Link Building 101 – An Introduction

chain imageAs a website owner, you must have heard of phrases like “link building” or “link structure” or “linking strategy” or “link popularity” being used by SEO consultants and other site owners. What is link building and why is it important to the growth of your site’s online presence? How do you build links? Where do you build links?

In this article, we will try to answer some of these questions and come up with an effective link-building strategy that you can implement, right away.

What is link-building?

Link building is the process of creating incoming links to your site or to certain pages within your site. If you’re aiming to get traffic from the search engines, like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, you should really pay close attention to this process. You see, every time someone searches for a word or a phrase in Google, the search engine will return results based on a page’s authority. This authority is determined by a number of factors: relevance to the search word or phrase being used by the searcher, how well the page is optimized for that phrase, and the number of links pointing towards that page. In our future posts, we will be discussing all the other factors affecting the search engine’s results. For now, let’s focus on incoming links.

Links Mean Authority

All other factors being equal, the search engine will always serve up results containing pages with more links pointing towards them. Thus, the pages in the top 10 results of Google have more high-quality incoming links than the lower ranked pages.

Links mean authority, and search engine authority or ranking could mean massive free targeted traffic to your site.

Your page may have the most detailed and informative take on a given subject, but if it has very few links pointing towards it, the search engines will most likely relegate that page to the lower ranks. Getting into the top 10 of the search engine results is all that matter in optimization – there is very little traffic in the lower ranks.

Let’s take a real world example of this rule. Using the search phrase “bass fishing,” I came up with these top results in Google, take note of site number 1:

Google search result, rank 1
At the bottom, I found this site ranked number 9th, for the same search phrase “bass fishing:”

Google search result, rank 9
The page ranked 1st, www.bassresource.com, opens to a quotation about bass fishing by a guy named George Kramer. The page ranked 9th in the results, the Wikipedia entry about bass fishing, opens directly to a page that’s full of information about, well, bass fishing. There are certainly other factors at play here, but at first glance, the second landing page definitely has more information than the first one. Why the disparity in ranking?

Using a Firefox add-on called SEO For Firefox, I found my answer: the site ranked number 1 has 14,400 links pointing to it, while the site ranked 9th has only 486 links. Note: You may have different results, depending on your location, but the value of links in search results remains the same.

Quality of Links

So, now that you see the value of incoming links in search engine marketing, one of your top priorities, as far as optimizing your site for the search engines is concerned, should be link-building. Before you start a campaign, however, there are a few things to consider.

Not all links are created equal – at least, not in the eyes of Google. Some links carry more authority or “link juice” than others. Your task is to make sure that the links you’re actively building for your site are quality links. High quality links are the ones that rapidly boost your site’s ranking and traffic.
What are quality links?

Let’s define quality links – your link building initiatives should be focused on acquiring these types of links. Here are the criteria you should look out for:

Page Rank – Google, depending on several factors, assign each page a certain rank. Page rank (PR) ranges from 0 to 10. The topic of page ranks deserves a more thorough discussion than what we can afford here, so we’ll take that up some other time. The point is a link from a page with a page rank of 7, for example, carries far more weight, than 100 links coming from pages ranked 0.

Recency – Avoid targeting stale pages in your link building efforts. These are sites or pages that have not been updated for months or years by their owners, and are seldom visited by the search engines. A fresh page – in a frequently updated blog,for example – recently cached by the search engine, means that it will likely be revisited by the search engine robots shortly, which make it an ideal page to create a link on.

Relevancy – If your site is about recycling, a link coming from a blog about waste management has more weight than a link coming from a blog about growing orchids, for instance. There are different views about this, particularly if the linking site has a very high page rank, but I would advise to find relevant pages as much as possible.

Anchor text – To illustrate the power of the anchor text, consider the download page of the Adobe Reader. Nowhere on that page can you find the phrase “click here” but because millions of web pages are linking to that Adobe page (to assist their visitors in reading PDF files) and using the anchor text “click here,” guess which site is number one in Google for that phrase. The main idea here is to make sure that your anchor text contains your targeted keywords in order to rank well for those.

Do Follow attribute – Links from a given page can have either “do follow” or “no follow” attributes. “Do follow” means search engine robots can follow those links to the target pages and give the full weight of those links, according to the authority of the linking site. There is a bit of ambiguity here, as some site owners maintain that they’re getting juice even from “no-follow” links. My advice is to create a link just the same in a no-follow page, for as long as the other criteria are met.

Number of outgoing links – The number of pages being linked to from a given page affects the value of each of those links. A solo link to one of your web pages from a page rank 4 page, has more value than a link from a page rank 5 page if there are 30 other pages, for example, that are being linked to from that page.

.GOV and .EDU sites – Sites being run by government or education entities are considered to be high authority sites by the search engines. These sites are not readily accessible by the general public and are presumed to be better curated and moderated. Securing a good number of links from these types of sites can tremendously boost your own site’s authority.

These are some of the factors affecting the quality (or the lack thereof) of your incoming links and we shall be discussing each of these in more details, in my next posts. If you want to see great results in your link building effort, your strategy should be to acquire quality links, according to the criteria we discussed above. If you’re using Firefox, the add-on SEO for Firefox mentioned above, can also help determine a site’s page rank and (”do follow”) attribute.

In our next article on link building, we will address the questions of where to find and how to build quality links. Please leave your comments, feedback, or questions below. Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: Ella’s Dad on Flickr