This is the fifth post in Growth Spark's SEO Basics for Business Owners series.
Links are what makes the internet work. It's called the world wide web or the net, and if websites are the knots in the net, then links are the threads that keep it together. The search engines know this, and they use links to travel from site to site. There are many ways that search engines rank websites, but the main factor is the amount and quality of external links coming in.
Quantity is an easy thing to measure. There are total number of links, linking domains, and linking pages. With links on the web, diversity is key. If you have 100 links from one other webpage, it's not going to help your rankings more than if you just had one link from that page. If you have one website linking to you from all its pages, that will be very good, but it would be much better to have two websites linking to your from half of their pages each. Note that at this point we are not talking about quality of links, only quantity in a general sense. The best case scenario is that you have a lot of different domains linking to you from a lot of their pages. The number of links per page as a general rule shouldn't be more than 3, and 1 is usually enough per page.
Quality is slightly different and more complicated. There are a couple general rules to keep in mind when trying to get links though. The best links will come from high traffic sites with a high PageRank (Google's ranking system for pages), with a similar topic to your site, and that have been around a long time. Websites can pass on their ranking quality in their links. A site that ranks well is a good one to get a link from, and better if it relates to your topic. You want to avoid linking to or getting links from spammy sites, because search engines may associate your site with those spammy sites.
Technical Linking Structure
The best way to get a link is to use good anchor text. Anchor text is the word or words that the person clicks on to access the link. You want the anchor text in your link to be the top keyword that you are promoting for that particular page. Here is the html that you will use to do it:
<a href="http://growthspark.com/services/web-design/">Web Design Services</a>
and it looks like this: Web Design Services
This will help your page rank for that particular keyword. Generally you don't need more than that in a link. If you can't get the correct anchor text, the next best thing would be to either use your brand name as the anchor text or just to use the full URL. Having the URL as a link will not help as much on getting up in the rankings for a particular keyword, but it will help your rankings overall because it still counts as another link.
How to Get Links
There are many ways to get links, and there are link building specialists who devote all their time to getting links for clients. But really, anyone can do it. I just want to offer one piece of advice upfront: don't buy links. It is tempting and sounds easy, but it is frowned upon by search engines and could get your site penalized. A lot of link brokers are known, so just buying from them can get you an automatic deduction. There are some reputable link services out there, but in general, buying links in bulk for cheap could get you into that "spammy circle" that I recommended avoiding above.
The most straightforward way to get links is to simply ask for them. If you have friends in similar industries or know someone who owns a site with your same target customer, ask them to link to you. Pitch them how your site will benefit their readers and you may be surprised how many sites are happy to throw in a link for you.
A link building technique that is common for businesses to get links is through directories or industry associations. You can submit your site to industry-specific directories, or general web directories such as dmoz or yahoo. Some directories are paid, and some are not, but the two aforementioned directories are among the most influential. Yahoo has a fee, and dmoz does not. Just be sure to submit your listing to the correct category. As long as it is categorized correctly and is relevant and useful, dmoz will usually list it. IF you are a member of any industry associations, ask them to add a link to your site on their website. Many associations have member pages where they link to their members.
Another popular way to get links is to interact in online communities. Nearly every industry has forums, blogs, news portals, and social networks. One way to get links is to join these communities, and talk to other members there. You can put a link in your profile, in your signature (on forums), or some websites offer areas where members can advertise or talk about their business as well. Think of the communities as you would in real life, and remember that there are real people in your industry on the other side. Treat them as you would treat a business associate you're meeting for the first time. Share and provide relevant information, and sometimes that will include a link to your website.
Are you an expert on a certain topic? Nearly everyone is an expert in something, whether it's some aspects of your industry or products, or even just general business knowledge. There are a ton of publishing platforms on the web, you can write guest posts on industry blogs or create your own articles and pages. This way not only allows you to slip a link into your bio at the bottom of the article, but it will increase your name and brand recognition as well. By providing relevant, interesting information you are enticing other people to link to your article or your website. Some recommended sites for publishing are EZine Articles for writing articles, Squidoo for building webpages, and Wordpress for blogging. After you have some articles published, you can submit articles or press releases to more popular news sites, as they can be very good links (but harder to get).
The methods to get links are endless and just depend on your creativity. Once your website is built, most of the effort put into SEO will be with link building, as it has the most impact on your rankings. You will spend most of your time doing SEO between building links and creating new content to link to.