But how do you build those all-important back links? The search engines watch for black hat SEO practices and have even developed a number of ways to spot them, so using link farms and paying for links can end up costing you far more than you stand to gain. Since you might as well not exist for many searchers if you don’t make it into the first 30 results for your keyword, this is a serious matter; many people have staked their livelihoods on web sites that receive most of their traffic from the search engines.
Okay, so you can’t use black hat techniques. Reciprocal linking may also be questionable if the link is from a site whose content is not relevant to what your site is all about. Besides, you have to make sure the site keeps the link. So what does that leave?
It leaves quite a lot actually. Google and the other search engines want to see natural links to sites to show them (and those who use them) content that is truly relevant to the searched-for keywords. The simple way to do this is by having relevant content – more specifically, you should have content on your site to which people WANT to link. These natural links mean far more to the search engines and your potential visitors than any links you could garner using black hat techniques.
This kind of relevant, interesting, useful, and noteworthy content even has a name: “linkbait.” You can think of it as a natural consequence of the old saw that content is king online. But what kind of content will give you back links? Everyone says “high quality content,” but that’s not very specific. While it varies from industry to industry, in this article I’m going to go over some tips for creating linkbait that can be adapted to almost any field. Please keep in mind that there are numerous ideas, far more than I have the space to discuss in this article. Some might even merit articles in their own right. If there is interest, I may cover more techniques in a future article.
Lists are addictive. Just think of how popular David Letterman’s funny “Top 10” lists became, and how frequently they were imitated. They deliver easily digested bites of information, suitable to the shorter attention spans one often finds on the Internet. There are several different kinds of lists you can create; while you might find that some of the ones I’m about to describe are more suitable to your industry than others, you should be able to adapt any of them to your purposes.
A good place to start is the “101” list. It’s not really a list per se; it’s more like a comprehensive introduction to a topic. For example, if you own a web site that helps high school students and their families with choosing and applying to a college, you might have a concise but thorough article that explains what to look for in a college, or the various steps of the college application process, or how to apply for scholarships and student loans. Such an authoritative document is ripe for being linked.
If you’d rather take a page out of Letterman’s book, top 10 lists of other sorts are popular. Do you have a site dedicated to auto enthusiasts? You could put together a list of the 10 most important things to do to keep your car in top running condition. Look at your field, figure out something that visitors to your site would find useful in helping them achieve a goal, and organize it into this kind of list. They’ll come back, and tell their friends.
Interesting facts are another good candidate for a top 10 list. I’m not talking so much about trivial “did you know?” lists. Everyone likes to feel smarter than someone else, so put together a list of the top 10 myths in your field. This is the kind of list that can be funny and entertaining as well as informative – and depending on your field, it could even win bar bets or help save lives.
Speaking of useful lists, how about a list of resources? These don’t need to be other web sites, though of course they can be. Depending on your field, you can have a list of stores that sell appropriate equipment; instructive books and/or videos; trade magazines and trade shows, and more. Don’t just organize the information into a list, however. Next to each resource you list, include a few sentences on what your visitor can expect to get from it.
When you make up a list of resources, don’t neglect gurus or experts in your field. Talk about their expertise and link to their web sites, and you might find them thanking you, linking to your site, or even granting you an interview (which is another good piece of linkbait). Sure, it may seem a little shallow, but flattery – as long as it’s sincere – can be a good way to start a relationship with an authority in your industry.
There’s nothing wrong with tooting your own horn, as long as you do it in the right way. For example, there are some excellent places online where you can syndicate one of your articles. Recommended places include EzineArticles, GoArticles, iSnare, and others; do your research to find the good article sites. Many of their pages rank highly, and they’ll send you very good, highly qualified traffic.
Whatever your industry, it probably has an industry news site; even morticians have FuneralWire (no, I’m not making this up; it’s amazing what you can find when you use Google). Such a site is ripe for article submission. Likewise, if you know of any kind of informational site that covers your field, you can always submit your site to them for a review as a resource.
Journalists tend to be very busy, but if you send them a very well-written press release, taking the time to make it good and newsworthy, they might run your story with very few changes. You can email your release to bloggers and journalists that specifically cover your field; include a personalized message with the release to let them know why they might want to read it and cover your news. You’ll also want to send your release to PRWeb and other online press release sites.
This could pay off down the road as well. Keep an eye on the bloggers and journalists to whom you sent your press release, and see which ones pick it up. This way you’ll know who to focus on for your next release. You can even offer them exclusive news or content. These people love the opportunity to scoop the competition, but remember: it has to be genuinely newsworthy.
I said earlier that reciprocal linking may be getting a little suspect, at least when you’re linking to a site that is not relevant to yours. But there’s nothing wrong with trading articles with other webmasters – again, so long as the content is relevant. If the two of you are in related but non-competing fields, you might even build a healthy relationship this way.
Don’t forget your friends! If they have interests that are relevant to your site, and you have important news, by all means contact them. Ask them for feedback. Do they find your information useful? If they have a blog, would they mind writing about your news? This isn’t multi-level marketing; it should come naturally. I send links to my articles to people I know might be interested in the subjects I write about – you probably do, too. Asking them to write about it takes it one step further. (Since I see myself chiefly as a journalist, it’s a step I can’t take, but you probably can).
Companies do press releases all the time about surveys and studies they’ve done. Sometimes they’ll survey their regular customers about something related to the field. For example, at least one web hosting company recently surveyed its customers to create a top ten list of what qualities people rate as most important when looking for a company to host their web site. Surveys make people feel important; when people feel important, they’ll tell other people about you. It’s work to do a survey, of course, but in a way it’s also free marketing. One of our forum members on SEO Chat noted that, when Salary.com did a study on how underpaid mothers are, it got a lot of high quality links.
Here’s something else you can write about: companies with “in the news” pages. You may have a section like this yourself, and you’ve probably seen many firms that do. Whenever someone covers them, they link to the article. Note that this "in the news" section is separate from the company’s press release section (though it may have its own link under a larger section specifically for journalists and other members of the press).
Anyway, if you have a news section or blog on your site, and you cover a company with such a page, you can send an email to someone at the company with a link to your story (do your research here to find out who the right person is). They’ll link back to the story. That’s a link to your site; once someone is on your site, if you have other relevant content, they might stay a while and check it out. Whether a visitor gets to your site via a search engine or following other links, you’ve just achieved at least part of your goal. Keep building good links, and the traffic will follow.