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How To Win Links & Influence Engines
The title of this article is designed to prove (in an SEO kind of way) the very point that Dale Carnegie was making when he wrote one of the most influential business books of all times, “How To Win Friends And Influence People” (arguably one of the best business books ever written as well). In the titling of his book Mr. Carnegie was trying to do two things:
- Write a title that captures everything that people want in order to sell more books, and
- Tie two important things together that are related but often viewed as different. In the case of the book it was winning friends and influencing people which he points out are essentially based on the same core traits and actions. Similarly, in our title here we are capturing two of the key areas people interested in SEO are looking to read about and thus we will show the essential tie between winning links and the influence it will have on your search engine rankings. We will also discuss methods for actually winning them as opposed to settling for second-rate links rather like winning friends as opposed to settling for tolerable acquaintances.
As with virtually every aspect in SEO, there are multiple areas of this single field. If there were one hard-and-fast answer to link building we would all be ranking highly on Google and the top 10 would be a VERY crowded place. Fortunately this isn’t the case and the rankings are becoming more and more a Darwinist exercise in “survival of the fittest” (which is how it should be). Proper link building will help you be the fittest and, over time, influence engines.
If you have a site in any competition level above “low” you will want to use at least two different methods for building links. Aside from speeding up the link building process this will help insure your site withstands changes in the way link values are calculated. While there are far too many methods for building links than can be listed here (and there are some that launch so far into the black hat tactics that I wouldn’t want to), here are some of the main link building methods you should consider using:
Reciprocal Link Building:
There are many who would write that reciprocal link building is dead. While it is undeniable that the “rules” around reciprocal link building have changed it is far from dead. That said, there are specific guidelines that must be followed to make a recip link building campaign a success. Some of the more important are:
- Relevancy is arguably the single most important factor to consider when building recip links. For every link exchange you are considering you must ask yourself, “Is this a site that my visitors would be interested in?” If you can honestly answer that your site visitors would be genuinely interested in a site you are linking to then it’s a good link.
- PageRank is not the end-all-be-all that is once was however it is still a decent measure of the relative value of a website. While not as important as relevancy, it is a factor and obtaining higher PageRank links will require less links to be built.
- Does the site you are considering linking to have a solid link building strategy in place? Just because you’re following the best practices of link building doesn’t mean that everyone in your industry is. A good site may be following misguided link building practices (real estate sites should not link to poker sites) and if they are then their overall value is or may well be reduced in the eyes of the search engines. If they have an active and ethical link building program in place then their overall value is likely to increase making them more valuable down the road than they are today.
- How many links appear on each page and where will your be positioned? If your link will appear at the bottom of a page with 87 links it is far less valuable than a link near the top of a page with 25 links. This fits into the “ethical” category of point 3 above but worth mentioning again.
- Links that exist within content are weighted as more natural than directory-style links. Thus, when possible send HTML code that places your link within the descriptive text rather than in the title. For example, we may use the following HTML for a link to the Beanstalk site:
<strong>Beanstalk Search Engine Optimization</strong><br>
Beanstalk offers ethical and effective <a href="http://www.beanstalk-inc.com/">search engine positioning services</a> that will get your site to the top of the rankings. Whether you operate a small business and need regional results or if you are the VP of a Fortune 500 company needing consulting on new site changes and internal page ranking strategies, we have a search engine positioning solution to fit your needs.
These links are won as opposed to gained by default. Finding people to exchange links with on the net is easy, it’s finding quality partners that will help influence the rankings (in a positive direction at least) that requires a clear understanding of what the engines want and how to give it to them.
Non-Reciprocal Link Building:
The area of non-reciprocal link building is a slippery one. There are many methods that can be used with varying degrees of success. Due to the sheer number of methods we won’t be able to get into them all here (and there are some that shouldn’t be used anywhere) we will focus below on some of the most significant and more widely applicable:
This is perhaps the easiest and fastest of all link building methods though it can also be one of the more costly depending on the directories you submit your site to. Yahoo! for example, charges $299 for a commercial site to be submitted into the directory. DMOZ is free however, and is certainly the most important given that Google uses the DMOZ directory to provide the listings for the Google Directory. Note though: it can sometimes take months to get a listing there and sometimes even that’s not enough.
