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How to Get Backlinks

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Backlinks, links pointing to a site, are a critical part of an SEO campaign as they directly effect a large portion of search engines' ranking algorithms. Links are what help search engines determine the amount of authority and trust rank that they give to a site;more (high quality) links means you are more trustworthy and authoritative, so you should be ranked higher.  A few links to a page on a strong domain can go a long way.  Unfortunately, building links are not only the most important part of ranking, in a competitive market, but it also happens to be the hardest part of SEO.  This article includes many ways to get backlinks, but is in no way an exhaustive list.

Before you start building backlinks to your site it is first important to know what your backlink profile looks like. There are a lot of great tools available to help you see who is linking to you; I recommend the following tools:

Yahoo! Site Explorer - Yahoo is a good source for backlink data, but their numbers can vary from day to day somewhat significantly
Backlink Watch - This site gives great info like the anchor text and if the link has a nofollow tag.
Linkscape - SEOmoz provides some of the best link data available through their Linkscape tool (which is based on their own index of the web). Linkscape is great for doing indepth analysis and research. Note: this is a paid tool
These tools, as well as other out there, will have variances in their backlink information as they pull data from different sources.  The best place to get data is from the different webmaster tools provided by the search engines themselves

Here are some good ways to get links:

begging - An email link request has been around for a long time and is still a good way to get quality links.  Make sure you make your emails personal and very specific. The downside of the link request is that they are not very scalable, they require a lot of time to do them effectively, but they can yield high quality links. (don't forget to beg your friends and family if they have websites)

PR Releases - PR Releases are a good way to build links, especially for small businesses.  These are often picked up by news sites (and other PR release sites), so make sure you have a link pointing back to your site with good anchor text.

Trading for Links - Instead of buying links in footers or sidebars, look into trading with someone in order to get links to your site into an article, blog post, or other content on their site.  Having links in content looks a lot more natural than links in a sidebar.  Maybe give someone one of your products in exchange for someone to mention or review your product.  

Partners - Ask companies that you partner with to link to you

Write a Blog - While this may sound like pretty basic SEO advice to capture the long tail, this is helpful for building links as well.  Mention other sites and link to them, and don't nofollow the link in the entry itself.  Many bloggers will pay attention where their traffic is coming from and who is linking to them and will sometimes mention and link out to these sites.

Free Stuff - Giving something away is a good way to get a lot of links quickly, just make sure people want what you are giving away, otherwise it won't get talked (linked) about.

Directories - I don't mean submitting your site to every directory on the web; submit your site to relevant directories that are indexed by Google and don't nofollow their links.  Bonus points if people actually visit the directories.

Widgets - Create widgets, that help people in some way, that can be put on blogs or websites. Then you can put a link back to your site in the widget.

Quizzes and Games - Create quizzes or games on your site for users.  At the end offer them a badge that can be placed on a blog, website, or social media profile, which will display their score.  Like a widget, make that badge include a link back to you page.

Guest Blogging - When you guest blog on someone else's site, you not only have the opportunity to plug your site in the about the author that is usually at the beginning or end of guest blogs, but you can link to whatever pages on your site that you want with great anchor text. Don't go overboard with it though.

Best of Lists - Create resource lists that have the ten best sites for off-roading, or whatever topics relate to your site or product.  Make sure to use good page titles with keywords as people may just copy these.

Be Controversial - In your blog, take a stand, say something controversial, this will get you attention and links from people who agree and disagree with you.

Here are some ways not to build backlinks

Comment Spamming - This is frequently done in forums and on blogs and can take on many different forms, such as leaving comments that lack substance and don't add any value to the conversation in order to post the link in your signature (think of all the comments you see that say "this is a great post"). Another common type of comment spam is the comment that says LOOK AT MY COOL NEW HELPFUL PRODUCT and links to some other page.  These are really obnoxious to people actually trying to have a conversation. Oh, and it doesn't work - Almost all blog/forum owners put nofollow tags on external links in comments, AND search engines can easily spot comment spam and devalue it.

Directory Submission Spamming - Earlier I said directory submissions to quality relevant directories are good, and they are.  This doesn't mean submitting your site to every directory you can find is a good way to build links, it isn't.  Many directories are very low quality meant purely for submissions, many nofollow all outbound links, and some aren't even indexed - do you really want to submit to these kinds of Directories?

Paid Text Links - Buying links from really blatant sources is just a bad idea, especially if they are all in a footer or sidebar.  It is usually a dead give away when a lot of your links just disappear at the same time.  Buying links like this way is a good way to get banned.  If you can buy links (like reviews) under the radar from a person you know and trust, go for it IF you are willing to take that risk.

Reciprocal Link Exchanges - These worked really well, in the 90's. Now search Engines can easily detect and devalue reciprocal linking.  Do this if it will benefit the users on your site some how, otherwise forget about it.

Setting up Microsites - Setting up microsites to create links back to your page is a waste of resources as search engines can tell pretty easily if all the sites are owned by the same person/company.  Even if it did work, it takes a lot of effort to build up these sites so that the links on them provide real value to your primary site - it is better to put this effort into your own site.

Article Submission - Ok, this can be done well, like guest blogging or if you carefully choose where to submit an article, but most article submission sites are very low quality and are scraped.  I would prefer to put good content on my own site as I think there is more value created by having good content on your site opposed to giving your content away for a link or two.

Buying Old Domains - People ask about buying old domains and doing a 301 to their own site to pass along the link love (technical term)  that these old domains have.  This doesn't work because when you update the registry information, search engines wipe out all the links pointing to the domain and you start fresh.

To everyone out there that has experience with building links, what are you thoughts?  What do you think are good (or bad) ways to get links?
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Expert Comment

by:Jenn Prentice
Great article, Geoff! I Tweeted it and will post something about it on my EE blog and my personal site.
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Author Comment

by:Geoff Kenyon
Thanks Jenn
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Expert Comment

by:Articles101
Nice article.

Voted Yes above.
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LVL 7

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by:weikelbob
Nice! It was informative to me even though I've been doing this for many years.
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Expert Comment

by:tigermatt
Once again, a nice article Geoff! Voted 'Yes' on this one above.

Matt
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LVL 2

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by:warnercarter
Geoff:

Your article is informative, excellent summary of the possibilities. I was glad you mentioned Guest Blogging. Blog commenting is good when well written and adds value to the conversation though I agree comment spamming is worse than useless. Top article directories like ezinearticles.com (Alexa 132 & PR 6) and Article Dashboard are good sites to post to for links, search engine results, and traffic from users of he site. I agree putting articles in massive numbers of article directories is useless. I usually put them in 3-5 only. Personally I have found a few sites like Hubpages.com, Squidoo, and wetpaint.com  to be good for placing original content with links back to my sites. The good sites actively protect themselves from spammers and the search engines seem to know this if the keyword search results are any indication.
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Expert Comment

by:hbro
I didn't see social networking mentioned, especially Twitter. The ROI is not as good as guest blogging or good content, but the connections I've made are invaluable. And I do have a few backlinks by way of these connections/friends.

I wouldn't spend/waste the day away tweeting, but it is yet another way to get backlinks.
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Expert Comment

by:RajeshKanna
Great Geoff !  Keep up the good work !
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