Welcome to Part 4 of the free do-it-yourself SEO Guide. In this guide we’ll cover how links improve search engine rankings, what qualities make a great link and how to get them.
Link Building Theory
Why Are Links Important?
No Follow / Do Follow
What Defines a Quality Link?
Link Building Practice
How Many Links Do I Have & Who Links To Me?
Link Building Tips
Where Can I Find New Links?
Search engines place a lot of weight when ranking websites on their incoming link profile – the links that point to your site. You can build a website full of great content, but without some link love you may never receive a visitor from a search engine.
Why Are Links Important?
Link building has been an important part of search engine optimisation since Google introduced a link analysis algorithm as a major factor in ranking pages. Much has evolved in the algorithm and there are reportedly around 200 factors that Google considers when ranking a page, but it is well know that links are still a heavily weighted factor.
There are many reasons websites link to each other. You might link to another site simply because you like it, other common reasons include crediting a source, linking to a friend, or linking to a desired or reviewed product. The reason for the link is not important to the search engines, they see links as votes of confidence, but what is often misunderstood is that link quality trumps link quantity.
PageRank is Google’s link analysis algorithm, which plays a part in deciding how pages are ranked in search engine results. Very basically (but certainly not uniformly), a page with a higher PageRank is deemed more important and is more likely to be listed above a page with a lower PageRank. However, it is just one of many ranking factors.
Google describes PageRank:
PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important”.
A site’s PageRank is displayed as a numerical value, from 1 being the lowest, to 10 being the highest. There are a number of ways to see a web page’s PageRank – the easiest is probably to install the Google Toolbar and turn on the PageRank meter within the settings. Be warned Google does not give us access to particularly accurate or recent PageRank data.
In relation to building links, basically and all things being equal, a link from a PageRank 5 website will pass on more PageRank than a link from a PageRank 4 website. However, there is a finite amount of PageRank one page can pass to another, the number of links on a page also determines how much PageRank is passed to each link.
It is somewhat important to get the concept of PageRank to understand why link building improves rankings, but don’t get obsessed with chasing just high PageRank links, that can actually be counter productive.
No Follow / Do Follow
Two key benefits to building links are to improve search engine rankings and to increase traffic to your site. To improve your search engine rankings your link building campaign will focus on building links that pass PageRank (Google ranking juice), known as do follow links. There is actually no such thing as a ‘do follow’ link – it is just that the link does not have the ‘no follow’ attribute which blocks the link from passing on PageRank.
A no followed link will usually look something like this in the source code: <a href=”website.com” rel=”nofollow”>…
or <a href=”website.com” rel=”external nofollow”>…
A do follow link does contain an additional attribute, it exists in the absence of the nofollow attribute.
There are instances when you will build links that may not improve your search engine rankings (nofollow links) but will deliver targeted traffic. These may include links from blogs, forums and social media, including your social media profiles – all of which are often no followed.
If you can build links that both improve your rankings and bring in visitors, you’re on a winner. A do follow link within relevant content on an authority site, with keyword rich anchor is a good example.
The source is the website linking to you. Is the site considered an authority in your industry? Does the site have a lot of good incoming links itself? Is the site relevant in theme/topic/industry to yours?
An example of a Good Link Source is an authority website or blog, which is also relevant to your site in theme/topic. Being an authoritative site, it will more likely than not have a pretty decent link profile.
Link placement refers to where your link is located on the page/site. Is it within an article or relevant content? Or is it in the footer? Is it a site-wide link? Is the page even indexed?
A link within content is more valuable than a link in a website footer, a site-wide link or a link in the comments section.
Link Anchor Text
Anchor text is the text you can click on to visit the linked page. For example ‘Best Keyword 1‘ is the anchor text in this link as viewed in the source code:
<a href=”http://www.mywebsite.com”>Best Keyword 1</a>
Using optimal link text is key to improving your search engine rankings. Take a look at the keyword research you conducted in Part 3 of this series. You will have mapped specific keywords to specific pages on your site. Use those keywords to link to the specific pages you mapped them to.
How Many Links Do I Have & Who Links To Me?
You may want to know this to benchmark your current links before attempting to increase them. There are two easy methods, both are tools provided by the search engines themselves. One is Yahoo Site Explorer, the other is Google Webmaster Tools. They will likely give you different data, so benchmark both.
Yahoo Site Explorer
To see fairly reliable data on the number and source of incoming links for a site, use Yahoo Site Explorer. You can do it manually by entering the website URL on the Yahoo Site Explorer page, or you can use a Firefox plugin (SEO for Firefox or SEOQuake) to do it with some automation.
If you are doing it manually be sure to use the following settings:
Once you have entered the URL you are interested in click on Explore URL.
1. Click on the Inlinks Button
2. From the dropdown select Except from this domain (exludes the sites own internal links from being counted)
3. From the dropdown select Entire site (to view links to all pages on the site, not just the page entered in the Explore URL Field at the begining).
You will now be presented with a list of pages that link to the URL entered. If you have one of the SEO plugins for Firefox installed you will also be able to view additional data for each of the pages, such as the PageRank and how many links each of those pages have – which is helpful for getting an idea of the strength of the links.
