WHAT IS LINK POPULARITY?
Link popularity is a factor that many search engines use when
ranking web pages within their indexes. Simply put, most search
engines give a ranking boost to sites that have incoming links
from quality, related sites. This method of establishing
importance, pioneered by the increasingly popular Google, is now
used in some form by 19 of the top 20 search engines. While it
is still possible to achieve high rankings for non-competitive
terms without a great deal of link popularity, it is unlikely
your site will rank well for very popular terms without it.
It is important to note that the sheer number of incoming links
is not as important as the quality of the sites that are doing
the linking. The fastest way to get some quality incoming links
is to get listings in the popular directories, such as Yahoo and
the Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.org). For business sites,
Yahoo costs $299 per year (it is free for non-commercial sites,
although it takes a while to get listed). The Open Directory is
free for all sites that meet certain quality standards, but it
sometimes takes some respectful but diligent follow-up inquiries
to make sure your site gets listed. When listing your sites, try
to get them in the highest-level category that is applicable to
your site. For instance, if your company in Smallville Ohio ships
wind chimes to consumers nationwide, make sure you submit to the
national "Wind Chime Dealers" category, not the "Retailers in
Smallville, Ohio" category.
Once you have submitted your directory listings, you should
look for other sites that might link to yours. Ideally, the
businesses that run these sites will be related to yours but
will not be direct competitors. For example, if you had a site
that sold supplies for swimming pools, it could be useful to
your visitors if your site had a link to a swimming pool
installer, and useful to his visitors to have a link back to
your site. Since your offerings complement each other, neither
of you are likely to lose business by exchanging links.
You also have to find sites that show a propensity to link to
others. Google is an excellent engine to use when looking for
potential linking partners. Typing in keywords that you think
your customers might use to find you, look for quality,
well-ranked, non-competing sites that have "links" or "resources"
pages, and objectively look to see if your site would fit with
the other sites listed. If you think it is a possibility, make
a note of the site, including the webmaster's address and
something specific about the site you particularly liked.
It is also very useful to look at each of the sites on these
"links" pages, as many of them might also be potential link
partners. When you have found a good number of sites, add a link
to each of them from a "links" page on your own site. It is
important to do this before contacting the site owners, as they
are much more likely to reciprocate if they see that you have
already taken the trouble to link to them.
MAKING THE CONTACT
Once you have added a link to each of the sites you have
identified, it is time to contact the site owners. Usually
this is done by email. Due to the volume of spam most webmasters
receive, it is very important to let them know that you have
actually visited their site in the first few sentences.
Compliment them on the site and specifically mention the
attribute you particularly enjoyed (as previously noted). You
should then let them know that you have already provided a link
to them, and give them the URL of your links page so they can
see this link for themselves. Only then do you mention that you
would appreciate it if they would reciprocate.
Once all of your initial emails have gone out, check back to
the sites you have targeted periodically to see if they have
added your link. If they haven't added it within a month, one
follow-up email is normally acceptable. If you don't hear back
from them for a month after that, it may be time to remove their
link from your links page, unless you feel that the resource
they provide is of critical value to your visitors. Check your
rankings every month or so to see how they improve, and, if
necessary, start the process again.
THE LIST OF DONT'S
Don't exchange links with sites that you would not want your
visitors to see. This type of link can make your site look
indiscriminate while defeating the entire purpose of link
popularity. Also, do not ever exchange links with sites that
contain nothing but a huge collection of links (AKA "link
farms"). Search engines have been known to aggressively penalize
sites that are associated with such sites. In addition, do not
harass people who do not answer your emails. Remember that you
are contacting someone, out of the blue, who probably has too
much to do already. If they haven't responded within a month
of your second email, don't expect a link.
Finally, do not expect overnight results. Link building takes
a great deal of time and labor, and there is no real shortcut -
a primary reason why search engines place importance on it. If
your site is terrible, you aren't going to convince many
others to link to you, no matter how sweetly you ask.
A properly executed link building campaign will help boost
your ranking with many search engines, but this is only part
of the benefit. The quality sites that have agreed to link to
you will also send you highly relevant traffic. Also, your
brand and name will become better known within your industry
as a result of the link requests that you make. Finally, your
additions to Yahoo and the Open Directory will send you a
great deal of additional quality traffic. Link building is a
laborious process, but if done properly it is most definitely
worth the effort.
Scott Buresh is co-founder and principal of Medium Blue Internet
Marketing (www.mediumblue.com). For monthly tips on how to get
the most out of your internet presence, sign up for the Medium
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