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8 Link Popularity Methods Ranked for SEO

By John Metzler, March 2007

The name of the game in the new year is White Hat SEO. Search engines are too smart for quick-fix, questionable methods any longer. Building a quality link network for your web site is one of the most important aspects to web site promotion, whether it's for search engine optimization, affiliate programs, lead generation, or otherwise. Surprisingly, some people are still involved in methods that have been proven useless and even harmful for several years. One method that seems to stand the test of time is a link exchange: a simple, yet effective, way to increase your web site's link popularity. This is by far the most common method of acquiring incoming links.

The effectiveness of link exchanges has been discussed ad nauseam by the SEO community over the past few years. The major Google update dubbed "Florida" showed clearly that many link exchanges were starting to carry less weight than they had previously carried. Doing hundreds of link exchanges with casino, pharmaceutical, and loan consolidation sites, no longer produced top rankings on Google. Yahoo! has followed suit to some degree; however, MSN is still where Google and Yahoo! were several years ago.

Search engine comparisons aside, many people wonder if link exchanges are worth doing anymore. Are there more effective methods of obtaining quality incoming links? The truth is that it totally depends on your competition.

If the norm for obtaining backlinks in one market is to participate in forum discussion with linked signatures, and to swap links with unrelated sites, then simply doing a higher quantity of such basic tasks would put your site at the top of the rankings. If your site is in the field of search engine optimization, then more advanced methods of link development should be done. Such methods might include writing articles; getting paid directory listings at Yahoo!, bCentral, and; or investing in professional press release distribution.

It all depends on what your competitors are doing. Ignoring the quantity of SEO methods and focusing on the quality, a good ranking system for backlink acquisition methods is as follows, with #8 being the poorest and #1 being the best:

8. "Sign-up And Get 1000+ Links in 5 Minutes!"

Link opportunities of this nature are pure spam. In most cases, you will see a small form at the bottom of a links page, with a text field for your web site URL and one for your email address. Giving your email out to legit businesses is risky enough, but can you imagine how much junk mail you will receive if you start signing up to these kinds "opportunities"? This method is a complete waste of time.

7. Three-Way Linking:

If "Site A" refers to your web site, you may get link emails out of the blue offering a partnership whereby your site (Site A) links to the emailer's site "B", while his other site "C" links back to your Site A. This is one of the most abused linking schemes around today simply because Site C, the second of the mysterious stranger's sites, is usually nothing more than a farm of outbound links. Sure, some link popularity work has been done to obtain a decent PageRank value, but the value this site carries as an outbound link to yours is minimal at best.

The other downside to this is that search engines flag link networks once they see repetitive linking patterns between the same sites. If you allow your site to be linked up with these networks, it is not uncommon to see your site suffer a link popularity penalty and ranking drop.

6. Links from Forum Signatures:

These do not carry as much weight in terms of SEO as one might think. Yes, they are one-way links, and yes, they can be from pages that have content relevant to your site. But that doesn't mean much unless your links appear in a forum's thread that is popular enough to be linked to from static web pages, or the thread's URL doesn't contain many random characters (historically they have been harder for search engines to index). Most pages at a forum are only linked to from one other page: the main category of the topic. Getting links on pages with little to no link popularity themselves won't help your site much.

Some forums even use a 'nofollow' tag on outbound links as a means to curb link spammers. By all means, if you are a regular participant at forums, mention your site in your signature for the purpose of creating awareness and click-through's from forum readers, but not solely for link popularity purposes.

5. Links at the Bottom of Your Clients' Sites:

If your customers have websites, you might be able to ask them to link back to your site as part of a contract, or simply out of the goodness of their hearts. Most times these links appear next to the copyright line at the bottom of the home page. A one-way link is good, but unless your customers run the same kind of business as you do, their site content won't be relevant enough to make this a high quality link.

A word of caution to search engine optimizers: As I mentioned in my previous article, Google Webmaster Guidelines You May Be Overlooking, Google specifically mentions how they don't like SEO companies forcing their clients to link to them. Realistically this may be tough for Google to enforce, but going against any of their official guidelines is never recommended.

4. Buying Text Links:

Be very careful when buying links. It can be an effective way of obtaining one-way incoming links if you can avoid getting into trouble. The major search engines don't allow anyone to pay for organic listings (paid inclusion programs such as Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing are separate). One could argue that due to the reliance on links for good rankings (acting as "votes" from one site to another), buying links essentially amounts to buying rankings.

Some web sites have been penalized and even banned entirely from the search index of major engines for using "black hat" link acquisition methods, including buying thousands of site-wide links in a short amount of time. If you plan on buying links, then keep a few points in mind:

i. Don't always use the same anchor text. If you buy a thousand links on the same domain, all using the exact same anchor text, it will appear unnatural to search engines.
ii. Your links should appear on pages with content relevant to your site's own content. This applies to all kinds of link acquisition methods.
iii. Buying thousands of links at once may send up red flags to search engines. At the very least, you will probably see a delay in those new links affecting your rankings, which can get expensive in the short-term.

3. Link Exchanges:

The Internet itself is nothing more than a network of links, and mutual linking is a big part of that. Outbound links on your site can hurt your link popularity if they are of low quality and/or unrelated to your site's content. Incoming links from low quality or unrelated sites are a waste of time unless you are just trying to get your site crawled by search engine spiders for the first time. When exchanging links, look at the PageRank value of the partner's home page, as well as the page your link will appear on; Make sure the page is indexed by the major search engines; Don't exchange with a page that has 100 or more outbound links on it; Make sure your link uses important keywords in its anchor text and is surrounded by relevant plain text. Link exchanges have the possibility to be a big part of your link campaign if potential partners meet a strict criteria for SEO.

2. Directory Submissions:

Directories can provide you with a one-way link on pages with highly relevant text. Some directories, like the Yahoo! Directory are weighted very heavily by other search engines. A link from these directories can be the most valuable link your site can receive. While there are thousands of free directories on the web today, paying for the more prestigious listings will go extremely far in not only increasing your link popularity, but also establishing a level of legitimacy with the major search engines. Junk and spammy web sites are a search engine's nightmare, but a search engine knows that basically all of these fly-by-night sites will never spend the $299 per year on a Yahoo! Directory listing.

1. Article Publication/Distribution:

Write a unique article on topic with your web site and create an author biography (or "resource box") that mentions your site and links back to it with relevant anchor text. Once you have finished writing your article, find a resource that reprints or publishes articles in your field and features them on their own pages that receive high PageRank values. Once the page your article appears on ages, your rankings will benefit. Hundreds of poor quality article reprint sites do nothing but harm the linking power of your unique content as well as waste your own time. Try to get your article featured on authoritative sites in your field instead.

Provided you write a well-formed and informative article, you might be surprised to see where it shows up months down the road. Bloggers and other web site owners in your field will want to offer your helpful information to their visitors as well. People who sign up to Google Alerts for keywords related to your field might also see a link to your article appear in their inbox.

Useful content is highly sought after on the Internet today. If you can provide others with unique and helpful writing, it will go a long way in increasing the exposure of your business or web site. As I mentioned above, what works best for your site will depend on your competition, budget, time and other factors. However, these eight link popularity methods should serve as a helpful guide for your SEO efforts.