‘Link building’, for those who don’t know, is the practice of gaining links from other sites. Links are important. They deliver authority in the eyes of search engines, traffic if you’re lucky, and a chance that someone else will link to you, too.
You can’t live without ’em. But there are no established best practices you can follow. Hopefully, if you hear what scares me, you’ll learn a bit about what to avoid:
- The “Gain 600,000 links in just two weeks!” strategy. It’s tempting to pay someone to build lots of links in one shot. But it’s a bad idea. Search engines measure link velocity. Steady link growth is good. A sudden surge is bad. Google and Yahoo! will either ignore those new links, or penalize you for them. So unless 43,000 links a day is normal for you, skip it. Build links slowly and steadily.
- Link buying. I used to love this strategy. Buy a great quality link on a relevant, popular site, get a great advertisement and a boost in the search rankings at the same time. But Google has cracked down on link sellers hard. So hard, in fact, that it’s hard to believe link buyers aren’t getting hit, too. Buy links if you want. Stick to directories and other pay-to-play sites where the link you buy is on a single, highly relevant page and and clearly has an advertising purpose other than boosting your search rankings.
- Parasite hosting. In this risky (and sometimes unethical) practice, you pay the owner of the .org or .edu site to host one or more pages of your content, with links back to your site. Like magic, you’ve got links from high-authority sites (.org and .edu domains are generally accorded more authority). I hear folks argue about this all the time: Everyone else does it, etc. etc.. I disagree: If it smells like poo, it’s poo. And after two babies, an incontinent geriatric cat (rest his soul) and now two guinea pigs, I don’t need more poo in my life. Parasite hosting stinks. I don’t step in it.
- Comment spam. If you’re a blogger, you’ve seen comments that have nothing but dozens of links in ’em. That’s comment spam. It’s submitted by a computer program. It’s one of the many ways folks build 600,000 links in just two weeks. Hopefully I don’t have to explain why this one sucks. Don’t do it.
- Link trading. Reciprocal linking, in small amounts, is harmless. I think. But trading links with 500 other sites isn’t going to get you any traction with the search engines. Nor is it going to help you sell anything. Where do you put those links on your site? In a huge list of traded links. Search engines skip those pages. Visitors ignore them. So next time you get an e-mail saying “I found your web site. Our two sites have nothing whatsoever to do with each other, so I’d like to trade links”, delete it.
- Forum spam. Just write “Great point!” on every comment thread and include a link back to your site – bingo, lots of links! Bingo, lots of bad karma! There’s a new circle of Hell opening up just for forum spammers. When you die, you’ll be forced to talk to demons who nod vigorously at your every word and say “Great point” all while they try to drag you into a piranha infested lake.
I am very conservative about link building. I only see a few sound, safe strategies:
- Build links through press releases and blogger outreach. Reaching out to publishers is a worthwhile white-hat link building strategy.
- Join a community. Make friends. Don’t beg for links, but do let them see what you’re doing online. They’ll link to you now and then.
- Write a blog. Link to other bloggers when they write good stuff. They’ll eventually reciprocate. This is not link trading. These links will show up in articles, in context, when they make sense. They’ll give you a boost.
- The ever-elusive link bait. Write, film or photograph something so damned compelling that everyone and their cousin wants to link to it. Or create a tool everyone wants. If you can do it consistently, it’s pure gold. This is a great tactic. All you have to do is consistently write stuff that grabs wide attention, and shouts down the 40,000 other people doing the same thing. Cough.
It’s Your call
I can’t give you much guidance on this one. Links are currency to buy attention and customers. You have to decide how far you’ll go to get them.
But set guidelines with which you’re comfortable. And then stay within them. Otherwise, the piranha-infested lake awaits…