Link building should be considered phase two of any SEO campaign (on-site optimization being phase one) and is a critical component of maintaining site ranking and establishing a trust factor with the search engines.
Link building is an ongoing campaign necessary for improving a website's inbound link stream which can help promote your brand and overall visibility in the search engines. Link building can also help boost unique visitors to your site which in turn can lead to a boost in conversions. Link building efforts come in many forms including: local profiles, blogging and blog commenting, social networking, directory submission and online publicity, among others. The overall goal of a link building strategy is to grow links from many different, but relevant, sources over time. Most link building strategies range from 3 months to a year and should incorporate 10-20 different scheduled tasks a month. It is important to create a very specific link building schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Growing links too fast raises a red flag with the search engines and can result in negative consequences. Growing links slowly helps establish a trust with the search engines, leading to better positioning in their results.
The first step in developing a link building strategy is to conduct a link audit for your website and its top three competitors. Google Webmaster Tools can analyze your site while Link Diagnosis (both free services) can be used to analyze the competition. Conducting a link audit helps establish a baseline strategy by determining how many one-way links are already pointing towards your site. Depending on the age and size of your website, an audit could return with 100, 1,000, or even 100,000 one-way links directing traffic to various pages on your site. It isn't necessary to visit all 100,000 links, but you should take a good sample (roughly 1000) of the listed links and visit each one to determine what kind of link it is. This is called creating a link portfolio.
The person conducting the link audit should keep an eye out for "bad" links coming from places like adúlt or gambling sites. Search engines keep track of how many "bad" links a website has and the greater the percentage of links coming from these sites the more poorly it reflects on the website. Again, trust is the most important thing to establish between a site and the search engines. The number of "bad" links has a negative effect on a website's trust factor.
Analyzing a competitor's website helps you determine if there are any good places you should be focusing your link building activities, but aren't. It also lets you know what kind of competition there is online. If competitor X has 7,500 links, competitor Y has 12,000 and competitor Z has 23,000 one-way links, then a company with only 2,000 links knows it has a lot of work do to before it can effectively compete in the same space.
When developing a link building strategy, you need to create a schedule of diverse activities. Search engines want to see a blended approach because it demonstrates a commitment to site branding. It also lets the search engines know that your site is legitimate and employing white hat SEO techniques. These efforts can include creating social networking profiles, article marketing, and online video marketing.
The easiest place to start with link building is directory submission. You should submit your site to reputable directories like Yahoo! Directory, Dmoz and Business.com, as well as industry specific onlíne directories. Just double check that your website isn't already lísted in a directory before submitting a new profile. Duplicate submissions look bad to search engines as well as consumers because it shows a lack of attention to detail and can appear spammy. If a website is already listed, make sure the profile is up-to-date.
Along with online directories, you could consider becoming a member of industry associations. While it often costs to join these associations, it helps lend credibility to your site and can help position you as an industry expert. You should try to promote your website as an "authority" in your industry by placing links in online arenas that correlate to your industry/products and that will drive appropriately targeted traffic to your site. Industry associations are also a good place to develop relationships with other members.
You can help promote yourself as an industry leader by creating, and commenting on, industry blogs. Producing your content as opposed to just re-posting work by outside sources lends credibility to your site and encourages consumer trust in the expertise of your company and you as a writer. It can also help create a conversation with customers as opposed to the one-way communication of a website. Blogs that allow for comments encourage consumer participation.
Leaving appropriate comments on other blogs (comments that actually contribute to the conversation, not just things like "Thanks for the post!" or "Great ideas!") helps grow relevant links back to your website and promotes your company's authority as a leader in your industry.
As you promote your website and build its authority as an industry leader, natural inbound links will develop overtime. As your company blog or white paper is discussed or cited, as your product/service is reviewed and promoted by word-of-mouth over social networking sites or as your online press releases get picked up by various news sources, your campaign will grow to include links not directly created by your website's link building efforts.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to link building (just like most SEO efforts) is that it must happen over an extended period of time. It's easy for website owners to get anxious and want to see immediate results and over-aggressively push link building efforts. Doing so can result in negative consequences. Link building isn't just about boosting the number of one-way links pointing to your website; it is also about building and managing an online brand that resonates with consumers.