Practical Ecommerce

SEO: Weaving a Web of Links

Links are the currency of the web. Not only do their drive traffic in their own right, but they also are essential to high search engine rankings. Without good inbound links to your web site, your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts won’t get off the ground.

Link building isn’t about simply increasing your “link popularity.” And it’s definitely not about trading links with your business partners. Countless hours are wasted by naïve website owners forging reciprocal link deals because, in the end, they offer little to no benefit.

It’s true that search engines use link popularity as an indicator of a site’s worthiness, but it’s a weighted form of link popularity that I’ll refer to here as “link gain.” Not all links are created equal. Links from some sites are given much more weight by the search engines than those from other sites. Thus, “votes” (links) from some sites – CNN.com for instance – count more than lower profile sites like someone’s personal homepage.

Google uses a proprietary algorithm called PageRank™ to weight links from pages that it considers important. Every web page, not site, is assigned a PageRank score. You can check your PageRank scores with the Google Toolbar, a free plug-in for your web browser.

PageRank scores run from 0 to 10 on a logarithmic scale, meaning that the gaps between the integers increase logarithmically the closer you get to 10. So, for example, the gap between the 3 and a 4 is quite small, whereas the gap between 7 and 8 is huge in comparison. As such, boosting your PageRank from a 3 to 4 would be quite easy, and going from a 7 to 8 would be quite hard. Another logarithmic scale you might be familiar with is the Richter scale. As you probably know, a 5.0 on the Richter scale isn’t such a huge deal, whereas a 7.0 is a very big deal indeed.

Improving the link gain of your home page and of key internal pages is critical to getting well ranked and thus getting traffic. In other words, don’t just try to improve the amount and quality of links coming in to your home page; also make the most of the link gain that you already have by passing more of it on to your key product/category/content pages than to inconsequential pages like your ‘Welcome Letter from the President’ page.

A simple way to start boosting your site’s link gain is to submit to major directories such as Yahoo!, Open Directory (dmoz.org), GoGuides, Gigablast, JoeAnt, Gimpsy, BlueFind and Zeal. But don’t overly rely on directory listings. Just like with investing, with link building it’s important to diversify.

Additional link opportunities might include business partners (e.g. suppliers, customers, distributors) or related noncompetitive sites like industry guides and vertical portals. Also consider sponsoring organizations and getting acknowledgement through a link from their site. You probably get bonus points for a link from a topically relevant or authoritative site, so especially target topically relevant sites.

Sites that link to your competitors are often good targets. You can find many of these sites quickly using Netconcepts’ free link checker tool. Resist the temptation to boost your link popularity by submitting to “free for all” links pages. These are simply disorganized pages full of links — you submit your web address and are automatically added. Search engines hate these. Likewise, stay away from automated submission bots that promise submissions to thousands of search engines and directories. You will be paying for submissions to totally irrelevant or defunct websites. Worse yet, you may get penalized.

We’ve only scratched the surface, so stay tuned and next month I’ll dig deeper into some of my favorite link building tools and tips.

Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer

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