During the past year my thinking about link-building best practices has greatly evolved, partially due to a greater immersion in social media marketing where the focus is on creating great content and an authentic engagement with the community, as well as to listening what Google has to say about how it assesses websites.
Increasingly, I’ve come to believe that the best backlinking strategy is a 100% authentic strategy, creating content that is of value to users — build it and they will come — and engaging with the community to share your knowledge and expertise and increase awareness of what you have to offer. To supplement this, there are a handful of directories where site submissions are human-reviewed and the directories themselves have a high [kastooltip msg="PageRank" tooltip="Google's metric for how popular a site is on the Web, on a scale of 1-10 (higher is better). The biggest factor is how many external sites link to yours, and the authority, popularity and relevance of those sites."].
What Google is Looking For — Listen Up!
As we all know, a website can have solid on-page SEO, but if there are few or no on-topic and authoritative sites linking back to it, the on-page work is pretty much for naught. As Google’s Webmaster Guide says,
Google and most other search engines use links to determine reputation. A site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it. Link-based analysis is an extremely useful way of measuring a site’s value, and has greatly improved the quality of web search. Both the quantity and, more importantly, the quality of links count towards this rating.
Because of its efforts to continually improve the quality and relevance of search results, Google is always getting better at recognizing quality sites and, at the end of the day, those sites that focus their efforts on creating keyword-rich quality content and “natural” backlinking strategies will be sitting on top of the [kastooltip msg="SERPs" tooltip="Search Engine Results Page"].
It’s No Secret: Google Is Clear on What It Wants
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines state that “Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such as excessive link exchanges and purchased links that pass PageRank.”
Google’s 2004 patent application, Information Retrieval Based On Historical Data, reinforced Google engineer Matt Cutts’ frequent advice that to encourage backlinking to your site, your focus should be on creating content for human traffic, not search engines. The big takeaway for SEOs was – and is – that Google looks for and rewards backlink growth that appears natural, without big spikes or dips in numbers, i.e., a steady increase over time. It also looks for a diversity of IP addresses and name servers in those backlinks, as well as links to pages other than your home page (called “deep links”).
Google’s Matt Cutts, on March 4, 2010, was asked on Google’s Webmaster Central YouTube Channel what he recommended for getting quality backlinks. It was all about great content. Some of his responses:
- Participate in the Community: “I’m not talking about signing up and spamming a bunch of blogs or forums. A good example is answering questions. If you have some value you can add … somebody appreciates that … and they’ll be more willing and receptive to linking.”
- Original Research: “If somebody does even a little bit of work to dig into a subject, they’re more likely to get links. Original research can really make a big difference.”
- Newsletters: “If you have people already coming to your blog, make it a little bit easier for that information to show up in their inbox.” (I think he means making easy for users to subscribe to your blog RSS feed via email.)
- Social Media: Participating on Twitter, Friendfeed or Facebook can be another great way [to build links]. Think about where people spend their time. Getting to know those people can pay off, and not just in getting links.
- Lists: “They tend to get a little tiresome after a while. But writing a few every so often is not such a bad thing.”
- Blogging: “Establish yourself as an authority. There’s no excuse for a company these days not to have a blog. Just building that up as a resource of good articles … another good example is how-tos and tutorials.”
- Good Site Architecture: “Make sure that your site has good site architecture. Can my site be crawled? Can my pages be bookmarked? Make it easy to link to individual pieces of content.”
Getting Listed in Directories: Think like a Search Engine
If you’re a search engine assessing the value and relevance of a site’s content, how much importance would you ascribe to the fact that the site is included in numerous directories, the majority of which have no editorial oversight?
When you’re searching for information, you’re looking for information from someone who’s actively engaged in the conversations around the subject matter, someone whose site content is highly relevant to your search, contains useful information, and is generally regarded on the Web as a great resource? Does the fact that the resource has gotten itself listed in a zillion directories, relevant and irrelevant, relate in any way whatsoever to the quality of content?
Answer: No! And I’d bet Google is of the same opinion.
Don’t Expect Much from Directory Inclusions…
Although some PageRank is likely passed by the myriad directories out there, I doubt that a site’s inclusion in the many free and paid directories is telling Google much about the value of the site’s content. Getting your site listed in directories, paid or free, is just you voting for yourself. I don’t see how Google can assess value from that.
Without any human/editorial mediation involved, your inclusion has no relationship to the quality of your site’s content.
Which Directories Should You Be Listed In?
When considering directories in which to list your site, check to see if 1) they’re reviewed by humans; 2) have a PageRank of at least 3 or 4. If they’re not human-mediated or the PageRank is low, I really wouldn’t bother.
The general consensus among SEOs is that the following directories are the most beneficial to your SEO. Submissions are reviewed by humans, and the PageRank and authority of these sites is high. This is the creme de la creme!:
- DMOZ – The Open Directory Project
The best and it’s free! Edited and run by volunteers; PageRank: 8; Alexa Rank: 684. ODP data powers the core directory services for many of the Web’s largest search engines and portals, including AOL Search, Google, and Alexa.
- Yahoo! Directory
PageRank: 8; Alexa Rank: 3. There is a $299 Non Refundable Submission Fee and a $299 Annual Fe,e if accepted.
- Business.com Directory
PageRank: 6; Alexa Rank: 1,939; The cost is $299 to submit, and $299 annually, if accepted.
- Best of the Web
PageRank: 7; Alexa Rank: 4,108; $149 to submit and $149 annual if accepted.
PageRank: 5; Alexa Rank: 22,425. The cost is a one-time $69.9 submission fee.
PageRank: 6; Alexa Rank: 1,000. A new service from AboutUs.org. It’s free and it promises to allow links without the “nofollow” attribute. Worth checking out.
- whatUseek Web Search
PageRank: 6; Alexa Rank: 28,901. You’ll want to submit to the whatUseek Collection which is human-reviewed. The “Velocity Submit” (w/in 2 business days) is $49.99, with an annual fee of $16.99. The “Standard Submit” (w/in 8 weeks) is $24.99 and $16.99 annual fee.
Creating High-Quality Content: Build It and They Will Come!
The best way to get other sites to create relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Before making any single decision, you should ask yourself the question: Is this going to be beneficial for my page’s visitors?
It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest.
Soliciting Backlinks: If you must…
If your client or your boss insists on getting as many backlinks as possible, at least avoid:
Link Farms / Bad Neighborhoods: Spammy sites that offer no value to users but are just repositories of URLs. Your site can be penalized for being included in too many bad neighborhoods.
Irrelevant Sites: Sites that are outside the subject matter of your website. Although these won’t incur a penalty, they are of little value in increasing your PageRank.
Link Exchanges: Google advises against excessive link exchanges and “link schemes” such as:
- Links intended to manipulate PageRank;
- Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web;
- Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”);
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank.
Most Importantly – Size Doesn’t Matter…
As Google states:, “It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links.”
- Link Building Strategies: Checklist
- Google’s Webmaster Help YouTube Channel
- SEOmoz.org: Advanced Link-Building Strategies
NOTE: I believe most of the strategies suggested in this link are old-school and likely not that effective, but there is some useful info. Let the reader beware…