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Natural Link Building Practices

Mark Jackson
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The link building component of your SEO strategy can be the most important, as well as the most difficult and time consuming, task that you undertake.

A firm foundation of quality links will help you achieve your goals, unless you're already a large brand and have tons of natural links.

For many SEO companies and individuals, the solution is simple: buy links. And, as many already know, this is expressly prohibited in Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

I won't lie. I've seen paid links work and deliver results more often than I've seen them hurt a company.

I saw one Web site go from basically "nowhere" in the rankings to top rankings for some highly competitive keywords within three months (from 600 organic visitors per month to more than 8,000 organic visitors per month) because they spent approximately $1,500 per month on paid links. Within one year, they had more than 80,000 visitors from organic search per month. And, they had little help from their domain name, which didn't include their keywords.

But, at what cost, long term?

I've also seen paid links badly hurt companies. By "hurt," I mean rankings went away. Completely. So, keep that in mind.

This company could find their rankings gone tomorrow. Then again, some might argue that their Web site wasn't worth much before the paid links, so why not?

If you care about your brand and care about using your domain for the long-term, you might want to just keep to a measured "white hat" approach to your link building activities. It will take longer. It's harder. And, it will be difficult to get things like good anchor text in your backlinks.

But there are safe approaches to link building you should consider.

Directories

It's almost contrary to what I've mentioned above. These links cost money, most of the time (so, you'd want to call them "paid links," right?).

But, these directory listings are still OK in the eyes of Google because...well, actually, who knows? They are paid links, but because it's a directory, it's OK? Weird, huh? Mr. Matt Cutts, please comment below with your thoughts here. I'm sure everyone would appreciate your take on this.

So, if you're going to list yourself within a directory, here are a few standards to start with:

  • DMOZ -- The Open Directory project has been around for ages. It's a free directory, but it can be difficult to get listed within. The editors at DMOZ work for free and, because of this, may not be too concerned about checking their accounts often or moving to get your listing approved, up and running. As with other things in life, if you work hard enough, you will probably get listed. You just need to find out who the assigned editor is for the category. If there is no assigned editor, perhaps you could apply to be an editor for the category. Otherwise, keep working backwards through the breadcrumb (go to the next level up from the page that you're targeting) and find an editor working within that section. For example, there is a different editor for the Search Engine Optimization Firms section than for the Promotion section. If you aren't having any luck with correspondence to the editor for the specific section, work your way back up through the chain (Promotion, then Web Design and Development, etc.).
  • Yahoo Business Directory -- $299 per year.
  • Business.com -- $299 per year.
  • Best of the Web -- $99.95 per year or one-time fee of $299.95

There are probably other good directories within your industry that you should consider.

Press Releases

Distribute a well-written press release, with keyword usage in anchor text of the press release, through channels such as MarketWire, BusinessWire, PRWeb, and a host of others.

Partners, Vendors, Friends and Family

If you buy products from them, perhaps they'll link to you. If you sell their products, they might link to you. If you're friends with the CEO, perhaps they'll link to you.

You get the idea. This is where the phone, as an SEO tool, can be helpful.

Social Media Marketing and Blogging

Far and away, this is my favorite method of developing natural links to a Web site. Cutts' advise is to have content that it compelling and that people will naturally want to link to.

Some would say, "My content on my commercial Web site isn't compelling. Who would want to link to that?"

Exactly.

If you can create a blog (preferably on a subdirectory of your Web site), and write compelling content (complete with images and other things that will make the post interesting) and promote this through social media channels (having a MIXX account with no "friends" won't help you much), you'll begin to gain the kind of natural links that can, over time, help you get the kind of link popularity that you need to be successful.


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