Searching for Answers: Inbound Links (Part 2)

Continued from the previous post. This post is excerpted from an upcoming issue of Identity Marketing magazine

PageRank is critical to understand (or at least know how to find) because it affects the quality judgment of inbound links. If a site with a very high PageRank links to yours, it can have a positive effect on your ranking; PageRank is “passed on”, to a degree, to the site that receives the inbound link. Conversely, a site with very low PageRank offers little value to your ranking. This is why trading links with your buddy’s nifty new website won’t accomplish much (most such “link-swapping” tactics are completely ineffective); you’re both passing on nothing of much value to each other. So, the goal in building inbound links is to get those links from sites with higher PageRank than your own.
Even this can be problematic, because Google is on the lookout for anything that might pass PageRank inappropriately – that is, without actually reflecting quality. That means that a lot of sites that you might consider as possible venues for building inbound links will actually not help you. For instance, advertisements, blog comments and many other commonly used tactics for building inbound links no longer pass PageRank to the target site. Google has even removed many common directories from its page ranking algorithm.

With all these barriers to building quality inbound links that pass PageRank to your site, what can you do to increase your ranking? Truthfully, unless you have a bundle of money to go out and increase your business’ exposure, your choices are fairly limited. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything in your power. Search engine optimization for most small businesses is about using best practices to get whatever exposure you can realistically obtain.

First, know what you’re up against. You need information, and the first place you’ll go to find that is Google’s Tools for Webmasters. Register and verify your site – it’s free (you’ll have to ask your designer or webmaster to upload a small file to your site). Webmaster Tools offers up pretty much all the diagnostic information you’ll need, albeit in a somewhat technical format.

The “Links” section is where you’ll find all the juicy information. To determine how many inbound links you have, click on “Pages with External Links.” Google provides an exact count of the number of inbound links to each page on your site (often, most of them go to your homepage) and the actual URL of the pages that have those links. This is the dashboard, if you will, of your inbound link generation activities.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to increase the number of inbound links from sites with higher PageRanks than yours, with all the above caveats in mind. Tough job, no? It takes time, so start with the obvious ones first. Get in every online business directory that makes sense – local, regional, industry-specific, etc. Some of these pass PageRank and some do not, but the ones that don’t shouldn’t hurt you.

Next, participate in social networking and online communities, and make sure you reference your site when it’s feasible (and not annoying). Again, many of these may not pass PageRank, but the ones that do, especially if they have content relevant to your website, can benefit you.

Finally, generate buzz everywhere you can! Traditional marketing and press releases are actually excellent tactics for generating inbound links, because so much press coverage is online now. That press release that makes it into your local business journal may not seem like much, but if it has a link back to your site, it might help you.

Perhaps most important, remember that Google does everything in its power to measure real popularity. It’s getting tougher and tougher to game the system, so your best strategy is to build inbound links naturally, over time, by having a quality website. It’s an ongoing process, and you should check into that dashboard every month. With luck and a little hard work, you’ll watch those links grow.


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