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June 10, 2009

Links 101 – Puritans, The Puerile & The Pragmatic

Links, and the acquisition thereof, is a subject which has accumulated vast misunderstandings and no end of illogical pontificating. This is not entirely unusual in SEO circles, where the ill-informed preach to the unenlightened on a daily basis. Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, there is a general lack of comprehension on how to achieve real value from efforts expended on gaining links. Everyone agrees they’re needed… but that’s about where consensus ends… There are three main schools of thought – the puritanical, the puerile and the pragmatic…
The Puritanical View

Only GOOD links are good! All links to your site should be from sites specifically relevant to your site. Links from non-relevant sites will put a world of hurt on you. Quality is crucial! Or Google will disinherit you, banish you, consign your site to galactic oblivion etc. Build wonderful content, and links to it will come as of right… These people are muesli-munchers – vagrant vegetarians who view the world in a mosaic of black and white…

The Puerile View

You desperately NEED links! Leave no stone unturned. Get links from anyone, anywhere, anytime… infiltrate forums, buy links, babble out blog comments, gush into guest books – use any means to get links back to your site… Never mind that inserting your links into someone’s website without asking is plain rude… These people are unshaven vodka-drinkers, viewing the world dimly through fake Raybans… dismal, and bereft of class…

The Pragmatist’s View

The truth lies like a mid-river island emerging from the murky waters, protruding clearly and plainly mid-stream…

Personally, I think the puritanical view is as relevant to SE rankings as vegetarianism is to good health. Many sites selling products or providing services are never going to naturally accumulate links in any significant volume. The puerile view is discourteous, frequently offensive, and in the long term, counter-productive.

So… What to do?

At the outset of a website’s life cycle, the world is unaware of its existence. Incoming links will not happen by a process of osmosis, and the theory of divine intervention is (as yet) unproven. Still, links are crucial. A website cannot achieve any prominence without incoming links or, more to the point, relevant keywords within anchor text in incoming links.

Don’t Spam

My advice is to certainly avoid the blatant spam approach. Don’t begin any journey by alienating anyone. Don’t go and buy a link-builder software program that is guaranteed to streamline the process of building links with similar sites… the conversion ratio is far, far worse than pay-per-click advertising and even more costly! Don’t buy links specifically to increase your Page Rank – Google is deeply offended by that. On the other hand, you could buy into an exorbitant site review that might get you included into a prominent directory (or two)… And, if approved, such a link might inadvertently increase your Page Rank. Apparently, that’s ok… which is why the puritanical can’t get their head around this stuff – there are 256 shades of grey at work in here…

Build 1-Way Incoming Links With Keywords in Anchor Text

Everyone says that’s what you have to do… Applied logic would suggest that what you ought to do is consider who on earth wants or needs links, gives them away for free, and is likely to have pages or sections of content relevant to your site’s focus. Impossible, I hear you say? Simplistic, far too easy, I hear you scoff… Au contraire!

Since the web began life as a few optimistic IP packets seeking to connect intelligent life-forms across vast distances, the very first source of relevancy has been web directories. By definition, a web directory describes the “Who & What” and tells you the “Where!” Some of the earliest examples are still in existence – notably Yahoo and Open Directory. Respectively, they are excessively expensive and virtually impenetrable. They both still wield considerable power with blithe indifference to what’s really required, remaining resolutely devoid of customer focus… After a decade of observing no discernible improvement in any respect, I think the www would be better off without them. Best render them irrelevant – and if we all ignore them, maybe they’ll go away and re-invent themselves!

There are many other directories – optimistic, welcoming, organised, nurturing and practical, catering for both general and niche areas. Many are desperately in need of good quality listings as a path to growth, and onwards to fame and fortune. Seek them out!

Your goal is to get your site listed in a compatible category, nestled comfortably with sites offering similar products and services. Relevancy personified… A description encapsulating your reason for existence helps – nothing warm and fuzzy! Crisp, to the point, with an “exact match” high-search-volume keyword phrase foremost in the title – but only if its written to make sense. And don’t settle for one title – by all means, create and use a handful of relevant title & description combinations that expand the keywords the search engines will find pointing to your site.

