SEO: Four Places to Look for Inbound Links (And Three Sources to Avoid)
With more than 90% of both business-to-business and local consumer purchases now beginning with an online search, search engine optimization (SEO) has become essential for business success.
With more than 90% of both business-to-business and local consumer purchases now beginning with an online search, search engine optimization (SEO) has become essential for business success. Little wonder then that two-thirds of small to midsized-business owners plan to increase SEO efforts in the coming year.
While specific SEO best practices have evolved over time, the two core elements for high rankings have remained constant: relevance and authority. Relevance is determined by the subject matter of a website and on-page optimization techniques (e.g., using keywords in headlines, page titles and image names), while authority is primarily based on the number and quality of incoming links to a website.
So, once you’ve developed helpful and compelling content, incorporating the words your customers are likely to use when searching, how can you attract links to your site? Here are four helpful sources to pursue, and three others to steer clear of.
Four Helpful Link Sources
- Local directories and high-quality industry directories. Virtually all businesses can benefit from providing their business and contact details to the local versions of Google, Bing and Yahoo!, as well as online yellow pages and similar directories. GetListed.org, a site that evaluates your business presence and directly connects to a dozen such directories, is a great place to start.
Industry-specific directories, often published by trade publications and associations, are another important link source. You can often find the directories specific to your type of business that is most important to the search engines simply by searching for them. For example, if you own a restaurant in Minneapolis, a Google search for “lists of restaurants in Minneapolis” returns more than two dozen lists just in the first three pages of results, some general and some specific to certain neighborhoods, categories and price ranges.
- Business partners. While linking to irrelevant sites purely for SEO purposes is not advised (see “Reciprocal link schemes” below), trading links with business partners and complementary firms is helpful to visitors and your rankings.
For example, a manufacturer may trade links with retailers that sell its products, service providers that install or fix those products, and even suppliers of key components. As long as the links are topically relevant and between high-quality sites, those links have SEO value.
- News and media coverage. Links from industry news sources are among the most valuable for building authority. You don’t have to get links from the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal (though if you can, obviously, that would be outstanding) in order to improve your search rankings; links from relevant trade journals and local media also have value.
One method for obtaining links is to create search-optimized news releases and distribute them through an online service like PRWeb. Another is to work with journalists directly, or hire an agency to help you. Announce a new product, get your executives or other subject matter experts quoted, help out a local charity, speak at an industry event—all are great sources of potential media coverage and links.
- Social media. Create business accounts and actively participate on social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. If you’ve got a highly visual product, use Flickr and Pinterest; if you can make video part of the mix, set up a company YouTube channel.
As the search engines make social signals an increasingly important element in rankings, the links that you create—and that your customers, followers and industry influencers create on your behalf—take on greater importance for SEO.
Three Links Sources to Avoid
- Reciprocal link schemes. Unlike legitimate link-trading (see above), link schemes are manipulative practices designed to “trick” search engines into giving your site a higher ranking. Such links have little or no value to your site visitors.
These links are generally to sites that are completely unrelated to your business and often to somewhat sketchy destinations (e.g., online casinos, “miracle” weight loss products, get-rich-quick schemes or questionable web pharmacies).
Such schemes are still around because, as with other manipulative practices, they actually worked at one time. But with recent changes made by the search engines, particularly Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, such tactics are now far more likely to hurt rather than help—and may even get your site banned from search results.
- Purchased links. If you come across online advertisements touting “1,000 Backlinks for $14.00” or some similar offering, run—don’t walk—away. Buying links is not only no longer an effective strategy, it is highly likely to get your site penalized. These links are very often low-quality, containing hundreds or thousands of unrelated and often low-quality outbound links, making them easy for search engines to spot.
- Low-quality general directories and “bad neighborhoods.” As noted above, directory links can be helpful for SEO. But not all directories are created equal. Search engines will confer authority on your site for links from high-quality directories, but not from lower-quality sources.
Since “quality” is a subjective term, before pursuing a link from any site, ask yourself: how likely is it that your actual customers or sales prospects would ever visit this site and find you there? What other types of businesses are listed? Would you be proud to be listed there or a bit ambivalent about it? Does the site offer value to visitors, or is it essentially just a large collection of unrelated links?
In short, search engines want to direct searchers to the most relevant and useful results for any search query. Seeking out legitimate link sources to help guide the search engines to your site is perfectly acceptable, and helpful to your search rankings. But avoid any sort of manipulative linking practices designed to deceive. The old Chiffon margarine commercial said “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” It isn’t nice to try to fool Google or Bing either.