Web U: Scoring Some Link Love

Reciprocity can build links - but it's not the only way

Link building, or getting other sites to link to yours, is the part of SEO that we all hate. It's boring, tedious, slow, and did I mention boring? Of all the elements of SEO that we look at every day, link building is one where many people try shortcuts. Generally, we approach the endeavor with the goal of getting the most links in the least amount of time. Needless to say, giving into that mentality can land you in a whole heap of trouble.

Of the various ways of to build links, simply buying links can be a great way to get some quality and quantity in a hurry but is also, far and away, the most controversial strategy on the market today. The search engines, of course, say that they are opposed to link buying but their biggest concern is purchase in bulk of off-topic links on unrelated sites.

When I propose buying links as a strategy, I'm talking about a small volume of purchases that are highly relevant and targeted. The biggest mistake people make with link buying is opting for quantity over quality. Instead, you should view any link buying as a media buy and only purchase on sites that make sense.

In other words, if you sell apparel, don't go buying links on technology Web sites; look at the vertical your links are in and try to determine the demographics of those sites. Ranking aside, you should easily get enough direct traffic to give you a healthy return on your investment.

There are some very high profile sites selling links. It's not hard to dig up demographic data on these sites. Line up your relevancy and demographic and go to town-remember, it's a media buy.

Another approach is reciprocal linking. We've all seen the "please link to me" e-mails: "I stumbled across your Web site," or "I think you are a fabulous resource," "I linked to you...please link to me." (I particularly like it when the e-mail merge didn't work correctly and it reads: "Dear %%website%% owner.")

While there's nothing wrong with a few reciprocal links, if all you have is a page of reciprocal links, then you have a problem: It's very easy for a search engine to pick you out of the Web map and demote you.

When most or all of your links are reciprocal, that means there's little to no independent support for your Web site and content. If you didn't trade links then you wouldn't have any coming in. If the world doesn't think you're a good enough resource to link to, then a search engine has no reason to believe you're relevant.

A favorite old school, more aggressive SEO technique relies on expired domains or dead Web sites. The strategy hinges on buying a domain or old, dead site that has good inbound linking, and then to permanently redirect visitors to your new, shiny site. This technique worked very well back when Google's PageRank was a primary ranking factor and good PageRank with a large volume of links was the recipe for success.

But those days are gone now. Currently, this strategy can get you in trouble; at the very least, you might end up appearing high in the results for odd phrases that aren't related to your business. For example, say you sell handmade glass jewelry, but buy a site about bearded dragon lizards and redirect the links. You will find that you end up ranking for terms like "bearded glass jewelry."

If you absolutely insist on redirecting links, be sure to find old sites in your vertical. They may cost you a bit more, but in the long run the resulting traffic will be more valuable and convert much better.

Keep in mind that whatever strategy you choose, linking is a tricky business. A haphazard program with too many shortcuts can cause more harm than good.

Todd Friesen is director of search engine optimization at Range Online Media. (

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