Link popularity, i.e. number of sites which are linking to your site, is an increasingly important factor as far as search engine placement is concerned. Other things remaining same, more number of links to your site, higher will be its ranking.
What is important is not only number of links to your site, but also types of sites which are linking to you. A link from a site which is related to yours is more valuable than a link from an unrelated site.
In this article, I explore different methods by which you can improve link popularity of your site. I start with a method that you shouldn't bother using, then go on to moderately effective methods, and then end with most effective methods you can use to boost link popularity of your site.
1) Submitting your site to Free For All (FFA) pages
A common misconception among many Internet marketers is that while FFA pages may not directly bring in traffic to your site, it will help to improve link popularity of your site, and hence, will indirectly bring in traffic through search engines.
Nothing could be further from truth. Most FFA pages can contain only a certain number of links at a time. This means that when you submit your site to a FFA page, your site will be placed at top of page. However, as more and more people submit their sites to FFA page, your site will be pushed down, and finally, when it reaches bottom of page, it will be removed.
Now, since you can bet that plenty of other people are also submitting their sites to FFA pages, your site will remain in these pages for only a short span of time. Hence, in order to ensure that search engines see your site if and when they come to spider FFA page, you will need to ensure that you submit your site to these FFA pages on a regular basis - at least once a week.
Even if you used an automatic submission program to do it, can you imagine a worse way to spend your time and/or money? Furthermore, many search engines recognize these pages which only contains links to other sites as FFA pages and may completely ignore them. And while I haven't yet seen any evidence that submitting to FFA pages will actually penalize your site, there is every possibility that this might happen in future.
Hence, when it comes to FFA pages, my advice is simple: don't even think about them.
2) Starting an Awards Program
A moderately effective method of improving link popularity of your site is to start an awards program. You can have web sites which are related to yours apply for an award from your site. The sites which win award get chance to display logo for your award. This logo is linked to your site, preferably to a page which contains more information on award.
If you publish a newsletter, consider declaring winners in your newsletter. You can also perform a review of winners' sites in your newsletter. This adds useful content to your newsletter and also gives more webmasters incentive to apply for your award, since you may review their sites in your newsletter. This also gives them incentive to subscribe to your newsletter to see if they win award.
Make sure that you give awards to only those sites which deserve to win. If you give your award to sites which don't deserve it, your award will have little credibility, which will, in turn, hurt credibility of your company. Furthermore, make sure that logo you design for award looks professional. If it doesn't, not many webmasters will want to display it in their sites.
3) Giving testimonials
This may sound a bit unusual, but giving testimonials for products or services which you find useful can be another moderately effective way of improving link popularity of your site. If you really like a product, simply write to company and tell them why you liked product so much and how it has helped you. Chances are, company will write back to you to thank you for your comments and will ask you for permission to display your comments in their web site. Tell company that you have no problems if they publish your comments, but request them to add a link to your site along with testimonial. There is every possibility that company will agree since publishing URL of your web site gives more credibility to testimonial.
Of course, please don't go about giving testimonials to every company you can locate just because it will improve your link popularity :-)
4) Posting to Message Boards and Discussion Lists
Another moderately effective method of increasing link popularity of your site is to post to online message boards. At end of every message that you post, you can sign off by mentioning your name and URL of your web site. If message board allows it, you can even include a short promotional blurb about your site at end of your posts. However, make sure that individual messages that are posted to that message board are archived in static HTML pages (i.e. URLs for individual messages should not contain a "?"). Otherwise, search engines will consider these pages to be dynamic pages and may not spider these pages and hence, will not be able to find your link.
Email based discussion lists which are archived on web in static HTML pages can also be used to boost link popularity of your site in a similar manner. In this case, signature file that you use with your email program should contain URL for your web site.
5) Starting a Link Contest
A good method of improving link popularity of your site is to give away prizes to other webmasters if they link to you. The prizes that you give out should ideally be something which other webmasters will find valuable enough to want to link to you, but which do not cost you too much. For instance, if you publish a newsletter, and have unsold ad inventory, you can give away some free advertisements in your newsletter to winners. If you sell a software (or an ebook), you can give away a free copy of your software or ebook to winners, since it doesn't cost you anything to produce an additional copy of digital goods like software and ebooks.
Link contests work best if you run contest on a continuous basis and if you declare new winners frequently. If you run contest for a few months, and then stop it, webmasters who had linked to you will all remove their links. However, if you run it on a continuous basis, and declare new winners every month or so, webmasters will have incentive to keep their links to your site.
Also, make sure that you require all participants to have a link to your site either in their home page, or in an internal page of their site which is linked to their home page. Also ensure that page which contains link is no more than two levels deep from their home page (i.e. it should not take more than two clicks to go from home page to page containing link). If they don't do this, search engine spiders may not index page which contains link to your site, and hence, may not find your link.