SEO 101: Establishing and Evolving an Effective Link Strategy

Optimizing your website for the search engines involves many important aspects including keyword development, search engine registration, and SEO logging. This Press post scopes yet another critical weapon in the SEO wars: establishing and evolving an effective link campaign.

Within your SEO log, you should devote an entire section to the logging of all link-related activity associated with optimizing your site for the internet. For example, you may wish to subcategorize your link campaign according to whether the links are elsewhere, pointing to your site (referring/incoming links), or present within your site, pointing to other sites (external/outgoing links). Users may also benefit from tracking activity for internal links, which point to other locations within the same domain.

We will begin our article by focusing on incoming and outgoing link strategies, proceed with a few tips for internal links, and then conclude with some ideas for getting links.

Outgoing Link Strategy

First of all, the structure and content of every one of your site’s outgoing links is critical to search engine success. It is essential to employ descriptive, keyword-rich links while utterly avoiding anything even remotely similar to "click here". For example, a good replacement for a typical "click here" link would be a very descriptive link containing several primary keywords and as many secondary and tertiary keywords as is reasonably possible. More specifically, if you were linking to a page discussing the subtleties of trimming ingrown toenails, a decent link might look similar to the following:

<a href="http://breakthespell.com/trimminz.html" 
   title="Ingrown toenail trimming, treating ingrown toenails">
   Ingrown toenail trimming, treating ingrown toenails
</a>

Notice the optimized presence of the title attribute, which is generally a reiteration of the link itself. The inclusion of the title attribute is an important element of any well-structured, optimized link. Further, notice the composition of the link, which begins with two primary keywords (ingrown, toenail), contains a secondary and tertiary keywords (trimming, treating), and terminates with a reiterated primary keyword (toenail). This optimal link format applies to image links as well, which should employ descriptive, optimized alt attributes. In fact, the actual naming of your site’s most prominent images as single or hyphenated keywords will also increase the overall optimization of your site.

Moving right along, it is important to consider the placement and population of your site’s external links. Search engines pay special attention to links located in paragraph text (within <p> tags), headings (within <h1>, <h2>, <h3> … tags), and emphasized text (within <strong>, <em> tags). Reportedly, a few key links sprinkled throughout a nice body of paragraph text also carry quite a bit of weight. However, keep in mind that there is fine line between external links helping and hurting the SEO of your site. Too many links "stuffed" into any page will most likely decrease its search engine ranking.

It is also a good idea to avoid pages that consist of many external links. Such pages have been associated with attempts to deceive the search engines, which have responded by discounting the value of such pages. However, "My Favorite Links" pages remain popular, as do company affiliate link pages and "link exchange" pages. So, if your site requires such a page, there are several methods for lessening its impact on the overall optimization of your site. First of all, try to balance the number of outgoing links with an equivalent number of internal links. That is, for every one or two external links, try to include at least one link to a location elsewhere within the site itself. Next, limit the number of internal links that point to the "Links Page". This will help decrease any negative SEO effect that the links page will have on the rest of your site. Finally, include the "rel="nofollow"" attribute within all external links as follows:

<a href="http://external-example.com/" title="External Link" rel="nofollow">External Link</a>

By including this (X)HTML attribute within your external links, you are effectively instructing the search engines to ignore the link. When used properly, this method may help alleviate any negative SEO consequences that an entire page full of links may otherwise have imposed on the entire site. But beware! Not everyone is crazy about the implementation and use of the "nofollow" trick. For more information, check out this fine post by yours truly, and remember that I am mentioning nofollow here for the sake of completeness and journalistic integrity ;)

Finally, I should remind you that link maintenance is as important as it is painstaking. Search engines despise "dead" links, and therefore any successful website needs to ensure that all links are valid and in proper working order. If you are running a blog, and frequently include many links within your posts, digging through your entire archive to check every link may seem like a real nightmare. Fortunately, there are now many link-checking tools that help by automating the process of checking links. My favorite online tool for checking a page of links is the W3C’s fabulous Link Checker. For offline digging, or for checking entire websites, check out some of these popular tools, or search the web for "link checking software" and find your own!

Incoming Link Strategy

The first thing to realize when attempting to optimize incoming links (in most cases) is that you are relying on other people to provide descriptive, well-formed, and keyword-rich links to your site. Often, this is not an easy task. Nonetheless, it is vital to influence the link provider to produce the best link possible. This may involve a simple email, which may highlight requested link elements (such as a title attribute), link placement (within a paragraph of text), as well as any other essential information that would improve the overall quality of the link. Ultimately, however, you can only do so much, as it is ultimately the decision of the person providing the link as to what type of link will be produced. So be patient and kind, helping to educate your "linker", if necessary, as to how to create effective links and why it is so important to the success of everyone involved.

If you are actively pursuing incoming links, you may wish to consider providing a "Link to Us" page, replete with everything one would need in order to link to your site. For example, you may wish to provide the link code itself, making it easy for linkers to simply copy and paste the link into their site. You may also want to include images along with the proper associated link code. Then, after establishing an informative, helpful "Link to Us" page, you will be able to keep any email correspondence concerning incoming links straightforward and professional, uncluttered with all of the information provided on your "Link to Us" page. Simply include a link to the page in the email and you are in business.

