External Links (Links coming from other sites) was (*and still probably is) one of the major contributor of any Search Engine Optimization effort. Obviously links alone can’t help you to rank well in the Search Engines, but they do play a “major” role to push your ranking up to the top.
What is Link Building?
Link Building is basically the process of getting quality Web sites to link to your Web site, in order to improve search engine rankings.
Why is Link Building Important?
Link building is absolutely essential for your SEO campaigns because currently majority of the search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo etc.) uses link popularity as a metric to judge the quality of your website. An incoming link from a 3rd Party site works like a “vote” or “recommendation” towards your site. So say if 500 people are linking to you from their websites, you can look at it as — 500 people has recommended your site.
Are All Links Treated Equally?
This is a very common question among the Webmasters. Well, The answer is “No”. Each website has their own “reputation profile” that enables them recommend other websites. Now when a high profile website links to you, their link value is much higher compared to a low profile website who is probably new in the market and doesn’t have any reputation to spare for you. A perfect example of this would be, Suppose if CNN links to your website, that particular link would be more trusted and will be more valued by the search engines due to the fact that CNN is a authoritative website and their news/stories are trusted by everyone. So if CNN links to you it gives an indication to the Search Engine that your website is also of high quality and value.
Which Sites are Worth Getting a Link From?
CNN is not the only authoritative site on the Internet, the above was just an example. There are thousands of other quality sites that have high authority. Now you may ask – “How do I determine the quality of the site”. Well below are some of the easy metrics that you can use to determine a site’s quality:
- Age of the Website: The older it is, the better. Old sites are likely to be more Trusted by the Engines.
- Page Rank: Even though I pay very little attention to this myself, But it is some what a good metric to determine the quality of the site. The only Page Rank that is visible to public is the Google Toolbar PR. Its a number between 0 to 10 where 10 denotes the highest quality and 0 denotes the lowest. The Toolbar Page Rank is updated every 3-4 months and its just a partial representation of the Actual Page Rank (an proprietary algorithm of Google to determine a site’s quality & rank them accordingly).
- No. of Pages Indexed : This is another metric that I like to use to determine whether the site has a good search engine presence. If a site has thousands of pages indexed in Google, its an indication that the site has been in business for a long time and it some what trusted by Google. To find out how many pages are indexed, simply go to Google Search and type the following command – site:www.domain.com. This should show you all the pages of domain.com indexed in Google.
- No. of Incoming Links : Since “authority” & “trust” flows from one domain to another via links, its important to see who is linking to the domain that you are testing for authority. There are many tools out there that can help you to check the link profile of any domain. e.g. Yahoo Site Explorer, Backlink Watch etc. The easiest way would be to type link:http://www.domainname.com in Google or Yahoo and it will show you a list of websites that are linking to that domain. Do note that Google often shows a lot less links compared to Yahoo. So if the site has a lot of good quality incoming links, then its likely that a link from that site will give your website a lot value.
- Traffic: Traffic is often a good determinant of a quality website. To check how much traffic a site gets, you can use tools such as: Google Trends for Websites, Compete, Quancast, Alexa and so on. Remember, these tools are not 100% accurate and may not display the traffic information of all domains. (Websites below a certain traffic threshold is not being monitored by these services.)
- Others: There are many automated applications out there that can help you to determine a site’s quality/authority on the web. E.g- SEOmoz Trifecta Tool.
How Do I Get These Links?
There are basically two types of link building, the first type is Organic (a.k.a Natural Linkbuilding) & the other type is “Artificial Linkbuilding”.
Organic Link Building
Organic Link building basically refers to the natural link building where you generate tons of Free Links naturally over time because of the value your site provides to the community. Below are some tips for you to do well in the Organic Link Building –
- Write Quality Content – If you don’t write quality content, you can’t expect people to link to you. This is the most important step in your organic link building process. Next time you think of creating a content for your website, try to imagine how your content can benefit the users and whether its something that people would want to ‘link to’ from their own websites/blogs. When I write “content” i don’t mean only text content, It can be anything – videos, pictures, applications etc.
