Link building is generally a term used around the SEO industry to describe building relevant links to a website in an effort to rank that site for specific terms while also building trust, value and equity to that website. All too often however, link building is associated with questionable Search Engine Optimisation practices such as link buying or link spamming.
As an old school online marketer and PR guy, I tend to take a different approach to my link building philosophy, and see link building as more of a branding and web presence approach. The beauty of the Internet, especially the Internet of 2009 – 2010, is that so many different opportunities are out there to build an online brand, from video distribution to social networking to blogging. I think far too often, especially in the world of linking, too much emphasis is placed on buying static site wide links in an effort to build “link popularity” and once a specific number of links is established, sites or businesses will “set it and forget it”, becoming complacent with their link numbers and or ranking … only later finding out that they ultimately lose such ranking to more diverse and creative online brands which take a more interesting approach.
The Fall of Site wide Linking
Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed more and more devaluation of site wide linking, that is links which are placed on all pages of a website. At one time, site wide links may have led to higher rankings under the school of thought that the higher number of incoming links with targeted anchor text, but over the past 6 months or so, that value has diminished for obvious reasons.
One issue, especially in the field of paid linking, is that it is usually unnatural for a site to have the majority of its inbound links to come from site wide linking, and sites which do partake in such link acquisition and development, tend to focus primarily on building those large batches of links, disregarding the more purposeful relevance of precisely targeting link acquisition.
In a nutshell; you usually have to earn the right to obtain a site wide link, they don’t come out of thin air. Likewise, how natural is it for a newspaper website to link to a payday loan lender from all of its pages? Not natural at all.
Update 2015: Site wide links should be rel=”nofollow”
Foundational Link Building
In order to earn site wide links, which would come from links in a template, sidebar or other “site wide” area under a “friends”, “links” or “resources” section, ideally a website would have to earn and establish its web presence. And how does a site initially establish web presence? Well, before jumping out of the gate by acquiring site wide links via buys or other methods, I wholeheartedly recommend waiting until the incubation period of linking, or a site’s link foundation is built.
Establishing web presence does not just equal linking, it equals site branding. This is done by writing and distributing press releases about your site launch and business news, contributing guest posts on blogs that you have taken the time to build relationships with, developing your branded social profiles across multiple social networking sites, building out your Facebook fan page, your email newsletter, Twitter account and YouTube profile AND actually using these tools to build your brand. The more connections you make, the more natural links will come.
The incubation period also is the perfect time to build directory links in Best of the Web, Yahoo and other web directories.
Update 2015: I have always been selective with Business Directory listing. In 2015 this has become more locally focused to the business. Inconsistent NAP details have also created problems within business pages, so these should be carefully managed.
Long Term Link Strategy
All too many times link builders, or link development strategists, get impatient … always wanting to jump the gun with hundreds or thousands of links in the first month. But before a site is really going to start ranking or really should naturally be pulling in thousands of links per month, its brand should be built. When I’m working on a client’s overall linking profile, I like to give the client a six-month to one-year timeline to achieve their long term linking and SEO goals. Sure, using shortcuts sometimes ranking can be secured sooner, especially for an established site, but by building out a long-term strategy, the end result is not only going to be more effective, but also more natural. Which means a long-term result and not a flash in the pan or blip in the Google results.
I would say that generally 10% of the incoming links to the sites I work with come from site wide links; I like to keep that as a rule of thumb. The real power in linking comes from utilizing the tools given to you by the, site or client
Update 2015: As mentioned above, site wide should be rel=”nofollow” . Google also rolled out unnatural links penalty called penguin.
Blogging and Linking
Besides the obvious benefit of bringing in long tail search traffic because of the variety of content and natural language on a blog, hosting an informative company blog or third party blog around your vertical can also bring in a lot of links, and also redirect that site wide link equity you may be looking for. Site wide links don’t make search sense a lot of the time, unless they point to a blog. One of the basics of blogging is blogrolling; linking to other industry blogs in your blogroll, and vice versa. By doing so, you can attract a lot of links from other relevant blogs and their link equity.
Update 2015: Stay away from Blogrolls, unless they are rel=”nofollow”
Don’t stop there however. Make sure that if your blog is hosted on your own site (via blog.site.com or www.site.com/blog) or on a totally different domain, that the blog spreads equity to the main business site. I like to be open and brand a blog as being the editorial arm of a business, therefore it is natural for that blog to link over to the main business site, therefore spreading that relevance to the target page.
Blogs, especially those hosted on third party domains, can assist your overall site and brand in other ways too. First, a targeted news oriented blog around a specific vertical is more likely to be picked up by Google News than a corporate blog. Or if a business plan is generally that of a resource, I would suggest building the site off of a blog.
Update 2015: Blogs should be hosted on the main domain
Case in point: launch blog, get links, get listed in news site, go social on Digg & Stumble Upon, then build out the bulk of the MONEY part of the site off of the already established authority domain.
Like I eluded to above, a blog is much more likely to get picked up in social news sharing networks and it’s also against the terms of services of some of these sites to submit e commerce or commercial material, so establishing a blog to push socially, then taking advantage of that equity in a responsible manner, may make more sense then first building the e commerce site then launching a blog off of it.
To add to the equation, it’s also much more natural to start link building via blog commenting. If you represent a blog, chances are you will have a much better chance of being approved by a blog comment moderator.