If you've read a bit about search engine optimization (SEO), then you know that attracting lots of high quality inbound links is one of the most effective ways to build authority and improve your rank online. Even if you know how to go about building links - directories, networking and creating remarkable content that people will link to - you may not know what sites to target for inbound links.
First, A Quick Refresher on Inbound Links
An inbound link is a hyperlink on someone else's web site that includes the URL for a page on your domain. Inbound links vary in quality and usefulness based on the originating site's own authority, how many other links originate from that page and the actual text that is hyperlinked. What you want most are:
- Links from high authority sites. Getting a link from the New York Times has much more value than a link from my personal blog. Just like a personal introduction from your dearest friend has more value than an introduction from a distant acquaintance.
- Links that you don't have to share. Search engines give a page only a certain amount of credibility. This credibility or "link juice" is split up among the links coming from that page. That means you get a lot more value from an inbound link that is a story just about your products or services than an inbound link that lists you as one of ten hyperlinked companies.
- Links with relevant text descriptions. Search engines recognize which words are hyperlinked and give value to those words. Therefore, if someone hyperlinks to your golf school and they hyperlink the text "the program" instead of "golf academy," you are missing out and you should politely ask the linker if they wouldn't mind shifting the link to the more SEO-friendly text. Most of the time they are happy to help.
Second, How Do You Research Inbound Links?
Now that you know what you are looking for in an attractive inbound link, you need to figure out WHO you'd like to link to your site. That means some combination of industry relevance, high authority and the ease with which you can get in touch to share content that is link-worthy.
Logically, you should start with what and who you know. Make a short list of trade publications, blogs and contacts in your network who might be good candidates. Now, don't stop there.
Turns out there are a few tools on the market to help you even further. Tools like SEOMoz's LinkScape and Yahoo Site Explorer both provide this functionality. HubSpot also provides link research tools as a part of our integrated marketing software . Here's an example of how you can do research to work out link strategy using HubSpot.
In this example, you see the inbound links for a concrete countertop company. 67 total links with an average of a "low" link grade. What does that really mean?
Let's check out the competition to find out. Here's another local competitor.
Wow, comparatively speaking, our concrete countertop guy is doing great - he has a lot more links (60+ vs. 10). But maybe there are still some ideas for him here. Looks like the Better Business Bureau link could be of value, as could concreteideas.com and thebluebook.com which look like listing services. Add these to the list to investigate.
Next, let's pick a more ambitious competitor. Looking at someone in the concrete business that has national exposure, we can see what Cheng Concrete Exchange is up to.
Wow. They are a national outfit and it shows - they have hundreds of inbound links, many of high quality. This is a treasure trove of link opportunities to research further, looking for either personal connections or maybe sites that love to link to award-winning products, great content or customer stories.
Third, What Do You Do With That Research?
That little "spying" activity gave us a lot of insight into how the concrete business is doing and where there might be some opportunities to seek additional inbound links. Next steps would be to do a little research about each interesting source of links and determine what they want for a link.
- Is it a member directory that you pay for?
- Is it a content centric site that might let you post a guest article?
- Or, is it a business that you may already be networking with and you can find out if there are any opportunities to share content or promotions to help each other out with relevant links.
Prioritize that list and start working away at it one link at a time. You'll find that online authority and the resulting search results improve over time and the best benefit - the more people find you, the more they link to you, creating a virtuous cycle of link building that will be really hard for your competition to beat!