- Start a Blog – I have seen many small-medium businesses to have a website that is purely static and commercial in nature and they go to different SEO consultancy firms hoping that they can just pay and get 10,000 links in a day or two. Unfortunately thats not how the web works (…not anymore..). Google along with other search engines have strict ruling about paid links which has made it harder to artificially manipulate the searching rankings just by ‘buying links’. Now If you have a e-commerce store and you may be wondering why the heck would someone link to my website naturally? — Well, I certainly agree they won’t! But what if you have a blog attached to your store where you can review the most popular product of each of your category every day and also stick some of the testimonials of your previous customers? Do you think that would give some value to the community? Of course it would! Product reviews are probably among the most searched things on the Internet. No matter what you are selling (e.g. Web hosting, Hair Dryer, Camera) and where you are selling from (e.g. Online / Offline), product reviews play an important part in the customer’s decision making process. There are thousands of brands that are selling the same product with identical features and your online store probably sells dozen of those brands. Now if you can help your customers to choose which one would be the best for their own requirements then definitely it would give them some value. By no time, you will see that you will be ranking on the search engines naturally for some of the Long tail keywords (e.g. Nokia N95 Phone Review, Nokia N95 Battery life) and at the same time you will also attract a lot of natural links from other bloggers & websites who finds your content useful.
- Take Advantage of Social Bookmarking & other social Networks – This is another important step of natural link building that is often overlooked. Social Bookmarking is often called one of the greatest sources of “traffic”. But do you know that its also a solid source of attracting links? If your story gets popular or gets a substantial amount of votes in any of the big social bookmarking sites such as – Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Mixx – Your content will automatically get a lot of attention and many of them will actually ‘write about’ it on their own website and give your site a link. Now because your story reached so many hands in the first place, it created an opportunity for itself to be read by other webmasters on your similar niche. But if you were only writing at your blog and not taking advantage of the social bookmarking sites, it would probably be never seen by them on the first place. So try to increase the reach of your content as much as possible, when you write a post – shout it at Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Frindfeed and at the same time circulate it via the popular social bookmarking sites. If you have followed step 1 (which was – Writing Quality Content), your article will be taken well by the social media and you can hope to generate some good links for your site.
- Write about Industry News – This is partially covered under blogging, but I have added it as a separate point to emphasize on it’s importance. Some bloggers think that its practically useless to write about the latest news because there are many other news sites/blogs out there who are covering it already. But what everyone tend to forget is, You can’t be sure whether your readers have actually gone to all those news sites before coming to yours. There has been cases where a reader might land in your site first and see a interesting news that he haven’t heard elsewhere (Even though it was probably out in 200 other websites). So once he goes to his own blog and writes about that, its very likely that he is going to link to your story. Why? — Well its like a blogger’s code of ethics, if I hear a story from “Source A” first and then from 20 other sources, generally I’d link to “Source A” as that is how I got the news first.
- Freebies – Freebies can often get you a lot of links. For instance – Free Video Tutorials, E-books, Templates etc. can attract hundreds if not thousands of links if they are of good quality. If you are good at programming, you can develop small web applications or widgets that you can give away for free in your website. For example, one of my client who was in the diet industry made a BMI calculator (A calculator to calculate your Body Mass Index). He promoted it via different health forums and within weeks he generated over 400+ unique backlinks from other diet related websites and blogs. Many people also give away free themes, plugins that attracts a lot of natural links. Remember, when you do something useful for the community You wont have to ask for a link because in most cases they will naturally link to you. If you are good at designing, you can design wallpapers, Generic Logos, Cartoons etc. to attract links. Just make sure that your mindset is to Help the community with your own unique abilities and in no time you will be rewarded with a lot of links!
Artificial Link Building
The name might sound a bit dodgy, but I have my reasons for calling the following kind of link building artificial. Basically in my own dictionary, artificial linking refers to links that can be manipulated. So Link requests, directory submission, article submission, paid links etc. all falls under this category.
- Link Requests / Exchange – This is probably the most common form of artificial link building practice that is ongoing. I hate to say, but personally I find this method really annoying as I probably receive over half a dozen of junk emails every day asking me to link to their site. Now what is wrong with asking for a link? Well, of course there is nothing wrong until you spam the crap out of me! Does this method works? Yes, To some extent (as long as I don’t click the “delete” button over your face). What kind of link requests webmasters often ignore:
- The ones that starts with “Dear Webmaster…”
- When you mention “PR” in your Email
- The sender has no idea of what Link building actually is. The email is impersonal and spammy
- You are asking for a link to your Viagra/Insurance/Health related website where my website is about Gardening!
