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There are links and there are links

Everyone who has spent any time looking at promoting their website knows that in-bound links are important. The more sites there are linking to your site, the more popular you will appear to search engines, who will then promote you to a higher position in search results. Simple, in theory, but in practice there’s a lot more to it.

For a start, the validity of links to your site depends largely on the search term people are typing in. If you are a tyre company and people type in “Yokohama tyres”, the relevance of your links will depend on their relationship with the keywords.

Let’s say, for example, that you have a page of your site all about Yokohama tyres, and that those two words appear a lot throughout the page in a logical , non-spammy fashion. From a content point of view, your page would be highly relevant to the search term. It may rank low down though if lots of other sites also have pages optimised for the same term. This is where links will come into play.

Faced with a multitide of pages in its index relating to “Yokohama tyres”, Google has to work out which ones to recommend first. Now let’s extend our example to look at two pages full of links. Google has 20 pages in its index that link to your closest competitor’s Yokohama page; Google has only five pages in its index that link to your Yokohama page. On the surface, you would expect your competitor to rank higher. However, let’s say half of the links to your competitor come from your competitor’s own server (which Google knows from a shared IP address) and the other half are links from random directories on non-tyre-related websites.

Now let’s imagine your five links all come from five different websites on different servers, and all of those websites are auto-motive or tyre related. Now, let’s imagine, instead of those sites just linking to you in a directory, they actually link to your Yokohama page as part of an article… You should get the picture now about relevance. Google will, quite logically, think your site is worth recommending more than your competitors because everything, from your content to the sites linking to your page, adds up to a much more relevant hit for the term that is being searched for.

Here are some useful tips to employ in trying to improve your ranking in search engines. There is no right or wrong because search engines are constantly tweaking the way they rank websites and each result can vary.

Publish stories on other sites

Come up with articles that you can publish on other websites. Perhaps there is a portal or magazine in your industry that would appreciate a free feature, which they publish with a credit and a link to your website. Look for sites relevant to the keywords you are trying to succeed with. Also, make sure the site you are publishing on is indexed by Google and indexed regularly – and ideally ranked well.

Press releases are “free” – adverts cost money

PR is cheaper than advertising. OK, it’s not free to write and distribute a press release but compared with the cost of placing adverts on websites, it is highly cost effective. A good story, sent out as a press release, could garner coverage, and of course links, in a contextual way on websites relevant to your subject matter. Adverts are good for branding or controlled positioning, but a good piece of PR could save you a lot of money.

Don’t believe the hype

SEO companies will promise to get you a good ranking, and sometimes to even guarantee you a top five position on Google. In actual fact, they can often deliver on this, but there are caveats to consider. The way many of them do it is by creating separate pages for your website that don’t work within your content management system – this means you then have more content to maintain, or you have to keep paying them to maintain it. The reality of SEO companies is that everything they do you can do for yourself. Ask your SEO agency how they work – how they generate links for you. Don’t assume they know what they are doing.

Comment links that are not spam

A popular way of getting links to your site is to post in forums or blogs with a link to your site. There are two things to consider here. First is relevance – a link may add to your pile of in-bound links but it may not appear as a relevant link. Also, bear in mind that many blogs have “no follow” settings, which tell search engines to ignore links in people’s comments, so blogging as a linking strategy may be a waste of time. When it comes to discussion forums, add a link into your profile and your signature, if the forum’s rules allow, but don’t post just to tell people to look at your website – it will just get you banned or the post removed.

Don’t over-do it. Avoid creating what’s called a site-wide link (such as a blogroll link that appears on every page of a site) and avoid commenting on blog posts using spammy names such as “Plumber in Norwich”.

Link formatting can boost relevance

The format of a link can also aid the relevance of a link. A basic HREF, for example, may not scan impressively, for example <a href=”http://www.exampledomain.com”>Example Website</a>. Including a title attribute (which appears as a tool tip when you hold your mouse over the link) can help readers to see what they will get when they click on the link, but it can also help the search engine gauge relevance.

Again, over-use of TITLE attributes in link tags, or unnecessary keyword usage, may be harmful. Don’t do it if it isn’t legitimately there to help a reader.

Using the tyres example from above, the TITLE attribute might look like this: <a href=”http://www.exampletyres.com/yokohama” title=”Yokohama tyre range”>Example Tyres Ltd</a>.

Do some research

Your business will benefit from a couple of hours of online research. Choose two or three search terms that you expect your customers to type into Google, and see what sites come up for these. Find websites in your business space and think of what content you could distribute to these sites or think of where you could ask them to link to you. As editor of Parentally Challenged I am often contacted by companies that have come across one of our articles in Google, to ask if we will add a link into the page where the article appears, pointing to their website. If it’s relevant and useful for the readers, then it’s another good piece of helpful information to add to the page. It has to be editorially valid though – charging for placement is wrong.

Don’t obsess about it all

Despite all of the above, don’t obsess about looking only for highly targeted links and avoid everything else, because the search engine is not the only thing you should be worrying about. A link to your site from anywhere, relevant or not, can be a good thing and you want customers to find you from all means. The main thing is to make sure that you focus more on the links that count.

Also remember important things like including your domain on your business cards, business stationery, all your advertising and any other materials you produce.

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