There are dozens, even hundreds, of factors that relate to how well a website ranks in search engines and over the years we’ve heard them all – many are true (or at least based on truth), but there are still those lingering ‘ranking factors’ that some website owners will never let go, no matter how irrelevant, or harmful, it could actually be to your rankings.
The biggest factor brought up by website owners is the link factor – the more links you have the better you rank, regardless of where the link comes from, points to or is positioned with.
Now this statement is incorrect for a number of reasons (and don’t worry if this is you – keep reading and we’ll tell you why this isn’t right). While links to your site do still technically act as a ‘vote’ for you, what’s more important is where that link has come from. Does the site have anything to do with what your site is about? Does the site have any authority in this topic? What other kinds of links do they have on their site? Is this somewhere you’d be happy for your customers to find you?
Expanding from my talk last week about Google Places optimisation through citations and the use of good local directories, I will explain in more detail what constitutes a good link, and the types of links you should always avoid.
Good Links vs. Bad Links
We’re sure you get the same emails as we do – you know the ones where the webmasters request a link exchange for their sites that have nothing to do with what your site is about (but promise a link back using whatever anchor text/deep URL you like), or from overseas SEO companies that promise to submit your site to 9,454,720 link farms quality websites for just $10.
Well I get these emails on a daily basis (almost hourly!) so I must admit it’s made me pretty ruthless when deciding with whom to link our clients sites with.
The most important step in the link building process is the evaluation of the site requesting a link. Ask yourself the following questions when evaluating a link:
- Is this site related to my business/service/offering/topic? (answer should always be yes!)
- Does it have any authority on this topic? E.g. ranks well, association/groups/forums, decent page rank (although I wouldn’t base my decisions on this alone either) and so forth (answer should be yes)
- Would I be comfortable having a customer/client see my business on this site? (answer, yes again)
- Do they have a large collection of links on their Resources/Links page, and are these links related to my topic? (yes)
If you were to embark on a good linking strategy, I suggest the following:
- Internal Link Building – probably more important than external links, linking to other pages within your own site will help tell Google which pages on your site are more important, and will also help any visitors to your site navigate to information they might be interested in. This article delves into good Internal Linking practices
- Local Directories – these kinds of links, if done correctly, can act as citations for your Google Places listing and help verify your business information to Google, while also raising your online profile on websites that are already popular, ranking well and receiving high traffic numbers from people who are already trying to find businesses like you (see my tips for good directory listings below). Another bonus is that you typically get a one way link and a range of extra features to help promote what you do.
- Authoritative sites – if you’re part of an association, industry group, have friends in the same field as you, or know of popular forums/blogs based on your topic, I would suggest you check out their sites and see if it would be suitable for you to get a link there.
- Link Bait – this refers to having some form of content on your site that is so great/informative/interesting/controversial that others choose to link to it on their own. This is the ‘golden child’ of both link building and generating engaging content. Some examples could include having a recipe on your site and encouraging shares across Twitter and Facebook, or posting great quality images of your products to encourage ‘Pins’ to Pinterest which also links back to your site.
This post on PointBlankSEO offers the complete list of link building strategies – I strongly suggest everyone reads this to gain a better insight into how to build quality links to your site.
Link Farms – how can you tell?
One thing you should all be aware of is the difference between a link farm and good quality, local directory. As a general rule, a link farm is a website with a collection of uncategorized links that has been built solely to manipulate search results, without providing any benefit to any user.
The submissions are not human reviewed, and basically the only condition they have is that you link back to them – you submit the form, a robot detects the link on your site and then displays your link. Rest assured you’re in bad company too. Expect to find your website, as legitimate and innocent as it may be, placed next to sites promoting Viagra, gambling, adult services and often illegal sites.
I will shortly add another post on local directories that we recommend and use, along with some tips to creating great directory listings. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you might want to follow these steps:
- Go through your website’s content and see where you can naturally include some internal links. As an example, pick the top 3-5 pages on your website (if applicable), and link to these pages within your content using anchor text that exactly reflects what that page is about.
- For example, imagine you’re a lawyer that covers a range of legal areas. Wherever you mention ‘family law’ on your website, you should link those words to the family law page – don’t over-do it though! Read this article for a better understanding on internal link building.
- Find a handful of authoritative websites on your topic and see if you can get a link there.
- Think about some content ideas that you could write about. A tip is to write to your customers, and not to your industry.