- Your website has a horrible design and usability, and 100s of keywords are stuffed all over the place
- Your website has no valuable information but only contains affiliate links & banners
- Your website is new and is not even indexed by any of the search engines
- Your website has more outbound links than the number of quality content
But I personally Ignore “All” link request/exchange offers. And here is why:
- Unless your website can provide me a lot of traffic, It’s of no help for me
- I don’t really care about who is linking to me, but I am very cautious about who I link to (because thats the thing that really matters when it comes to Link exchange). If your website is spammy in nature or practices black-hat, my own site might be penalized because I’m recommending a “junk” to Google saying “its good”.
- I believe natural one-way links are much more valued.
- Most of the link requests that I have received are all not ‘related’ to my sites and I personally haven’t found a single site that is asking for a link to be of any quality.
What Kind of Link Request / Exchange Works:
- If you have a blog, you can ask another blogger to put you under his blogroll. For personal blogs it works really well, for blogs on a particular niche, you will have a better chance of inclusion if you send requests to only blogs that are on your niche.
- Since link exchange is something that is “Mutual” and for benefit of both parties. Next time you fire that “Link to Me” email, Ask yourself – If you were the owner of that website, would you link to your site? Do you think your site’s quality is equivalent to his website? If you are asking for a link or blogroll inclusion from a high profile website, you are likely to be ignored because its likely that webmaster just doesn’t see any benefit of linking to you because probably your site doesn’t give any additional value to his readers
- If you have any online product/tools that is beneficial for a certain industry, you can ask other bloggers on your niche to review that on their blog. (You can also do the same to return the favor). This is a very solid way of getting both links and traffic.
- If you are truely passionate about a particular niche/subject and you have created resources pages (something like Wikipedia) that covers every detail of that subject, You can speak to some of the bloggers who are currently writing about that subject to give you “feedback” on your content. And once they see that your resources are very comprehensive and good quality its likely that they will link to you.
- Directory Submission – If you have ever been to any Webmaster Forum, you have probably seen tons of people asking/providing directory submission services. What is Directory Submission anyway? Well, It basically refers to submitting your site to Web Directories (something like yellow pages for web). Now let me ask you this — Even since Yahoo & Google has came out with their search engine, do you ever go to any directories to Find websites? Most likely you don’t! Because ever since the search has emerged, people hardly need to go anywhere else to find a website.I’ll admit that I do browse directories (Yahoo Directory in particular), but that’s just me. There are actually some cool things you can do with Yahoo Directory that I’ll probably cover in another blog post. But for now all you should know is at some point (probably 3-4 years back), web directories did ‘matter’ because of traffic & links. But nowadays there are just too many low-quality directories out there that gives you little or no benefit. So stop wasting your time and submit only to those directories that are of any quality. Some notable ones are: Dmoz, Yahoo Directory, Business.com, BOTW etc.
- Article Submission – Submitting articles to different article directories can also get you some links. Most of the article directories will allow you to include a Author Bio, where you can include a link back to your website. Some article directories will also drive traffic to your site. However personally I find including content to my own site more useful than writing elsewhere. If your site is new, you should add more quality content to your website first and then maybe you can write some additional content for the article directories. Some good article directories are: Ezine Articles, Go Articles, Article Dashboard, iSnare etc.
- Guest Blogging – You can write blog posts for other blogs on your niche as a Guest blogger. Not all the blogs will accept post from guest bloggers, but you can always try your luck by contacting them. Just like article directories, you can include your author biography at the end of the article which often allows you to get a link back to your site. If the readers like your post, they are likely to follow the link to your blog. So this is both good for traffic & link juice.
- Press Release – Distributing Press releases is often a good way to create an initial buzz. Writing effective press releases can get you a lot of links and also coverage in a wider media. But if you don’t have any professional experience with writing press releases, its better if you hire a professional to do that. There are lot of places where you can submit your press releases, some of them are: PR Web Direct. PR.com etc.
