OWNER'S MANUAL

Need to Boost Your Site's Traffic? How to Master Backlinks

Backlinks still matter--both for traffic and as an indication of your online reputation.
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Search engine algorithms constantly change. But backlinks--links from another site to your site--are still important. (Roughly speaking, Google's early algorithms focused on backlinks under the premise the higher the number of "quality" backlinks, the more relevant the Web page.)

But improving your SEO isn't the only reason your website needs authoritative links.

Sure, you want higher rankings and more traffic from search engines, but you also want natural traffic from highly relevant sites.

And that means not only working hard to build backlinks to your site but also keeping an eye on links you don't actively seek that may be harmful to your business.

For advice I turned to Felix Tarcomnicu, the head of marketing at Monitor Backlinks, a tool that crawls the Web for new backlinks and sends email alerts when one of its 20,000 users' websites earns or loses links.

How to Get Positive Links

Start by looking at your competition's traffic sources. Simply do a few Google searches for your website's main keywords and see which sites rank the highest.

Then, to find the top referring sites for a specific competitor, use a tool like SimilarWeb. For example, check out the results for Airbnb. Not only can you get information about backlinks, you can learn about any site's number of visits, traffic sources, social traffic, traffic from display ads, etc.

Once you've identified a site's top referring backlinks, work to replicate their links and get the same kind of traffic to your website.

But don't forget that great links come from great products and services. Most customers talk about your business on social media, so use a tool like Topsy to see who mentions your brand on Twitter.

Ultimately, backlinks are an indication of reputation. When you sell great products, provide great service, and are consistently helpful and professional, people will talk about you. People will link to you. People will create positive reviews.

Don't just see acquiring backlinks as just a strategy--see acquiring backlinks as an outcome of excellence.

How to Remove Negative Backlinks

In some cases your website will get backlinks that can negatively impact your reputation. You might be surprised to find that your website has backlinks from:

  • Adult or gambling websites
  • Websites with offensive content
  • Websites totally unrelated to your business

Obviously if you own a home-delivery business, having links from adult websites can easily ruin your reputation. Use a tool like MonitorBacklinks to keep an eye on all existing backlinks and receive email alerts when new websites link to your site.

Then, if you identify links you would like removed:

  1. Contact the webmaster and ask that the link be deleted. Provide the exact link location (page and location on page) to make it as easy as possible.
  2. If the webmaster refuses to remove your link, contact their hosting company and let them know a website they host is spamming your business. (To determine the host provider use Whois.com.
  3. If that doesn't work, report the website to Google's Webspam team. While this won't help you remove the link, it can help keep that page off the top Google results.

How to Manage Your Online Reputation

Sometimes a negative backlink is deserved: you messed up. Instead of putting time and effort into having a link from, say, a negative review removed, put that effort into fixing the problem. Respond. Find out what went wrong. Address the customer's concern.

Often the customer will revise or add to their review, sharing what you did and turning a bad situation into a (at least somewhat) better outcome. And in the process, your company's reputation will be improved.

But getting a positive backlink isn't the real reason to fix the problem. Ultimately you're in the business of delighting customers, not building backlinks. Work hard to satisfy your customers, especially those who initially aren't satisfied, and your company's reputation--and backlinks--will only grow stronger.

Again, backlinks are an indication of reputation. Work hard on acquiring authoritative backlinks, but work harder on landing and keeping delighted customers.

Last updated: May 2, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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