Preaching What We’ve Practiced
From all the resources currently available about the concept of link building (like Alyssa’s blog article here), chances are that you have already read them and know the process quite thoroughly. What many do not realize, however, is that link building has been an integral part of the Internet as a whole and we have all participated in its process simply by browsing websites. This blog entry will aim to describe the complex practice of link building in simpler, layman’s terms.
Defining the Process
So let’s define “link building.” Let’s see what the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says:
Well, isn’t that convenient? The term does not exist. That means this blog entry is done. Please come back next week to read “Part 5: The Content & Social Media.”
Okay, don’t really leave. What we have learned here is that most dictionary sources will not define this term for us. Unlike the more well-known terms, such as Search Engine Optimization and Responsive Web Design, “Link Building” by itself is not as set in stone in what it means and what it does. This is why one must be careful in searching for a definition someone else wrote.
Let’s look at this next one from Web1Marketing:
Here we have a few sentences describing the term and related phrases. You will see “search engine ranking” and “reciprocal linking” among the related terms. Did you click on the image already? You have just participated in giving Web1Marketing a traffic visit.
But let’s look at the actual definition they provide. There are a few questions to ask in our analysis. Why is there a hyphen between “link” and “building”? Why must the links from external websites “improve both direct referrals” and “search engine rankings”? Why is paying for links and reciprocal linking more effective than simply requesting uncompensated links from other sites? Why is there a section that asks the reader to include a new term in their glossary? Why is there a link to their glossary?
The answers to these questions are actually simpler than expected. The hyphen is unnecessary. The links from external websites do not always improve direct referrals or search engine rankings. Paying for links and reciprocal linking is not more effective. The link that asks the reader to include a new term is a way for the website to receive contact information from the reader. The link to the glossary is to keep the reader on the website. What we have here is a brief description of the term followed by opinions and links that navigate to other pages. Unfortunately, it does not display the definition of link building.
Since we have looked at Merriam-Webster and Web1Marketing sources, we can go one step further and use a highly respected source for all topics related to search engine optimization. This source is called SEOMoz.
Let’s take a look at SEOMoz’s definition:
This definition is wordy and is not cut and dry. I hope you did click on this particular image. The article they have on link building is excellent for beginners who want to explore this facet of search engine optimization.
So upon looking deeper into this excerpt about SEOMoz’s take on link building, we can see that it requires you to be creative, work hard, and have a budget. The actual process you utilize varies depending on what kind of website you have and even what kind of personality you have. This is not a copy-and-paste sort of an assignment.
We are now beginning to see why “link building” is so difficult to define. For the sake of understanding the gist of it, I have taken some pieces and placed them together. I personally prefer not to define link building until I find it in a dictionary, so even this is merely an effort to portray a concept rather than declare its “true meaning.”
“Link building is the art of obtaining links from external websites to a targeted website.”
This one is rather short, isn’t it? That is because link building, in its simplest sense, is just that: building links from one end to another. The purposes behind it, such as gaining more traffic or obtaining better search engine rankings, are all motivations. It is like saying “web design” is the art of designing websites. The purpose behind a web design can be to improve the current design of a company website, but not every person designing a website wants to increase revenue and generate sales. Artists design their own personal websites as portfolios to showcase their work. There is no shopping cart for that.
Now we can delve further into practical methods of how to go about actually building links.
At this point, we know that we have always been participating in link building simply by clicking on the links available on various websites and that the definition of link building is simply to establish links from one page to another.
Placing links on a page is rather simple and effective. The difficult part is having a webmaster place a link that belongs to you on their page. What motivation would they have? The links I have placed in this entry alone lead to various different domains. The motivation I had was to demonstrate the effectiveness of outbound links. So, how do we get those difficult inbound links?
One such method, which is decreasing in usage but still valid in practice, is to submit business listings to respectable web directories. You will notice that this link goes to SEOMoz’s list of directories. This is a good list. You may only see the first 15 directories out of over 400 without a subscription to their service, as shown below.
The reason it is worth it to get this subscription is because of the time it saves you when submitting business listings. Considering how our digital marketing agency works on search engine optimization every day, the tool helps us immensely during our link building campaigns. From the short list above, we can see that Yahoo Directory is among the top.
Let’s take a look at Prager’s listing on Yahoo Directory.
This is a highly recognized and respected directory service provided by Yahoo for free to any business owner, and we jumped right on the opportunity to list our business there. The listing will stay until we remove it or until Yahoo goes under, which we hope never happens. Through these directories, we essentially request the webmasters to activate our business listings after filling out the necessary information. We utilized this practice before our redesign and continue to do so today.
Here are some results of our business listing submissions.
When searching for Prager on Google, we find that the Yahoo Directory listing is on the second page. Among the other directories in these results are Yellow Pages, Business Finder, Perkiomen Valley Patch, and Manta. Did we submit to each of these individually? You better believe it. So then what is that listing at the top that goes to www.squidoo.com?
That link goes to Squidoo. The link with that specific result goes to the Prager Squidoo page. Did you expect a deep, dark secret answer to go with it? Nope. There is no black hat here. Squidoo is an online community where users write content and publish their original work for other users to read. The creator is someone you might have heard about who goes by Seth Godin.
Here we have a free service where we can write content about a variety of topics related to Internet marketing with an active user base who participate in each others’ lenses. How could we not use this? Before our redesign, we created some pages (called lenses) so those in the Squidoo community can learn of our presence. After the redesign, we have placed links that go to our new website in the lenses we created. Take a look below.
This is our Squidoo profile. Are the links in each of our lenses for promotional purposes? Hardly. They are for people to read new content we write, such as about Responsive Web Design, and see our website for evidence to back up our words. But we cannot submit an entire website to Squidoo. We have content on our Squidoo pages that are not on our digital marketing agency website. See for yourself. This is the proper way to submit content that links to more content.
The two methods described above require less interaction with other webmasters. There is yet another way to get inbound links, but it is less about sending emails and more about shaking hands. Yes, giving and receiving a handshake is one of the most effective ways to build outbound and inbound links. How do you do this? You go to a convention or public event, strike up a conversation with someone who has a business card, you shake that person’s hand, then give that person your business card. You have now left an impression. You also have each others’ contact information. However, this is not enough. You have to develop a relationship and maintain it. This does not mean you should invite everyone you meet to your next Christmas party. The creativity in establishing a continuous connection with the other party depends on what you want to do.
Prager currently has these kinds of inbound links due to having worked with clients in the past and having maintained a steady work relationship with those clients. Many link building relationships work this way. We provide the Internet Marketing service and the clients provide a link from their website, which we maintain, back to our website. This is not an advertisement for our clients’ customers to skip them and come to us. We simply have an author tag at the footer to take credit for our work.
Summing It All Up
Link building is not an exact science but that does not mean it is impossible to grasp. Methods of gaining links vary and so do the results. There is no one way to go about it. Because of these reasons, including all the ones mentioned in this entry, have fun with it. Experiment. Do not pay a third party to submit links for you. Do not go to a shady website that claims to send your link to thousands of online sources. Research your own good directories, content hubs, and potential link partners. That is how we built our links. That is how we continue to maintain our links. That is how link building should always work.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, “A Prager Redesign, Part 5: The Content & Social Media”