“Wrong” Links Will Hurt You? Yeah, Right…

Regardless of the opposing views, simple logic should tell you that its quite unlikely for a normal, mainstream link-building strategy to visit harm upon you.

  • Lets get real here – this is how links have been garnered since the inception of the Internet. Its a basic, fundamental process of indexing www content. How could it be “bad” to be listed in web directories?
  • In the main, a directory assesses site quality before inclusion in their listings. Human-edited listings are the hallmark of a good directory, intended to provide users with the most relevant sources of information, products and services. Why would such a link be a bad thing???

If such links could hurt you, then your shadiest competitors would most certainly spend weeks building directory links in an effort to cause you grievous bodily harm! It would be far easier to shaft you than fix up their own sites…. Don’t for one moment think that some toe-rag has not considered it, tried it and failed…

Frankly, the pointy-heads over at Google are a decidedly smart lot, and are well aware of what the lazy and unscrupulous are capable of… Give the Google-dudes due credit for having the sense to not only be aware of the possibility, but for actually taking some care to protect you from such rancid and distasteful acts.

Fear Not – Go Ye Forth and Multiply

Seek links in appropriate directory categories, particularly in relevant niche directories if they exist. For example, don’t you dare try and list your cattery in a Business-to-Business software category… That would be stupid, and unlikely to be accepted! And don’t cheat… automated directory link submission schemes are a pointless waste of time.

Work is required – an anathema to many! Do your homework, select good directories and seek placement where it will both do you some good, and increase the possibility of acceptance.

Exchange Links

Don’t be frightened to exchange links with other sites, especially where there is a commonality of interest. Car sales and car insurance – boats and motors – houses and mortgages… obvious relationships are reputedly better, although proving that theory is harder than you might imagine. Prophylactic avoidance of link farms, web rings and FFA link schemes is patently sensible – their glory days are long, long gone the way of hidden text and 1×1 pixel images…

But if Aunty Ethel wants a link to her travel blog – hell, by all means do the old biddy a favour! Maybe your visitors will get a vicarious chuckle over her exploits and thank you for it! Maybe Aunty Ethel will leave you a pile of folding stuff in her will, a fond recompense for your charitable act…

Sure, those reciprocal links might not be quite as valuable as 1-way incoming links from a high-profile directory. But they are natural, useful, and public-spirited. Reach out a helping hand to your fellow man…

Think of links as being more like an investment portfolio! Some items have a higher price coupled with a long-term return – such as expensive review for the Yahoo Directory. Some items are minimal cost, minimal return… reciprocal links fit this group. Some are volatile, capable of good rewards but transient – social bookmarking links being one example. Some are solid, hard work, modest and unexciting – like article marketing…

The thinking man’s link strategy would definitely include a broadening spread of link categories in your portfolio – and don’t sweat the small stuff…

Ben Kemp, a search engine optimization consultant since 1997, is a specialist in website redesign, and a veteran of 25-plus years of experience in the IT industry.

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9 Responses to “Links 101 – Puritans, The Puerile & The Pragmatic

    avatar Club Penguin says:

    So many methods here. I really like your explanation of how wrong links really hurt you “yeah right”!

    avatar How to Make Thousands of Dollars Posting Links on Google says:

    Thanks for posting, I’ll definitely be subscribing to your blog.

    avatar jitendra bharai says:


    A very good article on link building and the reasoning and logic is very sound.

    Great information.


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    avatar Linking and SEO Tips « The Digital Imperative says:

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    Ya i agree with as above comment but Did u plz tell me what is contant writing 🙂

    great information and attention to detail.

    avatar rob says:

    good stuff, Ben although i still don’t know how you find the right directories.
    you did very useful seo review on my new site and we have addressed a lot of the issues you raised.
    many thanks

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