Julia: Welcome Bob. Thank you for taking time to answer my questions about link building. I'm going to jump right in ask you why Web sites need links?
Bob: There are a number of reasons to have links pointing to your site. But let’s start with reason they were created in first place. The original purpose of Internet was to enable sharing of information. For example, if a scholarly paper existed on a server at University of California, and a professor at Oxford wanted to read it, Internet made that instantly possible. Now, if Oxford professor had a paper that referenced information from UC paper, they could link directly to that other document rather than just quoting from it. So a hyperlink was intended as a way of connecting data, ideas, and references together. It’s like saying, “if you’d like further information on this topic, here’s a place to find it.”
When Google search engine was created, its developers took this into account. And drew conclusion that a link was an indication that page being linked to was relevant to some particular subject-matter.
So that’s a rather long introduction to a short answer to your question. Web sites need links because they send traffic that’s already targeted to their subject matter to other sites, and because they help search engines determine both their theme and what web as a community deems their importance to be. Basically (although not absolutely), more links that point to a page, more relevant that page is determined to be. In addition, links are now considered most reliable way (apart from paying) to get a site into search engines in first place.
While both Google and Yahoo allow you to submit a site to their index, it’s clear that best way to get search engines to pay attention to your site is to get a page that their spiders already know about to link to yours. The spiders then follow that link to your site, and add it to their index.
Julia: Thanks, Bob. But there are different types of links aren't there? Can you explain differences?
Bob: As we discussed in previous question, there are text links from other sites. Some of these are reciprocal (that is, they link to you and you link back to them) and others are one-way (the owner of other site decides, for whatever reason, to link to your site and doesn’t expect you to link back).There are also image links: banners, buttons, etc. These have advantage of standing out visually from rest of page, but many people have become immune to standard banner ad and just ignore them, because it’s assumed they’re just advertisements, and as such, not necessarily relevant to page on which they appear.
Then there are directory listings, where a link to your site appears on a page containing links to numerous other sites in what directory editor has determined to be your particular niche.
There are also links that won’t help you at all, or will put you in danger of losing your position on search engines. Guestbook spam, practice of going to a site’s guest book area and posting a message like “Nice site. Come visit mine, at…” will do you no good. The search engines know that such links carry no value, and just ignore them. The same is true for free-for-all links pages, on which you can immediately add a link to any site, without any editorial oversight.
Link farms are a far more dangerous subject. These are networks of sites that are heavily cross-linked and offer to link to you as long as you link back into network, or host a page on your site that serves as a directory of sites that link farm has linked to. The idea here is to abuse power search engines give to links by exponentially increasing number of links to your site, without regard for theme or value. You link into farm, and you have hundreds, perhaps thousands of links pointing back to you. But links are only there to increase link popularity. The sites on which links reside are not intended to actually be viewed by people; they’re just intended to give search engine spiders mistaken impression that your site is extraordinarily popular.
Julia: So, what's best way to get legitimate and relevant sites to link to yours?
Bob: Before you can get a site to link to yours, you first have to find it. You need to do research on subject-matter of your site by searching on keywords you hope people will use to find it. The results of those searches will give you a list of sites that are already performing well for those keywords. You should then study those sites, so that you can write to webmaster and request a link in such a way that demonstrates that you understand purpose of their site. And give reasons as to why you think their audience will find your site of interest.
You can buy links from sites as well, sometimes on a single page, and sometimes all across site. These are just like any other form of advertising. So before you part with your money you need to determine if they’re worth purchase price by deciding if they’ll send you enough of right traffic. That’s why sites that offer opportunity to buy links will make claims about how much traffic they get and how their audience is made up of “decision makers.”
Finally, there are directories, which normally require you to drill down to find most relevant category for your listing. You can then (depending on directory) either contact them with your information, or fill out a form on directory itself and request a listing.