Links are essential for getting the results you want for your website.
It makes sense. Search engines can determine a lot of things about your website by looking at them with robots: they can make good guesses about your main topic, especially if your content is optimized for search; they can determine from your website’s load time and overall structure whether it is a well-coded, up to date; they can tell whether you’re playing black hat tricks and trying to game the system.
But there are a lot of things that a search engine can’t determine. Is your content actually valuable and interesting to human beings? Is your site attractive and a pleasure to visit? Robots can’t really tell.
For this information, they rely on a simple but sensible measure: do other human beings choose to link to you, or not? In general, webmasters and website owners will choose to link to valuable sites that are informative or entertaining, not to worthless, unappealing sites. Having lots of links to your website suggests that your site is valuable.
Over time, you’ll gain links if your site is in fact valuable. However, you might not want to wait for nature to take its course; you might want to request some links for your website.
So you’re going to do linkbuilding for your website (or hire someone to do it). How can you determine which sites you ought to request links from, which sites would be good ones to place links at (through “submit site” forms or comments), and which sites you should agree to swap links with? In short, if it looks like you can get a link someplace, do you want that link?
Here are the criteria we use, with some examples from our recent linking adventures:
- Is the site a high quality website? We may have a bias toward quality websites with quality content, but so does Google. We recently had a link swap request from this site:
We see that this site has a long, long, list of fairly random outlinks down the right-hand side. They haven’t removed the generic “Just another WordPress site” tagline from their site. The article is poorly written, has no particular point to make, and contains grammatical errors. Their About page still contains the default content it had when they set up their site, rather than information about the company. They’re using a pleasant template and we have seen worse sites, but we certainly don’t want a link here. Nor do we think that our visitors would find this site useful, so we’re not planning to link to them, either.
- Is the site relevant to yours? Directories for our town or our field of work are relevant to what we do. Our potential customers are likely to go there and look for services like ours. We don’t look for sites that have nothing to do with our own sites. However, we don’t want to be too strict with this. For example, our lab site, a teacher resource website, recently had a request for a link from Orkin, the pest control people. Orkin has a Virtual Roach that they think would be good for our insect lesson plans. We agree; we know that some of our readers would be revolted by having live insects in the classroom, or even dead ones, and a virtual alternative will be valuable to them. Pest control isn’t relevant to lesson plans, and we don’t want a link from Orkin, but Orkin is on target in requesting a link from us. We like to be creative in our linkbuilding, too.
- Do you have something to offer the site? If you have a good website, then there will be sites that will add value by linking to you. Orkin wouldn’t be a good link on our homepage resources link, but their virtual bug is a good addition to our list of insect resources. They saved us time by pointing it out to us. Our educational website is full of useful stuff for teachers, and we don’t need to be shy about pointing that out to sites that list or discuss teacher resource sites. As long as they’re quality sites, of course. We don’t participate in discussions if we don’t have something useful to add to the discussion, and we don’t link to our websites (or to client websites) if we don’t have a site that would be of value to the participants in the discussion. While you may get some brief benefits from dropping links around, they’re likely to add up to an appearance of trickery, either to humans who see them or to search engines. It’s not beneficial in the long run.
Aggressive linkbuilding is fine, creative linkbuilding is great, but promiscuous linkbuilding is a mistake. Don’t take every link you can get just because you can get it.