Link Development: The Key to Successful SEO

  |  November 8, 2004   |  Comments

Tips and guidelines for creating and maintaining a successful link-development campaign.

Link development is one of the most overlooked components of a successful SEO (define) campaign. Web site owners can put all the keywords they wish on a page and develop a search-engine friendly navigation scheme. But without a well-planned link-development campaign, search engine visibility is short term.

Today, some tips and guidelines on creating and maintaining a successful link-development campaign.

What’s Link Popularity?

Link popularity is the number and quality of links pointing to a single URL. A site’s home page usually has the highest link popularity because site owners tend to link to home pages rather than deeper content.

Click-through popularity used to a measure the number of clicks to a URL and how long a visitor stayed on a site after she clicked from an SERP (define). If she clicked on an SERP link and continued to view the site, she found the information she searched for and didn’t need to return to the SERP to view other Web sites. However, if she clicked on an SERP link and quickly returned to the SERP, she didn’t find the information she searched.

Due to the rise in click fraud, click-through popularity is now a less important factor in determining a page’s relevancy. Now, when a search engine marketer (SEM) refers to link popularity, he means the number and quality of links pointing to a URL, not click-through popularity.

Why Link Development Is Important

As I wrote previously, the building blocks of a successful SEO program are:

  • Text component: Using words and phrases your target audience types into search queries.

  • Link component: Giving search engines and end users easy access to those keyword phrases.

  • Popularity component: The number and quality of links pointing to a Web site.

Copywriting, site design, and information architecture are easily imitated. Often, imitation is a copyright violation and technically illegal. That hasn’t stopped a number of search engine marketing firms from doing it. Cloaking (define) often hides copyright infringement.

Enter Google. The company adds another component to the SEO puzzle: link development. Now, not only must Web site owners place keyword phrases on their pages and allow search engine spiders access to that text, end users must actually find the information on the site to be useful and helpful.

What I particularly like about the link development concept is sites of all sizes have difficulty maintaining search engine visibility unless they’re useful. In reality, no one searches for ads.

When other site owners link to your site, they consider your content important. Likewise, search engines will consider your content important because human beings, not software programs, link to your site’s content.

Rise of Free-for-All Link Farms

Link development can be very difficult to imitate. Sure, a resourceful software engineer can create artificial links and imitate them many times over. Getting multiple, identical links from a reputable news source is difficult.

And if link development is identical, or nearly identical, on two unrelated sites? That’s often a red flag, indicating the link popularity stems from link farms.

Unethical SEMs purchase keyword-rich domains for the sole purpose of developing link farms. They often cloak the domains’ content to hide the gibberish from their unknowing clients. They also purchase expired domains that already have link development, hoping human directory editors (at Yahoo, Open Directory, etc.) won’t notice.

Unfortunately, sometimes link spam works. Directory editors are overwhelmed with the number of sites they must maintain in their categories. Savvy but unethical SEMs realize a site won’t be penalized for the links pointing to it (no one controls how other sites link to you). So SEMs create link farms and ensure clients don’t link to the farm sites.

Search engine software engineers always look for spam tactics. When a new company purchases a domain name, Google automatically resets the PageRank to zero. In addition, when a software engineer discovers a link farm, all the domains in the link farm are banned. Result? Link popularity vanishes.

Link Development Tips

Link development is essential to a successful SEO campaign. The main disadvantage is it takes time, whereas paid search advertising (in Google, Overture, FindWhat, etc.) results are nearly instantaneous.

Link development’s main advantage is dynamic, cumulative, and difficult to imitate. Many sites maintain search engine visibility and the resulting qualified traffic because of successful link development, not just based on the number of keywords on a page.

Some link development tactics we commonly use:

  • Choose quality over quantity. Link quality carries more weight than quantity. Spend time getting the highest quality links pointing to your site. One of search engine spammers’ biggest sales pitches is, "Get millions of links to your site." Don’t fall for that arcane, useless pitch.

  • Begin with Web directories. Yahoo Directory and are two reliable places for high-quality links. Both require annual submission fees. If their links don’t positively affect your site’s link development, don’t renew.

  • Harness online publicity. How-to tips, helpful articles, even useful press releases often garner links from other Web sites. Publicity is usually part of a company’s overall marketing plan, so harnessing these resources for link development can be a simple task.

  • Use blogs and forums wisely. Blogs and forums can call attention to useful information on your own site.

  • Use search engines to research link development. Look at competitors’ sites to determine their link development strategy. It can help you with your own. What newspapers and media outlets do they use for online publicity? What Web directories link to their sites? No link popularity checker ("" in Google, "" in Yahoo) can substitute for doing the research yourself.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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