So what, exactly, contributes to a proper, optimized incoming link? Fortunately, the structural elements are precisely the same for an incoming link as they are for an outgoing link, or any link for that matter. Specifically, descriptive, keyword-rich links with descriptive, keyword-rich title attributes are absolutely essential. Also, if at all possible, the aforementioned "nofollow" tag should not be present within links that are pointing to your site. Better yet, rather than an undesirable nofollow tag, suggest the much preferable "follow" tag instead.

As you begin to obtain a few incoming links, remember to update your SEO log accordingly. It is a good idea to record which sites are linking to you, as the information may prove handy when notifying linking sites of URL changes, content updates, or other important information. Further, if you are linking with these sites reciprocally, keeping track of linked sites will enable you to remain organized and current with the dynamic nature of the internet. If you need a general idea of which sites are linking to yours, open a Google window and type the following into the search field:

linkdomain: domain.com -site: domain.com

Where "domain.com" is the domain name of your website. You may also wish to determine the incoming links to a particular directory or web page. To do this, employ this search string, replacing the indicated values according to your situation:

link: http://domain.com/directory/document

If you prefer a more automated method of accomplishing this same task, you may want to check out the Google or Alexa toolbar. They each provide easy methods for determining incoming link information, search engine rank, and, oh, so much more..

Finally, it is important to check reciprocal links as soon as possible. If you find that your reciprocal link falls short of your expectations, do not hesitate to promptly and politely request any necessary changes. It has been suggested that site owners are more likely to "fix" linkbacks if the requested changes are brought to their attention sooner rather than later. Check that linkbacks accurately target your site as intended, meaning that you should actually click the link and follow it through to your site. Also ensure that any link images are used effectively, include correspondingly redundant text links, and include descriptive, keyword-rich title attributes and link text.

Internal Links

The overall link structure of your site is also of vital importance when it comes to optimizing it for the search engines. In general, the major search engines will not crawl through dynamically produced web pages, of the type:

http://domain.com/directory/index.php$ .. .. ..

There are several methods for translating the dynamic structure of your site into search-engine friendly URL’s. Although beyond the scope of this article, "permalinks" are an excellent method of converting dynamic links with SEO-friendly links. The topic of using permalinks is vast and technical, but definitely worth learning about for the purpose of site optimization. If I have managed to scare you with the idea of permalinks, you may prefer to look into producing periodic static copies of your site via various server tools or other software. Again, this topic is vast and contingent on your specific system configuration, but worth a few quick Google searches for more information. Basically, I have included this brief discussion of dynamic link structure and permalinks in this article because of its importance in any serious SEO endeavour.

One last note about internal site links takes into consideration the overall navigational architecture of your site. There should be no "dangling" or "dead-end" pages anywhere within your site. Every page should ideally include a navigational menu or at least a link to a location where further navigation may be negotiated. Best practice consists of a well-constructed, uniform, "universal" navigational system replicated identically on every page in the site, along with generous servings of more descriptive internal links included within paragraph text, heading text, and emphasized text areas. The idea is to expose the entirety of your site to both search engines and people alike.

Get Some Links

Establishing the right links to your site is perhaps the best method for increasing its overall search engine optimization. Links from popular sites, obviously, provide greater benefits than do links from unpopular sites. Also, avoid obtaining links from "link farms" and "link pages", which may affect your site’s search engine status negatively. Look for links from network hubs and website rings. Avoid blatant marketing gimmicks that claim millions of links to your site. When seeking links from other sites, stay focused on reciprocal links or backlinks, which are ideally more intelligently produced than links included mindlessly on long link lists and other tacky, SEO-unfriendly locations.

If you have read this far, then you are obviously serious about obtaining links and optimizing your website. Fortunately, with the World Wide Web, there is a virtually infinite number of ways to establish any number of incoming links. Even without resorting to shelling out your dollars for links, the internet provides limitless linking resources. To get an idea of the possibilities, try a Google search for "reciprocal links", "backlinks", "add link", "add url", "link popularity tools", and "link resources". That should definitely get you going..

We conclude this article with a few resource ideas for obtaining free incoming links. Consider each item on this list as a mere doorway into an entirely unique and vast resource for links. So, without further ado:

  • A few ideas for getting some free incoming links:
  • blogs
  • blog comments
  • open forums
  • bulletin boards
  • message boards
  • discussion groups
  • newsletters
  • announcement sites
  • associate sites
  • content syndication sites
  • government sites
  • open encyclopedias
  • press release sites
  • product reviews
  • website reviews
  • manufacturer sites
  • business sites
  • company sites
  • website awards
  • free advertisements
  • open content sites
  • Q&A areas
  • free stuff sites
  • private sites
  • copyleft
  • urlwire.com
  • search pages
  • reciprocal link requests
  • offline resources