Article: 15 Essential Strategies for Building & Structuring
Inbound Links »
15 Essential Strategies for Building
& Structuring Inbound Links
One of the trickiest aspects of
search engine optimization is the process of building high
quality incoming links. And, as you've undoubtedly heard,
it's also the single most important thing you can do to improve
your rankings. The more inbound links a page has, the more
popular it is and search engines like popular
The challenge for most sites is to accumulate
enough incoming links to appear relevant to the engines without
tripping any one of the many spam filters and penalties that
are applied to sites that cheat. So, the secret to
getting it right is to...
take the search
engine's point of view
when building your incoming link structure.
The key point to
remember is that search engines like natural link structurethey
hate artificial link structure. That's why it's our
1. Natural vs. Artificial Links
vs. Artificial Link Structure
inbound anchor text
inbound link count
site links-out to only
links are rarely reciprocal
inbound anchor text
inbound link count
site links-out to link
farms or web rings
high percentage of
links are reciprocal
Natural links vary in anchor text while
artificial links tend to be identical. Natural links increase
gradually as referral sites add links one by one
over time; artificial links can sprout in great numbers
all of a sudden.
Sites designed around natural links
don't usually swap links, so their outgoing links tend to
point to pages that are known by the engine to be in good
standing. Oftentimes these pages have been indexed for many
years and may even be white listed a term that
identifies trusted sites not to be penalized. Sites
designed around artificial links will often participate
in link swapping and have outgoing links that point to pages
that resemble link farms, web rings, or isolated
nodes (i.e. page groups linking to each other but lacking
inbound links from outside trusted sites).
Natural links tend not to be
reciprocal. Artificial links, however, rely heavily on link
exchange tactics, suggesting that the sole purpose of the
link is reciprocity having little or nothing to
do with adding value for the site visitor by way of providing
Keeping these facts in mind, one should
strive to build the most natural-looking incoming-link structure
possible. From a search engine's point of view (SEPOV),
the best kind of links are unrequested links. The
engines are looking to bestow high rankings on only
those pages that people voluntarily link to due to
great content not because some webmaster has spent a lot
of time swapping links. Read on for tips and tricks on how
to build the best incoming-link structure and boost your
2. Choose Your Links Wisely
While it's true that almost any link
from anyone will add something of value to your page
popularity, it's best to get links from authoritative
pages. Such pages are considered important and are
usually identified as such by Google within their PageRank
scoring system. The higher the PageRank, the better the link. Directory examples would
include sites like Yahoo
and DMOZ. Others like PBS.org, National Geographic, CNN,
or ZDnet would be exceptional authoritative site links regardless
of topic since each has been assigned a PageRank of 9 or better on Google's ten-point scale.
3. Get Links from Pages that Match
Your next best option is to acquire
links from pages that are trusted. Trusted pages
are sites that have been indexed for a while and have already
been assigned a Google PageRank usually PR=5 or better. It helps even more
if these pages are on-topic i.e. they match the
topic of your page. Links from on-topic trusted pages
can give you a significant boost in rankings. If you do
gather links from less than PR=5, then the on-topic factor
becomes even more important.
4. The Number Of Links On The Referring
Another point to remember is the
fewer the number of links on the referring page, the better.
Ideally, the referring page would have only one link and
it would be to your page. Of course, that's rarely practical.
But, having your link on a page with 100 other links is
almost pointless because the value of your link will be
divided by the number of links on the page a condition
we call link dilution.
While easier said than done, the ideal
would be to get your incoming links from popular, on-topic
pages that have few outgoing links within trusted sites
scoring PR=6 or better. Now, short of the ideal, bear in
mind that every link you can get is likely to help
you somewhat and if you can control how those links appear
(in terms of incoming URL-format and anchor text), you'll
be in even better shape.
5. Don't Get Involved with Run-of-the-Site
Avoid run-of-the-site links.
These are links where every page of a site links to your
homepage. When you have, say, 1000 incoming links all originating
from subpages within the same site, it appears to Google
that your link count is artificially inflated.
6. Maintain Consistency In The Format
Of Your Incoming Link URL's
Question: Are you aware that...
...are all technically SIX different
URLs even though each will land the site visitor on the
That's right. And, if those who link
to you use six different URL formats to point visitors to
your "home" page then your PageRank is being diluted by a factor of six not
You simply must do everything in your
power to standardize your incoming URL-format in order to
consolidate your PageRank. Doing so will produce the maximum relevancy-boost
possible from your incoming links.
