Link Building, Circa 2008

SEO isn’t as easy as it was in years past. At one time, optimization meant dropping some keywords in your meta keywords tag, using your most important key phrases a dozen or so times on a page, and exchanging links with anyone who had a Web site.

As search engines became more sophisticated, SEOs adjusted and evolved. Link generation is certainly a key component of today’s search engine results.

Generating quality links to a Web site is hard work. The search engines want it that way because they’re trying to make it more difficult for you to manipulate their results.

There are several methods for generating quality links. The most critical things you need are content and quality links.


Search engines want you to provide a high quality Web site for your visitors, and let the natural process of “popularity” take place, so that you naturally get links.

So, how can you make your commercial content linkable? Who, in their right mind, would link to overtly commercial content as a resource? Business directories might, but you’d most likely be paying for placement there.

What about the common Webmaster or blogger? They’ll only do this if your site truly enhances the experience for their visitors/readers.

How often have you received a link request that reads something like, “I have visited your Web site and found your content to be very compelling for my visitors. As such, I have added your Web page to my site and would ask that you please link back to me using “blah blah blah.”

Today’s search engines can see right through this link swap. They much prefer that you have one-way links to your Web site and that you not swap links in this manner.

Besides, by swapping links with them, you’re basically telling the search engines that you endorse their Web site and are in “partnership” with them. What if this other Web site participates in risky optimization methods? What if this Web site was banned/blacklisted and you exchanged links with them?

Today’s search engines will see this association. This is why there should be a link generation strategy instead of saying, “we need 1,000 more links.”

Developing a blog is a great way to provide non-commercial content and generate natural links. I recommended building blogs using WordPress, and structuring the categories to co-relate to your product/service offerings.

For example, my company’s SEO blog has categories set up for interactive marketing, SEM/PPC, SEO, social media, Web development, and Web design. These core service areas of our company each have their own category within the blog. Writing content under each category is certainly key.

To make our blog content compelling, we developed a “SEO tips” series, which readers have appreciated and — yes — linked to. People have also linked to our SEO RFP, which anyone can use (yes, including competitors).

Including imagery will certainly help the content to be more compelling to read. But, that’s only part of the equation. For more links and traffic, you need to promote. Distribution sources, such as StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, will get these posts in front of readers and help to generate links.

If you can’t create a blog, consider generating content on other Web sites. Perhaps you can contribute to someone else’s blog, or become an “industry expert” and write for a major publication within your industry.

SEO press releases are another great content generation tool that can also help with link generation.

With all of these types of efforts, including the keyword targeted within the anchor text of the link is key. For example, the link above (“SEO press releases”) points to a page on Search Engine Watch that is specific to “SEO press releases,” has the title tag of “Press Releases and Search Engine Optimization.” This page also uses the keywords in the H1 (Press Releases and Search Engine Optimization).

Finding Quality Links

Link quantity isn’t the end game. Link quality is the critical element for success. Many great tools can help you determine which links you should be targeting, including:

  • Linkscape. The “latest/greatest” tool out there comes from SEOMoz. The price is affordable and it provides valuable information. You can see which Web sites link to other sites. If you already know the Web sites that rank organically for keywords you’re targeting, you can plug them in and get a list of these Web sites and it also provides a ranking of “importance” of these links, so you’ll know where to spend your time/energy. Keep in mind, some of these links may have been generated because of the content of the Web site being linked to.
  • Advanced Link Manager. This tool provides great information on backlinks. You can see all of the links to a given Web site and see the instances of various anchor text used within these backlinks.
  • Traffic Marks. This tool offers a quick (and cheap) way to determine the common areas where others “top ranking” Web sites are getting their links. We paid $197 for a year’s worth of access (they promote this as being 50 percent off).

One Last Note

I’m very excited that I’ve been asked to moderate a session at the upcoming Search Engine Strategies Conference in Chicago. Some smart folks from Procter & Gamble, ConAgra Foods, Yahoo, Microsoft, and comScore will join me for the session. If you plan on attending this event, please stop by and say hello!

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