Do Not Ever Link to a Site Without Doing This First!

Links are a crucial part of attaining high search rankings, but you must be very careful about to whom you link. I'm going to help you develop a simple link strategy for your website that will help you decide which sites to link to so you're making your way up the search engine rankings and not accidentally hurling yourself backwards.

So the natural questions are:

Should I link to everyone I can find?

Should I allow everyone to link to me?

Should I get one of those "link to 2,000 site for $10" things?

The answer to all of the above is NO!

Develop A Link Strategy

We're going to do an easy-to-digest version of what a search engine optimizer would do if you were to hire one. There are many reasons for having your site professionally optimized which would take up articles in themselves. This is one of the attack strategies for determining optimum, quality links for your site.

Step 1 Where are your competitors linked?

Don't arbitrarily find random sites that you like and link to them. A little bit of research goes a long way. Start with your competitors. Type the keywords for your site into a search engine. You have them, right? This is the list of key word phrases that you want to score the number one position when someone types them in a search. Who appears in the top 10 positions? They're your direct competition that is doing something right or they wouldn't be coming up first. So let's look underneath and see how they got it to work and save you a year of work!

Go back to your search engine and type "link:www.competitorsite.com". Up will pop a long list of sites that have a direct link to your competitor. Do this for your top 10 competitors. Do you see any trends in those results? Do you see any similar sites, or perhaps directory listings? Take some notes. A spreadsheet or a few sheets of loose-leaf paper is helpful and analyze what you've uncovered. You should have a good solid list of links that are helping your competitors rank high!

Step 2 Search for similar themed sites.

Look at your keyword list again. Do these words appear more so on any of the pages you have listed so far? Narrow down your list to sites that have at least the same theme or related content to yours. Even your competition will have quite a few odd links.

If there are 300 links to a site that sells pumpkins, it's natural to have a car dealer or an airline in there too. Chances are they were so pleased with their pumpkin purchase that they added the site to their own web page. You can disregard these right away.

Take your list and look at the potential link site for similarities to your topic. If in the pumpkin market your competition links to a site that tells all about how to cook pumpkin seeds, see if you can find other sites that tell how to make pumpkin pie, make jack-o-lanterns AND cook pumpkin seeds. Make a list of these sites as potentially better ones.

Step 3 Look at the Google Page Rank

You can find a page's page rank by looking at your Google tool bar if you have it installed or by going to a site like http://www.top25web.com/pagerank.php. The actual importance of Google Page Rank to Google searches in particular seems to depend on whom you talk with. It shouldn't be the make or break, but it can help to choose between several similar sites if your unsure of which one to go with.

Page Rank is more of a relative scale of the number and quality of links to a site. The higher the rank, the higher the number. The lower, the worse. It's not unheard of for a link from a site with a Page Rank of 6 or 7 to boost up a low score by a couple numbers. This seems to, at least in Google's case, get a site indexed much faster. And the faster you're indexed, the faster you can start climbing.

Step 4 How many sites link to your selections so far and how good are they?

The more links a site has pointing to it, the more important it appears to be to the search engines. Say your looking at company ABC to put a link on their site to you. Let's first see how many sites link to company ABC. (Just as you looked at your competition). We know search engines place more weight on sites linked to you that have similar content. Now the big search databases seem to know what kind of content is on those linking pages.

Using the pumpkin model, if your potential target is teaming with 100 inbound links from gambling, girls, horses, moons, leprechauns and horoscopes then throw it in the trash pile fast, even if it has a Page Rank of 8 (very rare).

Find that site that has 10 links good, quality links to it. From a pumpkin farmer, a vegetable recipe blog, Halloween and Thanksgiving festivities, how the first settlers used the pumpkin to build houses, etc and has a Page Rank of 5. This is the better choice. Quality, related themes and content to your site and keywords outweighs quantity of random, useless links.

Step 5 Your final list

Don't think you can do this in an hour, or a day! It's quite a bit of work just to find good, potential targets. Here's a bonus? when you have your finished your first wave a link possibilities, here's great way to give it a solid foundation.

Find some relevant directories to list with. Directories of a given theme will have many, many similar links pointing to it. Directories are usually considered to have Authority. (It's not uncommon to have to pay a fee for the good ones anyway.) Try to find a directory of pumpkin farms and pumpkin recipes to build your other links upon.

Another bonus. Avoid this mistake at all costs! Do NOT link to Link Farms or Free for all sites or any sites that will give you 1000 links for $10. These are not directories, but collections of completely unrelated links that exist solely to try to boost search engines rankings. Search engines ban many of these sites. The consequences of being listed with a banned site could ban you, and then you're doomed. The only way to succeed is to build your links honestly and strategically with a plan and method.

Note: Search engines give more weight to one-way links rather than reciprocal links. i.e. links that link to your site without asking for one in return. The easiest way to get these is to buy them. This plan will work on all the different kinds of links you can get.

So now you have some potential sites to link to. In the next article learn how to phrase your link for maximum effectiveness. The sites to link with is only the first half? the quality of the words you use that make up the link's content called anchor text are just as crucial! Hint: using the same link in every web site is a very bad idea. See you soon!

John Krycek is the owner and creative director of theMouseworks.ca. Read more articles on the insights and secrets of web design and development and search engine marketing in easy, non-technical, up front English!

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