The two biggest factors in any website ranking high in search engine results are: high quality content and the links from other sites pointing towards that page. We’ve talked a lot about the content but not too much about the link building, so I thought I would write an article to help balance that out.
The VERY basics.
Google treats a link from page A to page B as a vote of confidence from page A for page B. This vote makes Google think page B is more likely to have good content (why else would page A link to them?) and therefore makes Google more likely to place page B higher in its search results. That is a very easy concept to understand. What’s not so easy to figure out sometimes is how much that vote is worth. If site A is a website that gets 5 visitors a day, that vote can be worth very little. If site A is a well-established site getting 500 visitors a day, the vote MAY be worth quite a bit.
The obvious goal for website owners is to get as many high quality links to their website as possible. Sometimes easier said than done. We’ll now talk about the different methods you can use to acquire links for your site, and some things to watch out for.
The time honored tradition of all website owners. You basically email the owner of another website and offer to put a link to their site on yours if they agree to put a link for your site on theirs. This is an extremely effective method, and it’s only requirement is time. What should you look for?
1: The website is in the same industry as you. This is a HUGE factor. If you’re an author a link from someone in the publishing industry is probably going to be far more valuable to your site then someone in the hardware industry. Don’t just look for any site that will take your link; be picky and try to find sites in the same genre.
2: Check the websites traffic using alexa.com. Any website in the field is probably worth having a link from, but it’s still nice to know how much traffic the site gets. If you have the Google toolbar installed in your browser, you can check a site’s pagerank as well. Pagerank is a number from 0 to 10 that measures how much authority Google views a site as having. The tricky part about pagerank is that it’s not Google’s real number. Google’s real number is updated daily and nobody outside of Google knows what that is. The range rank number from the toolbar is only updated 2-4 times a year. While pagerank is worth looking at, make sure you know the Alexa number as well.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, start hitting Google to find sites in your industry, and start letting the emails fly. What should you email them? Most important is to be honest. If you just found their site today, don’t say you’re a long time reader. The second most important thing is to be human. Don’t make it strictly a form letter; tell them what you liked about their site.
When you get to the part where you ask for the link, sell yourself as much as you can. I didn’t do enough link building when we first started this site, but one good thing from that is now when I’m trying to get a link I can say our site has an Alexa ranking under half a million and gets over 300 unique visitors a day. What if you don’t have any numbers? Sell yourself. Tell them what you’ve done and what you’re planning to do. It really is purely a time and numbers game. If you email 20 website owners with honest emails asking to exchange links, you’re probably going to get a lot more links then if you hadn’t emailed anyone.
When you’ve found your first website owner willing to swap links, take a second to think about what hyperlinked text you want to appear on their site to bring them to your site. This is called the “anchor text” of a link. While it’s not the most important thing in the world, it does matter. If I want our site to be in the top results for the term “Romance eBooks” I would much rather have links use that text then just “Guerrilla Wordfare”. I’m going to rank at or near the top for guerrilla wordfare no matter what I do so if I have a choice I’ll ask for the “Romance eBooks” text. Does it really matter? Yes, and I can prove it! Open up a new tab or browser window and google “click here”. What’s the top result? Adobe Acrobat Reader (the software that lets you view PDF files). Look at their site and you won’t find them optimizing for the term “click here”. So why are they in first place? Because there are millions of websites out there with pdf files, and many of them have statements like the following:
You can view PDF files with adobe acrobat. In order to download adobe acrobat click here.
While that is an extreme example, it is a great one. There is a digital marketing company called Click Here, with the website of clickhere.com, and they still have to struggle to get the top spot from adobe for the sole reason of a ton of anchor text all over the internet.
You don’t see much about this topic. Why? Because Google doesn’t like it! So is that just the end of the story? Not really. In my opinion there are three categories of link buying.
1: The private sale of a link/ad from one website owner to another website owner.
If there is a website in your industry with a lot of traffic and they sell ad space, there is nothing wrong with buying that link/ad. I think some may say that a link is different but I really don’t think it is. Our advertising budget from the start has been five dollars a month (seriously). I paypal a website owner $5 a month for a small square picture ad for Lizzy’s books to run on her site. If I paid her $5 a month for a text link instead of a picture ad is that wrong? A few may say yes, but I really don’t see why. Small transactions like this take place all the time and nobody really has a problem with them.
