SEM: Make the Right Connections
When we talk about the World Wide Web, it’s easy to use the metaphor that has become part of its name: a web of pages connected together. That metaphor focuses more on the links between the pages than the pages themselves. When we start thinking about building traffic to Web sites, it’s often easy to also focus more on the links than those pages. That may be a mistake.
The Web is filled with links, and with many opportunities to link to others and have them link to your site. Before you start asking Web site owners for links, or building material you hope they will link to, you want to ask yourself:
• How might links to and from other sites fit into the marketing plan for my site?
• How do links to and from those pages provide value to my visitors and the site itself?
We know search engines value links, and gaining links from popular pages can make search engines believe your site is an important one—worth ranking higher than other pages when it’s relevant for a query a searcher performs.
It also can feel great to have your site rank well for your selected keywords in the major search engines and to have impressive traffic visiting your Web site. The metrics that really matter, however, involve meeting the objectives for your online efforts. Those could be selling products or services, generating leads, building brand, or educating a consumer base. You don’t want to just build traffic to your site, but rather you want to attract visitors who will help you meet the objectives you have for your site.
Web Links as Business Partners
When thinking about links, first focus on pages—both yours and those you might like to link to your site.
What is it about your Web site that would make people want to link to it? What informational needs does it fulfill? What tasks does it help an individual accomplish? Why would another site want to entrust its visitors to you? Those questions are the same regardless of whether you run an e-commerce site, affiliate pages or a blog.
The flip side to these questions is: Why would you link to another site? What value does it provide your visitors? If you link to a site, your visitors then follow that link and the page they arrive at is one they dislike and distrust, that reflects on you and your site.
When you think about linking, consider it from the perspective of choosing a business partner or a trusted confidant. Don’t be afraid of sending an e-mail or making a phone call to learn more about the people behind the site you may want to link to. Look around the prospective site and see if you can learn more about it. Check for Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce logos, believable customer testimonials complete with contact information, verifiable names and street addresses, or other evidence that offers credibility.
You shouldn’t link to a site just because you want it to then point a link back to your site. Instead, focus on adding links to your site that your visitors would want to use. And consider ways to make your site more attractive to others who might bookmark it or link to it.
Some strategies for attracting links to your site:
1. Employ rich, relevant content. Good content will attract bookmarks, links and word-of-mouth references. Last year, a guidebook for Web site quality reviewers employed by Google was leaked to the public. One of the things it discussed was the difference between “thin” affiliates and “thick” affiliates. A thin affiliate is one that puts a lot of keywords on pages, links to an affiliate site and doesn’t provide value beyond those links. A thick affiliate adds interesting content and information worth visiting on its site, instead of just acting as a conduit to the site it’s an affiliate for. Make your site thick.
2. Build real business or personal relationships with the owners of other sites that are compatible with yours. There’s value in strategic partnerships. I’ve walked into local antique shops that carry maps in the entrance areas of their buildings showing all the other antique shops in the area. The stores have recognized that their visitors are more likely to stick around if they can make a day of shopping.
3. Instead of asking for reciprocal links from other Web sites, explore alternative methods of building links, by doing such things as providing testimonials or writing articles for other sites—or even guest blogging.
4. Create an application, tool, glossary or tutorial to which others will refer their visitors. Provide value to Web site owners in an area that is relevant to your site, and they may entrust their visitors to you.
5. If the site is a topical directory, provide useful information about the sites listed within. It should be easy to use and have the potential to send traffic to your pages from people who might be interested in what you have to offer.
6. Look at your competitors, and try to determine what information or services they aren’t providing that you believe you can supply. Just because you are vying with others doesn’t mean you have to meet the competition head-to-head in the information that you provide to your audience or the tasks you help visitors accomplish. Look for keywords that may be missing from other sites, or even simple things like a glossary of terms or how-to information.
Some things to look for in sites you link to from your pages:
1. Is there a real person (or people) behind the site, including an About Us page and contact information?
2. Is it the kind of site your audience will appreciate and consider bookmarking? Are you showing visitors the same care in providing a link to a site that you would in convincing them to return to your site on a regular basis?
3. What does it do to stand out from others? What about the site is remarkable? If you link to a news story on your pages, do you choose a version that’s run on a news wire—and is available on hundreds of sites—or do you link to a newspaper article that is local to where the event took place and provides details the news wire article may not? Or do you link to a large newspaper that provides exclusive information and a high level of credibility? Showing some discrimination in what and where you link is something visitors will notice.
Links are an essential part of how the Web is indexed by search engines, but envision for a moment a world without search engines when considering who you might link to, whom you might like to link to you, and what you can provide on your site that would attract links to it. If search engines didn’t exist, what relevant parallels would cause you to associate your site with this one, and this site with yours?
I like to think of link building as relationship building, because the connections between your site and other pages on the Web can be an act of building relationships. You’re also building a relationship with your visitors by being a site worth following a link to, and by linking to sites that you trust and that your visitors will value. And, the more value you can bring to these relationships, the more likely you are to achieve your online traffic goals.
Bill Slawsky is founder and CEO of SEO by the Sea, a Newark, Del.-based search engine optimization company. He can be reached at (302) 733-0778.