Google Webmaster Tools
Using Google Webmaster Tools you can only access link data for your own site and you must first verify your site. Here’s a knol article that does a great job walking you through Google Webmaster Tools verification. Once verified login to Google Webmaster Tools. You should see your site under the header Sites – click on it.
You should now see a Dashboard menu on the left, click on and expand Your site on the web. Click on Links to your site.
You will now see a list of your pages that have external links to them. You should also see a tab at the top titled Anchor text which will show you a breakdown of the anchor text used in the links.
Back on the Links to your site tab you will notice that each of the pages listed has a number to the right of it.
You will also notice that number is hyperlinked. Click on it to get a list of external pages linking to that particular page. Note: “/” Represents the homepage.
When building new links you do not want to send a red flag to the search engines by building too many too quickly. Build links slowly over time. Link building is not a one off job. Doing a little, often is the best strategy.
Anchor Text Variation
Make sure you change up the link anchor text you use, having all of your links use identical anchor text is unnatural. Also build links to pages other than your homepage.
Link Source Variation
Get links from many different websites and blogs. Having 1,000 links, but all of them being from a site-wide link in one blog’s sidebar does not mean you get credited with 1,000 links. Ideally get links from many different places, including websites, blogs and social media.
Your Competitors Links
Using the Yahoo Site Explorer tool, you can get a good idea of where your competitors are getting their links from. Combe through their link profile and identifying the best quality links. Make a list of the quality link sources in a spreadsheet and have a look at each of the websites to determine how best to approach them for a link. Do they have a links or resources page? Would they be a good candidate to send an article to?
Top Ranking Sites
Do a Google search for the keyword you want to rank for. Look through the first 50 results looking for link opportunites. Are there any niche directories you can submit to? Are there any businesses similar to yours that may not service the same geographic area as you do? Are there any good sites that with links or resources page?
Organisations / Memberships
Are you a member of an industry organisation? Many organisation and membership sites have a members page where they may be willing to link to your site. These sites are often considered authority sites and a link from them can be quit helpful.
Despite the bad wrap, directory link building is still a valid and useful tactic. Only submit to quality general and/or relevant niche directories, and submit your site in a relevant category.
Make sure you use variations of your keywords when submitting to multiple directories – as well as the description you use. When submitting to directories you want to enter a keyword in the Title field as it is the text that will be link to your site – the anchor text. If the directory allows it (check the rules of submission) also build links to pages on your site other than your index (known as deep links) – see the pages/keywords you mapped during the keyword research phase.
There are many decent directories out there, try doing a google search like, “dentist directory” – but make sure to check the quality of the directory before submitting to it. Make sure the directory does not automatically accept all submissions, that it is human reviewed.
By creating quality content and publishing it on a relevant 3rd party website you can build incoming links with a certain level of control – the link placement, anchor text and destination. It is acceptable to include a link or two back to your site, either from within the content or in the final paragraph.
If you only submit to one article directory make it Ezine Articles. If you are able to write a lot of unique articles (or have them writen) then it may be worth investigation additional article directories. Another option is 3rd party sites like Hubpages and Squidoo which allow you to create content pages hosted on their site.
If you have news worthy of a press release, this can be a good way to get other sites to publish it. Make sure it is press release worthy news or it will get ignored. If possible place a link or two within the press release.
The downside to this is that you can only submit one version of a press release, which means there is only so much benefit you will receive from the links, no matter how many sites republish it.
Reviews are a great way to get a diverse range of links from authority sites or blogs assuming you have a product you can afford to give away.
Link Bait is a term used to describe content that is created with the purpose of attracting links. It needs to be high quality, original, interesting or funny to get people linking to it. It can be take the form of an article, list or video. Link bait peices are often posted to social bookmarking sites to help them to go viral and attract more visitors and links.
Adding a blog to your site is a great way to build links, assuming you can consistantly add quality posts. The nature of a blog being updated more often (or updated at all compared to a static website) means that it is more likely to attract links over time.
Blog Comments & Forum Signatures
Using a keyword as your blog comment name or as a link in your forum signature is not really a great way to build links to increase your search engine rankings, however if you are making thoughtful comments or authoritative forum posts on a blog or forum related to your site, it is a good way to attract potential visitors/customers to your site.
Link Exchanges no longer pass as much value as they used to. However, if done right, supplementary to all other methods, it can help. They key again is relevance and quality. Only exchange links with websites that would be of value to your visitors. Do not blast out spammy email link request emails – you know the ones. Instead write a short personalised email that shows you have taken the time to visit their site.
Social Media Profiles
Most social media sites allow you to link to your website in your profile. Most of them do not help increase search engine rankings, but it is another way to increase traffic to your site, and the likelihood of someone else linking to it.
Once you have the hang of it you will start to notice more opportunities to build links you may not have thought of previously – get creative!
Now you understand what makes a quality link, where to get them, and that link building in an on going process. Next up in the DIY SEO series is Part 5 Measuring Progress.