Ever since Google established that Web sites containing a number of links from other quality sites are also likely to contain the most relevant content in their subject matter, the term "link popularity" was born. Today, link building strategies should be part of your search engine marketing campaign.

How Many Links Do You Need?

Google software engineer Matt Cutts says, "Google will find a site as soon as it finds one or two links to the main Web page. We usually recommend getting at least one link from the Open Directory Project."

However, the number of reciprocal links needed to get high rankings depends on the number of links shown for your higher-ranking competitors by Google PageRank. If your competitors display only 20 links to their sites, you can ensure a higher PR score by creating 25 links to yours. But if your competitors have hundreds of links, then you have to beat that number for top rankings.

Be aware that it's not just the number of links that's important, it's the quality of the sites linking to you (popular, respected sites) and the relevance of their content to your audience that counts.

Strategies for Building Link Popularity

1. Start With Directory Listings: Ensure that your site is listed in ODP (free) and also include Yahoo! Express ($299 yearly). Directory listings boost link popularity because human editors screen for relevancy. Seek listings in industry-specific directories. Search Engine Guide has a Search Engines Directory providing a searchable database of over 3,000 specialty search engines where you can find search engines dedicated to almost any topic.

2. Request Reciprocal Links: When looking for possible link candidates, start by searching your strategic keywords at major search portals. You'll see a lot of competitors, but look for non-competing, complementary sites. Screen these sites, selecting those likely to be receptive to your link request. Give them a compelling reason to link to your site. Show them where a link might be advantageous. A good strategy is to link to them first, which might help get a link back. Target respected and popular sites of relevance to your target audience.

Also, identify a well-established site with good content that targets the same audience you want to reach. Perform a link analysis from that site, noting the incoming links and soliciting the best non-competing sites.

3. Promote Linkability Within Your Site: Provide quality resources and appropriate outgoing links, including links to search engines, news hubs, weather reports, industry resources, industry professional groups, etc. Outgoing links are important for two reasons: they provide incentive for other quality sites to link to yours, and they can improve your PR score if internal linkage is done properly.

4. Publish Articles: Employees with industry expertise can write business articles for your target audience, submitting the articles to appropriate online publications. Include your Web site URL in the bio and request that the article appear with bio and company link. This can generate many links and can also help promote future business.

5. Create Testimonials: Develop a testimonial page of products and services you recommend. If you admire a marketing or publishing site, contact the publisher explaining why you value the content.  You may get a request for permission to display your comments on their Web site. Grant permission provided they agree to link to your site. It can help to post the testimonial on your site, referring them to it.

6. Supplement Your Campaign With Reciprocal Link Software: Programs like Arelis and Zeus can help locate additional reciprocal links. These robots will search the Web, looking for reciprocal linking partners, ranking potential sites by relevance. You can review the sites, decide which companies to solicit, request a link through a built-in email client with custom templates for requesting a link exchange, track the status of your requests, and check the viability of existing links.

Caution: Avoid link-building programs that query or visit search engines for finding potential link partners because this overloads the search engine servers, and your site can be penalized.

7. Post to Discussion Forums: This is an easy way to get a link from industry discussion forum sites if you have the time and expertise to participate. Include your URL in your sig file.

8. Link Multiple Sites: If you have a number of sites with unique content, be sure to link them to your main site. Content must be related, of course.

9. Awards and Contests: You can create an awards program for related sites, placing winner logo links on an awards page they can link back to. Or you can run a links contest, awarding prizes for linking to your site.

10. Affiliate Programs: Affiliates can be a source of links, depending on your site goals, budget and time availability. But the affiliate program must be administered from your site to improve link popularity because outsourcing requires linking to a third-party site. Affiliate software should generate static HTML pages for affiliate's links to enable indexing.

Strategies to Avoid

Some strategies hyped in the past should be avoided because they're now worthless or can get you penalized in search engines.

1. Link Farms: A link farm is a network of sites linking to other sites for the sole purpose of increasing link popularity. Search engines consider this spamming.

2. Reciprocal Link Exchange Services: Networks consisting of hundreds of webmasters with sites on numerous topics are linked to one another. The service requires linking to all sites in network, making content unrelated. Search engines consider this spamming.

3. FFA Listings: Free for All listings appear and disappear rather quickly. Few people search through the listings except for spammers collecting email addresses. These sites are not indexed by search engines.

Running a link campaign can take a little time, but is well worth the effort as these links establish relevancy, a top priority for search engines and consumers alike.

Paul J. Bruemmer is the CEO of Web Ignite, a search engine marketing company founded in 1995. His articles have appeared on ClickZ, B2B Interactive, MarketingProfs, Marketing Sherpa, New Media, Pandia, Search Engine Guide, SitePoint, and Traffick. He can be reached at paul2@web-ignite.com .

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