There's been a lot of talk over the past six months about the dropping value of reciprocal links and the increased value of one-way links. For years, search marketers and Web site owners encouraged the idea of reciprocal linking as a sort of "you scratch my back, I'll help your search engine ranking" scenario. The idea was that individuals could contact the site owners of complimentary, and even competitive sites and convince them to add a link by offering a link in exchange. The idea worked quite well for many years, but recently, search engines appear to be giving more value to "honest" one-way incoming links than they do to the "shared benefit" reciprocal links.
Since one-way links appear to be more valuable in a search engine's eyes, that makes them more valuable to your search marketing effort. That's easy enough to say, but how can you convince a site to link to you if you've got nothing to offer in return. Well, you'll have to do it the old fashioned way. In other words...entice site owners to link to you by providing interesting (and unique) enough content that they'll want to. Remember, the entire Web was built on the idea of one site linking to another, even before there was a search engine related benefit to doing so.
The question then becomes, what type of interesting content can you provide? It really depends on what your site's purpose is, but here are several all-purpose ideas that can be incorporated into most sites.
One of the most common ways to solicit one way links these days is to provide an interesting article, piece of commentary, or blog post. New bloggers head online each day, a single blogger reading your article and finding it interesting could start a snowball effect that leads to dozens or even hundreds of blogs pointing a nice link at your site. Many sites also offer reprint rights to their articles so long as proper credit (and a proper link) are included. Syndication of your content can be an excellent way to not only boost your name recognition online, but to gather one-way incoming links to your Web site.
Building on the idea of offering unique articles on your site is syndicating them through an RSS feed. The use of RSS readers is skyrocketing and many individuals that would never take the time to visit dozens of Web sites in a day are more than happy to surf the feeds that their reader delivers. This can not only help your articles get picked up in a Blog mention, but can actually deliver links from sites on a regular basis. If your RSS feed features enough interesting content, another site may choose to run it, thus giving you a new outlet to reach readers and a good stash of incoming links to go with it.
Studies show that online shoppers spend up to 12 weeks researching a product before they make a purchase. Some 90% of those purchases are ultimately made offline. So, even if you aren't the one that scores the product sale, you can offer those searchers the product reviews they are looking for and score yourself some quality links while you are at it. Setting up a content management system that allows individuals to enter their own product reviews means you hardly have to touch the content development. Once your reviews are in place, take the time to contact some sites that sell the product, but that don't feature reviews. See if they'd like to link to yours. Or, recognize that a quality review site is likely to pick up links without even asking for them. Sites like Epinions.com have made a business out of models like this.
Now you think I'm crazy. After all, search marketing is all about content, content, content. That's true...but you have to remember that content doesn't always mean "text." A good quality photo gallery can be a great way to solicit one-way links. Running a travel site? Allow users to upload their vacation photos and sort them by destination. Selling tickets for a specific venue? Take the time to take photos from different seating sections so that users know exactly what "view" they are purchasing. Photo galleries can be applied to almost any online business, even if it's just a variety of photo angles of your product. Since few sites really take the time to produce great photo galleries, you may find that yours serves as a powerful link attractor.
You can even take it a step beyond building a photo gallery on your own site and offer to syndicate your photos, much like you can do with your articles. Simply require an appropriate credit and a link back to your Web site anytime the photos are used.
If you've got a little programming blood in you, or you have access to someone who does, this can be a great way to generate links. Search marketing companies can have an especially tough time generating links, after all, who in the industry wants to give their competitor a boost? Many firms have gotten around this by offering one or two really great free tools. Think Marketleap and their link popularity analysis program, or Overture's keyword suggestion tool. Each of these tools is a simple, free offering that has likely generated thousands of free, unsolicited incoming links. If there's a tool that can be created to serve your market, create one. If competitors already have one, create a better one. Word will spread.
Finding a charity or cause that you can support and setting up a donation program can be a great way to build links. The Red Cross and other charities pulled tens of thousands of incoming links to their sites by offering cut and paste code that produced a "donate to the tsunami relief effort" button for site all over the Web. They made it easy for kind-hearted souls to help with the effort and they generated tons of great incoming links while they were at it. If nothing else, take the lesson of simplicity from them and offer ready to paste code for anyone interested in linking to your site.
Don't Skip Directories
It's been said a thousand times before, but it simply can't be overlooked. Online directories, especially topical and regional directories, are among the best sources of incoming links anywhere. Look beyond the ODP, Yahoo! and Zeal and find the niche directories that really fit with your Web site. Most of these directories will happily list your site for free, or for a small fee.
In reality, the ways of gaining incoming links are limited only by your imagination. There's always something that you can offer that no one else does. It will probably take more time and effort than simply putting up the same content as everyone else in your niche, but the links it can generate will help push you ahead of your competitors in the engines.
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
February 21, 2005
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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