7. Get Your Keywords Into Your Anchor
It's very important that you get your
keywords into the text of the link (anchor text)
that other sites are using to point visitors your way. True,
this may be difficult with directories unless the name of
your company includes your keywords. Regardless, the boost
in keyword relevancy is significant enough that it's worthwhile
to contact everyone who is linking to you with a specific
request regarding the text being used in your link.
If you happen to be selling model
airplanes, then anchor text such as airplane
models or model airplanes will be infinitely more valuable to your
relevance efforts than anchor text simply saying click
here. From an SEPOV, the former states
the theme of your page while the later gives the
engine no clue whatsoever what your page is about.
A word of caution: it will look
more natural from an SEPOV if the text links that
are pointing at your site are not identical.
Strive to maintain slight variations as would occur if the
anchor text were being generated independently by the sites
that are maintaining them. Of course, the nature of your
business and the name of your company might dictate the
range of options available to you. However, do everything
in your power to insure that the text being used
to point visitors and engines to your site looks natural
from an SEPOV.
This strategy can make a HUGE difference.
Generally speaking, from an SEPOV, it's the anchor text
that determines the theme (topic) of your webpage.
8. Go for Deep Links
Make sure that some of your links are
deep links i.e., links to sub-pages within your
site and other than your homepage.
9. Beware the nofollow Tag
See to it that your incoming links from
off-site pages do not include the rel="nofollow"
attribute within the source code of the link; nofollow renders
the link useless to your ranking efforts because Google
doesn't credit your page for having that incoming link.
10. The Best Place To Start
Rather than swapping links (which
should always be your very last strategy), consider some
of your alternative options for acquiring incoming links.
Probably the best place to start is by submitting your site
to web directories. Here's a list of links to the most important
general-topic web directories:
Some of them are free and some charge a fee which, when considering
the value of your time, might be worth it to get a new site's
foot in the link-popularity door. Yahoo, LookSmart, and JoeAnt
are popular directory sites that fit this description of directory
sites that charge but may very well be worth the fee
in exchange for the trusted inbound link.
To add your site, look around on the
main page of each of these directories for a link that says
something like Add URL, Suggest URL, Add Your Site, or Suggest
a Site. Follow that link to get details about exactly how
to add your site to their directory.
By the way, to avoid unnecessary delays
in getting listed, be sure to submit your site to the proper
category within each directory. Submitting your site to
the wrong category can result in a ridiculously long delay
or simply not getting listed at all. Remember that the directory
editors receive an enormous number of site submissions.
So, save yourself some grief by carefully considering exactly
which category your site belongs in before submitting.
We highly recommend reading the Zeal
Style Guidelines, which provides detailed information
about submitting your site to directories http://www.zeal.com/guidelines/style/
You should also review the DMOZ Submit FAQ at: http://dmoz.org/help/submit.html
Starting out, it's time and cost effective
to focus on getting into the major directories listed above.
Each one that links to you substantiates your site in the
eyes of the engines. You get an incoming link from a trusted
site and another new source of targeted traffic. However,
you need to know that after you get into a few of the major
directories the relevancy boost from being listed in general
directories drops off pretty fast.
At this point you should start tapping
into the power of getting on-topic links. Again, directories
are the quickest and easiest way to accomplish this task.
For a list of topic-specific directories, go to: http://www.isedb.com/html/Web_Directories/Specialty_Directories/
By the way, when getting listed in topic-specific
directories, be sure they provide a direct, static link
to your site. In other words, you do not want a dynamic
link one that is processed or created on-the-fly by some
software the directory has running on their server. This
is not a concern with the major directories as they all
tend to use static links. However, many smaller directories
like to create their links dynamically. Although this will
add to your traffic count, it does nothing to help your
search engine ranking efforts. That's because engines fail
to see the connection between the dynamic link and your
site's actual URL.
11. Link Outside The Box
Figuring out where to get your
incoming links from is like solving a puzzle. It takes a
little creativity coupled with following formulas and patterns.
Ask yourself, who else has a site that might benefit
from linking to me?
Suppliers you do business with or professional
organizations you're involved in might be willing to list
you on their referrals page. Legal advisors, accountants,
or financiers you do business with might also like to list
you as a client or maybe showcase your business in their
online portfolio. Your employees may have blogs or personal
homepages that could link to you, and so forth.
