A few ground rules:

Any links you get need to be from pages that are already indexed. Links from non-indexed pages will not help your PageRank. This is per search engine.

Links from highly ranked pages are worth more than links from poorly ranked pages. This is what it means to say that a link is a high “quality” link. High quality, high value links are good. Low quality links are not as good.

Links from sites related to yours are more valuable than links from non-related sites. This is not a personal opinion of Google’s. Search engines don’t have opinons, but there is a contextual relationship between related sites that Google would be silly to ignore.

Low quality links from unrelated sites are still links. That is, the number of links pointing to your site is every bit as important as the quality of those links. Of course, you will need quite a few low quality links to equal the punch and the PR of one good, high quality link, but I wouldn’t look a gift link in the mouth.

When creating link text remember to include keywords related to the target page. “Click here” doesn’t contribute to PageRank as much as “Keyword here” does because search engines (and people) will get a better idea of what is on the other side of that link if it contains descriptive text. You won’t always have complete control over what your links will say or what they will look like. You will be working with other webmasters who may have strict rules concerning outbound links. They may even be too lax in that regard, but do your best to control your links as best you can.

One way to control your links is to provide a “Link to Us” page on your site. Provide the complete html code for the link so any visitor to your site who would like to link to you can simply copy and paste the code directly into their site.

Also, be vigilant and keep track of who is linking to you. There are several tools available on the web which can show you who is linking to you. Use them. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes when you see a link that could be better, and don’t be afraid to ask for the removal of a link if you feel that it may be hazardous to your PR (this should only happen in the rare case that you find yourself linked to a site that is known to be infected with malware or spam).

NOTE: Beware of canonical issues [link to upcoming post here]. Canonical issues occur when a search engine has indexed both the non-www version of your site and the www version. Google considers example.com and www.example.com to be two separate sites with duplicate content. This essentially splits your PR between two sites and hurts your position in the SERPs. Channeling all your links to one or the other will instantly affect the PR of one or the other. So, choose which version you would like to use and then be consistent when backlinking. (This may or may not require a 301 redirect to let the search engines know which version they should be using.)

How to get links

As I said in a previous post about the importance of increasing your PageRank to stay on top of your competitors, there are several approaches to link building. Which ones you use and when is a measure of how aggressive your link-building campaign will be. Not every approach will work for you, but find what works and start there. The amount of time, money, and effort involved is entirely up to you, because these strategies run the full range from free and easy to not quite so free and easy.

Ask around…

This is probably the first and the easiest thing you can do. Ask everyone you know who has a website to consider adding your link to their site. Friends, family, even your cousin’s friends may have a place on their site for an extra link or two.

And not just personal acquaintances but business associates as well–employees, groups and associations you belong to, companies you do business with, clients, social networks, etc.

Ask your employees to mention your company in their travels around the web. Some employees might be using social networking software such as Facebook, et al and blogging. Maybe they will mention who they work for and mention your website.

Belong to any groups or clubs? Do they have a website? Are you selling someone else’s products on your site? Maybe the product manufacturer will link to you. Are you on someone else’s client list? On a website? That’s good. Ask to be a “featured client.”

Join search directories

This could be an important next step in your link building campaign. Beyond search engines such as Google and Yahoo! which index millions and billions of web pages, there are other engines which index sites by category or product type. These are smaller and more focused. Several of these “specialty” directories exist on the web. There are directories specifically for blogs, for restaurants, hotels, storage facilities, and more. Find one that suits you and submit your url.

Search “add url”

A simple method for finding sites to link to yours is to search any search engine for the phrase “add url”. Any sites which allow or encourage you to add your url to a list will most likely use the phrase “add your url here” or simply “add url”. You can also try “add a link”, “suggest url”, “suggest a link”, “suggest a site”, “add a site”, etc.

Of course, that phrase alone is too broad. You would prefer to find sites that are related to yours, so search for “add url” + “clothing” if you own a clothing site or “add your site” + “zoology” if your site is about zoology. Google will return any web page that contains the word “zoology” and the phrase “add your site”. That’s just what you want.

