External Links (part two)

The reason for that is that when Google rates a link it also notes the link text. To them, that means that the link to your page is talking about whatever the link text says—so when some searches for "cranberry relish recipe" they take into account the fact that somebody thought your site was about that and it gives you a ranking boost. And I wouldn't worry about intentionally sticking keywords in all over the place. But if you are writing about something that is connected to the retail site, it wouldn't hurt to mention a product by name, or use a decent keyword as link text.

It's enough to drive you mad!

Or at least drive you to consider taking some shortcuts. DO NOT DO ANYTHING RASH. Several link strategies sound easy but will cause you potential pain. Because Google has determined that there are rules to follow here, and if they catch you in violation, they might do nasty things to your site— they might drop your ranking for certain keywords by hundreds of places. Or they might drop your site from their index altogether. And that, my friends, really sucks. Here are some things that Google DOES NOT WANT YOU TO DO. EVER.

Wow. That's a lot of Don't. So what should you do about external links?

The first method is simple, and old-school, but can be time-consuming. Ask for them. That's right, just find other sites that share your site's topic and send them a nicely worded email asking them to link to you. This doesn't work nearly as well as it used to, mostly because all the webmasters have wised up, and now if they link to you, they want you to link back to them. Which is okay, really, but the resulting two-way link (called reciprocal links in the lingo) is less valuable than a one-way link would be. Still, any link from a reputable site is better than no links at all, so it's still worth doing some asking.

The second common strategy is submitting your site to directories. A few years ago, this was gold. Directory sites littered the internet. Many of them were trying to get big, so they'd happily accept any site offered, for free. Times have changed. Now almost every directory worth having a link from is going to charge you for it. By the time you've got enough links to matter, the costs haved added up. The one exception is DMOZ. DMOZ.org is less authoratative than it used to be, and getting a site listed there can take YEARS (no kidding!), but a link from them is still extremely valuable. Other than DMOZ though, I've pretty much stopped doing directory submissions altogether.

The time-honored method of acquiring high-quality backlinks, while still the best, is also the hardest. And that is creating compelling content that people everywhere will want to link to. We call this "link bait" and it's the holy grail of external link acquisition. What constitutes link bait? Maybe it's a YouTube video demostration of your product, only done in sync to silly music by actors in duck suits. Or maybe it's a Flash game where the goal is to pelt your CEO with product. Unfortunately, you can't predict what people will like enough to link to. So, create lots of great content and hope for the best. How can it hurt? Here are some ideas (but remember to make sure any content you use for link bait is relevant to you site and/or product!):

And one more thing. Links should be accumulated over time,—not all at once—and like a great red wine, they will become more valuable with age. So don't wait. Start working on your backlink strategy now!