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BACK TO BASICS: Developing a Link Campaign, Part One

Developing a Link Campaign, Part 1.

by: Jayme Westervelt, October 2005

A link campaign is a very important part to an SEO project of a website. When considering starting an inbound link campaign for your site, there are many things you need to understand and consider. Getting links to your site isn't as simple as buying placement on a few hundred websites. There are good and bad types of link campaigns to run, so before starting, you must first understand why links are important and what type of campaign you want to conduct.

Everyone knows that inbound links to a website are important, but they may not know the reasons why. One of the reasons is that Google seems to place a high value on inbound links and ranks pages accordingly. They consider a link to a website a "vote" for that website's "authority" on its subject matter. Therefore, when gathering links, you want to make sure you are getting "votes" from respected sites. Second, inbound links are a great source of anchor text for your website. A search engine will use the anchor text from outside websites to help determine what your site is about. By using proper anchor text and a combination of phrases to link into your site you will help the search engines understand a large majority of what your site is about, not just one main keyword. Third, inbound links help to determine your placement on the "web map". The links determine who you are associated with. If your site has a lot of links from spammers, then you may be considered a spammer. The same logic applies if you have links from experts and respected sites, your site may be considered an authority. Links also help determine your region of expertise. If your site has a lot of links from Europe, then the search engines may think that is where your expertise is and may rank you better in the European engines versus the American engines.

Just like anything else in life, there is a good way and a bad way to achieve a good number of inbound links. The easy way, of course, is the bad way of increasing links. This would be going out and purchasing links on sites, a practice actively discouraged by Google's Matt Cutts. The good way is a little more complicated and a little more time consuming but its payoff is much higher without the risk of being banned from the search engines. That would be conducting your link campaign in a way that mimics a "natural" increase in links.

Back before Google placed so much weight on inbound links and before "link campaign" was even a phrase uttered by people with websites, sites would link to one another because they wanted to. People paid no attention to the PageRank of sites, nor did they even know what it was. All that mattered was that one site owner felt that another site was a great resource and thought that their site's visitors should know about it. A site would gain links gradually, not hundreds of links overnight, and links would be from all different types of websites, large and small, informative or product related but many where theme centric to the site being linked to. Anchor text would also be varied. One site owner would describe the site completely different from another site owner; therefore their anchor text was often very different. Sometimes the links would just say "Great Site!" and other times the text would be full of great keywords because it was contained within an informative review of the site. When conducting a link campaign you want to try and mimic these characteristics as much as possible.

Now that gaining links has become so complicated there are certain things you'll want to remember in order to keep your link campaign looking "natural" to the search engines.

  • First, you'll want to gradually increase the number of links to your site. A few hours a week working on the campaign should give you a nice, gradual increase.
  • Second, you'll want to get links from sites with a variety of PageRank. If your site has a low PR, it will be hard to get sites with higher PR to link to you, but don't put all of your concentration into those sites with the high PR. Make sure you have plenty of sites with low PR linking into yours. Remember, in order for a link campaign to look truly "natural" a site would have more links from sites with PR 0, 1, 2 or 3. As the PR increases the number of links from those sites would decrease.
  • Third, make sure that the links into your site are coming from different IP addresses. There may come a time where you contact a site owner who is willing to link to your site with all 50 of theirs. Sounds great - 50 inbound links at least. Wrong. If all of those sites are hosted on the same IP address, this could send up a red flag to the search engines. A few sites from the same IP are ok, but large multiples of sites could be a problem.
  • Fourth, your anchor text should never be the same from site to site. If you have the opportunity to specify what the anchor text is then make sure it's always different from the last. It's even a good idea to specify a link into different pages within your site. If you sell shoes on your website, and you've found a great site that talks all about women's boots, then you may want to have that site link into your women's boots section. After all, it is important for your home page to have a lot of links, but to help search engines understand that your whole site is valuable you'll want to have links pointing to individual sub pages as well.

There are a few main ways to gain links into your website. Going out and finding sites that you'd like to have link to you, then soliciting the link is one way. Another is to find those sites that have you fill out a form for a link. Something else to consider is to provide something that people will want to link to. For example, you can do a press release for you site, submit it to a place like PRweb and have them distribute your release. Similar to submitting press releases would be to write articles and submit them to sites like ISnare who will distribute your article out to other sites for publishing with a link back to you. RSS feeds can be a great source of inbound links as well since those receiving the feed will likely comment on it and credit you back with a link, usually keyword rich and within relevant content. These are all forms of a "link magnet". You can also create a "link magnet" on your site that people will find interesting and valuable enough to link to. A great example of a link magnet would be the Search Engine Relationship Chart® on the website. People find this to be a valuable resource and want others to know about it, therefore they link to it. Coming up with a "link magnet" for your own site could generate hundreds of links on its own.

The worst thing you could do for your link campaign is to fall victim to some of the scams that are out there promising success overnight. One such scam that has recently managed to get many sites penalized by Google is to buy links on sites, especially high PR sites. Google has really started to crack down on sites involved in purchasing links for the sake of increasing link popularity. This is not to say that buying a link on a highly relevant site is bad, because that is perfectly ok. What it's saying is that you don't want to have a shoe site and buy up hundreds of links on casino, check cashing and domain registration sites. You also want to be careful of sites that will help you with your link campaign and completely automate the process for you. Many times this means that they have a database of sites (link farm) that they will simply link your site to - producing an incestuous link ring. Usually the sites have nothing to do with one another, and the chances of the search engines figuring it out are high. Incestuous linking is something to avoid with other sites, including sites that you may own yourself. Whenever linking two sites together it should be done in a manner that makes sense and is useful to the human visitor. Linking just to link will do no good for rankings or for the visitor. One last thing to avoid doing is forum or guest book spamming. At one time or another someone suggested this as a great way to get links fast and it does just that but it'll also get you in trouble with the search engines. Remember, you want your link campaign to look "natural" and getting dozens of links from forums and guest books overnight does not look very natural in anyone's eyes, even a search engine. As a matter of fact, none of these tactics would seem natural and that is why many sites that are guilty of doing them are getting into trouble.

Remembering the purpose of links - a vote of confidence for your site - is important when you are doing your link campaign. You'll want to solicit links from sites that you yourself would link to and you want to generate "link magnets" that others will want to link to. Link campaigns are hard work and time consuming, especially if they are done right but the ROI for a campaign done right is great popularity, increased rankings and a solid foundation to build up from. When a link campaign is done wrong, the results may be positive in the short term, but the long term only promises consequences like decreased rankings, being penalized or even banned from search engines and a bad reputation. Gaining "votes" from the right sites, using great anchor text and placing yourself positively on the overall "web map" will lead to the success of your website.

Next: Developing a Link Campaign, Part Two

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