This method is simple and a good way to get links, but links you get in this manner probably won’t be of very high quality. Look out for link farms and scams (I wouldn’t pay for links like these), but remember that a link is a link is a link. I am of the opinion that “link farms” will not negatively affect your site’s ranking, they just won’t increase it very much (if at all). If “link farms” could hurt you, then anyone could easily destroy your site’s ranking by simply adding your url to a bunch of bad sites. That’s illogical. This is still a good way to get lots of links, and lots of links is good no matter where they come from. We all want high quality links from pages with huge PageRanks, and if you have the resources you should definitely concentrate on getting high quality links, but in the meantime I wouldn’t look a gift link in the mouth just because it was free and easy to get. Lots of lower quality links will add up eventually and every link helps. They may even bring traffic, if not PR. Google Maps and Yahoo! Local are perfect examples of this. Just get your site out there.

If this sounds tedious, you don’t have to do it by hand. Several programs will scour the web for appropriate sites and auto submit forms for you. A search for “free link building software” on Google will return several options for you to try. SEO Elite comes highly recommended. It’s well worth the money ($167) considering all it can do. You can get a free trial from their website.

Press releases, announcement sites, newletters

Depending on the nature of your service or product these might be good options for you. If you feel you’ve got something especially unique, a well written press release could be just the thing to create a buzz. How about an official “announcement”? Press release distribution services and announcement sites exist in all price ranges.

You may not have thought about writing a newsletter. Maybe you don’t consider the fact that you have a website “news”. So, create some news. Offer a new product or a special deal that’s only good for a limited time. Did you lower your prices? That’s news. Did you get a press release published somewhere? That’s news. Take the time to write a newsletter, solicit subscribers, and distribute it. It may start a conversation about your site, generate a buzz, bring traffic. If you don’t have a newsletter, try to get mentioned in someone else’s newsletter. That works, too.

Find competitor’s links

Several “link popularity” tools and techniques exist for finding out who is linking to your competitors and for analyzing those links. Chances are, if a site is willing to link to your competitor, they might be willing to link to you as well. For that matter, you should always be on the look out for sites that may be appropriate places for you to promote your site.

When you find an appropriate site, the next step is to ask the webmaster or site owner to link to you. Do this in an informal email. Sell yourself the way you would to any partner. Offer a reciprocal link. One way links are better, of course. That is, convincing someone to link to you simply because it would be in their interest or their custmomer’s interest would be great, but don’t be afraid to offer a reciprocal link when appropriate. You can even link to them first, then send them an email informing them that you have linked to their site, and ask for a link in return. Again, you don’t have to do any of this by hand. Several software programs are available which will automate the tasks of link building for you, from finding relevant sites, to analyzing backlinks, to filling out and sending forms and emails to site owners and webmasters. These are invaluable when it comes to keeping track of all your link building efforts (so you know where your links are, the age and the PageRank of said links, what they say, how they perform, who you’ve contacted, who’s contacted you, etc., etc.).

Social networking

Search engines love blogs. Start a blog, participate in blogs. Be a blogger. This is an ever popular way to get your url scattered about the web. Unfortunately, everyone knows it and so many blogs won’t let you leave a link, or they instruct the search engines not to consider any outgoing links in their ranking algorithms (yes, you can do that). If you own a blog, you may need to take steps to prevent people from participating simply for the chance to leave their link behind. Some less scrupulous site owners use “auto-bloggers” just for that purpose.

The social area of the web is growing all the time. MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, etc. No need for me to get into all of it here. Suffice it to say that Social Media Optimization (SMO) has become a branch of marketing all its own.

Buy links

It is possible to simply pay for links. Countless services exist on the web for this purpose, in all price ranges. You can buy links with a specific PR, in a specific category, one way or two way, with term limits or without.

Think of link building as simply another way to advertise. Use the same advertising dollars you would spend on banner ads and pay-per-click ads, and the like. And don’t neglect offline (multimedia and print) advertising as another way to advertise your site and generate interest. Print ads could very well lead to inbound links on the web.

Link building can be as big a project as you make it. The more aggressive you are in your link building campaign, the more links you will get. It’s that’s simple. High quality links are worth money because they will increase your PageRank. That’s a fact. Money spent on purchasing links with PR 4 or higher (for example) are worth the money and possibly all you need, depending on your goals and your competition. Any marketing service you use to promote your site should offer link building as way to optimize your site, place better in the search engines, promote your product, and raise your traffic and sales.

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