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May 13, 2008

Linking Practices – Part 2 of 3: Links Applied

Here in part two of “Linking Practices” we will cover the application of those links we discussed previously (check out part 1: “Links Defined”).

As with all marketing practices the best place to start is always with a plan.  In this case we will need to establish what the purpose is of building these links.  With links being a major factor when ranking a website many webmasters use links to try and gain higher rankings in search engine results.  Sometimes links are valuable simply as they drive traffic to your website.  As we all know traffic is very blood that powers your online business.  Consider links the veins.

Reciprocal Links:
These links often offer very little aid when it comes to ranking highly in the search engines.  While these links usually reside on a page that is no more than a long list of URL’s occasionally these can be of great benefit.  A reciprocal link simply means a link exchanged.  Usually you can request the anchor text and description you wish the link to display as well as the URL this points to.  This makes sense as this is supposed to be a beneficial exchange for both parties.

While finding your link on a page with a thousand other links won’t be worth much at all, exchanging exclusive links can make the world of difference.  For instance if I was a small independent car dealership, it would make sense to team up with a local insurance provider.  In this case I could offer a direct link exchange straight from even my homepage to theirs and vice versa.  If either I or they were running a special, why not point that link directly to that special.

With this kind of link you could drive direct, targeted traffic to your website from a related site.

One Way Links:
These are usually generated by previous visitors to your website with little coercion from your side.  The best way to gain these links is by offering good solid content on your website.  This is always a lot easier said than done.  But by offering content people would want to share with others or be able to easily revisit themselves, visitors would add links elsewhere on the net and usually with good keyword rich phrases.  It makes sense to title a link to another webpage with a relevant phrase.  This is why your content is so important.

The second benefit of this type of link is that it is usually linked to an individual page.  Couple this with a keyword rich anchor text and suddenly your website has a lot more credibility.

These are very difficult to come by.  So many webmasters seem to be afraid of spreading a little link-love in the fear that they may lose some precious PageRank.

Three Way Links:

This practice is still practiced by many, in exactly the same fashion as reciprocal links.  More often than not with poor or no results at all.  Again the reason is that so many webmasters while trying to dupe the search engines simply add the link onto a link heavy page.  As we all know by now, the more links on a page, the less valuable each one becomes.

This can however be a good way to have a new website indexed.  By offering another website a link from an already establish website if they link out to a new website you can help speed the indexing and ranking of the new website.

siteA -> siteB -> SiteC

In this case the goal was to have site C indexed without using site A to do so (what ever that reason may have been) so there may be no need for Site C to link back to Site A.

This will only work if you can get a valuable link from that website (Site B in this case), being added to that dreaded “links” page just won’t cut it.

Deep Links:
These are the best (in my opinion) as they are usually far more specific and aid with the deep indexing of your website.  These can be a result of any of the link building techniques.  As mentioned above, these link to an individual page.

By gaining a link directly to an internal page of the website you have the potential of driving traffic to a specific page and usually with a specific reason in mind.  If you are selling goods many people might link to your specials page, if you are a blogger this may be a link to a popular post, or if you offer a service of some kind this could be a link to a bio page.

Again, if I owned a small car dealership I would want to offer my visitors an insurance option.  But if the site I was linking to offered various forms of insurance I would want to link directly to their “motor insurance” page.

Apart from driving traffic to a specific point on your website, these links will also aid rankings.  In this case it makes sense that a link from a car dealership to a page on an insurance website would in some way be related to motor insurance.  Especially if the anchor text said “motor insurance”.  I am sure you can see the real benefit here.

Paid Links:
Paid links have a very bad name at the moment.  This has been used mostly to game the search engines of late.  But it looks as though the major search engines may be getting on top of this one.  While it is seriously frowned upon to buy text links for search engine purposes, there are still valid forms of paid links.

Visitors to your website are valuable, but targeted visitors are even more valuable as they are your business’s lifeblood.  It is often feasible to buy links (or traffic) to your website.  Possibly the most popular way of doing so is the Google AdWords program, where a link to your website is displayed for specified search terms.  Here you only pay once someone clicks on your link.

But sometimes you have to pay a fixed fee for a permanent link from a website to yours.  This could be a simple text link to a flashy flash banner.  The aim here is to drive targeted traffic to your website.  If my business offered “motor insurance” then it would be viable to buy a link on a car dealer’s website – provided they had the traffic to justify it.  A paid link becomes more valuable as the traffic to a website increases.  After all there is no point in running a billboard ad in Antarctica where only a handful may see it; you would want to run it on the main highway (where all the traffic is).

This can be a very valuable but always make sure that you are able to keep records as to how many times your ad has been seen, the number of visitors that have clicked on the ad and so on.  After all, you want your ad to be profitable, if the ad costs you $20 a month you want to be able to at least cover your costs if nothing else.

Internal Links:
This is the simplest form of linking.  Simply link from one page of your website to another.  That said there are a few simple rules that you should adhere to, these apply to the search engines and human visitors alike.

Make sure that all your important pages can be found within two clicks of your home page.  This makes it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for.  We are all in agreement that nothing is more frustrating than finding a website and going round in circles trying to find something.  The same holds true for the search engines, unless your website is an authority website there is little need for the search engines to go deep into your website.

Text links!  The search engines love text.  They follow text links easily with the added benefit of having had a title to that link (the anchor text).  While most human visitors have the ability to read graphics, JavaScript and flash some may have had this functions disabled.  For these visitors simple text navigation is a must.

This is just a brief overview of how these links can and should be applied.  Always remember that a link for a page is a vote, always try to make the link as relevant as possible, this includes the source, destination and content of the link.

I will offer a few tips on how to maximise the benefits of these links in part 3.

Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development.