Part IV: Marketing your Website

Link Building Campaign Overview

by Pauline Sugarman

In this article we will explore the ever growing importance of links in search engine optimization.

When search engines first came into use, keywords and their density were the major factors employed by the search engines to determine the relevancy of a given page. But, as people started to abuse the use of keywords, the search engines turned to other factors as a means to find true relevancy.

We discussed "relevant links" a little on the Search Engine Ranking Information – Key Elements page but we will delve into them further here to truly understand their importance in boosting high organic search results ranking.

What is a Link and Why Should You Care?

One of the best ways that search engines have devised to determine the true relevance of a web page is to examine how many other sites are linked to it. It’s a popularity contest of sorts. If a lot of other sites, especially well ranked sites, think enough of your site to link to it, then your site must also be a worthwhile site.

All the search engines, to some degree, use linking as one of the main factors in determining search results.

Google recently revised its algorithm and as discussed previously it appears that linking has become a very important factor to them. Link Relevancy has become even more important, rather than sheer volume of links. In other words, the links coming to you can’t just be any links; they need to be from a website that are relevant to the topic of your website.  And it appears that popularity of the sites linking to you continue to be a factor. If a site is already highly ranked in Google and they choose to link to your site, then Google considers this an extra strong endorsement.

Yahoo's new search engine does not appear to place as much weight on linking as Google, but it still appears to play an important role for the search engine.

A note about 'relevant' links. A couple years ago Google caught on that web designers were artificially attempting to inflate their link popularity and thus boost their ranking in the search engine by gathering as many links from other sites as possible, whether relevant to their site's subject or not. This is called Link Spamming.  Google fought back by rewarding those that are truly trying to build a valuable web resource, and punishing those that are just 'gaming' the search engines. After all, they want to keep the quality of their search engine results as high as possible. (To learn about Link Spam see Search Engine Optimization and Spam - SEO Dos and Don'ts.)

Link Building Campaigns

In order to get other web sites to link to your site, you will first need to create a site that is truly informative and a help to others, i.e., a valuable resource. Ask yourself, what information can I include on your website that no one else in my field has on their site? How can I become the "go to" website for my community? As discussed on the Search Engine Ranking Information – Key Elements page, by becoming the most important website for your community, you will over time be linked to without having to ask for the links. And these links from other relevant sites can bring more traffic to your website than a high search engine ranking. But you can also be active in finding relevant links.

Researching the Best Links

Competitor's Links
Now that you have submitted your site to the desired Directories, the next best way to find and garner relevant links is to find out who is linking to your top ranked competitors in the search engine results and see if you can also gather links from them. Search on your key word phrases to see who is ranked highly in the results. Just how do you find out who is linking to these competitors?  In Google this can be accomplished by typing in the search field:  link:  Of course, you would replace 'competitorswebsite' with the name of your competitor's website. This will bring up a list of the pages linking them along with showing you the amount of links that your competitor has gathered to date. 

Brainstorm for Potential Link Partners
Your competitor may not have thought of everything. Think of all the potential link partners including related industry sites, associations, customers, suppliers, community directories, forums, webrings, industry newsletters, employment agencies, industry consultants etc.

Related Topics
You may also want to search for related topics for your website. For instance, if you are goldsmith, and your site contains information on the jewelry making process, you may wish to see if (top ranked) sites that sell gold would like to link to you. They may benefit from linking to a site that shows how gold can be used in jewelry making process.

Asking Other Sites for a Link

Once you have made a list of all the potential sites that you think would be beneficial to have link to you, you will need to request the link. You may have to pay for some of these but others may welcome your request for free. If you found any Forums that are relevant, include a signature link in your posts, if permissible.  First find out who you should address the letter to. Is there a web master, or other Contact information?  Make sure that each request you send out is polite and unique. Do not use a form letter, or a form email to request a link.

Also, it is very helpful in your letter if you state why you think that a link would be beneficial. Review their site ahead of time so that you give reasons specific to their web site. It will let them know that you are sincere and care about them as well.

In the past it was advised to ask to have your keyword phrases in these links pointing to your site. But Google for one prefers to have the links as natural as possible and forcing these links to contain your keyword phrases may actually cause a red flag for Google that you are trying to finagle your way to higher ranking - a move that can get you banned in Google!

Again, if you have really created a valuable resource, others will gladly add a link to your website as part of their resources. If you haven't then you probably have nothing to offer others. Remember, both sides must benefit from the partnership.

Internal Links

Internal links (links from one of your pages to another of your pages) can also be a source of link relevancy. Text that is used to make up a link is called anchor text. It tells the search engines what the page it is linking to is about.  Include your keyword phrases in your links within your site. Image links, images that are used as links, while probably not given as much weight as text links by the search engines, also serve the same function. Use the Image Alt Attribute to describe the link. The benefit of the Alt Attribute is that sometimes the keyword phrases we want to use may sound awkward as part of our copy or Image. Here you can put your key word phrases in full to describe the page being linked to.

Reciprocal Links

Many websites place a lot of emphasis on exchanging links as a way to build their link campaign.  Frankly, this can lead to too much attention on ranking rather than building the best website for your community. You may find yourself tempted to add links to your Resource section that are not really of interest to your clientele. Remember, the focus is on having links that are useful to your visitors.

Site Maps

Create a Site Map Page on your web site giving text links to every page in your website. This helps the search engine crawlers to index your entire website.

Normally, on a first crawl through, a search engine such as Google may make it through to 2 levels of your website. In other words, if it takes more than 2 clicks from your main page to get to it, Google may wait until a future indexing to get to those deeper levels if ever. A Site Map makes every page on your website one click away and thus faster and easier for the search engines to find and index.

Each link should be accompanied by a description of the page it is linking to using the keyword phrases for that page. Make the links themselves consistent with keywords phrases for that page – Submit this Site Map page along will all the other pages.

In the next section we’ll discuss what Spamming the Search Engines is and why it can be so detrimental to your website success....

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