As the algorithms develop, many link-building techniques will become obsolete. However, some techniques that are rather natural will remain effective and in some cases will encourage more natural linking. I will now review these techniques, and how an optimizer will benefit from them. I already discussed the unethical techniques, such as blog spam, guestbook spam and link farms, in this chapter. Even if some of these methods work to an extent at the moment, they will be highly devalued in the future.
As noted earlier, search engines prefer natural links, but most sites will have to do some form of link building to rank in the search engines. There are several ethical tactics to increase link popularity and I will discuss the main ones.
The easiest tactic of building good-quality links is to submit the site to link directories. In addition to improving search engine ranking, inbound links from directories increase direct traffic to a site. In fact, the amount of traffic received from directories may equal the traffic received from search engines in some cases. The biggest free directory, Open Directory Project, feeds several sites with its directory result and a listing in their directory brings a lot of visitors to websites. The ODP is also considered one of the most influential sites in the search rankings, i.e. a link from ODP is very important from an off-site search engine optimization standpoint. Other important general directories include Skaffe, Zeal, Gimpsy, Business.com and Yahoo! Directory.
Niche directories are web sites that build and maintain a collection of hyperlinks to other web sites within the same topic. A directory that lists web sites that sell or have information on fitness equipment is an example of a niche directory. Niche directories are not always as focused on the topic as the example above, but they always have a more specific theme than general directories.
Niche directories are a great source of themed inbound links, so getting links from them is very beneficial to off-site optimization. Additionally, these kinds of directories often attract highly targeted traffic, which is subsequently directed to the web sites listed in the directory.
Another example of niche directories is geography-specific directories, which are concentrated on one or more geographic regions. The geographic qualifier can be, for example, a country, county, city or a community. The directories are often quite popular, especially if the site is a portal, which is often a “point of entry” to the web.
Inbound links from geography-specific directories are especially beneficial to websites that wish to rank for searches that include a geographic qualifier. For instance, an inbound link from a high-quality Chicago directory will help a shoe store in Chicago rank for search terms that include the term “ Chicago”, such as “ Chicago shoe store” or “shoe stores in Chicago, Illinois”.
Websites that concentrate on a similar theme as the optimized site are another resource of good inbound links. These sites are often willing to link to a related resource as long as they are not in direct competition with it. One reason that inbound links from related websites are very beneficial for search ranking is theming. As noted earlier in this chapter, search engine algorithms emphasize the value of incoming links from related web pages.
One popular technique in finding such related websites is to research inbound links of competing sites. The links that are pointing to competitors’ websites can be found by using the “link: operator” in a search. For example, typing “link:www.example.com” in Google will show the incoming links to www.example.com. Note that with this query, Google only shows a sample of the linking sites, instead of showing all back links from indexed web pages. Because of this, it is recommended to use another method to find back links. For instance, Yahoo! provides a better solution. Using Yahoo!’s “linkdomain: operator”, optimizers can see all back links to the entire site instead of just those incoming links that are pointing to the main page of the website. For example, the search query “linkdomain:www.example.com” on Yahoo! will bring up all pages that are linking to www.example.com or any other page within the website like www.example.com/sample1.htm. Another method is to use the Marketleap’s Link Popularity Check tool (http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop/). This useful free tool can be used to look up the back links of the main search engines with one query.
Link exchanging is a popular method of obtaining inbound links from related sites. Unlike the above link building techniques, which are all one-way inbound links, link exchanges are two-way links. These links, called reciprocal links, point from one site to another, while the other site reciprocates i.e. links back. The process of link exchange is usually initiated via e-mail communication by one of the companies involved in the exchange. From SEO point of view, the benefit from reciprocal links used to be great, but the search engines have now devalued the influence of link exchanges have in the algorithms. Link exchanging is still a popular method of increasing related inbound links, but it is recommended to use caution and not exchange links with any sites that asks for it. Related quality sites are usually good link exchange partners. Many sites have large link exchange directories that require a link back to the site. Very often inbound links from these directories are useless as they bring in no targeted traffic nor do they have a notable effect on search rankings.