In past SEM 101 articles, we’ve talked about the importance of inbound links to successful ranking (see “Links: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – Part 1 and Part 2). We’ve already discussed many issues surrounding them, but we haven’t done a dedicated post on how to be successful at link building from a search engine’s perspective. Let’s finally address that omission here and now.
What is the point of building links?
Your website is your self-representation on the Web. It’s a major asset to your business, often simultaneously serving as your online business card, an introductory company brochure, detailed sales literature, supporting documentation, and a point of sales distribution point for your products and/or services. It’s also your place to demonstrate your expertise in your specialized field of interest. If your website offers something of worth, valuable to web users interested in that topic, then it behooves you to let the world know about it. Consider the effort your contribution to the betterment of humanity (or at least a chance to make a few conversions!).
Link building is a very important form of self-promotion on the Web. You contact webmasters of other, related websites and let them know your site exists. If the value that you have worked so hard to instill in your site is evident to them, they will assist their own customers by linking back to your site. That, my friend, is the essence of link building.
Think of link building as your chance to build your reputation on the Web. As your website is likely one of your business’ most valuable assets, consider link building to be a primary business-building exercise. Just don’t make the mistake of believing it will result in instant gratification. Successful link building efforts require a long-term commitment, not an overnight or turnkey solution. You need to continually invest in link building efforts with creativity and time. Good things come to those who wait (and work smartly!).
Bing’s policy on link building
Bing’s position on link building is straightforward – we are less concerned about the link building techniques used than we are about the intentions behind the effort. That said, techniques used are often quite revealing of intent. Allow me to explain.
Bing (as well as other search engines) places an extremely high priority on helping searchers find relevant and useful content through search. This is why we regularly say that search engine optimization (SEO) techniques oriented toward helping users are ultimately more effective than doing SEO specifically for search engine crawlers (aka bots).
The webmasters who create end user value within their websites, based on the needs of people, are the ones who will see their page rank improve. So where does that value come from? Content. Good, original, text-based content.
How do I get valuable inbound links?
Make no mistake: getting legitimate and highly valuable, inbound links is not a couch-potato task. It’s hard work. If it were easy to do, everyone would do it and everyone would have the same results – mediocrity. But this is not to say that it is impossibly hard or that successful results are unattainable. Persistence and diligence are extremely important, but so is having something of value, content-wise, to earn those inbound links to your site.
We’ve said it before, and you’ll hear it said again: content is king. Providing high-quality content on your pages is the single most important thing you can do to attract inbound links. If your content is unique and useful to people, your site will naturally attract visitors and, as a result, automatically get good links to your site. By focusing on great content, over time, your site will naturally acquire those coveted inbound links.
But are all inbound links created equal? Not at all. Your goal should be to focus on getting inbound links from relevant, high-quality sites that are authorities in your field.
Relevance is important to end users. If you run a site dedicated to model trains, getting an inbound link from an illicit pharmaceutical goods site is orthogonal to the interests of your customers. Unless the outbound linking page from such a site makes a relevant case for linking to you, this type of unrelated link is of minimal value (and if the intention is determined to be manipulative, may even lead to penalties against your site). Why? Because so many sites today are set up solely to serve as link exchanges, where they have no specific theme to their site (other than seemingly random – and usually paid for – outbound links). As these sites do nothing to advance the cause of the web user looking to find useful information, search engines regard them as junk for end users, and thus as junk links to their linked-to sites.
You see, search engines know everything about the sites linking to your site. We crawl them just as we crawl your site. We see the content they possess and the content you possess. If there is a clear disconnect, the value of that inbound link is significantly diminished, if not completely disregarded.
So what links are valuable? That’s pretty easy, isn’t it? If relevance is important, the most highly regarded, relevant sites are best of all. Sites that possess great content, that have a history in their space, that have earned tons of relevant, inbound links – basically, the sites who are authorities in their field – are considered authoritative sites. And as authorities, the outbound links they choose to make carry that much more value (you don’t get to be an authority in your field by randomly linking out to irrelevant, junk sites). Good SEO practices, a steady history, great content, and other, authoritative inbound links beget authority status. The more relevant, authoritative inbound links you earn for your website, the more of an authority your site becomes in the eyes of search engines. These are the natural results of solid content and smart link building.
