Editor's note: As 2010 winds down, we're celebrating the Best of 2010, our top 10 most popular columns of the year on Search Engine Watch, as determined by our readers. Every day over the next two weeks, we'll repost the most popular columns of the year, starting at No. 10 and counting down to No. 1 on Dec. 31. Our countdown continues today with our No. 2 column, which originally was published on April 22. Enjoy!
As a website creator, you've already been told that backlinks from external sources are paramount to high rankings in search engines. Unfortunately, many online marketers fail to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to pursuing links.
The following is a detailed breakdown of all link major link building tactics, accompanied by an analysis of return on time investment in addition to the possibility of incurring a penalty from a search engine.
1. Internal Links
Internal links occur within the site itself and offer webmasters two major advantages:
- The ability to help search engine spiders find new content.
- The ability to pass PageRank and develop silos of authority within the hierarchy of a website.
Cost/Benefit: Internal links are the low hanging fruit of link building and this tactic is frequently overlooked by webmasters. The most effective internal links are blended seamlessly within article, are not navigational, and are not clustered at the end of the content.
Penalty Risk Level: None.
2. SEO Directories
By and large, web directories are the telephone pages of the Internet. No relevance, no ranking, and no human input.
Cost/Benefit: With the exception of Yahoo and DMOZ, directories are an enormous waste of time and resources. They're essentially a paid link that passes rank. I've done SEO directory tests on several domains and the results were a bit startling. Of the three sites tested, none improved rankings and two dropped to the third page for top rankings.
Penalty Risk level: Moderate/high.
3. Comment Links
The concept is simple, right? Find a bunch of article/blog posts that are thematically relevant and start posting links with your keywords in the anchor text.
Cost/Benefit: In terms of increasing rankings, this no longer works. The vast majority of blogs are some variation of Wordpress or Blogspot, which set comment links by default to "nofollow," meaning your website won't receive the link juice. Simply put, it's not worth the time.
Penalty Risk Level: Moderate. Depending on the depth of your link portfolio, too many of these links can crush your link variance ratio. Dropping a URL in a comment isn't a big deal, but mixing in some anchor text in the "Name:" section is a spammy signal.
4. Paid Links/Sponsored posts
Paid links are the most common form of traditional link building. This is the process of finding potential link partners and offering them cash in exchange for a dofollow link with the anchor text of the webmaster's choices.
Cost/Benefit: I'm not endorsing paid links, which are against Google's Webmaster Guidelines, but they can be one of the most effective methods of building links.
Penalty Risk Level: Depends. Using a text link broker is like stamping a "kick me" sign to Google. Whether or not they penalize your site, the link networks of these brokerage firms often get uncovered and their links are seriously de-weighted (or removed from the index entirely). If you get caught in one of these schemes, it might be time to dust off the old résumé.
5. .Gov/.Edu Extensions
Quite simply, these are the holy grail of links and have a massive impact in helping a page or website rank for targeted keywords.
Cost/Benefit: I wouldn't recommend a concerted effort in achieving these links. Political connections can go a long way, but a campaign dedicated to obtaining these links isn't the best use of time and resources.
Penalty Risk Level: None.
6. Social Media
These links are fairly easy to disseminate through channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube; however, these links are all nofollowed.
Cost/Benefit: While these links might not pass PageRank, the ancillary benefits can be tremendous. One powerful tweet can generate dozens of high-quality backlinks across the blogosphere, which will pass PageRank. In all likelihood, Google will become more active in monitoring and using these social signals as supporting evidence for sites that have suddenly increased their link portfolios.
Penalty Risk Level: None. Just don't turn your Twitter account into a spam zombie.
7. Link Baiting
The process of generating incoming links through the creation of engaging content and tools.
Cost/Benefit: Link baiting is the most reliable long-term strategy for developing a high performance domain in search engines. Famous examples of link baiting include the subservient chicken, Radiohead remixes, and Office Max's "Elf Yourself." When creating link bait, follow one simple rule: make your content something an audience will want to share with others.
Penalty Risk Level: None. In fact, Matt Cutts of Google has encouraged link baiting.
8. Press Release Links
Using a press release firm such as PR Web or PR Newswire in the hopes of generating incoming links.
Cost/Benefit: This strategy is fine, so long as the press release is useful. When done well, releases can drive quality backlinks from reputable news sources. Tip: be sure to link deep within the site when relevant.
Penalty Risk Level: None.
9. Reciprocal Links
My inbox is constantly flooded with endless requests from webmasters requesting link exchange. To be clear: building an example.com/link.html pages will do nothing for your rankings. Google discounts these outbound links and seriously de-weights incoming links.
Cost/Benefit: Don't engage in this strategy and don't play the fool's game of quickly unlinking to make them appear as one-way links; it's another spammy signal that won't get your far. Instead, develop relationships with other savvy webmasters and trade links deep within pages when there's semantic relevance. News portals frequently sign these types of partnership deals.
Penalty Risk Level: Low.
Remember, link building is a constant growing process. One of the reasons to like link baiting is because it's fun and creative. Find something you enjoy creating and use it as a method to drive incoming links. That way, link building will be a part of your daily routine, not another unrealistic marketing resolution.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!