an important search engine optimization technique because they are seen as a measure of your site’s popularity. The theory is that the more sites link to your site, the more authoritative, relevant and important your site must be for the topic in question. This theory worked fine before search engine spammers came along. Spammers quickly realized that there way ways to increase the number of incoming links really quickly, and tried to get high rankings that way. Therefore, the number of links alone isn’t enough – you also have to make sure that your incoming links are of good quality.
What is a good quality link versus a poor quality link?
In the context of link building, a good quality link is one that is highly relevant to your topic. In addition, the “reputation” of the site linking to you can also influence how your site’s quality is perceived. Most importantly, the inbound links should send qualified traffic to your site. Here’s an example:
Imagine your company sells plastic piping mainly to the mining industry. You could get a high quality link if a trade publication has published your company profile online and links to you stating that you are one of the leading suppliers, or if the local Chamber of Commerce lists you in an online mining supply directory.
Poor quality links are those that have no relevance whatsoever to the topic of your website. This includes things link adding your link to a random online guestbook or blog.
What should you avoid at any cost?
- Link Farms. Link farms are sites that just contain long lists of unrelated links for the only purpose of increasing link popularity. This might have worked in the past, but certainly doesn’t help your ranking anymore nowadays.
- There are some sites that call themselves “directories”, but all they really do is scrape search results or paid ads from search engines like Google and Yahoo! in an effort to profit from click fraud. This scraping creates a bad neighbourhood for any legitimate links. Such sites may offer you premium placement within their “directory structure”, which you should stay away from!
- The “too good to be true” offers. If someone offers to create thousands of links for you overnight, they are probably using spamming techniques, such as spamming blogs or spamming email lists with link requests. Stay away – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How do you get started building high quality links?
- It’s not easy, but if you want relevant, high quality links, you should compile a list of relevant sites and email them individually requesting links to your site. To make this deal more attractive for them, you could offer a reciprocal link in return. In addition, other sites will be much more likely to link to you if your site contains good content. So make sure you can present relevant, well-written articles or facts that are valuable to anyone interested in the specific topic of your site.
- Submit your site to (legitimate) directories. Directory listings are a great way to get quality inbound links. Some directories might list you for free, others, like the Yahoo! directory, can cost you several hundred dollars a year. Especially if we are talking about such a big and heavily trafficked directory like Yahoo!, this is probably a very useful investment.
- Buying links outright from commercial providers can be helpful. However, don’t just buy a link on the strength of a page’s PageRank rating. Google’s PageRank has become less important in assessing the quality of inbound links, and you should really buy links on the basis that they will provide you with qualified traffic. A page with great PageRank, but where no one clicks on your link, is not enough.
- There are a number of inexpensive online press release distribution services. If you have a newsworthy event, consider releasing an online press release. If this press release contains your website address and gets picked up by online news sites, you can create a number of new incoming links at once. But remember – press releases only get picked up if they are newsworthy; the launch of your redesigned website probably won’t qualify.
- You can also try to passively obtain more inbound links by improving the quality of your website content and making it so interesting that people will want to link to your site, without you having to ask them. This again depends on interesting, original and relevant content. Including a blog on your site is an easy way to add new content regularly, and you could also consider offering free tools that others might find useful.