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Links, and how they benefit a website

By Occupancy Marketing | March 3rd, 2011

It is well known within search engine optimisation circles that links benefit a website, but what types of links are there and how do links benefit a website?

Links and how they benefit a website

Link building is a pretty general term used to describe anything you do to build links to a website. There are two primary reasons to build links; Direct Click-Through Traffic, and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which builds traffic through higher rankings in the search engines.

What are links?

Links can mean three things:

1. Links to your website from another website
2. Links within your website, from one area of content to another
3. Links from your website to another website

Links out to another website are not of any significant benefit to search engine optimisation, they are useful for users but in most cases not search engines.

Links within your own content to other sections of your website are useful for search engine optimisation as they help to emphasis a keyword theme. If your website features a prominent link from your home page using what is called an anchor text link (this means keywords are used in the link text) search engines should rank the page being linked to higher.

The most important links however are links from another website to your website.

Why do links benefit a website?

Search engines use links as a reference point to help them understand what a website or page within a website is about. Google in particular has placed a heavy influence on the links in the way it delivers its search results.

Search engines like to use links because they are votes of confidence. Unlike a traditional election however, not all links are treated the same, a vote from a popular website is worth more than a vote from a run of the mill website.

Google uses a patented method to gauge a website popularity called Page Rank. The higher the page rank, the more impact the link can have. However it is important to note that Google would see a link from a similarly themed Page Rank 3 site, e.g. for a hotel, another hotel industry site, as more relevant and therefore more valuable than a Page Rank 4 site that is not in the same theme e.g. a car insurance web site.

It is not only the link that is important, but what the text in the link says. If a link to your website says luxury hotels in London, the search engine will understand that another website is indicating your website is about luxury hotels in London.

To illustrate the importance of external links, if you type “click here” into Google or any other search engine, you will see a top result for Adobe Acrobat. Millions of websites have used the phrase “click here” in a link to Adobe Acrobat, the page in fact does not mention “click here” within the text but the external links are so strong it appears first.

How can you obtain links?

We have established external links are important, how can you obtain them?

Because it is generally well known that external links (with the right anchor text) are important to your search rankings, whole industries have been created to acquire links. Search engines are aware of this and constantly trying to stay one step ahead of individuals or companies that manipulate their search results. A game of cat and mouse.

Google took some significant measures to stop people manipulating links. The battle continues with search engines becoming more and more sophisticated in what they class as a good website link.

Below we have listed some of the ways you can obtain links, note we have ignored illicit ways to obtain links through cloaking, links farms etc:

Reciprocal links – this means you trade links, “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours”. Search engines now universally ignore reciprocal links as they are easy to detect.

Free links – links can be obtained from directory based websites which list various companies under sectors like Tourism. This can be a useful link (they are non reciprocal) although it can be time consuming to find them.

Paid links – not paid search, but where you pay to appear on a website. Many websites make money charging for website links, often thousands of pounds a month for one link from popular websites but it is well known that search engines identify who is selling links and block any credit from them. Paid links can be useful if the link is relevant to your sector and also drives traffic to your website. For example a boutique hotel listing on a website which features boutique hotels.

Partners / Suppliers – these are a good source of links. If a supplier is an architect who has worked with you, they will want to show case their work. It is easier to contact a partner or supplier and ask them to link to you (with the text you would want to use in the link).

Directories – websites like Yell, Qype, Thomson Local etc are a good source of links because they are trusted by search engines. Search engines also use this data for their local search, verifying addresses etc.

Content & features – content remains one of the best ways to obtain quality links to your website. If your content is informative people will link to it. Often something else is required to capture the imagination like an interactive feature on your website like a quiz, video or competition.

Online Press Releases – online press releases are an excellent way to generate links from websites. This can be done in many different ways but the idea is to take news you are already creating through traditional PR and adopt this for the web. The news item is developed into a theme and optimised the same way you would optimise a web page. Done properly, this will mean your press release features in online news sources like Google News. The links within the article can also assist your search engine performance, particularly if the article is picked up by other online publications.

Viral Marketing – viral marketing is similar to online Press Releases except the story is specifically created for intrigue. A good example of this being the Holiday Inn human bed warmer story which was picked up by national papers around the globe.

Link Baiting – link baiting is similar to viral marketing, there are essentially different types of “hooks” or pages built to encourage links. They are: Information, News, Humour, Tools or Widgets and Unique content.

Article Distribution – is an attempt to educate a certain market place by creating content to be shared online by authoritative publications in your industry. Occupancy Marketing for example write articles or white papers which are published in hotel marketing publications in return for a link back to our website.

Summary

As search engines become more sophisticated it is becoming harder to artificially manipulate links to your website. We encourage clients to register for free listings on directories and buy listings on relevant websites that will drive traffic. Increasingly clients need to be looking at their content, website features and online press distribution to generate meaningful results.

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