If you haven't noticed, it's an election year, and all of the ceremony and pomp has me thinking about the power of endorsements. The right connections can provide the bump you need, and the wrong connections can prove calamitous. In the words of Lt. Theo Kojak, "Who loves you, baby?"
This is true of Web sites and linking as well. Each link you receive is an endorsement of your site and can catapult you up the rankings or throw you out with the spammers. It's your job to attract -- and, dare I say, vet -- the right type of link endorsements.
Formational Links: Reaching Your Core Constituents
First, let's target your base. These are formational links, and they're your core audience -- your party's registrants if you will. If you're looking to establish a new Web site, these are the connections you turn to first to get the ball rolling.
Formational links include links from directories and relevant niche links, among others. Some argue that these links aren't vital, or that they may influence a search engine's initial view of a site. While having spammy or irrelevant links is never a good idea, relevant formational links can help you get a site in the search index, provided they're part of natural and diverse link mix (links of all different types and categories).
Formational links are only meant to build traction. You should always have your eye on the bigger and better linking opportunities, but know that you may have to play a little politics to get the job done.
Brokered Links: Trading on Your Political Capital
Now you must head to the negotiation table. Brokered links secured through one-on-one agreements can often produce some pretty significant linking relationships.
Brokered links often come about as a result of direct analysis of opportunities found through backlink research, which often makes them hyper-relevant. They can involve a good deal of individual negotiation and must be addressed on a site-by-site basis, which may be time consuming.
Many brokered link opportunities are bartered arrangements between sites that, if done correctly, can elevate your site out of obscurity.
Buying Links: Pork Barrel Politics
As with dirty politics, there is a dark side to link brokering, which comes in the form of payoffs and shady backroom deals. If you become too comfortable with link brokered links, you may be swayed to the controversial practice of link buying.
Several services offer bulk link placement as a method to increase the number of search-friendly backlinks for specific keywords. Google penalizes for explicit link buys intended to pass PageRank, and the risk associated with this tactic is significant. If you're thinking about buying links for SEO purposes, do so sparingly and slowly. Link buys may boost search visibility in the short-term but will require the use of other tactics to sustain ranking.
So ask yourself if it's worth risking your own "Linkgate."
Community Links: Grassroots Movements
This election season's "money bombs" and savvy Web fundraising techniques have shown us all the value of galvanizing an online community. Your most enthusiastic supporters are willing to spread your message and help build your base.
Community links reflect much of the Web 2.0 landscape, referring to blogs, social media, and user-generated media. These links may be gained by engaging community participants on their terms through link bait, relevant content, and social opportunity.
These links can snowball, if done correctly, generating a natural stream of backlinks. Tactics such as link baiting may result in a traffic spike that raises the search visibility of a page, but direct community involvement can foster long-term benefits.
Authoritative Links: Winning Over the Establishment
Whether you want to top the polls in an election, or in the search results, you'll need to win over the big boys, the trusted elder statesmen. In the SERPs, these connections are authoritative links, or high-value inbound links from popular sites with a high PageRank.
Authoritative sites include trusted news sites, .edu pages, and other sites regarded highly by search engines. They transfer the most link popularity per link and should be the main focus of your link campaign.
A site should examine its online and offline relationships to develop any high-quality linking opportunities. Though the most likely to remain active, the one downside of authoritative links is that they commonly target to the domain of a site and not individual pages. However, shrewd planning and smart internal linking can usually balance out this issue.
Naturally Generated Links: The Growth of the Party
In any campaign, you need to keep an eye to the future. Link campaigns need to secure links now and ensure they keep coming in later. To do so, you need to build a foundation conducive to new links. This will help net you naturally generated links -- links secured without direct pursuit.
These links can be news articles referring to the site, scrapers of quality "nofollow" sites such as Wikipedia, links from press release circulation and links from sites monitoring RSS feeds. Naturally generated links are the end goal of a link development campaign, as they reflect continued link stability, diversification and freshness. A healthy influx of natural links will help keep a Web site competitive indefinitely.
The goal of link development is to increase the quantity and quality of a client's backlinks. It's great to have the support of a mayor's aide, but backing from the governor may push you over the top.
We must also step away from the quantity fallacy of link building. It's better to be connected to one trusted advocate than to a million suspicious grifters. In both linking and political campaigns, one must constantly strive to remain above scandal and beyond reproach.