So you’ve planned, designed, developed, and launched a search engine friendly website or blog. You’ve read Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and SEOmoz’s Beginner Guide To SEO. You also understand that links are an important component of the web marketing ecosystem and one of many important signals that search engines use to rank popularity of web pages. Which means they play a part in developing your online professional reputation.
But how and where does one acquire links? Here are some ideas.
Start Your Link Prospecting At The Top
I usually like to take a top-down approach to identifying link sources. This means starting with the link sources that you think will be most effective in terms of relevance to your firm and web popularity and authority as measured by the sites’ back link profile and visibility for relevant keywords. Some of the first places that you should consider looking are law schools in your state, state and local bar association websites, online legal and news publications, and professional organizations and charitable websites.
In addition to publishing opportunities, many of these organizations offer sponsorship and advertising opportunities that may include links. While I don’t advocate quid pro quo link buying, sponsoring an event, lecture, or offering to provide some form of web content to those sites can be very effective in terms of acquiring visibility, as well as, links back to your website or blog.
Next, I look to look at what the competition is doing. There are a variety of methods and SEO tools that you can do to figure out from where your competitors are acquiring links. Of course, the first step is to figure out who your top online competitors are. The easiest way to accomplish this is to simply see who shows up in search results for the terms that people might use to find your law firm. Once you’ve got five to ten competitor websites that seem to come up a lot, you can use a back link checking tool to identify where they’re acquiring links.
If your law firm is local, you should definitely consider as many local law firm web marketing opportunities as you can find. Many of these link opportunities are free and provide very valuable link signals to search engines. If you’re thinking about investing in paid lawyer listings and directories, you should ask about whether the listing will include a link back to your website and how your listing will appear in the directory. While legal directories may be well-worth the investment, it’s critical that you have performance goals and metrics in place before you sign-up.
Search For Yourself
One way to acquire new links is to search for yourself online. You may be surprised to find that someone has already quoted you or talked about you on their website or blog. Many times, the blogger, journalist, or webmaster may have inadvertently omitted a link to your website or blog. Sometimes a simple, “hey thanks for mentioning me, would you mind adding a link” is all it will take. Other times, you may have to approach someone other than the author (i.e. the webmaster or website administrator). And sometimes you will run into folks that will be offended that you even asked. Nonetheless, if you approach people that have written about you online in a professional and courteous manner, you will find that most people will respond in kind.
From Target to Asset
Once you have a good running list of link targets, the next step is to figure out how to actually get the link. As stated earlier, you will probably find that many of your links targets have some form of “paid offering.” It’s important to keep in mind that link buying is against the webmaster guidelines of the major search engines and may have a negative impact on your site’s visibility. Avoid link targets that are openly selling links. You should also generally avoid link brokerage sites. On the other hand, sites that offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities that incidentally include a link, are usually pretty safe.
Of course, the single most important way to acquire new links is through developing content that makes your readers say wow, want to link to it, and share it. There is no doubt that content still reigns as king. However, if content is king, finding ways to distribute that content through the right channels and to the right audiences is content’s queen.
While I don’t hang with the “if you write it, they will come” crowd, focusing on developing useful, helpful, interesting, and even entertaining content should be your primary link building strategy.
The Future of Links
Since the birth of search engines, links have been the primary signal for web page popularity on the web. However, the web is evolving at an astonishing rate. The number, types, and quality of signals available to search engines to determine popularity is rapidly growing. Blogs, social networks, and other online publishing media provide search engines with much more information about what we want to find than links alone. Which begs the question, “what role will links play as popularity signals in search engines of the future?”
To me, even if their role is more limited, links will always be a prevailing search signal. They are at the core of how the Internet is connected. Even many social networks use links as the foundation of their connections. Therefore, it is my guess that acquiring quality links will remain critical to success in search. However, it is likely that links alone will not be enough to compete in the Web 3.0 world.