Developing a linking strategy
Ensuring there are a number of high quality links to your website is an important factor in maximising the potential of your site. Links to your website improve your visibility in search engines and provide routes which users will follow. Not all links are equal though and this guide provides guidance on how to develop your own linking strategy. All we ask is that you remember that links are just one optimisation technique and an holistic search optimisation strategy is important.
Which links are worth the effort?
Building a linking strategy can be time consuming and it's worth knowing which links are worth the effort. Inbound links (links coming into your website) are an important search engine ranking factor and an informed approach is essential if you are going to succeed. This is more the case now because many spamming practices like link farms have devalued a number of existing approaches. At one level, any inbound link is useful as it connects your website to the wider web, even if the link is from an disreputable source. But some links are worth more than others. The following guidelines are useful to keep in mind:
- A link from a page with a high Page Rank is preferable (a Page Rank of 0 does no good in pure ranking terms)
- A link from a page with few other outbound links is much better than a page with dozens of links as each outbound link dilutes the value of all the others
- If the linking page is buried deep within a website, it may not get indexed and will not be known to the search engines, so try to get links on high-level pages
- Reciprocal links (where you link back), are worth less than non-reciprocated links
- Links from authority websites (like wikipedia.org or bbc.co.uk) are difficult to get, but are worth a lot more than a normal link
- Avoid links to or from link farms (pages just set up to trade links)
- Try to get links from websites and pages with a similar or related theme to that of your website - the more relevant, the better
- The anchor text of the inbound link (the text used in the link itself) should contain relevant keywords for the page on your website it is linking to - images linking to your website or text such as 'click here' are wasted opportunities
- Keywords in the text immediately surrounding the anchor text is believed to increase the ranking value of a link
- Links from websites on the same server or with the same IP address are worth very little
Building your linking strategy
There are several ways to go about developing a hit list of potential linking partners. The following options are amongst the most useful (but please also see the alternative approach below):
- Review your main competitors websites and see who is linking to them by typing 'link:' followed by their website address into Google (link:www.competitorwebaddress.com). You may find websites willing to provide a link to you within the results
- Search for terms relevant to your website in search engines. Often, the results will provide useful targets to approach, including directories and businesses offering complimentary services
- Submit your website to directories like dmoz.org and other free directories. Don't forget local directories of services and businesses
- Think about business associates, customers and suppliers who may be happy to provide a link
Making your strategy a reality
Once you have a list of possible targets (and having made sure they are worth the effort), you can approach the website administrators or complete the necessary submission process. When approaching an administrator, we'd advise the following approach:
- Explain why you believe having a link on their website to your is relevant and even in their interest
- Don't offer a reciprocal link unless you have to
- Be clear exactly what you wish the anchor text to say (including relevant keywords) and if possible, even which page you would like the link on (not buried in their website's structure, with a good Page Rank and not too many other links)
- If they wish to have a logo of your company present, make sure this (or any other image) isn't used to create the link, but that anchor text is. If they have to link from an image, make sure the alt tag contains the keywords you would have used in the anchor text
- If you're meeting resistance, move on - you don't have time to waste banging your head against a brick wall
An alternative approach
As well as developing the standard linking strategy described above, also consider the alternatives. The task is to generate as many quality links to your website as possible and you can be quite creative about it. We've already alluded to authority websites such as wikidepdia.org and bbc.co.uk. Sites like these thrive on content as do hundreds of others and the right content in the form of articles, press releases or guidance on your website could encourage many unsolicited (if encouraged) links. Be careful to to replicate content all over the place though as duplicated content rarely ranks well. Blogs and forums are another place where a few well-placed links can pay dividends. Be careful to adhere to any rules though and get to know the style of the blog or forum before you try to place links. A heavy-handed approach could be counterproductive.
Creating content that people want to see and others want to link to is arguably the strongest linking strategy you can develop - as well as generating links, you develop credibility and reinforce your brand.
 You won't be penalised if a disreputable source links to you as there is little you can do about it. If you link to a disreputable (banned or penalised) source however, your ranking could be affected.
 These should be online competitors as well as known business competitors.