I was recently in a client's office where people took a sincere interest in links. This is interesting in itself because typically most people simply nod in agreement when I tell them they need more links. This client stopped me and said, "I understand how to act on everything else you've told me to do so far. But I don't know exactly what to do when it comes to starting a link building process."
What, exactly, is link building? This is my definition of link building: The integration of useful elements into a whole Web site to allow for the accretion of links through natural means.
In other words, building links is as much about having something to link to as it is about getting the link. Without one, you cannot have the other. Integration and accretion are the two elements of link building.The Element of Integration
Let's look at these two elements in closer detail. Integration is defined as: The process of incorporating parts, components, elements into a larger defined unit, set, or whole. A site that does not have the integral, or built-in components desired by its audience or its admirers (other site owners who potentially might link to it) cannot, by definition, engage in a successful link building campaign. This means that a site owner who builds his site solely from his singular perspective and does not ask and involve his audience within the process of development will, by default, build failure directly in the design.
A site with full integration addresses the needs of all audience members. This includes customers, employees, prospects, industry associations, and competitors. Each of these sets of people must be understood and addressed. By doing this, you will be creating a Web site that has a value and meaning to the widest set of users. You, therefore, will give yourself a significantly higher likelihood of attracting links to your Web site. By leaving any of these users out, you are isolating entire segments of your online audience. This is incredibly limiting, considering that the complete integration of your audience members is still just a small percentage of the entire online population.The Element of Accretion
The other element of link building is accretion. Accretion is defined as: An increase by natural growth or addition. Without integration, accretion is impossible. This is why we see Web site owners delving into unnatural link building means. Without an integral site that addresses the needs of all audience members, buying links and engaging in link farms becomes the only option. Accretion simply cannot happen without integration.
Accretion manifests itself in two forms. The first form is through viral awareness. One audience member recommends your site to a Web user who then becomes a part of your audience. Standard mechanisms for this might be "send to a friend" e-mail components or icons for social recommendation sites like Digg and Stumbleupon. Links to such mechanisms simply should be standard architecture on today's Web sites. Not including these elements makes this viral recommendation strategy much more difficult for your audience, consequently causing an architectural failure within accretion.
The other form of accretion is standard public relations. You must make people aware of your integral Web site and ask that they link to it. In fact, letting people know about the integration you have created on your Web site without then asking them for the link is much less effective.Asking for the Link
I like this metaphor: The honeybee moves pollen from one flower to another much more effectively than the wind. Hoping for the link is much less effective than asking for it. Asking for the link, incidentally, does not violate the organic growth definition of accretion as long as other Web site owners are not given artificial incentives for the link, such as a quid pro quo or compensation.
By understanding the definition of link building, you can create a link-building campaign that is truly effective. Integration and accretion make up the law of link building. You cannot have one without the other. Together, you are assured a winning link-building campaign.