Make Your Site a Link Magnet

By: Susan Esparza, Bruce Clay, Inc., May 2006

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is gaining momentum as business executives realize the importance of this marketing strategy in accomplishing business goals. Recent research shows that websites are allocating more money for website improvements, fueled largely by SEO initiatives.

Organic links are valuable when it comes to clicks and conversions. As more websites turn to SEO for prominent rankings, top management seeks more information about this search engine marketing strategy.

To gain high rankings your site must have a good central theme that builds supporting pages around your main landing page. It is difficult to control your site rankings because the search engines and your competitors influence rankings, and these elements are constantly changing. While it is impossible to make your site perfect, striving for the “least imperfect,” will lead to top rankings.

There are many factors that contribute to making your site “least imperfect,” such as Meta tags, keywords, body text, links, etc. Applying the principles of search engine optimization can help your site improve its rankings as search robots crawl the Web to index, filter and rank websites in search engine databases.

Three critical elements in a search engine algorithm are site structure/code, content and links. This article will focus on the importance of links.

Show Your Expertness With Links

Linking can be critical, yet many people go about it the wrong way. The most obvious route for the novice is to ask a desirable site for a reciprocal link. However, because these links are sought after, Google does not consider them valuable. Google values sites that are worth linking to because of their valuable content. That’s one reason why exchanging links with any site that is willing doesn’t help. Another reason is that a very popular site is not going to give an obscure site a reciprocal link.

It goes without saying that you don’t want link farms. Google will penalize you for that. You can also buy links through ads, which are permissible, but still are not highly valued by search engines. To avoid a penalty, Google recommends that every paid link you buy has a rel=”nofollow” attribute.

What it all boils down to is that you must create unique dynamic content that others will want to link to many times without you knowing it. You need to demonstrate that your site is a subject matter expert to attract links. Then, by linking to other experts, you can become an expert by association.

Three Types of Expertness Links

There are three basic types of links that can demonstrate your site’s expertise:

  • Links to your site from an external site (inbound)
  • Links to an external site from your site (outbound)
  • Links to pages within your site (internal)

Getting Inbound Links

You may want to start your linking campaign by identifying and selecting the best sites to link to. You can try a free link tracking tool here. When looking for link partners, select those that link to your competition. The number and authority of link partners is a factor in search engine algorithms. However, quality is better than quantity.

One of the best ways to get inbound links for search engine optimization is to write quality articles in your area of expertise. Publish them on your site, and after the page has been crawled and ranked, submit the article to industry publications, especially those who publish content on the Web and in email newsletters. Create your articles as you would important content, with the use of keywords in the title, headers and text.

You can generate a good source of inbound links by creating a “Link to Us” information page, and then point links to this page from all your important content pages. This way, visitors reading content they find valuable can quickly and easily find out how to re-publish or link back to you. You can offer different linking choices such as: tagged images, multiple text links with different anchor text / URLs, or sections of re-printable content with embedded links. This last option is useful for the media community and bloggers, who might cut and paste snippets of relevant data, including links.

If you have valuable content and want to solicit a link from a popular source, direct your email to the proper contact. When making a pitch, set yourself equal to competitors and then tell them why you are better. If applicable, point out an error on their page. That way, they’ll owe you one.

Providing Outbound Links

Don’t dismiss the importance of outbound links for SEO. The search engines want you to reach out and show that you know quality sites. Outbound links to authoritative, informational resources also contribute to trust and loyalty from your site visitors. They’ll remember that your site helped them answer questions and will probably become return visitors. Remember, your outbound links should be useful to your visitors.

It is very important to find out whom your potential link partners are linked to before you link to them. Beware if they are linked to bad neighborhoods such as Free For All Links pages (FFAs) and/or link farms. These sites manipulate linking for the sole purpose of boosting PageRank. Other sites to be wary of are traditionally spammed neighborhoods like gambling sites. Search engines warn against these linking schemes, indicating that links to Web spammers and bad neighborhoods can affect your own search engine rankings adversely.

Once you know that a potential link partner is safe, a good rule of thumb is not to link to any site that does not contain useful information or relevant content. Nevertheless, be aware that the search engines have ways of determining purchased links and will devalue or disregard those entirely.

Protecting Internal Links

Use silo linking patterns to avoid problems caused by indiscriminant cross-topic linking structures. Without siloing as part of your search engine marketing strategy, site owners may find they are well-ranked for general keyword terms, but not for more specific industry-related terms. By siloing your pages, it allows you to create a themed site that will enable you to rank well for both general and specific keywords. There are two different approaches to siloing for search engine optimization: virtual and directory-based.

A virtual silo uses a vertical page linking design. The silo begins with your landing page and continues through to your supporting pages. Each page is linked separately to your landing page, as well as horizontally linked to one another. The theme is created and reinforced by the cross linking of these pages. Pages do not necessarily need to be in the same directory in order to be in the same silo so long as a clear topic is established through the use of links.

In a directory silo, the site theme is created by grouping like-content pages under a single directory. Directory-based silos must be highly organized and require at least an index page and five pages of text to support to directory topic. Each page should be named in a manner that helps reinforce the subject matter. Like the virtual silo, theme is created by the use of links, reinforced by the physical location of the pages within the same directory.

In review, a good linking strategy for search engine optimization will focus attention on three types of links: outbound, inbound and internal – all three are important to search engines’ algorithms. In all cases, your mantra when creating links is: Unique and relevant content is priceless.

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