One of the great challenges with search engine optimization (SEO) is getting people to understand what is involved in obtaining links to a web site. Too many times, they expect that an SEO will "just go get links," without involving any investments of marketing time, development time, or cash (collectively, the "internal resources").
The problem: it just doesn't work that way. Website publishers must expect to be integrally involved in the process. If they aren't, it will result in a bad link building campaign. Let's look at a few different ways that an SEO could attempt to independently acquire links, and discuss the flaws with each.
1. Buy Links
2. Link Swaps
This requires some website modification to execute, but it's minimal. You could, in theory, create a link directory on your web site, and then let your SEO modify the link directory without requiring anyone else's help. However, this has been problematic since the Bigdaddy update by Google in 2006.
Trading links with people who are really your business partners or highly relevant sites is OK. Google just doesn't want you swapping links with a potpourri of unrelated sites (e.g., your used car site having links to casino sites, insurance sites, video gaming sites, etc., is a bad idea).
3. Free Directories
Like the first two, and oldie but goodie. There are tons of directory sites, many of which are free, or cheap.
If you want to get links in hundreds of these, consider accepting a proposal from one of those overseas firms promising you 100 links for $500. Sounds great, right? Only $5 per link. Trouble is that the links have no value. Even if the sites have PageRank, it will largely be due to relatively junky and poorly themed inbound links the directories have obtained from each other.
Remember that Google (and probably Bing as well) only respect directories that have a strong editorial policy. The Yahoo directory has a published policy that illustrates this well. They can reject your listing, or change anything about it (title, description, and suggested page placement) and still keep your money. And, they do reject listings.
Most free directories don't have such a policy. After all, how could they pay the staff to review your listing?
There are a few high quality directories, such as Yahoo, Business.com, Best of the Web, and IPL2 (formed by a merger of Internet Public Library, and the Librarian's Internet Index). So go get some links from those and other high quality directories, but stay away from the hundreds of junky directory links.
4. Forum/Blog Spamming
Large scale forum and blog spamming involves creating a bot that travels around the web, finding forums and blogs, and automatically inserting comments into those environments. The comments include links back to the bot creator's site (or their client).
The bot creator doesn't actually care much about the success rate. If they spam 100,000 forums and blogs, and only 0.1 percent of the links are not nofollowed and survive, they get 100 links back to their site. It provides them with a great ROI.
Obviously, this strategy is right out, as it definitely isn't playing nice in the community. A better alternative, perhaps, is to have a human do it, and to have them put some real effort into thoughtful comments, and build a profile history, prior to adding a comment that has links back into it.
Because this is manual work, you'll want to have a tool that identifies blogs and forums that don't use nofollow. While this sounds better, and doesn't have to involve your website or marketing team, the question you need to ask is: Is a blog or forum that isn't using nofollow on their links going to provide a valuable link? This can end up being as useful as getting 100 free directory links.
5. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is a link building method that has some legs. In principle, the team managing your website doesn't have to be involved in a guest posting campaign, because all you need to do is create an article and find someone willing to publish it in return for one or more links back to your site.
However, you need editorial oversight over the articles created. You don't want to let that stuff get created in a vacuum, because it will represent your brand.
Tons of crappy guest posts have been written all over the web. Don't become part of that, because people may actually read what was written, and form their impressions of your business based on that.
You could try to place such articles in crappy blogs that no one reads, but once again, where is the value of those links? Assuming you publish it in a place where the link has value, you want that article to look pretty good or better. Also, writing those articles will cost some money.
6. Other Types of Syndication
Widgets, infographics, and tables of data are a few great ways to build links and visibility. You could create a WordPress template or a hit counter with embedded links back to your site for distribution, and this clearly wouldn't need to involve your website or marketing team. However, these are pretty spammy techniques, and eventually someone will out them, and your site will get banned.
Syndication is a great way to build links, but at a minimum, you'll need involve your marketing team to make sure that what gets created is relevant and valuable to the business. Best that you create something that is closely related to your web site, and that represents your brand well. And don't forget that creating these things will cost you some money.
7. Social News Sites
This strategy uses sites like Digg and Reddit to promote news oriented type content. In principle, it involves the web site development team in a limited way, as the people running the social news campaign need to be able to get articles posted on the site. As with the other content based approaches to link building, the content represents your brand, and costs money to develop.
In addition, success in promoting these types of campaigns often depends on attracting the attention of the elite participants with the social news site. If they push your article for you, your chances of success go up much faster. You can rent this capability, but it tends to be expensive. Developing an elite account takes hundreds of thousands of hours of work, and requires ongoing work every single day to maintain that elite status.
8. Social Media Sites
It can be a particularly useful way to announce new content or a new promotion, and this will often result in links to the pages for that new content or promo. As with many of the other strategies, there are brand issues to be concerned about, as the messages you send out to this audience reflect on your organization.Summary
While there are a few relatively low effort, low cost link building strategies, such as directories and reciprocal links, the value in these is limited in scope. High value link building campaigns take a lot of effort and/or money to execute, and it will require your internal resources.
Have a small business, and don't think you have a brand to protect? Think again.
The web is an increasingly social place. Anytime you don't play nice in some part of it, there will be people who notice, and some of those people will comment on it somewhere on the web.
In addition, people today are increasingly likely to type in your organization or website name into a search engine to see if anyone else has had a prior experience with you. Negative comments will definitely affect your chances of getting the conversions you're looking for.
Join us for SES Chicago 2010, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place October 18-22! The conference offers 70+ sessions on topics including PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more.
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!