Do you NEED to do it? Absolutely not! But if you’ve got more money than time and you want links…
2: Link building companies.
Google HATES these people. There are firms out there who charge a pretty penny, and then go out and get links for your website. Some of them do a great job, some of them not so much. The price alone is probably going to keep you from doing this, but if that doesn’t the possibility of them doing something dumb and getting your website banned from google should be.
What kind of dumb stuff could they do? Stuff like #3.
3: Bulk junk.
Go to eBay, fiver.com or any other site and you will see tons of people offering “1000 backlinks to your site! Boost your SEO now!!!!”. These are usually pretty cheap too. These will all be worthless links from adult sites, link farms, spams on blogs etc. Best case they will do nothing for you, worst case they will get your site banned from Google. Google isn’t dumb, when they see 100 new links to your site, 40 of which are from the same ip address and the other 60 are blog spam, they aren’t going to think highly of you.
Links from forum posts and blog comments:
I don’t do nearly enough of this. You really should be active in the online community of whatever industry you’re in, and you should have a signature block with a link to your site. A lot of forums are set up so that the links don’t count as votes of confidence for your site but they can still bring people to your site. This shouldn’t be your entire link building strategy, but it should be a part.
Links from writing articles, press releases etc.
One of the fun things about SEO is that tactics that work right now may not work in six months. Why even try? Because if you stick to good content and natural link building, that will NEVER go out of style with Google. What is the latest thing that Google has declared an enemy? Duplicate content.
Earlier this year Google started rolling out updates called “Panda”. The main target of these updates is to lower the search engine relevance of sites that have content which is also in other locations. If the article on your site is also on 20 other sites, why should Google send them to you?
I LOVE this update. It means people who take the time and effort to write quality content will face less competition from sites who just try to scrape content from others. The reason I’m bringing this up is that it seems to have severely reduced the value of writing articles and submitting them to services to be plastered over the internet. So if you’re currently reading a book from 2009 that’s encouraging you to article write your way to millions, you may want to spend your time elsewhere.
However, what I don’t know is what the threshold is. Do you get penalized only if your content appears on more than 5 other websites? 10? 15? No one knows but Google.
I’ve seen tests where people post high quality content but make zero link building efforts. The results aren’t pretty. You really do need to balance yourself and your time. Got a million links to your site but no good, updated content? You’ll only end up with a million disappointed visitors. Got a ton of great content but no links, nobody may ever see the content.
That’s a very basic overview of link building. Which is most important? All of them. Google is watching you. If all of your links are from any one thing in particular, you won’t have as much credibility in their eyes as if you have a variety of links with a variety of anchor texts. If there was a secret, I’d tell you. If you know what the secret is, please email it to me.
One last thing you’re going to find out anyway so you might as well hear it from me. You’re going to get a lot of rejection. We have a good thing going here and when I email people I’m always polite, friendly, honest and tell them what I’m proposing (link exchange, book giveaway, book feature etc.) and how I think it could benefit them. Most of the time I get no reply and “No thanks” is a strong second place with “sure” a distant third. One summer in high school I worked as a telemarketer to make money for the upcoming school year. Link building is giving me telemarketing flashbacks. Dealing with a steady stream of rejection isn’t fun for anybody but I really know of no way around the process other then paying someone else to do it for you.
I tell myself to remember that even if I only get one out of every ten that’s still one more then I would otherwise have gotten, and tomorrow I’ll go after ten more. Link building rewards both your creative approaches to identifying potential partners and the hours you spend trying to make those partnerships happen. If you work at it you will build more partners and get web exposure. It’s impossible not too. The only bottleneck is the time your willing to/able to put into it.
As with a lot of my posts, I’m afraid I’ve left the reader feeling overwhelmed by throwing so much information out there in one post. Why do I do it? Because even though lack of time keeps me from doing everything I know I should be doing, an understanding of all of these different factors and their value to my website’s visibility helps me make informed decisions on how to spend the time I do have.