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Looking in Yahoo! and ODP categories for business directories can be very helpful in getting a start on your search for links.
For link popularity, searching in Google is a quick way to find suitable websites to request links from or submit to.
Search for specialty search engines. If your business is in medical field, search for medical search engines.
When looking for link partners, select sites that reflect your website's topic or subject. Links from sites that are not related to your site are not weighted as heavily by search engines in deciding how to rank your site.
Visit your competition's websites. See how they are ranking in search engines and find out which keywords they are found under.
Link popularity is a very time-consuming activity, be prepared to spend a minimum of 10-20 hours in order to start building your link popularity. This may be a daunting enough task you might want to consider working with a search engine marketing professional.
It is always a good idea to keep in mind that many tools are not "exact" and can vary due to search engine algorithms changing (which can be often). I like to think of it as an "approximation" of information I am seeking.
The Google Toolbar (http:/ oolbar.google.com) shows you approximate link popularity of other websites (note green bar that says "PageRank" after downloading tool), as well as giving you choices such as checking backlinks (who is linking to webpage), similar pages, a cached snapshot of page and more when you right-click on web page. Visit your competition's webpage, then use toolbar to view who is linking to them.
The PageRank and backlink information is very helpful in regards to researching your competition. The backlinks you find via toolbar may show you some quality websites to submit links to. Seek out websites with PageRank 4 and up to get most out of your submitted or reciprocal link. Hovering your mouse over Google Toolbar tells you page rank of website.
To learn about writing an email request for a reciprocal link and other linking strategies, visit Eric Ward's website (http://www.ericward.com/articles/index.html).
The Overture suggestion tool (http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion) is a free way to check how popular your keyword phrases are in comparison to monthly results of Overture. This will not give you a complete picture since Overture is used on many but not all search engines. It will help you decide which keyword phrases are best choice, as well as as variations on your keyword phrases.
MarketLeap (http://www.marketleap.com/) measures your link popularity, and that of three of your competitors. The report is free and gives you a benchmark showing where your popularity lies online vs your competitors.
Lastly, if you want to "do it yourself", top places I've found to research and learn from are Search Engine Watch (http://www.searchenginewatch.com) and Webmaster World (http://www.webmasterworld.com). Search Engine Watch and Webmaster World's sister site, Search Engine World (http://www.searchengineworld.com) both have free newsletters full of information to help you promote your website.
Daria Goetsch is a Search Engine Marketing Consultant for Search Innovation, a Search Engine Marketing company serving small businesses. Her background involves many years as a Search Engine Marketing Consultant, including three years as the Search Engine Specialist for O'Reilly & Associates. http://www.searchinnovation.com firstname.lastname@example.org