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Ten Steps To A Well Optimized Website – Step Eight: Link Building

Welcome to part eight in this search engine positioning series. Last week we discussed website submissions. In part eight we will be covering the importance of link building and developing inbound links to your website.

This is arguably on of the most important aspect of the SEO process and can mean the difference between first page rankings and 100th. It has to be done right and it has to be done on an ongoing basis.

Over this series we will cover the ten key aspects to a solid search engine positioning campaign.

The Ten Steps We Will Go Through Are:

  1. Keyword Selection – October 24, 2004
  2. Content – October 31, 2004
  3. Site Structure – November 7, 2004
  4. Optimization – November 14, 2004
  5. Internal Linking – November 21, 2004
  6. Human Testing – November 29, 2004
  7. Submissions – December 5, 2004
  8. Link Building – December 12, 2004
  9. Monitoring – December 19, 2004
  10. The Extras – December 28, 2004

Step Eight – Link Building

Link building: it’s pretty much understood that this is a critical component when you’re trying to attain top search engine positioning, however the confusion enters when it’s time to decide exactly what you should do.

From talk about reciprocal link building one might come to believe that this is the golden egg of SEO. While reciprocal link building can definitely be beneficial to your rankings, it is far from the only or even the best method. In this article we will cover the following link-building tactics:

  • Reciprocal link building
  • Directory listings
  • Non-reciprocal link building tactics
  • Tools to maximize your efforts

And so, without further ado …

Reciprocal Link Building

Reciprocal link building is the trading of links between two websites. Essentially it’s an “I’ll post yours if you’ll post mine” sort of arrangement. There are many sites out there that will essentially link to any-and-all sites willing to link to them. This is not a good practice.

While purely speculation at this point, there is significant debate in the SEO community regarding how search engines might be altering their algorithms to take into account a Webmaster or SEO’s ability to manipulate their rankings with reciprocal links. Whether or not these speculations are true currently, they are most certainly being integrated if they have not be already.

Essentially, the search engines need to protect themselves and provide relevant results to their users. While inbound links as part of search engine algorithms is certainly here to stay, the way these links are calculated changes constantly and in reaction to the current environment and also in prediction of future developments, the way we build them too must evolve.

There are some basic rules to follow when exchanging links:

  • Relevancy is more important than PageRank
  • Check and make sure the recips aren’t being blocked
  • Link pages with more than 50 links aren’t worth exchanging with
  • Prepare for the future

Relevancy

Many Webmasters focus only on the PageRank of a website when deciding whether to exchange links with it. Without a doubt PageRank is important however more important is whether or not that website’s content is related to yours. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The algorithms are changing to take into consideration the relevancy of links. A link from a relevant PageRank 3 page will be considered more valuable than a PageRank 5 link from a totally unrelated site. Some predict that unrelated links will soon be given little or no weight whatsoever.
  2. Believe it or not, Google is not the only search engine. PageRank is Google’s ranking of the value of a site. What Google gives a 3 out of 10, Yahoo! may give more weight to.

Basically, after a series of tests we have determined that links to related sites will never hinder your rankings. With this in mind feel free to link to any site you think your visitors would naturally be interested in if they are at your site.

Blocked Recips

Unethical website owners (or their SEOs) will sometimes block the links backs from search engine spiders. Be this in an effort to attain what appear to be one-way links as opposed to reciprocal, or simply to make their website appear to have fewer outbound links, this is not ethical and it certainly won’t help you.

When you’re looking at a potential link exchange page, check the source code for the robots tag. If it’s set to “noindex,nofollow” then the page is being blocked and the link won’t help at all.

Some wiser webmasters will use the robots.txt file to block search engine spiders. If you look for robots.txt at the root of the domain (i.e. at http://www.domaininquestion.com/robots.txt) you will see the files/folders that are being blocked. Look for the links pages and/or the directory these pages are in, in this list. If you find it, then don’t exchange links with them.

A new one I’ve recently found along this tangent is to draw the links from a script and to block the script and database folders from the search engines. The files won’t show up in the excluded list but the links won’t be counted. To detect this the easiest thing to do is to view the cache of the page. If the page is cached but none of the links appear and the script directory is listed in the robots.txt file then this tactic is being used. Again, don’t bother exchanging links.

If you find Webmasters employing any of these tactics they are unethical. Unethical Webmasters shouldn’t be rewarded with high PageRanks or good results. If you have the time and inclination you may want to email those websites listed on the page (heck, they may be good recip link partners anyway) and let them know what’s going on. You’ll be doing them a favor and they’ll probably be happy to exchange links with you as well.

Link Pages With More than 50 Links

Webmasters who are trying to actually do their link partners a favor will limit their links pages to 50 links (the lower the better). The reason for this is that every page gets one vote. A link to another website counts as a vote for that site. This is why it can help improve rankings. As each page only gets one vote a link from a page with 10 links counts at 0.1 of a vote, whereas a link from a page with 100 links counts as 0.01 of a vote. Anything past about 100 links is not counted at all.

