Link building is one of the most vital SEO tasks which exist – you’ll hear and read about this all over the net and SEO practitioner’s will tell you the same thing again and again. Without a successful link building program in place, you are not going to gain high search engine rankings, or the profitable traffic which will come pouring through the virtual doors to your website.

What is a Link?

When you click on a hyperlink to navigate from the search engine to the website, you are following a link. You will find links all over the web because this is how surfers navigate around the web; the World Wide Web is simply linked pages stored on the internet and without links, it wouldn’t work.

Examples of Links

When SEO practitioners talk about link building they will be looking to generate links to your site in a very specific way which we shall deal with in a moment, however, so you know what we are talking about when we say, “link”, here are a few examples:

  • A web site directly links to your website;
  • A user on Facebook posts on their profile page a link to one of your website pages;
  • Someone posts a comment on a blog which includes a link to your website;
  • Someone emails a friend with a link to your website;
  • A blogger includes a link to your website in their blogroll; or
  • An article is posted on a directory which includes a link to your site.

All of these are examples of links, however before you go mad posting links everywhere and spamming comment boards, blogs and forums, there is more to link building than simply posting them.

The Importance of Link Building

Link building is important because the search engines use the number of links to your site as a sign of popularity, authority and trust. If someone links to you this demonstrates that they first of all have a degree of trust in you. Secondly, that there is some value to them in providing their own users a link to your website – you have a degree of perceived authority on whatever the subject matter is. It stands to reason that the more people who link to you then the more popular you are.

This is equally apparent for human users too!

The more links you have, the greater the degree of trust and authority you are deemed to have by the search engines, and that helps you rank more highly.

You can imagine a link as being a vote, and “Yes!” this is a popularity contest! The more links you have, the greater your popularity is perceived to be. Search engines handle popularity in a blunt way; if you are popular, the search engines reason that even more people will like your website, so they will promote you to a higher rank to get even more exposure.

Links also generate a means for users to find you outside of the search engines. The more links you have, the greater the chance of attracting more traffic, so links are not simply about appealing to search engines and their cold algorithm’s because they generate visitors as well.

Quality Counts

The more links you have the higher you will rank, right?

Wrong!

Quality plays a major part of the link selection process because it is important you ensure links which are relevant, congruent with your own business goals, provide real value to the user and come from a variety of sources.

If you are selling children’s clothing and merchandise, do you really want links from a porn website?

What business value is there in a link to your website selling bridal attire from a divorce lawyer’s website?

What a good SEO practitioner will look for when building a link portfolio are sites which are relevant to your industry. For instance, you are a dentist so links from sites such as family doctors are very valuable for referral purposes, or a realtor linking to a mortgage broker, a car dealer linking to a repair and service center or even another website in the exact same line as your business, but not competing inside the same geographical territory.

You are looking for synergy between the two websites.

Your SEO practitioner will also be looking to establish links to your website from a variety of sources. This will help achieve a balance in the link portfolio which will look natural to search engines and will also ensure that your website is not over reliant on one source for links, because you can be de-linked.

Link Building & Keyword Research

Let’s take an example – a car dealer – and they have a link to their website from a car review website posted at the bottom of an article:

John Smith is general manager of XYZ Car Dealers in Cincinnati www.xyzcars.com

There’s a link alright and we get value from this, but for searchers looking to find “Car Dealers Cincinnati”, we would get much more value if the link was constructed like this:

John Smith is general manager of XYZ Car Dealers in Cincinnati

The keywords here would be “Car”, “Dealers” and “Cincinnati” and these are included in the anchor text (the text which is highlighted as a link), so search engines will say this a more relevant and valuable link than simply using the website address alone.

Link building involves taking a very good look at the keywords being used and which keywords are more valuable for SEO purposes. Wherever possible, the links will use anchor text which incorporates these keywords and particular attention should be given using long-tail keywords which we have covered in an earlier SEO post.

The Three Don’ts of Link Building

First of all, using spamming techniques to build links will be discovered by Google and Bing (who are now pretty good at uncovering efforts to manipulate the algorithms) and you can expect a heavy penalty, or even removal from the rankings.

Secondly, never pay for links to your website because this will also get you penalized and/or banned from rankings. There is a great debate within the SEO and web industry on this, but right or wrong, pay for links and you risk your website’s commercial success.

Thirdly, link farms are established by so-called, “Black Hat” SEO practitioners and their purpose is simple – to provide links to their customer’s websites. The websites within the link farm do not really do anything else, however this technique is quickly discovered by search engines and the value of the links is removed and penalties applied to those who have links coming from these sources. Avoid link farms at all costs.

Takeaway

This is not an exhaustive overview of link building because we have not touched on things such as link profiles or the use of “nofollow” and “dofollow” links.

Nevertheless, the most important takeaway is that link building takes time and relies on good SEO practices to deliver results – promises of overnight top ranking results are simply untrue plus the Black Hat techniques will destroy the long term viability of the website.

Links must be relevant and make good use of keywords for creating them.

Links are a sign of popularity and are a vote of confidence from web users, and as such the search engines give a lot of value to them, but they must be relevant and add deliver true user benefit.

Engaging in spamming or Black Hat techniques will get you penalized and probably dropped from search engine rankings.