Effective Ideas for Earning Inbound Links

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What Are Backlinks, Anyway?

Your site needs other sites to link to it if you want people to find you, but your site can also be penalized for having the wrong kinds of links. This conundrum has internet marketers everywhere scratching their heads, and the idea has come to be known as a site’s backlink profile. An announcement from Google last week means it’s more important than ever to stay on top of yours.

Often, our clients ask us for good ways to do that. In today’s blogThis term originated as shortened version of “web log” and has come to be known as a regularly updated web-page, often containing news, opinion and personal stories., we’ll go over some tips and tricks on getting great links, naturally. Scroll down to find the best ideas for your business.

A Lesson from Journalism

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn one of my first journalism textbooks, I read about a simple method for figuring out who the most important people in any community were. First, talk to all your sources and ask who they think is most prominent in the community. Then, contact those people and get their lists. Every mention counts as a vote, and from there it’s easy to choose the top 25 or so. If there’s a tie, you can look at things like money, official positions, newspaper mentions and more. It makes sense intuitively – if the opinions of several people match, they’re probably right. We used this technique to create “Top 25 Most Influential People” lists and personal profiles.

How Do You Judge Credibility?

  • Power
  • Popularity
  • Reputation
  • Influence

trustThe idea of the journalism method is to figure out power structures and credibility. It occurred to me this week that Google and other search engines have almost exactly the same goal. But instead of talking with sources one at a time, the search engine robots use links between sites to judge credibility, influence and reputation and they use that data to determine placement in search engine results.

Backlinks, the Sordid History


Once upon a time, links and keywords were all the search engines cared about. Pretty quickly, hackers figured out how to game the system by posting links to their clients’ sites from all over the web. Often, they accomplished this “linkbuilding” by paying other sites for the privilege, and some purchased huge networks of low-quality sites for this purpose. The backlink industry was born.

Since Google came out with the Penguin algorithmFormulas or computational procedures used to solve complex computer problems. update in 2012, the backlink landscape has changed dramatically. You can still buy links, but we don’t recommend it. Now, sites can get pushed down in the rankings for too many low-quality links, and they can also be downgraded for having too many links from just a few sites. But getting high-quality links takes a lot of work. It’s almost impossible to automate, so plan to spend some time building relationships and leveraging the ones you already have.

What Makes a Good Link?

Two hearts of gold chain.

  • Size
  • Credibility and Reputation
  • Editorial Choice
  • Traffic Potential

One great way to determine the quality of a link is the idea of editorial choice. If the owner of the site had the opportunity to turn down the link and wasn’t paid for it, the link’s probably a good one. Look for big, popular sites that contain credible information and high-quality products or services.

Another way to check is the idea of traffic. As you know, the best ways to measure the success of your website are traffic and resulting new business. If a link is directing traffic to your site, it’s good.

The Best Places to Start


  • Education sites with .edu URLs
  • Government sites with .gov URLs
  • Licensing Boards
  • Chambers of Commerce and Business Organizations

Some sites are so respected that even one link from them can skyrocket you in the rankings. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get your links on some of the best sites. With .gov domainsThis is a string of numbers that is translated into URLs. Top-level domains are represented by suffixes such as .com or .org. Domain names are the URLs for specific websites., for example, find out if there are any sites that have lists of businesses in your area or industry. You can also look for places to submit press releases or newsletter items for these sites. For .edu sites, you can try offering free seminars and get announcements about them online. For licensing boards or organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, just make sure you’re listed and that your links are working. You can also try for local groups such as Rotary or the local Chamber of Commerce.

One of our top analysts, Tyler Lucas, explains it this way:

What sites would you check to find out if a potential business partner is credible? Make sure your brand name and link are on those sites.

Listings and Directories


  • Industry Directories
  • Review Sites
  • Links Pages
  • Phone Book Sites*

Start with sites such as Angie’s List, since they require you to meet special rules and get reviews. Your best bet is to go local, however. Industry-focused directoryFor Internet marketing purposes, directories are sites that aggregate the contact information and ratings of multiple businesses. These can be general, like an old phonebook, or specific, such as a site that shows all the practicing lawyers in a specific area. sites are more and more common, and increasingly helpful for building great backlink profiles. Online Image® customers can use our custom software tools to mine the web for the best directories.

Another idea is to find local listings with the following search queries: “(your keyword phrase) inurl:link” or “(your keyword phrase) intitle:links.” This will bring up links pages on sites that may not be official directories but are still useful information hubs in your industry. Once you’ve found those sites, reach out to the owners.

* Because broad, general directories such as Yellow Pages and Dex have been abused by unscrupulous linkbuilders, backlinks from them don’t seem to carry much weight with search engines. But since the best backlinks are ones that lead customers to your site, it’s still important to be listed in phonebooks and other general sites. Just don’t count on them to do much for your rankings.

