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Many new clients believe that climbing the rankings is down to technical tweaking of the website, when actually it’s hugely influenced by the number of inbound links to a site.
You see, search engines like Google look at what value the rest of the web places on a particular web property.
How often other relevant websites talk about a site and, crucially, link to it, is a far better way for an algorithm to determine which pages are going to be useful to searchers.
It’s going to place far more value on peer assessment than it does on the metadata you post up.
Think about it, when you search for ‘cheap socks’, do you want to see what other people found useful or a list of websites that want to sell you socks, cheap or otherwise?
Encouraging inbound links to your pages is crucial. If you build them, they will come. Customers, that is, not baseball players.
So how can you generate this elusive link juice for your site? Here are my top tips for beginners.
Strike all thoughts of link farms from your mind
Let’s get one thing straight, it isn’t about the sheer quantity of links to your website anymore. Search engines are cleverer than that, they want to see links from relevant and authoritative websites before they rocket you up the rankings.
Don’t shell out cash to some poxy link farm business thinking it will help. Some search engines, including the behemoth that is Google, will penalise your website if you’re caught relying on a farm.
At best they’re useless, at worst, they’re actively harmful.
Create valuable pages
The very best way to encourage inbound links is to fill your pages with valuable, useful, informative, interesting, relevant content. Simple, right?
One great way to do this is to set up a blog, allowing you to post guides, industry news and opinion pieces. If your posts are interesting then people will naturally link to them as they discuss, rebut or expand on your comments.
Sometimes, you’ll really strike gold with a post and it will go viral. There’s a really good example of that over at Econsultancy just now, where the article ‘Ten horrifying display ad placements’ generated almost 2,000 tweets, over 100 comments and who knows how many inbound links?
Articles that do so brilliantly are known as ‘link bait’, because people will want to link to them. There’s nothing sinister about deliberately posting such bait, it is simply that you’ve created something very popular.
In fact, it’s exceptionally difficult to do, even newspapers only manage it now and again.
Johann Hari’s ‘Welcome to Cameron land’ was a good example of a mainstream article going viral, with 25,000 Facebook recommendations and almost 3,500 tweets. It probably wasn’t designed as link bait, it’s just an example of how powerful writing can be.
You have to be interesting
I am really going off the saying ‘content is king’ because it just doesn’t convey enough.
Let’s be frank, what’s in my bin can be described as its ‘content’, but I want some pretty different ‘content’ in my sandwich.
Content isn’t king; that implies the churned out garbage of rewritten press releases and plagiarised copy is useful when it comes to SEO.
Relevant, interesting, valuable copy is king and it takes time and skill to create.
It could be a blog, it could be a series of videos, it could be some amusing game that goes viral. Just make it interesting. The web is full when it comes to barely literate ramblings.
Make industry friends
One key way to build inbound links to your pages is to place guest posts on other industry blogs and include links to your own website.
However, that is much, much harder than it sounds. Although you might think blogs are crying out for content, if you don’t have a reputation as an industry authority then no one will be that keen to carry your copy.
In fact, knowing the value of a link to your website, some powerful blogs will try to charge you money for carrying your post.
The best way to avoid this kind of situation is to make friends with the humans behind the blogs.
It shouldn’t be too hard to make industry friends – follow them on twitter, comment on their blogs and (best of all) corner them at conferences and buy them a beer.
Making friends in your industry will be rewarding because you’ll learn a lot in discussion with them, your finger will be more on the pulse of your sector and you’ll stand a much better chance of being invited to place articles on their blogs.
The internet is a social place, so be sociable.
Use the right anchor text
The anchor text that’s used to link to your site matters, so bear that in mind when you’re writing guest posts. Using relevant keywords reinforces your page’s relevance for that keyword.
Far too often you see ‘click here for more information’, when it could be something better like ‘book cheap flights’ or ‘compare car insurers’ or ‘bird-safe slug pellets’ or whatever it is you sell.
Don’t miss out on the chance to reiterate to the search engines just how relevant your pages are to those search terms.
This is also relevant when choosing headlines for posts on your own blog. People will probably link to your pages using your headline, so it’s worth including keywords there when you can.
Of course, don’t let your keywords spoil your headlines, they are the hook that encourages people to read and then share your content.
Make the most of your position
Not everyone reading this will be a business. You might be a charity, sports team, music act, comedian… Everyone is trying to promote themselves online these days.
If you are an organisation that people want to support then design a badge and ask people to place it on their sites. They’ll be happy to support you, it will drive up brand awareness and you’ll receive a link.
Corporations will find it harder to get people to give away space on their pages. But you could try running a competition, for example, and offer winners and runners up a chance to display a proud badge declaring their success.