Linking is the mechanism that connects all the pages on the Internet. You've got links throughout your web site to let people navigate their way around. You may have links going out to other web sites that you think will be useful for your visitors. And hopefully you have links coming into your web site from independent sources.

All types of links can impact your search engine optimization results, helping determine where your web site shows up online. Though the hardest to control, inbound links pointing to your site can make the biggest impact.

At its most basic, the concept is that if several high-quality sites are linking to your web site, then Google and other search engines figure your site must be a popular, valuable resource - and they will be more likely to show it higher in their search results. In effect, your site receives "link juice" from other web pages that link to it.

However, it's not enough to secure a couple links and then sit still. The Google PageRank algorithm looks at the pattern of links to your site as they build over time.

Building the right kind of links can bring a major payoff, while a wrong turn could get you penalized - and the Google Sandbox is not easy to dig out of.

Armed with a bit of knowledge and some creativity, you can build up valuable incoming links naturally and powerfully, avoiding the traps that plague amateurs.

Spice up your links with some variety
There are all kinds of link farming schemes to grow links, and you need to run the other way from these. This is also called reciprocal linking, where you exchange links with other web sites that will then link to you on a mass scale. Warning: Google is onto this.

While it's perfectly advantageous to link to high-quality sites that also link to you, the key here is to cultivate a natural mix of links over time.

Is it natural to suddenly have 100 links pointing to your site, all with the same text? Of course not. When people link to you naturally, they might use your business name (here's an example using our name, SEO Advantage) or some variation on a descriptive phrase (search optimization company). If too many similar links exist, it can signal that those links were generated artificially and potentially result in penalties.

Also consider which pages on your site inbound links point to. Your home page is probably going to get the most, but it's natural to have links pointing to specific pages inside your web site, too. Cultivate links to your services, your blog, your news pages, your articles, etc., to help those pages get indexed and build their own PageRank.

Some links also carry a title tag, which is indicated in the source code. This is a little too technical to go into detail here, but if you can influence this you'll want both the link text and title to vary a bit among the links pointing to your site. Once again, the key is to grow your links in a natural pattern.

Not every link carries the same value
Links from popular, established web sites usually carry the greatest value. That's because they have high PageRank from plenty of other people already linking to them. A link from, for example, will carry much more weight than a link from a free press release distribution site that few people know of. Likewise, a link from small business directory will offer greater impact than a link from a directory that uses no-follow tags.

No-follow tags are the bane of naive link builders. It's tempting to think you can just link to pages on your site from your Twitter tweets, Facebook and other social media applications. However, many of these sites as well as online ads and also some directories employ "no follow" tags that prevent the search engines from following a link to your site. In this case, it's as if the link doesn't exist in the eyes of the search engines. (That doesn't mean the links aren't valuable to people who find you and follow the link, it's just not helping your web site show up in Google.)

So, how can a business build incoming links naturally?

The mix of links created out on the web pointing back at your web site should avoid skewing toward any particular type. A good mix that you can influence may include:

  • Directories - Professional organizations, online communities and forums, business directories, etc. can all potentially provide good links to your site. There are several premium directories that are staples in an SEO firm's link building toolkit, like Yahoo,, Best of the Web,, etc. Keep in mind that your listing itself should be optimized in order to reap the full link juice benefits.
  • Press releases - Writing and submitting press releases online can help you get your news in front of more people and build links to your site. (Be sure to use best practices for writing and evaluate carefully your outlets for good links).
  • Blogs - Link to relevant pages on your own site from your blog. Build relationships online with other bloggers, too, and they may want to link back to you! Active blogs with high visibility and large followings are going to be your best bet, but you can mix it up over time targeting lesser known bloggers, too. Keep in mind that as other sites grow in PageRank, the value passed to your site will also grow. 
  • Create some link bait - Make sure your content is so fascinating or funny that people will want to tell others about it. This is the ultimate for building naturally growing incoming links, but of course hard to do.
A sample schedule could mean every month you list your site in two good directories, link to interior site pages from a couple relevant posts in your own blog, distribute one press release to news sites, and write one great article that other people may want to link to and then let them know about it.

A word about selecting outlets to target for your link-building efforts. You'll need to carefully assess each place you target in order to determine the link value they can pass onto you. For example, different press release submission sites and directories can offer you a wide variety in link value. This can be time-consuming to determine but so worth it when your site's PageRank starts to climb. (Find some information on how to evaluate outlets in this article on press release optimization.)

See who's linking to your web site
You can see all the links pointing to your site via a couple handy tools online. Go to to see who Google is crediting with a link to you. Enter in the search box [] without the brackets.

Not all your links are going to show here, though, but you can use Google's free webmaster tools for more in-depth research if you're inclined. You can also use the free Yahoo! Site Explorer to see what links Yahoo! shows pointing at your site.

Every month, make it a part of your link-building strategy to check for any new links and build relationships with more web properties. After all, a link is a compliment and a great way to network in addition to an important way to build value for your web site.

May 3, 2010

Stone Reuning is president and founder of SEO Advantage, Inc., an online marketing firm and website optimization company that helps businesses turn their websites into powerful lead and revenue generation tools.

Beginning with a focus on search engine optimization in 1999, SEO Advantage now brings a full multi-disciplinary approach to each client website. Clients enjoy dominance on Google, Yahoo and Bing through a suite of unique pay-for-performance search engine optimization and online marketing services. Experts in SEO, social media optimization, online reputation management, and website conversions work hand-in-hand with small business owners and client marketing departments providing complete copywriting and creative web design support.

You'll find SEO Advantage referenced in books such as Writing Web-Based Advertising Copy to Get the Sale and the BusinessWeek bestseller The New Rules of Marketing & PR, as well as popular ebooks like The Small Business Blogging Blueprint.


I now have a great article to send to small business owners who think seo is their magical solution.

Thank you for spelling this out as clearly as possible.

This is such an important part of optimising a website. I try and emphasis to people that if you spend at least half an hour three times a week focusing on your link building activities, you will start to see an effect on your ranking.

I think Social Media can be used perfectly to build back links from niche as well as building reputation, in my views it include PR Submission, Blogs, Forums, Profiles etc but within your niche and with mind to share information with social community and no spam

Interesting article. I work a lot in the area of link building. I was some what surprised that you still mentioned as a reccomended directory. This was the subject of much debate amongst a number of SEO forums recently with the end conclusion being that it was not just dead in the water these days but, indeed, a complete and utter waste of time. Your opinion please?

Hi Julia, thanks for bringing up the example of DMOZ. Yes, it has certainly become more and more difficult to establish a listing in that directory, with approval taking up to a year. But we're still finding it well worth our time to submit. It only takes us 10 minutes to prepare a well-optimized listing and submit it. Once the listing is approved, even if a year or two down the road, the benefits of being listed are there for the long term. But though it's far from "dead" (Google is still valuing it highly), I'd agree that DMOZ is also not the number one directory out there. I've gone ahead and listed a few other directories to give a more representative sample in the article. Perhaps a future article should delve more into specific directories. What do you think? Which directories do you favor these days?

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Search Engine Guide > Stone Reuning > A Brief Intro to Link Building for Small Business Owners