When I say the word “links,” what first comes to mind? If you’re an avid golfer, maybe you have a vision of teeing up on a sunny morning. If style’s your thing, maybe you think “cufflinks.” But when it comes to your online marketing, links are a crucial component in your efforts to rank well and reach out to Web surfers in your market. While many of you know that links matter to search engine rankings, most aren’t sure exactly how it all works. Let’s clear that up.
Not long ago, Google had a problem. Their challenge: distinguishing and ranking sites of similar size on the same topic. Which ones should rank ahead of the others? To solve the problem Google borrowed a tactic from their human resources department. They decided to check each site’s references.
In the diagram above, Site A stands alone. But Site B is linked to by Sites 1, 2 and 3. If A and B were job candidates, and you got three good references for B and none for A, which would you hire? Or, in the case of Web rankings, which would you higher?
To measure of your site’s “link popularity,” a search engine evaluates the quantity of links, but also puts a lot of stock in link quality. How do they do it? Well, let’s say you hired Candidate B, but now you find out that references 1, 2 and 3 had never met B…that they were in fact paid to say nice things when you called. How would you feel? How long would B last on your payroll? Search engines don’t like to be tricked either. They want legitimate, high-quality references.
Just as you need to be careful about who you list as a reference, you need to be careful about building your site’s link popularity. Often, it’s best to leave link building programs to a professional who knows time-tested tactics and has insights into search engine preferences. But for those do-it-yourselfers out there, here are 8 tips:
- Build Popularity Naturally and Gradually
Most people don’t become popular overnight – winning solid references takes work and experience. Search engines track the volume of new links pointing to your site. A tidal wave of links appearing all at once will be scrutinized and potentially discounted by search engines.
- Remember Your Keywords
Where possible, encourage other sites to use your top keywords in the phrases they select to link back to your site. A link using the phrase “Wyoming plastic surgeon” will help more than a link that uses only “Bill Buffalo, MD.”
- Vary the Location & Language of Links
It’s highly unlikely that 20 or 30 people would all choose the exact same phrase to link back to your site. Links are more valuable when they are varied, and when they point to an assortment of pages on your site, not just your homepage.
- Approach Authority Figures
Sites that are recognized authorities, or trusted by Google for longstanding excellence, are the most desirable sources of links. Not surprisingly, links from these sites can be some of the most difficult to obtain.
- Seek Links that Relate
Links from sites that relate to your services, or that are in your local market, will count more than links from unrelated sites that are far afield.
- Keep Good Company
There is such a thing as a bad link neighborhood. Links that appear adjacent to links to disreputable sites can count against you. Seek links on pages that feature links to other quality sites.
- Less is More
Each page can only impart so much popularity. Appearing on a page with few other links is best, though there is still value in having a link to your site placed in a reputable link directory or index.
- Hold Your Own
Ideally, your site will enjoy many inbound links from other sites but will not reciprocate most of these links. Reciprocal, or traded links, are valued less by the search engines but are still more helpful than having your site go it alone.
Over the next three weeks we will explore how you can boost link popularity and accumulate the links that will help drive your site to the top.