In their frenzy to build links to curry favor with the major search engines, web site owners miss a far more important audience that's increasingly turning to topical search sites.
Most people will tell you that links from Yahoo and the Open Directory Project to your site are vital, and to a certain extent I agree. Who wouldn't want to be listed with two of the most widely used directories in the world? It's what marketers do after they get those directory links that can make or break them.
Pursuing links just for PageRank and link popularity in the major search engines is not going to go away, as much as I wish it would. And by trying to impact PageRank artificially, PageRank as it is determined now is doomed. Whether that happens in 2005 or 2010 I don't know, but once thousands of sites are after links for reasons other than relevancy, no link can be trusted enough to reward it, right?
Aside from the ethics of link building, PageRank, etc. let's discuss sites and search engines dedicated to niche topics. Niche and topical search engines and directories can bring your site highly targeted traffic. Maybe not a stampede of it, but a steady trickle of perfectly qualified users. And while some marketers are quick to claim nobody uses niche search engines because they've never heard of them, I can tell you from ten years of experience they're wrong.
It probably wouldn't surprise you to find out there were search engines devoted to popular topics like financial web sites or even fish web sites . But for proof that search engines are truly going vertical, look no further than ElvisFind, a search engine and directory that only indexes content about Elvis Presley. At the time of this writing ElvisFind contained 320 Elvis related web sites in 9 categories.
Obviously, if your site doesn't have content about Elvis Presley, you have no reason to request a link from them or submit your site to their editors. But if your site sells vacation packages to Memphis and has a "spend the day at Graceland" package, well, suddenly ElvisFind makes a lot more sense.
Some specialty search engines focus on more than just a specific topic. SearchEdu.com is a good example. This search engine indexes pages from educational sites hosted on .edu domains. I use this search engine to find links pages at educational sites, since for my kinds of clients educational links pages are extremely useful (and they are pretty good for improving PageRank too).
One nice aspect about specialty search engines is they typically don't charge for links (although a few have started charging), and better still I've noticed they add links and index sites far quicker than most of their bigger brethren.
While there are hundreds of specialty search engines available, it can be hard to find the best ones in any particular subject area. I've included some of the tools I use below. Once you find a specialty search engine, the link request or site submission process is usually fairly straightforward. Look for the "add your site" link and follow their directions. Options may even be available for paid links or sponsored links.
Here are some online tools you can use to find specialty search engines.
Search Engine Watch's List of Directories and Search Engines by Topic
Open Directory Specialized Search Engines Category
Eric Ward founded the Web's first service for announcing and linking Web sites back in 1994, and he still offers those services today.
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