Additionally, the higher up on a page your link appears the more weight it is given. If the page lists sites alphabetically try to insure that your title begins with a number or a letter early in the alphabet (which works well for companies like “Beanstalk Search Engine Optimization”).

Prepare For The Future

Just because a rule applies today does not mean that it will tomorrow. This is true in on-site SEO as well as link building. If generic recip links work today, consider whether you believe it’s in the best interest of your targeted engine to keep it this way. As the answer will undoubtedly be “no” it’s in your best interest to insure that you take the extra time to build links that will still be valuable months and even a year from now to save yourself a drop in the rankings and additional work later.

Directory Listings

Having your website listed in quality directories is perhaps one of the most valuable things you can do for it in regards to inbound links. Directories link DMOZ and Yahoo! hold significant weight. Google draws it’s directory results from DMOZ and Yahoo! draws it’s directory results from, well, Yahoo!. These links are given a lot of weight.

Make sure that you submit your website to both of these directories and if they’re not listed a couple months down the road, try again (and you may want to try a slightly different category if a relevant one exists, as you may have hit one of the many overworked editors who’s getting behind).

Aside from these two there are literally thousand of other directories our there. Look for others and submit your site. Some may charge a fee. If this is the case, take a look at the page your site would be listed on, take a look at the PageRank, the number of outbound links on the page and determine whether it’s worth the price. I’ve seen directories charging $10 for a permanent PageRank 5 link on a page with 3 other outbound links (though this number is certain to grow over time). Well worth the $10 investment.

You can find may great directories using search engines and, of course, the major directories. For example, were I looking for topical directories a great place to start would be http://directory.google.com/Top/Reference/Directories/ in the Google directory.

Non-Reciprocal Link Building Tactics

There are a number of other tactics for building non-reciprocal links. Here we will outline three of the most popular:

  1. Articles
  2. Press Releases
  3. Paid Links

Articles

Writing articles is a great way of getting inbound links and generating quality traffic. Articles give you the opportunity to control the content on the linking page meaning that you can guarantee that it is totally relevant, it’s a one-way link, and it’s a link that you’ll actually get traffic from.

Let’s assume that you run a small computer shop. Why not write an article about how to troubleshoot a common Windows problem (no no, it’s true … Windows can be a bit buggy every now and then). The next step is to simply find places to submit your article to and do just that. From experience I would highly recommend keeping a list in your favorites of the sites you submit to. If you decide to publish another article you probably don’t want to have to find them all from scratch again.

If you were looking for places to submit to you would run searches on the major search engines for “my topic articles” (in this case a search for “windows errors articles” and “computer troubleshooting articles” would be great places to start). If you find a lot of results only post their own articles you may want to add the word “submit” to the string.

Press Releases

Press releases are another great way to attain one-way inbound links. If you have news that you feel worth telling, submit a press release about it. While you’ll probably want to manually submit your site to the key online publishers, services such as PRWeb exist to submit your press release to a large audience at a very reasonable price.

Like articles, if the news is good you’re likely to get quality traffic from a press release and on top of that, you are likely to get some good, related links to your website.

Paid Links

Paid links are links from other websites purchased solely for the value of the link rather than for direct clicks. Paid links have become so popular that auction sites have sprouted up for just this purpose and they can even be bought on eBay.

There is no particular problem with paid links per-se however I would recommend applying the same criteria that you would to reciprocal links. If you are going to purchase links, only purchase them from related sites and try to make sure the link is not buried down at the bottom of the page.

Run-of-site links (links that appear on every page) are not significantly more valuable than single links on the homepage other than for the traffic. If you’ve purchased a link in a good location and on a good site you’re likely to get some good traffic from it. In fact, this is the general rule I go into any paid link arrangement with – purchase the link for the traffic. If the link increases my PageRank it’s a great bonus but if I’ve bought the link for the traffic and I’m getting it, then the link value becomes secondary.

Link Building Tools

Because link building has become so important to improve search engine positioning, a number of great tools have been developed to help in the process. While I couldn’t possible list them all here there have been two developments by a company named TopNet Solutions than have truly impressed me and which are the only tools that I use in every link building campaign.

PR Prowler
PR Prowler from TopNet Solutions searches the web based on your specific criteria providing results with a minimum PageRank that you determine. A very handy tool for your link-building efforts.

Total Optimizer Pro
When we first purchased PR Prowler we thought we’d found the ultimate link building tool. That was, until we found Total Optimizer Pro. Made by the same folks who put out PR Prowler this tool rips apart and tells you everything there is to know about your competitor’s backlinks, the anchor text used to link to them, the PageRank distribution of their incoming links and much more.

If you have any questions about these tools or how they are used feel free to contact us. I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have.

Next Week

Next week in part nine of our “Ten Steps To an Optimized Website” series we will be covering the importance of monitoring. This isn’t simply checking the rankings of your primary phrase every now and then but a scheduled check of all the key components on your optimization and search engine positioning efforts.

SEO news blog post by @ 5:35 pm on December 20, 2004


 

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