- Widgets / Footer / Plugins – Create a useful widget, plugin or a wordpress theme that others can use on their sites. And perhaps you can have a link on those back to your home page. But there has been a case where a site was heavily penalized by Google for overdoing this. Read what Matt Cutts (Head of Google Web Spam Team) has to say on widget bait.
- Give Away Award Badges – You will often notice that a lot of websites out there do a tremendous amount of work by making a top 10, top 20, top 100, top 250 list of blogs/tools/services of a particular niche. Occasionally they also give away awards to these websites and the proud winner can display the award as a “badge” on his own website. So say if you are a Web Design Company and have made a list of top 100 Web Design blogs, and given them a badge to display this award with pride, you can surely get about 80% of them to put it on their website. Thus you will be getting a lot of relevant & quality links back to your company’s website. Some of them may also ‘blog’ about it and thus you can also receive some targeted traffic back to your site.
- Start an Affiliate Program – If you start a lucrative affiliate program and manage to get a lot of affiliates under your wing, you can automatically get a lot of links because of the fact that all your affiliates will be linking to your website to promote your products/services. So if you have 1000 affiliates under you and considering 80% of them stay active, you will be getting about 800 links easily from this.
- Buying Links / Paid Links – The reason I have put this at the end is because this is something that I don’t recommend. Some may argue with me and say that buying links may ‘still’ work (and of course it does as long as you can stay under the radar), but the search engines are becoming smarter everyday and I believe its best to play things naturally. There are lot of sites out their who will openly or discreetly sell you links. If you have already decided to go alone in this path, below are some tips and some alternative ways of ‘buying links’ that aren’t too ‘shady’:
- Instead of buying links directly from the site, think of a way to sponsor the site and in exchange you may take a link back. For example if you have a business of Plush toys and you are trying to get a link from a High profile toy blog/forum, instead of buying a link, you can consider holding a contest where you can give away prizes every month to their readers. Obviously since you are sponsoring the contest, the website holding the contest will likely to put your logo/banner on their site that will also link to your store directly. This way you can get both link juice and also some targeted traffic & leads.
- Avoid buying likes from Footer, Link pages etc. If they put your site along with 10-100s of other low-quality, unrelated websites then probably its best for you to Pull off your link from there.
- You may ask the top-notch bloggers of your niche to write an article on a detailed comparison of your product with your competitors. You can probably pay the blogger a review/research fee for this task.
- Donate money to the open source initiatives. There are many open source projects out there that requires funding to run, and for a small donation like $20 – $100, they will list your name/company name in their website and often give you a juicy link. W3C previously had a page of PR 9, where people could get them listed for a $1000 donation. Now I believe that have changed their policy and made those links “no-follow”. But there are still a lot of open source software/services out there that accepts donation in exchange for a link.
I have pretty much tried to cover all aspects of Link Building. I thank you for taking the time to go through this long article. If there is anything that I have missed, please reply in comments and I’ll update the post.
Also check out some other great resources / articles related to Link building that I have found useful:
- 101 Link Building Tips to Market Your Website : SEOBook.com
- Five Link Building Strategies That Work – CopyBlogger
- 131 (Legitimate) Link Building Strategies – Search Engine Watch
- Advanced Link Building Strategies – SEOmoz
- A Big Roundup Of Link Building Tool – Search Engine Land
- Link Building Basics – Search Engine Roundtable
- Blow Your Mind Link Building Techniques – Search Engine Roundtable
- Link Building for Blogs – Top Rank Blog
- Link Building Best Practices Q&A – Eric Ward
- Link Building & Determining Link Quality – Search Engine Journal
- Old VS New Link Building Strategies – SEO Smarty
- Quality Link Building : Social Links, Reciprocal Links and .edu & .gov Links – Search Engine Journal
- 15 Link Building Tips for New Websites – Dosh Dosh
- The Ultimate Guide to Getting Lots of Link Love – Problogger
Do you have any link building resource/article that you would like to include in this list? Send me an email at – me[at]saadkamal.com or simply give me a buzz at twitter – www.twitter.com/saadkamal.
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