That said, there are MANY topical directories and smaller business directories that will accept free submissions and these should definitely be considered. While they may have a relatively low PageRank they will provide reasonably relevant non-reciprocal links and help build your anchor text relevancy.
Writing articles like the one you’re reading righ now is an excellent link building strategy. By providing valuable and useful content to other webmasters you are providing them a service, which will generally translate into a link to your site “in payment”. One of the great features of articles is that the payment isn’t only in link value but in the actual traffic you get from the link itself. But we’re not talking about traffic, we’re talking about rankings; so how do articles influence engines?
There are three main benefits of articles as a link building tactic:
- The link to your site will be on a page that is entirely related to your topic. If you have a site about search engine positioning for example, including that phrase in the title and content gives you the opportunity to build the relevancy between the linking page and the page it links to.
(note: I know I have not used “search engine positioning” in the title – sometimes one has to consider the value of the title from a visitor standpoint and the fact that you came to this page and are reading this article indicates to me that the right decision was made not to change it just for a bit of added relevancy.)
- The link will be non-reciprocal. While we indicated above that reciprocal linking is not dead (and it’s not) there is a solid belief among SEO’s (myself included) that non-reciprocal links are weighted more heavily. Having more non-reciprocal links will also help safeguard your site against future changes in the algorithm that may reduce the value of recip links.
- You will likely have the ability to determine how the link to your site is worded and you may have the opportunity to link to more than one page on your site. Many people settle for a directory-style author bio. Myself, I prefer to submit my bio in a couple formats (text and html) both of which place the links inside the content. The text format will simply include links such as http://www.beanstalk-inc.com/ whereas an html link will contain code very similar to that displayed above. As far as multiple links; if the site you are submitting to will allow you to reference a couple pages you may want to link to your homepage as well as one or two internal pages that you would like to see rankings attained for. Make sure these pages are related to your core article topic or a service the reader would be interested in (see the bio for this article as an example).
This next part might be a bit shocking. There are actually people out there who will link to your site simply based on the fact that they have found content there they believe will interest their readers. That’s right, people actually link to sites they find of value. On the Beanstalk site and specifically in our blog we often link to other web pages that we have found useful. Other articles, tools, blog posts, etc.often receive non-recip links from us due to the value of the content they contain and we’re definitely not the only ones doing this.
Providing quality content, useful tools, or other helpful services can be a great way to attract non-reciprocal links. After all, this is the entire reason links received any value in the first place, that they are perceived as a vote for the other site.How To Influence Engines
With proper onsite optimization in place that includes attention to such things as site structure, site size, cohesion of the content across the site, internal linking structure, keyword density and those other onsite factors you’ve likely read much about, all that is left to do is to continue to grow your site (hopefully with quality content people will want to link to) while winning strong links to it.
If what you want to do is influence engines you will need to have strong onsite and offsite factors but don’t stop there. Influencing engines isn’t just about rankings today. You will need to continue building links down the road to insure that the search engines continue to be influenced by how people have linked to you in the past and kept those links in place and also how new people are finding your site helpful and relevant. If the engines see a sudden spurt in link growth and then see that growth stop you are not likely to have a strong ranking indefinitely in any but the lowest competition sectors.
And remember; don’t focus on just one link building method. To insure a solid and secure influence you’re going to need to win links in at least two of the methods discussed above or other ethical methods you may be considering.Additional Notes
While we couldn’t possibly cover all the methods for link building here in an article I’ve tried to cover the main ones. A couple of methods that receive much attention but which we didn’t have room for above are press release distribution and paid links.
Press releases are an excellent way to get exposure but I have not found them as good as articles for links which is why they weren’t covered above. They are good for traffic however and you will get some links out of them if the release is good so it was worth a short mention here.
Paid links are a dangerous area to discuss as there are so many factors and so many ways it can go wrong. The only advice I will give to those looking to purchase links is this, ask yourself, “Am I expecting to get traffic from this link?” What this will weed out at the very least is small footer links and links on irrelevant sites. Basically, if the link is worth it without the boost in rankings then continue to pay for it and consider any ranking increases a bonus. If you aren’t getting any traffic from the link then it’s likely not worth paying for. If you’re not getting traffic then the site likely isn’t relevant or the link is in a poor location. The engines will likely pick either of these up and you’ll end up paying for a link that isn’t passing on any weight anyways.
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