Backlinks, also known as external or inbound links, are links from other websites directed towards your site. Such links give two benefits. They bring traffic directly from people clicking the links, and also indirectly from boosting your search engine rankings.
In terms of ranking, every link to your site is seen by search engines as a vote for your website, improving your rankings accordingly. As for traffic, each back link building adds another entryway to your site, giving you more referral traffic. Links to your site are the second most important ranking factor after the page title.
Link Building Strategies
Link building can be grouped into two types of strategies: artificial and natural.
Artificial link building – This is where you directly target a site or group of people and try to get backlinks from them.
Natural link building – These strategies involve indirectly attracting back links through improving the quality of your site and content.
These two strategies will be discussed in later chapters.
Traffic or Ranking
Generally, the traffic that a link can bring you is more valuable than the reputation it conveys. The purpose of increasing your search ranking is to generate more traffic, so getting the traffic directly from the link is a much more effective means of achieving this. The increased traffic from the link also means that you have additional traffic that provides natural linking, assisting you in your link building efforts.
Discover Existing Backlinks and Rankings
Before you start a link building campaign, you need an easy way to keep track of your rankings and incoming links to determine how well your campaign performs. As mentioned in the last chapter, your Google search rankings are readily available at Google Webmasters Tools. The Search queries page provides an accurate listing of which keyword phrases you currently rank highly for, and which ones you may want to market some more.
Additionally, Google Webmasters Tools lists back links to your site under the “Links to your site” page. There you can also find the anchor text used in the back links, which should hopefully include keywords related to your site. Be aware that Google will not show you all the backlinks that it knows about and uses to determine your rankings. It will only show a seemingly random sample of links, probably to make it more difficult for webmasters to determine the full effectiveness of their link building campaigns. For more accurate lists of backlinks, you can use Bing’s Site Explorer* or Seomoz Open Site Explorer.
Be sure to download a copy of the backlinks you find, and a copy of the search ranking table, before starting your marketing campaign. This will allow you to accurately measure the success of your marketing efforts.
Measuring your Site Rank
There are a number of ways to measure your site rank, the most accurate of which is Alexa.‡ Alexa ranks sites based on their estimated traffic levels. This information is in large part provided by users of its Alexa Toolbar and other browser plug-ins using their data. To see your site’s rank, just run a search on their site for your domain name and it will display a wide range of valuable metrics for free—including traffic rank, trends, regional data, inbound links, average load time, top keywords, demographics analyses, page views per user, bounce rate and time on site. Note that for Alexa to provide any reliable statistics your site will have to be fairly popular, ranking at least in the top 1 million.
Since the Alexa rank measures traffic levels, it can be used to give a rough estimate of how much traffic a site receives. The following graph illustrates this by showing how a site’s Alexa rank can correspond to the number of average unique daily visitors.
Another common way of measuring site rank is through Google’s PageRank (PR) metric. PageRank assigns a number between 0 and 10 to web pages based on their importance in the eyes of Google. In essence, the PageRank for a page is determined by considering the number of pages that link to that one page, and the individual PageRank for those linking pages. The more pages that link in, and the greater PageRank they have, the greater PageRank the linked to page will get.
The exact method for calculating PageRank has not been disclosed by Google. Furthermore, the displayed PageRank value is not the actual value Google uses to rank search results, and it is only updated every three months or so, making it a very rough metric. Nonetheless, pages with a high PageRank are more likely to appear at the top of search results for relevant search terms.
If you use Firefox, you can view both the Alexa rank and PageRank, conveniently displayed on the status bar, by installing the Search Status Firefox plugin. This is a very powerful plug-in for web marketers that you should familiarize yourself with fully. One of its many useful features is the ability to highlight nofollow links.
Note Search Status – This Firefox plugin allows you to see the rankings of any website you visit.
A nofollow link, as opposed to a dofollow link, is a link that contains the rel ?= ?“nofollow” attribute. Such a link will not increase your search engine reputation. The attribute is designed specifically for search engines, in order to reduce the effectiveness of comment spam. It is currently supported by all major search engines—including Google, Yahoo, and MSN.
url" rel ?= ?"nofollow" ?> ?Nofollow link
Most blogging software—such as WordPress—automatically assigns the nofollow attribute to links in user submitted comments. Many other popular sites—for example Wikipedia, Digg, del.icio.us, and Yahoo Answers—also use nofollow on their pages. Although nofollow links will not affect your rankings, the traffic and visibility they bring your site can often make it worth your while to go after them in the same way as dofollow links.
Note that the nofollow attribute cannot be used to control the flow of PageRank within your own website. Any link with the nofollow attribute decreases the PageRank that a page can pass on, just as a dofollow link does.
Who you link to can have a strong impact on your search rankings. If you link to other trustworthy sites of authority, then you are essentially associating yourself with those sites. It shows that you know where the valuable content in your field is, and that you want to share that content with your visitors. Outgoing links can also work against you. If you link to low quality, junk sites that will serve to decrease your site’s value. Therefore, make sure that you mainly link out to high quality, relevant sites that you think your visitors will find useful. Do not link to sites that you would not want to visit yourself.
Outgoing links provide another benefit in that they can automatically generate inbound links in the form of trackbacks. When you publish content that links to another site, a truncated summary of your content will appear on the linked to page, provided that both sites are trackback-enabled. This is the default behavior for most blogging software, including WordPress. However, site owners may decide to disable this feature in order to prevent spamming.
Note BM-TrackPing* – This WP plug-in automatically groups trackbacks and separate them from the comment list.
Search engines recognize that you cannot stop people from linking to you. Therefore, links from low quality, junk sites or link farms will usually not hurt you. At worst, the link will not pass any link value to your site or any other sites. However, if you are reciprocating with a link back to them, then it most certainly will.
Buying Search Rankings
Links purchased purely for SEO benefits are not looked on favorably by search engines. Google will penalize sites they find doing that, by devaluing their back links. If link buying is a strategy you intend to use you should focus on buying links from highly ranked sites that are relevant to yours. Avoid buying site wide links, as search engines will not give your site much reputation for them. Instead, focus mainly on in-content links and front page links.