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Is Content Really King? - The Power of Links

Aug 17, 2007
On-page content and optimization by itself is no longer enough. Unfortunately, link popularity has become a dominant factor in deciding who ranks the highest within the major search engines, especially within Google. If a competitor of yours is both optimized for the same target search terms and has a higher quantity and/or higher quality of back links, they are going to outrank you: period. Even if your website is perfectly optimized for an extremely niche search term and no other site in the world even mentions your exact phrase, you may still have trouble finding your website if you do not have at least a few back links to "validate" your website.

If it came down to a contest between on-page optimization efforts against link building efforts, links would win hands down. You may find it shocking to hear a President of an optimization firm saying such a thing, but its true. I would challenge anyone to outrank a website that has a massive number of quality back links by using on-page optimization efforts alone with zero link building efforts. Whereas, you can easily outrank a website that is extremely well optimized by focusing heavily on link building efforts. An interesting example is Apple.com. One of the most important elements of optimization is to place the target key phrase within the meta title tag. However, search for the word "computers" on Google and you will find Apple.com on the first page of results. Apple does not even mention the word computers in their meta title tag. How is this possible when there are literally millions of competing websites that are aggressively trying to show up for this term by applying various optimization efforts? The answer is that Apple.com has a superior volume of back links (over 70,000 in Google alone). And a large percentage of these links include the word computers within the anchor text (i.e. Apple Computers, Mac Computers, etc.).

Does this mean Optimization is dead?
The answer of course, is no. Search engines still love websites that have tons of fresh and relevant content. It is the basis of what search engine results are all about. Copywriting fees are worth every penny when it comes to adding well written descriptions of your products and services onto your website. Professional optimization companies still flourish because of the success they bring to their clients through increased rankings and traffic. For optimum results, you need both optimization and links to succeed today.

It's not just the quantity of incoming links, but the quality and relevance of the websites from which they come, as well as what words are used within the visible text portion of the hyperlinks, i.e. "anchor text." Reciprocated links have less value than they use to and can potentially hurt your rankings if you are exchanging with too many unrelated websites, i.e. bad neighborhoods. One-way links are the best links.

During the last few Search Engine Strategies conferences, I could not help but notice an increasing number of link-related workshops, including a class dedicated to purchasing text links. Matt Cutts, official spokesman and software engineer for Google shared how he personally believes that buying links is like a politician buying votes and that incoming links should only grow naturally. He shared that the best way to receive incoming text links was to offer something truly helpful and/or unique and interesting to the public and that this would generate free unsolicited, incoming links without even asking. He offered some extreme examples of very creative websites, which caused a national media stir. Within minutes frustrated attendees spoke up about how the search engines started this whole thing by giving too much criteria to links in the first place, and that buying links on other sites (be it through banners or text links) has been a conventional form of advertising well before Google even existed. Some commented that if Google was considering penalization for sites that buy or sell links, they should start with Yahoo, since Yahoo earns a good portion of their income from selling paid text links (i.e. $299/year directory listings). Interesting enough, Google actually recommends on their website that you submit to directories such as Yahoo.

I am sure that a majority of website owners today would love to come up with creative ideas that would generate a ton of unsolicited media attention. The truth is that coming up with something exciting to say about reverse vacuum pumps, or single-mode fiber optic tool kits, or Batesville real estate is easier said than done. Most of the clients we work with offer clear and simple information about their products and services. Waiting around for other websites to give them free, one-way text links may very well result in additional years of continual poor search engine rankings and a lack of sales.

So how do you build back links? Below is a short list of some of the most common ways to increase your back links:
- Offer something truly helpful that may inspire others to link to you without even asking.
- Hire a website positioning firm to help you write and distribute press releases and articles to thousands of sites.
- Ask business partners, vendors, distributors, family members, golf partners, etc. to link to you.
- Ask non-profit organizations if they would post a "contributor" link to you in exchange for a small donation.
- Offer quotes and testimonials to sites you are comfortable with in exchange for a direct link to your site.
- Exchange links with websites (but stay within your industry and away from automated programs).
- Purchase text link ads (costly, typically $20/month each and up - but may be worth it for the right industry).
- Submit to quality directories whose listings are known to show up as valid back links (excellent value).

Do you need thousands of links? Not necessarily. You may not even need hundreds. Everyday, we perform competitive back-link research and people are often shocked at how little it would take to rise above their competitors. Even if you are in a fairly competitive industry, there are often select search terms that may be far less competitive than others. This is why it is helpful to partner with an experienced search engine positioning company who can aid you in strategic decisions.
About the Author
Kurt Noer is the President of a search engine positioning company called Customer Magnetism. They also provide
link building services. Visit www.customermagnetism.com
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