Here are a few more ideas to help you
spark that creativity...
||Many online business
owners write articles about topics related to their
sites. Then they offer to let other sites use them
as content in exchange for a link back to the author's
site. You're probably an expert in the business you're
in and therefore an authority on certain subjects
that may lend themselves to interesting reading that
becomes worthwhile information for a basket of ancillary
products and services.
||"Swap" links with
a partner company that you closely do business with
- or whose services compliment your own. Look for
business partnerships with other websites that are
useful to your own customers and whose customers are
useful to you. Look for compatible (but not competing)
businesses, then form a partnership where you link
to each other actively through mutual promotion. Not
only can this bring in new traffic and boost your
PageRank, but you may also develop important business
relationships this way.
||Press releases are
an excellent way to gain relevant links to your company's
site. Again, be creative chances are that there's
a number of reasons (product launches, staff additions,
promotions, partnerships, new services, etc.) you
can find to release news about your company
to the press. Press releases are quickly picked up
by the engines and the links contained within them
are typically trusted. They also tend to remain on
the web for a good long time.
way to promote your own site is to submit testimonials,
along with a link to your site, about products you
are really enthusiastic about. If the testimonial
is well-written, the company will often post it on
||One of the more under-utilized
"secrets" for gaining incoming links is to participate
in forums that allow a text link to your site within
your forum signature. Look for subjects in which you
are knowledgeable and begin posting asking
and answering questions. Be sure to make legitimate
contributions and you'll find that your participation
will be a welcomed addition in spite of the plug for
the most potentially productive tips Find
out who's linking to your competitors and convince
them to link to you instead. Go to Yahoo and enter:
in the Yahoo search box and you'll learn who you should
Bear in mind
that whenever you're successful in getting someone
to switch, you gain twice. Once
for gaining a new link, twice for reducing
the incoming link count of your competitor.
If the link is an especially
good one (authoritative site in good standing with
great incoming links, few outbound links, and high
PageRank), then pay them if you have
to. Offer them a better deal than the one they have
(if any). Do whatever it takes to get those quality
links! Write it off under the cost of advertising.
By using your imagination and dovetailing
the nuances of your own business into the mix, you'll no
doubt discover a plethora of opportunities for gaining legitimate
12. The "Problem" With Reciprocal Links
When all else fails, you may begin considering
reciprocal links. We don't like this strategy all that much
because search engines are continuously getting more sophisticated
about detecting artificial linking patterns. Unfortunately,
one of the most artificial linking patterns is reciprocal
links, since natural link patterns are not typically reciprocal.
If Yahoo lists a site in their directory, that site doesn't
routinely link back to Yahoo. Of course there are plenty
of exceptions, but, regardless, the engines are looking
for pages that rank well due to popularity based on content
and they want to avoid sites where it appears the webmaster
has spent a lot of time swapping links.
So, look at things from the search engine's
point of view. If CNN runs an article about how great your
company is and your company's site links back to the CNN
article, does that look normal from the SEPOV? ...sure it
does. Besides, CNN is an authoritative site that is white
listed. They can do no wrong in the eyes of the engine
and the link exchange looks like a natural link structure
from the SEPOV. And, your site's page can expect a substantial
boost in ranking.
On the other hand, if your site (with
it's PR=4 or 5) is linked by Joe Blow's homepage with a
PR=1, 2, or 3 and you link back to Joe's page, you shouldn't
expect much, if any, boost in your rankings. In fact, it's
entirely possible the two links are discounting each other
based on an assumed link exchange arrangement that looks
contrived because neither page is "authoritative" from the
Now, if you had, say 50 similar link
arrangements, and the links were on-topic, and
none of the pages involved had tripped the spam filters,
then your page should get a reasonable boost in rankings.
Still, you'd fair better simply by getting a single killer
link from an authoritative site like CNN, Yahoo Directory,
DMOZ, ZDNet, and so forth.
13. Avoid "Link Farms" & the Like
Focus your efforts on collecting all
the links you can from authoritative sites. Most
importantly, be very careful about who you link back
to because you might just be diminishing any benefit that
would otherwise be derived from your incoming link. And,
in terms of building page relevancy, there is rarely, if
ever, any benefit to linking back to sites that are insignificant,
untrusted, or suspected of behaving badly in terms of SE
protocol. It can even hurt you.
14. Be Careful Who You Link Back To!
Gaining links from off-topic and perhaps
not-trusted sites may not be your first choice, but,
reportedly, it won't exactly hurt your rankings
they might even help a little. However, beware of getting
yourself into a link exchange relationship with these sites
and remember that you should not link back to them.
Currently, the rule is that incoming links won't
hurt you but outgoing links to sites that behave badly,
In other words, if you're left with
only the option to swap links, be sure you do so
carefully because linking to a site that has been
penalized for policy infractions (i.e. search engine spam)
can cause your site to be penalized as well.
