7. Don't be afraid to buy links. Just be smart about it
Link building is a time-consuming process. Unsurprisingly, there's no shortage of businesses offering to do the job for you quickly. But paying an SEO firm to get backlinks from dubious, spammy sites can actually cause you to get penalized by the search engines; J.C. Penney found this out the hard way earlier this year.
Even so, "paying for links should be a part of an overall link-building strategy," said Ward. "If there's an online trade publication in your industry and they have a vendor area or sponsored content, it would be foolish not to consider that as part of your link marketing strategy." As with an industry-specific directory listing, you're exposing your site to target customers -- which can deliver more business benefits than the potential search engine lift.
"Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:
- Adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the <a> tag
- Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file"
8. Scope out the link universe and look for patterns
When formulating a link-building campaign, think about where your target audience goes online to get information about the kinds of products or services you offer, Ward advised. Do relevant, topical keyword searches in Google or Bing to see which sites rank highly.
Usually, top-ranking sites are those that the search engines trust to be legitimate and that offer quality content on the topic relevant to your keyword. Look for competitors as well as bloggers, informational sites and trade shows.
This research will help you define the potential "link universe" to target for your particular industry, Ward said. The goal is to create a list of the 25-50 sites that represent the competitive landscape as well as the top content sites for your industry.
Then, using link analysis tools (see the Resources section at the end of this article), look for linking patterns between the sites in your link universe. This will help you identify links your competitors are getting but you aren't. This gives you a starting point for your link-building campaign.
9. Don't just copy your competitors; go after links they don't have
If you want to beat your competitors in search engine results, simply copying their link strategies isn't enough. Look for holes in their strategy. Think about high-quality, original content you can create to get backlinks that your competitors lack, Ward recommended.
10. Don't get fixated on Google
The mindset behind nearly every SEO effort is to improve your search engine result placement for the keywords you care most about. But Ward cautioned against relying too heavily on this strategy. Instead, he advocates that you focus on using link-marketing tactics to increase targeted traffic to your site from other sites, rather than simply focusing on boosting traffic from Google.
"The more you design your linking strategies to increase your Google (search engine results page) traffic, the more risk you create over time if you succeed, or if you fail," Ward wrote recently in Search Engine Land's Link Week column. "Why? Because you have devoted resources, time and money to a single traffic source with no concrete evidence it will work, work for how long, or work at all." He added that "a perfect traffic scenario would be (that) a site sees its traffic and leads increasing while at the same time sees the percentage of that traffic coming from search engines decreasing."
In other words, the SEO benefit of a well-placed backlink from a contextually relevant, authoritative, trusted site can be fleeting. On the other hand, the long-term benefit of such a link is that it can continually drive targeted, motivated viewers to your site -- which is the ultimate goal of any SEO effort.
Link Building & Analysis Resources
Many SEO specialists recommend the following link-building, analysis and management tools.
- Majestic SEO -- free and paid Web-based tools
- Raven SEO Tools -- low-cost (beginning at $19 monthly) Web-based tool set
- SEO for Firefox -- a free Firefox plug-in
- SEOMoz -- paid set of Web-based tools
- AdGooRoo -- paid set of Web-based tools (Eric Ward helped develop the Link Insight tool ($399 per month per license)
- Buzzstream -- link-building tools; $29 per month and up
- Getlisted.org -- free tool helps you identify and create directory listings for your business
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