We have all heard that adding quality content to your web site will give the search engines a good idea of how to index your web site, it's a topic we covered in "Content, Content, Content" back in November 2004. But the secret to luring the search engines to your web site, and in part to improving your position within those listings is your inbound links.
So what are inbound links? Inbound links are simply the links from an external web site to your web site. You will also hear the phrase "link popularity" which is simply a search engines measure of the number and quality of links pointing to a single URL. We will cover "quality" later in this article but a site's home page usually has the highest number of inbound links, or highest link popularity, because site owners tend to link to home pages rather than any other content page.
What makes a quality link?
Achieving good rankings using links used to be simple; today things have become more complex, with search engines using very complicated algorithms to measure the quality of the links that involves:
? Number of links to your site?
? What is written in those links?
? What key phrases are used in those links?
? What is the quality of the site that is linking to yours?
? How many other links does that site have?
A link from a web site that the search engine recognises as a leader in your industry carries a lot of clout and means that your web site is important. Two links from industry leaders means your site is even more important. But 100 links from random web sites, from industries you are not even related with, means almost nothing. Thus, getting links is only the start; the important thing is getting good links from quality (high ranking and relevant) web sites.
How Do We Get Links?
It all starts with content ? yes we're back to that again. No one will link to you unless you offer quality information about a particular subject. If you are an estate agent, why not offer information about the area you are selling in. People will be interested in local schools, clubs and associations, crime rates, etc. Once you have completed your information; find web sites whose visitors would benefit from your site's content; solicit links from nearby leisure facilities, local towns, builders, gardeners, removal companies, etc.
How Do You Solicit Links?
To solicit links takes a lot of work. First you need to find web sites that are appropriate to your audience and also bear in mind that often, web site owners will require the link to be reciprocal; i.e.; they want one back from you. As a general rule, if you think your target market may visit a web site, you would benefit from a link from it. Type your search phrases into a search engine like Google.com and see what sites are listed in the first page of results and if appropriate, ask them for a link. Also check which sites are linking to these well-listed web sites and ask those sites for a link. For a list of inbound links to a third parties web site type in "link:theirdomain.com" in Google.
Send out personalised emails to the web sites you have identified giving some evidence that you have actually visited the web site. Don't waste time on approaching web sites that haven't been updated in years, many web sites are perfect but if they are rarely updated, your link wont be added. Be friendly and polite in your approach, and point out the benefits of linking to your web site. If you are lucky, around one third of your emails will get a response. It can be frustrating and discouraging when you get little response or a whole string of no's, but it's important to keep going.
It is also important to follow up. Until you get a definite no, keep in contact and keep it personal. The trick is to let the recipient of your emails think that they are the only web site that you are approaching for a link so make sure you keep track of who you have contacted and what you have written or said. If your linking prospects think that you are sending out mass emails, or that you are using the exact same approach with other sites, you will probably lose their respect - and any chance of a link.
Directories and Links
Do not forget to submit to the directories, relevant business directories and local listings. Getting listed in some of the larger directories such as the Open Directory Project counts for a lot in the major crawler based search engines. Take your time and choose the right category to submit to. Also, make sure you read the advice about how to write the descriptions and titles and write them in the way they ask, bear in mind that human beings edit these directories! Also consider submitting to Yahoo and Business.com, both charge annual subscription fees but both would provide high quality links. If the links turn out not to be cost effective, simply don't renew your subscription.
Buying links is also becoming more commonplace. It is a form of purchased advertising that is less obvious than banner adverts or pay per click listings. Often the link will be placed on multiple pages, or all pages within the site. If purchasing a link, make sure you are clear about why are you buying it? Is it for search engine ranking purposes only, or to get traffic directly from the link?
Make sure the link is worth what you are paying in terms of the traffic it will send you and not solely to improve your page's ranking. If the link partners page is well ranked in the search engines under a specific key phrase but receives few visitors, it won't be sending many visitors to your web site. If the page is well ranked, it may help with your ranking in Google and the rest, but that would be the icing on the cake.
Join forums and discussion groups related to your business and place links to your web site in your signature line. Use your main search terms as the link text. But before spending time writing lots of posts with your signature line in each post, make sure that the forum is spiderable by checking the robots.txt file. Also make sure that links in signature lines are not hidden from spiders (view the source code to make sure that signature links are in plain HTML and point directly to the site).
Link Exchange Centres
Find and join free link exchange centres like LinkPartners.com. There you can find a categorised directory of websites that also want to exchange links. Be careful not to sign up with FFA (Free-For-All) sites because they are mostly email address gatherers and you can expect a sudden increase in email sp@m soon after you sign up. Also, only sign up with centres where you can approach other sites personally, and where they can approach you personally.
Controlling Your Links
When providing your link partners with the text to use in your inbound link, make sure it contains the key phrase you are targeting. Search engines will take into account the words that are included in the actual link as well at the text around it so include a brief paragraph about your business and if possible link your top key phrase to your URL. Make sure that each link points to the page you are promoting for that particular search term. This should improve your ranking in their listings.
Pointing all the links to your home page, with various target search terms, won't achieve the same as pointing targeted links at specific pages within the site.
How not to link
Under no circumstances join any link farms! Link farms, such as LinksToYou.com, sound simple and effective, but search engines, Google in particular, disapprove of them as blatant attempts to manipulate the rankings and they will penalise sites that use them. Once a site has been penalised, it is very difficult to get the penalty lifted, so avoid all link farms at all costs.
Search engine software engineers always look for spam tactics, when a software engineer discovers a link farm; all the domains in the link farm are banned. Result? Link popularity vanishes.
Acquiring links can be time-consuming and tedious. There are a number of ways to get them, some being easier than others. However you get them, inbound links are important for websites that want to move up the rankings. Inbound links, with the right link text, are essential for achieving top rankings when there is any competition for the search terms.
Link development's main advantage is dynamic, cumulative, and difficult to imitate. Many sites maintain search engine visibility and the resulting qualified traffic because of successful link development, not just based on the number of keywords on a page.
For top rankings, it is essential to take the time to get as many quality inbound links as possible. It should be treated as an ongoing task. Getting your first link is like getting your first sale. It is just as hard - and just as satisfying.
Linking strategies are just one of a wide range of subjects covered in our guide "Start at the Beginning". It covers all the basics of building and optimising your web site for both your customers and organic search engine rankings. For an excerpt and contents list visit: http://www.enable-uk.co.uk/html/book_2.html
For a complete guide to marketing on the Internet, including:
? The General Principles of Internet Marketing
? Start at the Beginning
? Writing Text that Sells
? Building Online Relationships
? Maximising Your Pay Per Click Campaign
? Measuring Success
Why not purchase the whole series of downloadable guides for the discounted price of ?64.95. Click for more information:
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Article from Internet Marketing Tips Newsletter, a monthly publication of Enable-UK
Copyright ? 2004 Enable-UK.