To help you avoid such a scenario, here are four cautionary
steps you should take before linking to another site:
- Search for their domain name
on Google and Yahoo. If they're not listed on one or either
of the engines, that's a bad sign. Linking to them could
get your site penalized and possibly banned. Besides,
even if they aren't a so-called "bad" site, linking to
a site that the engines don't know about won't help you
in the rankings anyway.
However, if they are listed
you can proceed to step two.
- Determine who is already
linking to them. The more incoming links they have, the
better. And, the more important the sites that
are linking to them, the better. Their PageRank score is one indicator of how important Google
thinks the site is.
- Beware of linking to sites
or pages with a PR=0 (zero). This could mean that
they've been penalized by Google. Granted, this test may
not apply to very new sites, but if a site has been around
for a while and lacks any PageRank, then you should be wary of linking to it.
- Avoid linking to sites with controversial
topics. Good examples of such sites would include gambling,
adult, pharmacy, or loan/debt sites (unless you happen
to be in one of these industries and the topic matches
the content of your page).
- You probably won't be hurt by who
links to you.
- However, you can definitely be hurt
by who you link to.
15. Train Your Eye On The Primary Goal
Of course, our biggest assumption is
that you're optimizing your site with profits in
mind. That being the case, you'll want to always focus your
efforts on strategies and relationships that will generate
the most revenue relative to effort. Therefore, look
first for link relationships that will produce traffic that
fits the profile of your customer market.
While it's true that incoming links
from just about any site provides a slight boost
to your page popularity (leading to better search engine
ranking), such links all-too-often fail to produce targeted
traffic which is what you really should be looking
for. This is one of the many reasons a link from a topic-related
site is immeasurably better than a link from an off-topic
We've covered a lot of ground so let's
review where we've been:
- Focus on creating a natural incoming
link structure that builds steadily but gradually over time.
- Focus on getting links from authoritative
sites with high PageRank. If they also happen to be on-topic, then
all the better.
- It's ok to get links from less
important sites but remember: the lower the PageRank of a referring page, the more you'll want
it to match your topic.
- Strive to get your inbound links
placed on pages with few outbound links...the fewer the
- Avoid run-of-the-site
links. These are links where every page of a site links
to your homepage. When you have, say, 1000 incoming links
all originating from subpages within the same site, it appears
to Google that your link count is artificially inflated.
- See to it that the URL format
of your referring links are consistently identical.
- Get your keywords into the anchor
text of your incoming links as much as possible. However,
avoid identical incoming link anchor text.
- Make sure that some of your links
are deep links i.e., links to sub-pages within
your site and other than your homepage.
- See to it that your incoming
links from off-site pages do not include the
rel="nofollow" attribute within the source code of the link;
nofollow renders the link useless to your ranking efforts
because Google doesn't credit your page for having that
- When starting out, focus on the
major directories as a source of important links then shift
to the topic-specific directories to solidify the theme
relevance of your site.
- Work your trade directories,
press releases, suppliers, customers, and testimonials as
an outside the box approach to building a gradual,
solid, lasting, and natural incoming link structure.
- Don't waste a lot of time getting
reciprocal links. Their value is diminishing in the current
SE environment. We see a time coming when the value of reciprocal
links between non-authoritative sites will be discounted
or entirely cancelled out.
- Avoid reciprocal links with pages
that are designed solely for exchanging links.
- Avoid linking back to sites that
are unlisted by Google or Yahoo. Seriously avoid linking
to link farms, web rings or any site that exhibits behavior
contrary to a search engine's recommended protocol. Avoid
linking to controversial sites unless they perfectly match
the topic of your page.
- Always remember that profits are your
goal. More links does not always add more customers. Avoid
wasting energy on projects that may increase link counts
but add little or nothing to gain customers that generate
There you have the top 15 essential strategies
for building and structuring your inbound links. Of course,
building such a natural incoming link structure takes time.
That's precisely why the engines tend to highly rank the sites
that conform to this pattern. Over time, experience has taught
us that overnight success strategies are fickle while
the solid content and slow but steady link building
approach remains the cornerstone for succeeding long
Follow these guidelines and sooner or
later you'll be looking like a top ranking SEO genius.
Stephen Mahaney - President
Planet Ocean Communications
"This article is courtesy of Planet
Ocean Communications, the publisher of an award-winning
Search Engine Optimization Book, as well as a monthly report
on the latest search engine marketing techniques.