The Definitive Link Building Strategy

If you've gone through all the hard work of a link building campaign, you expect to be rewarded with some impressive links. The reality is that many people are disappointed with the trickle of links and the trickle of traffic that their efforts produce.

If that sounds familiar to you, then you need to step back a bit and re-access your linking strategy. Are you really giving enough thought to your strategy? One of the most popular topics from the customer survey last issue was "The definitive linking strategy". So here goes.

First of all, link building is not about search engine optimization, it's not about boosting your Google PageRank, it's not about publishing a link directory and it's not about swapping links with as many other websites as possible.

So what is link building about and where should you put your efforts for maximum return?

Strategic link building is about establishing your competitive position in the online marketplace that already exists, albeit informally around your industry sector.

How do you define the online marketplace?

When potential customers look for an answer to their problem, they'll do a search on Google, they'll scan directories, read articles and product reviews, lurk on discussion groups and evaluate competitors.

The sites that your potential customers use to do this make up the online marketplace around your industry. These are the sites you need to be on and your linking strategy must get you there.

An effective link building strategy is not, "I'm looking for 50 links from websites with a minimum PR of 5" but rather, "I want 50 links from the most important information websites that my customers and potential customers regularly use."

1. Understand your marketplace

What market sectors do you really service? How do these different sectors rank in terms of importance to your business?

You may think you're selling to "the technology market" and you may look for relevant technology portals like Techweb.com : but what significant niches exist within that market. Suppose education is an important sector for your technology business, then you'd want to look for an education portal that concentrates on technology - for example, Syllabus.com.

Such niche websites can be ignored by competitors yet can produce great business for the savvy link builder.

In link building for clients I'll typically look for between 3-6 significant niches to generate links from. For those, I'll build a minimum target list of 250 important sites. I then concentrate my efforts on these top 250 sites.

2. Develop good content

There is no substitute for good content. It's content that customers look for, content that gets you up the search engine rankings and content that encourages others sites to link to yours.

But don't publish content just for the sake of having something for search engines to index. Every piece of content on your site should be there for a purpose - it must support your sales proposition and take your customers a little further along the sales cycle.

3. Make sure your content is well written

You copy needs to be well written and needs to be accessible to search engines. That means being aware of the words that people will use looking for your products and incorporating those words into your titles and descriptions, headings and subheadings, and of course in your linking text.

If you haven't got the time or ability to write well, then get someone who can - they will be worth their weight in gold! You can find good quality freelance writers at Guru.com or in the UK, Holdthefrontpage.co.uk.

4. Start your link building campaign by looking at media sites.

Media sites have large audiences of people looking for information - get coverage and a link to your site and not only will you get a significant spike in traffic to your site but you'll also get a percentage of that audience linking to you because the media site did. Links attract links.

So once you've identified your market sectors, and collated your list of 250 link targets, separate the high profile portals or information sites from the rest of the list and start with them. That's right - at the top! See if any of the portals have a 'submit an article' or 'write for us' page. If they do, make sure you use it - it's an easy and valuable way to get coverage and links for your business.

For media sites whether they're traditional or purely online, look for reporter bylines and look for contact details. Many sites will publish guidelines on how to 'submit a release'.

5. Issuing online press releases

Approaching media sites above is very much a one- to-one approach where personal contact is essential. Issuing online press releases is more of a one-to- many approach.

You submit your release to a newswire and they distribute your news to thousands of journalists and editors on their database. Such releases can be picked up and covered by both national and local media and are certainly worth doing - but not as a substitute for the one-to-one approach described above - certainly superior. Try Prweb.com or in the UK, Sourcewire.com.

6. Move on to non-media sites

Now move on to the non-media sites left from your 'top 250'. Any editorial coverage or links that you've already gained will help your cause. Other sites will be more likely to link to you if you have been mentioned by an editorial site they respect.

Many of these sites may give you one way links, others will ask for a reciprocal link. Because you're asking only top sites, then it makes sense to agree.

But instead of burying a link to them in some remote links directory, include them in your content, write a short article little about them, even recommend them if they have something useful to offer your visitors.

7. Monitor and evaluate

At the start of this article, I said that link building was not about the number of links you could get. Likewise monitoring and evaluating is not simply a matter of counting how many links you manage to get. What is really worth measuring is the benefit those links bring your business.

So as a minimum you should measure:

* How much increased traffic comes from links

* Which links bring the most traffic

* How much does your search engine traffic

* How much your sales increase as a result

And finally a quotation from Sun Tzu [Wu] (BC 535 - 228) courtesy of http://www.quotesandsayings.com,

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Ken McGaffin is author of The Linking Matters Report and publishes a regular newsletter on linking strategy. He provides training and consultancy in link building and online marketing.

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