Building the Right Links
by Joe Dolson (May 26, 2006)
About Link Building
Every search engine optimization consultant will recommend link building for most projects. It's a well understood element of most search algorithms that inlinks are necessary to provide a path into your website, and that more links is generally better. However, this piece of advice, taken by itself, is incomplete - and a truly thoughtful consultant is going to take many additional factors into consideration.
Achieving thousands of inbound links accomplishes nothing if they aren't the RIGHT links. The right links are those most relevant to your site which have the greatest potential to drive traffic or ranking weight to your site. Thinking even further into the future, the right links are those which are most likely to continue to be strong - any site engaging in questionable optimization practices itself is a poor candidate, for example, since it stands a risk at any time of being removed from search results itself.
Types of Inlinks
- Great Links
Relevant pages with strong traffic. These links not only help your search engine rankings but may deliver significant traffic!
- Good Links
Relevant pages without great traffic. These links are still worth getting, but won't necessarily pass any referrals, as well.
Irrelevant pages with great traffic. Now, generally, irrelevant links aren't encouraged. And these links will NOT help you at all in search presence - they may, however, increase your general visibility. Showing up on the front page of Digg or in the "most popular" list from del.icio.us, the link sharing service, can be incredibly valuable as a means to build your brand and awareness of your services.
- Acceptable links
Irrelevant pages. Flat out unrelated sites which link to you. These sites are perfectly good sites in general, but simply have nothing to do with your industry. Links from this type of page won't hurt you - but it won't benefit you at all, either.
- Unacceptable Links
It's commonly believed in search engine optimization that search engines won't decrease your rankings on the basis that spam sites or linkfarms have linked to you. This is because you are not in control of what sites link to yours, and should be protected against a malicious attempt to destroy your search representation by mass submission to link farms or spam sites. However, these kinds of sites should absolutely be avoided in case of any future algorithm changes or concern about damage to your reputation.
Link Building Strategy
Aaron Wall posted a great blog entry discussing the evolution of SEO. The meat of the entry is from a post on Webmaster World which describes the development of real and synthetic authority in the form of a parable.
The fundamental point is that a sound link building strategy is long-term. It takes time to build industry trust and to demonstrate that your site deserves appropriate links.
So, the first step to natural link building is to create original, valuable content. Copying other's articles won't help you. Writing "filler" articles that provide a shallow treatment of an already well-tread issue will do little. Originality provides value. This isn't to say that you shouldn't write articles on other well-covered subject matter - but these articles should be intended to give your visitors quick access to this valuable material, not as a means to build links. For every piece of content you write you should be asking yourself one key question: does this provide value to my visitors?
The second step to link building is to find the pages you want to have link to you. Listen carefully - you are looking for specific pages, not web sites! Jim Boykin has a wonderful strategy for developing high quality inlinks (described in detail here and here.) Once you've identified a wide variety of candidate links, you need to request those links. Either buy placement on that page, or simply request a link politely. The strategy will vary by industry and from site to site.
The third and most time-consuming step is to wait. Fortunately, you can wait while you continue to work on both the first two steps! My point is that links, search traffic, and relevancy don't come instantly. Writing one valuable article does not make your page desirable for others to link to - the search engines may be predominantly concerned with specific pages, but people take notice of sites. Does your site offer more content that may be valuable? Do people want to visit your site? Over time, you can write many articles, achieve great links, and achieve great rankings. Just think of the fable of the tortoise and the hare.
- What Does 'Write Naturally' Mean for SEO? - Aaron Wall
- The Historical Importance of Backlinks - Jim Boykin
- Visibility: What to do when nothing works - Michael Martinez @ SEOmoz
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs2.5 License.
Joe Dolson is a web designer and programmer specializing in accessible web design. He's worked as a freelance consultant and designed since the beginning of 2005 and has written extensively at his private business website for accessible web design and in the InterDigital Strategies blog. His main web interests are in accessibility, useability, and ethics.