Link building. Just the words bring out dread and fear in many online marketers. Why? Because link building, just like telemarketing and working on a production line, can be an onerous, soul-destroying task you really wouldn't wish on a Hedge Fund owner, let alone your worst enemy.
But trust me on this, if you think like this then you're doing it all wrong
What are links and why you need them
At a very basic level, think of Google as a machine that analyses content and connections. Content comprises the text, images and maybe videos within your website pages and connections are links from other website pages on other websites, blogs and social media accounts pointing towards your web pages. Google sees content as a way to gauge quality, links from other websites as votes of popularity and in Google's eyes, links are very important. So if you wish to rank for popular key phrases in Google, you need quality links and lots of them, from many different web properties out there on the World Wide Web.
Google's perspective on links If you read the full Google Webmaster Guidelines page (https://goo.gl/0bxIsh) detailing its take on linking, you would be forgiven for thinking you can't do anything to promote your own website apart from adding content within your own pages, however Google doesn't mind you acquiring links as long as the links are given editorially. Figuring out what this actually means can be a bit like looking into a cloudy mirror, but boils down to the following:
Don't pay for links from other websites (if they pass PageRank)
Don't use any automation to acquire links
Don't use any mass link building schemes
Don't use any linking methods Google could construe as being against Google guidelines (massive catch-all which basically screams of totalitarianism!)
Editorially given links are where you haven't paid for the links with any form of exchange of payment and the website owner is giving you the link purely because they like the content on your website and wish to link to it. This is kind of hard to prove either way, which gets me back to the purpose of this article.
The web as a community The World Wide Web has evolved from initially being a data exchange to being a global community where you can find all sorts of people who have the same interests that you do. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for link acquisition whilst having some fun and staying roughly within Google's requirements for linking. I recently struck up a friendship with someone on a cruise boat moored in Crete and got some really first class links for a client to boot, just because I showed interest in a personal blog and liked what had been written. Links like this are totally within Google's guidelines and show what you can achieve when you treat link acquisition as a positive instead of a negative task. Link building should be fun, not a chore.
Ideas for link acquisition
What you really need when you are trying to attain links to promote a gift-based online retailer is to get a sense of community going and interact with your potential sources of links. Here are a few ideas for getting quality links:
Broken link building: Web pages that have been online for a long time generally gather broken links as the sites that they link to disappear. This gives you an opportunity to offer something for these pages to link to by offering useful replacement content. Broken links are not great for any website, so usually a website owner will be open to opportunities to replace a broken link if it's made easy for them. Use a little known operator in Google called daterange. To use this, you will need to use the Julian calendar for dateranges, there is a good calculator at http://goo.gl/diXRv for this. Use the form "dinghy disaster" blog daterange:2454838-2455933 where the words in quotes is the search term you are looking for specifically, 'blog' that you are looking for mentions of blog in webpage titles and daterange: is the date range to-from in Julian calendar format. When you have a list of potential targets, scan the websites (there are browser plugins to aid you in this) and find the broken links. If you find broken links on subjects you think you could incorporate into your website or on-site blog then write content and approach the owner of the website you've found the broken link on.
Link reclamation: As people interact with your business online several things may happen. Your business may get mentioned on web pages or social media channels without linking to you and your images and content may get used without your permission and you may, over time, get broken links coming into your website. All of these present opportunities for link acquisition. To attain links from mentions of your business, first you need to know that people are talking about your business. Set up Google alerts https://www.google.co.uk/alerts (you will of course need a Google account). Set up for your brand or shop name, your personal name (if associated with the business) and any unique brands you have in your shop. Once you have some data on who is talking about you online then approach and try to get a link. To attain links from content used without your permission, you can use Google image search for images and try something like copyscape.com if you don't mind paying for the service, or use Google for free by putting sections of your content into quotation marks (bit of a manual process, but it's free).
Youtube comments: These are nofollow links, but as the idea is to get a community going, any contact is good to start a conversation. I have attained many interesting links from high traffic websites just by commenting on Youtube videos and asking questions. You may find that many videos you comment on end up in direct contact for website owners who are now more amenable to giving you a link to your website.
Forum commenting: Forum commenting has acquired a bad reputation over the years, but that's only because forums have been hit by a plague of spam. If you believe in a sense of community that add value then forums can be a goldmine for high quality, relevant and respected links from very high traffic, trusted web pages. To utilise forums, you need to be part of the culture of that forum and it really helps if you are both interested in the subject and able to add value. First you are going to have to find a suitable forum so search Google with the area you are looking for and the word 'forum'. You will probably find dozens of pages of results. Join the forum, be a regular contributor for a while and add useful replies to those asking questions. There's no denying this is time consuming, but over time you will gain a reputation and can then add links to your posts.
Many other methods for gaining links exist, but the ones I have outlined give you the best chance to get some contact going and will offer long lasting value for your website.
David Fairhurst Head of Creative Online Marketing Intelligent Retail David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London.
Contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126.