Building Links and Getting Popular - Search Engine Optimization for Everybody


żby: Mary Anne Donovan

No, we're not being facetious. One of the most important things you can do to increase your site's standing with search engines is to build its number of incoming links. The more links you have, the higher your site's Link Popularity.

It used to be that content was THE factor that determined the quality and ranking of web sites in the search engines. But in the last two years, the number of websites has exploded. So the search engines needed another way to sort the good from the bad and calculate a site's ranking.

Enter Link Popularity.

The number of links that point to your site, and the quality of those links, are what we mean by Link Popularity. In fact, experts in SEO say that increasing your number of relevant incoming links is the most important strategy in your SEO process.

The logic of it, from the search engine viewpoint is that the more credible, relevant, content-rich sites that point to your site, the more important your site is perceived to be. Therefore, the higher its ranking should be. The search engines view these links as "votes." So you can see why it becomes essential to have a significant number of top-quality sites linking to your site.

But there's a hitch here, and that hitch is that in order to maximize Link Popularity, the links also need to be from what the search engines consider sites that are in some way related to yours.

Here's an example:

Let's say your site is the basis for your business, which is selling gift baskets for special occasions, and you have a choice of two incoming links. One is from a web site that sells bicycles; the other is from a web site that talks about the history of gift giving in America. Which site do you think would carry more weight? That's right, the history of gift-giving site. It would carry more weight for two reasons. First, it is directly related to your gift basket site, and second, it contains good, solid content.

Speaking of history, the concept for Link Popularity originated about two years ago with Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page who devised an algorithm that they dubbed PageRank in honor of Larry. Where previously they had focused more on "on-page" factors to determine a site's ranking, they came to realize that "off-page" factors were even more important, especially incoming links. The formula they created counts, and then ranks links based on a score of 1 to 10 for importance. Thus, the more "important" the link, the higher the value of its "vote" in this now very democratic process of determining PageRank.

Do you want to check the links coming into your web site? Go to Google, and type in:

Link:www.yourdomain.com

All of the sites that come up on the listing are your incoming links. You can go to each site and evaluate it for quality as a first step in making a game plan for how to acquire more quality links.

Ranking Factors Up Close

Let's look at these Google factors more closely:

Number of links: As you can now see, more is not necessarily the merrier! Not that a lot of links is a bad thing. The key is having a lot of high-ranking links as opposed to just a huge number of links. In fact, having many low ranking site links could actually hurt your overall ranking.

Link quality: A link from a site like Yahoo is a coup, and obviously considered to be a 10 on the link rank scale. Avoid sites that do not have a large number of credible sites linking to them. And whatever you do, don't ever get links from link farms. Google can easily recognize these links and discounts them in its calculations.

Link text: The actual text in the links to your site is important. If possible, include the search terms for that page in the link text.

But It's Not Just About Ranking

Here's the beauty of link building. In addition to being a solid strategy for increasing your site's ranking with the search engines, it is also a vehicle for getting more traffic without the search engines!! How? As we just saw, the idea is to find high quality sites that represent a service or product that is relevant to yours.

Here's another example:

Let's say you have a site for writers. In your search for relevant sites, you come across a high-ranking site for fine pens, so you ask for, and get, a link from their site to yours. Now just think, all those fine pen aficionados can find their way to your site with a simple click on the link and you have a whole new potential customer base.

Why Are Links So Important?

Here's the reason: the visibility and ranking of your site is affected by the following:

The way your web site is linked to other web sites

The way other web sites link to your web site

The web your web site pages link to each other

And as we have seen, for those sites linking to yours, the most value is placed on those sites that have relevance to yours in terms of theme, products, and services. The idea here is that visitors from these similar sites are more likely to be seriously interested, potential buyers than the random visitor, or visitor from unrelated web site.

Next let's look at the basic steps involved in optimizing links for your site.

Overview of Link Optimization Process

Here it is in a nutshell:

* List your site with search engines and directories


* Build valuable content on your web site that will attract other sites to link to you.


* Search for relevant, highly ranked sites to which you can link.


* Search for relevant, highly ranked sites that you want to link to you.

The secret to success with this process is to engage in it as an ongoing one. Once you're listed with the search engines and directories, you're listed, unless you do something for which they decide to remove you. But keep building your content and searching for strong, relevant, successful web sites both to link to and from which to request a link.

The Bottom Line

With a good solid linking strategy resulting in many high-quality links to your web site, you can't go wrong in boosting your site's ranking. But that's not to forget about the importance of your page's content and design because if you have nothing to offer prospective sites, chances are you won't get your targeted links. So just remember, it's a two-way street - good content yields appeal, which in turn paves the way for you when you request links from credible, relevant sites.

About The Author

Mary Anne Donovan is both a scholar and a practitioner, a balance that "gives her the best of both worlds: the theory behind digital communications and the hands-on experience to know what really works and what doesn't."

She is in her tenth year as a professor of technical writing and business communications at St. John Fisher College while at the same time serves as Vice President and Director of U.S. Operations for SEOLinkingCourses, Inc., a search engine optimization consulting and training company.

Mary Anne has worked with computers since they first came out of the closet and into more general application, starting with computerized quality control systems for Kodak photographic and printing processes and now with the fine points of SEO theory and application.

This article may be used freely in ezines, online publications, and blogs as long as the byline, author information, and use guidelines remain.


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