Use Your Network


  • Affiliates
  • Vendors
  • Manufacturers
  • Promotional Suppliers
  • Marketing companies
  • Business Networking Groups

Next, go back to your analogue networking. Whether that’s a Rolodex, Franklin Planner, or a digital list of fellow members of your business groups, you can leverage it to earn credible links. You will be most successful if you approach your contacts carefully, framing it as a win-win and offering a benefit that goes beyond a simple link.

Talk to the people you do business with directly, and offer something like a badge with your logo that they can put on your site. Of course, you should offer to return the favor. You can also offer to write guest blogs — just don’t give in to the temptation to automate anything, and always be genuine.

Get Some Press


  • Events and Calendar Listings
  • Service Activities
  • Offer Tips and Industry News
  • HARO
  • Case Studies
  • Organize Group Interviews for Your Industry
  • Create Infographics and Photos for Publication
  • Press Releases*

Public relations and online marketing are closer than ever, and building links is one of the best examples of the trend. General news sites are some of the most credible link sources on the web.

To boost your chances of a successful press release, you’ll need to find (and read) local newspapers and publications in your industry. Then, cultivate a relationship with the reporter, editor or columnist. We have found success with short introductory notes saying something like, “I have a tip for you if you’re interested” or “great work on this piece. Let me know if you want a source for a follow-up story.”

Remember that journalists are very busy and are bombarded with ideas, so be patient. Once you have their attention, you can offer anything from quotes to feature stories to guest columns. Creating content in the form of charts, graphs and studies is also smart — make their job easy. Ask politely that your link be included in any story, and chances are very good it will be.

Another good option is to sign up for services like HARO, short for Help A Reporter Out. On the organization’s Twitter feed and website, reporters ask for sources on a variety of topics. You can check regularly, sign up for emails and volunteer yourself — it’s a win/win.

*It’s fine to distribute press releases nationally, but be aware that links from press release distribution sites don’t count for much. Focused press releases for specific publications are often a better bet.

Get Credit Where It’s Due

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  • Mentions
  • Photos
  • Logos

If you have a big brand or even if you’re starting up, you might have been mentioned online already. Search for your logo with a reverse image search, and look for your custom photos too. You may also find mentions of your brand. Make sure it all links back to your site. Usually, simply contacting the original poster is enough. You can offer to post about the article on social media or do a blog post that mentions their business, but avoid simple link-for-link trades because search engines frown on them.

Commenting and Social Media

social imagesYou won’t get many high-quality backlinks directly from social media, but you can use sites such as Twitter and Facebook to boost your visibility and grow relationships. First, find out where your customers spend their time and put your focus there.

When you’ve chosen a few platforms, follow industry leaders and comment on their posts with your link. You can even direct message (DM) them occasionally — just don’t overdo it. You can also post and repost your own content to bring your site more readers, and then when they are there you can make sure your links easy to share. Be prolific, but don’t flood your social profiles with more than a few posts to your work a day.

Blog Comments

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  • Choose Relevant Blogs
  • Be Genuine
  • Offer Appreciation, Comments and Questions
  • Keep the Interaction Going

You can also consider commenting on blog posts or leave reviews that include your link. Be careful not to comment on spammy sites and resist the temptation to automate anything. Search engines call this comment spamThese are illegitimate comments posted by computers on blog posts, wikis and other social forums, often with promotional messages or garbled, nonsensical text., and they’ll punish you for it. However, relevant comments are fine.

“I leave topically relevant comments on topically relevant sites, all the time,” said Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s anti-spam team.

Instead of trying tricks, be genuine and make sure you follow each blog’s commenting rules. Compliments, additional ideas about the post and questions work great. You can even use this as a jumping off point for guest blogging or additional links from the blog, but we recommend at least four interactions before you ask.

Next Steps


  • Start with 200 Links
  • Do Competitor Research
  • Try, Test, Try, Test, Try, Test and Try Again

Kicking off a good backlink profile is time consuming, but the payoff is huge. Once you have the start of a strong profile of about 200 quality links, it’s likely that you’ll get even more natural links as people find your site. You can also continue building by checking out competitors’ backlinks and copying their success. Then, do more of what’s working and less of what’s not. Just like with anything else in internet marketingThis broad term includes everything from content marketing to display ads, PPC (pay per click) ads, social media marketing, directory listing work and online reputation management., it’s all about trial and error.

Ask the Experts

There are a few tools for checking the backlinks you already have, and many search engine marketing firms such as Online Image® can help even more by determining which links are good, which are bad, and which you should ask Google to discount (disavowThis technique is a way to stop search engines from taking links from bad sites into account when they crawl websites.). If you want to know more or have questions about your own site, give us a call at 801-261-5700.

Online Image®