So what does it mean to go unnatural? It means you’re trying to fake out the search engines, to try to earn a higher ranking that the quality of your site’s content dictates as natural through manipulation of search engine ranking algorithms. This chicanery can range from relatively benign but useless efforts to overly aggressive promotion to outright fraud. And as the major search engine bots are continually crawling the entire Web, we see what is being done, the relationships between linked sites, the changes to links over time, which sites link to one another, and so much more, we account for these cunning behaviors in our indexing values applied to those pages.
Examples of potentially conspiratorial hocus-pocus that might be perceived as unnatural and warrant a closer review by search engine staff include but are not limited to:
- The number of inbound links suddenly increases by orders of magnitude in a short period of time
- Many inbound links coming from irrelevant blog comments and/or from unrelated sites
- Using hidden links in your pages
- Receiving inbound links from paid link farms, link exchanges, or known “bad neighborhoods” on the Web
- Linking out to known web spam sites
When probable manipulation is detected, a spam rank factor is applied to a site, depending upon the type and severity of the infraction. If the spam rating is high, a site can be penalized with a lowered rank. If the violations are egregious, a site can be temporarily or even permanently purged from the index.
Using the Webmaster Center Backlinks tool
Are you curious to see who is linking to your site and how authoritative Bing considers each site to be? Check out the Bing Webmaster Center tools, specifically the Backlinks tool. (If you haven’t yet registered your websites with Webmaster Center, go to About the Bing Webmaster Center tools to learn more.) Once logged in, click the site you wish to review from the Site List page (a webmaster can register multiple sites on one account), then click the Backlinks tool tab. The Page score field associated with each linked page indicates a relative value for that page.
So what can I do to get good, legitimate inbound links?
OK, so you have great content. You built it, and now they will come, right? Well, if you have the patience of Vladimir and Estragon, sure. But sometimes you want to nudge the world a little bit. You want to speed up that process, all the while remaining legitimate in your efforts. You want to actively participate in link building!
I described link building earlier as hard work. But perhaps smart work is a better description. Check out a few of these smart ideas and determine how they apply to your site, your customers, and your industry’s niche. Note that all of these ideas are predicated on the assumption that you’ve already created useful, original, expert content that users will want to read and webmasters of relevant sites will want to link to. That done, let’s spread the news! Here’s how:
- Develop your site as a business brand and be consistent about that branding in your content
- Identify relevant industry experts, product reviewers, bloggers, and media people and let them know about your site and its content
- Write and publish concise, informative press releases online as developments warrant
- Publish expert articles to online article directories
- Participate in relevant blogs and forums and refer back to your site’s content when applicable (Note that some blogs and forums add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to links created in user-generated content (UGC). While creating links to your content in these locations won’t automatically create backlinks for search engines, readers who click through and like what they find may create outbound links to your site, and those are good.)
- Use social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to connect to industry influencers to establish contacts, some of whom may connect back to you (be sure you have your profiles set up with links back to your website first)
- Create an online newsletter on your site with e-mail subscription notifications
- Launch a blog or interactive user forum on your site*
- Join and participate in relevant industry associations and especially in their online forums
- Ultimately, strive to become a trusted expert voice for your industry and let people know that your website contains your published wit and wisdom
- For more link building ideas, check out these additional link building tips.
* Note that if you do go this route, please keep site security issues in mind. You’ll want to keep a close eye on all UGC, being watchful for possible code injection and malformed links (filter for it if you can). Consider disallowing UGC from unregistered users. Be sure to keep up with web server and application software updates, use applicable security software, require strong passwords, etc. For more information on securing your web server, check out our recent series of security blog articles, “The Merciless Malignancy of Malware,” especially Part 3 and Part 4.
When you do develop these new ideas, be consistent in your work. Nothing can kill momentum like over-commitment early on and under-delivery later on. Assess what you can realistically do on an on-going basis, commit to it as part of building your business, and do it consistently and with high quality. You want to develop both an online library of worthwhile content and a reputation for the regular delivery of new material. That is what draws initial visitors and keeps them coming back.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to post them in our SEM forum. See you again soon…
– Rick DeJarnette, Bing Webmaster Center