Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.
There’s No Such Thing As A Worthless Link
With certain linking strategies under fire and others frowned on by the search engines, I thought I’d focus on what links do count and share how and where I find them. The short answer to the question “what works” is: they all do. All the link building tactics we’re fond of jeering at still work; reciprocal links, using article directories, adding your site to a bazillion general directories, and yes, even paid links. But they don’t tend to work for long or provide the algorithmic insulation you need to weather the update storms. For that you need authority or “quality” links.
All links count in some way, even those cloaked in things like nofollow, robot.txt, or a third party tracking code. These types of links may not be SEO friendly, but they do work and depending on where they sit, can go a long way toward boosting your visibility. Even though popular sites like Wikipedia, del.icio.us, and Yahoo Answers use nofollow on their pages, the traffic and visibility they bring to your brand can be huge. If the exposure the site brings outweighs the loss of link popularity, go for the link I say.
If your focus is to build links to influence rank, you’ll want to look for sites that allow “clean” links, or links that pass link popularity to and from a webpage. You’ll want to avoid the attributes mentioned above and be sure the page is part of an established topical community. Over the years, I’ve found the challenge in linking is less about the tactic and more about using smart SEO on quality resources. Here’s the short list of guidelines I follow when building links to influence rank:
- Place links on indexed pages
- Look for web sites with strong established inbound link patterns
- Use multiple variations of anchor text and point to optimized internal pages
- Hyperlink whole sentences using associated text as well as keyword anchors when you can
- Use online advertising venues with offline counterparts to build keyword associations and brand
Keeping these guidelines in mind, and understanding that the number one most important factor in attracting links is good content, let’s take a look at some of the linking tactics we know work and the venues they’re coming from. Before we start, we’ll need three tools to help us: an optimized newsworthy press release, an incentive (free shipping, discount code, free tee shirts, etc), and a widget (create a video, white paper, podcast, plug-in, etc) to dangle as bait.
How to get links from authority sites
I think everyone will agree with this: securing links from authority sites is link building gold. There are three basic types of authority sites: those that rank well for a set of keywords, influential high profile industry sites, and your competitors’ web sites. Once you’ve identified the key players in your niche, you’ll want to mine their back links and take advantage of the marketing resources you find. Separate their back links by:
- Media contacts
- Editorial sources
Media contacts. Media contacts include anyone from an on or offline news source such as newspapers, magazines, podcasts, product reviews, newsletters, etc. Send a press release to each journalist/writer/blogger with an invitation to contact you for a counter-point interview or more information on your products. Then launch a general press release through a wire service after contacting the journalists. Doing this shows respect to the reporter and allows you time to tweak the releases to include any media mentions. Media mentions tend to beget more media mentions, so highlight these accolades in your releases and on your web site.
Editorial sources. There is nothing more tedious than researching back links and sending email after email, but if you want links from established authority sites, it’s what you’ll need to do. Plan on a offering an incentive to anyone you ask for a link. Remember, most webmasters are bombarded with link requests so you’ll need a way to stand out from the email crowd. Here’s where your free shipping, tee shirts, or percentage off discounts come into play; be generous with your incentive and you’ll net more links. If you really want to pour it on, blog about the partner site before making the link request and refer back to it as another perk. Webmasters like free tee shirts, but they love to see their name in hyperlinks even more. These types of attention gathering tactics beat the old “link to me, I’ll link to you” shtick and help propel your site out of the masses and into the spotlight for links.
Pay careful attention to your foundation links
Another category of links that still “count” are foundational links. You need these links for your web site much like you need the foundation for your home; each provides a solid support base to reinforce a visible structure within a given community.
Foundational links can come from well known sources like the Yahoo Directory and The Open Directory plus a handful of established and niche directories, your local Chamber of Commerce, industry associations, niche conference sites, dedicated forums, and well known hobby sites. Links from Wikipedia, del.icio.us, and Yahoo Answers can also be considered foundational links. They won’t count toward your link popularity but will work to promote and establish the credibility of your business.
Finding the general directories, Chambers, and associations should be easy, and I use a utility linking tool to help locate niche directories, forums, and blogs. For anything else I simply search using the a keyword plus a term. For example:
“running shoes” + conference
“running shoes” + hobby
And so on. Once you’ve built a list of potential sites to contact, use the incentives you created to dangle as link bait.
I know, I know, it sounds like a lot of email begging—but it works. Quality links just don’t find their way onto your site, you have to work for them. This process might be time consuming but once these links are in place, they’ll work over the long haul.
Leverage your content.
I’m not a big believer in sending content away from a web site. I prefer to build a site out and promote it as a resource. However, I do have a couple of exceptions to this rule of thumb. One is the creation of topical authority pages on sites such as Squidoo, HubPages, and the “how to” sites such as HowToDoThings.com. The other is in targeted blog promotions.
Let’s start with the topic aggregators such as Squidoo and HubPages. These sites allow you to develop a page around a keyword phrase for the purpose of becoming an authority on that subject. For example, if I were into Bento lunches I could create a lens on Squidoo and a hub on HubPages showcasing information and links from my web site. A search on Bento lunches in Yahoo! shows the HubPages site at #9 and at #15 on Google, which isn’t bad considering the page is just 6 months old. To keep your pages fresh and filled with relevant content, point your RSS feeds to them, add content by hand, and display pictures from your Flickr account. I like to think of these sites as the ultimate presell pages since you control all the content, the links, and where they point.
While sites like Squidoo provide creative link opportunities, they don’t posses the ranking impact a targeted blog promotion can produce. A single well-read and well-connected blog can generate more links and exposure for a web site than many of the tactics we’ve covered here. Multiply that potential by several blogs, factor in a viral campaign or creative link bait strategy, and you will see an avalanche of good links.
If you don’t have the time or desire to start a blog, target well known blogs within your niche. Start dialoguing through comments and eventually ask to become a guest blogger. With the media and public looking to blogs for opinion and creative commentary, you should use this tactic to its fullest potential. Produce quality blog content, promote it, and the links will come.
Before I close…
If you’re reading through this and thinking “Ugh, old news, where’s the good stuff,” look again. There are no absolutes in the link building business save one: good links are hard to come by. No matter what type of link building tactic you use, at the end of the day the sites left standing are the ones with solid inbound links from a wide variety of authority web sites.
It’s that simple. If you want to spend your days digging around the social news sites, that’s fine, just be sure to have a stable foundation of solid links in place while you’re doing the latest top ten list. It makes sense that eventually social media links will experience the law of diminishing return. Prepare for that or be prepared to work hard to make up eventual lost rankings.
If you want to brush up on what works, pop over to the link building archives here at Search Engine Land and spend some time reading the solid advice given by these experienced link builders. You’ll notice we all sing a similar song: if you want to rank well and build your brand, you need good content and smart link marketing to attract quality links.
It’s a new year, so take time to revisit your link building approach. Remember: all links count. To what degree depends on you.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.