Link popularity, i.e. the 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 the same, more the number of links to your site, higher will be its ranking.
What is important is not only the number of links to your site, but also the 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 the link popularity of your site. I start with the methods that you shouldn't bother using, then go on to the moderately effective methods, and then end with the most effective methods you can use to boost the 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 the link popularity of your site, and hence, will indirectly bring in traffic through the search engines.
Nothing could be further from the 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 the top of the page. However, as more and more people submit their sites to the FFA page, your site will be pushed down, and finally, when it reaches the bottom of the page, it will be removed.
Now, since you can bet that plenty of other people are also submitting their sites to the FFA pages, your site will remain in these pages for only a short span of time. Hence, in order to ensure that the search engines see your site if and when they come to spider the 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 the FFA pages will actually penalize your site, there is every possibility that this might happen in the future.
Hence, when it comes to FFA pages, my advice is simple: don't even think about them.
2) Joining Reciprocal Link Services
Some people have recommended that in order to increase the link popularity of your site, you can join some reciprocal link services. The basic idea behind these services is that you add some pages to your site which contain links to other sites which are members of that service, and in exchange, these members will also add pages to their sites which will contain a link to your site. Theoretically, more the members of that service, more your link popularity.
However, I have plenty of reservations about using this method to boost the link popularity of your site:
i) Most of these services require that you add a visible graphical or text link from your home page to the pages containing the links. If they require a graphical link, it can completely destroy the general look and feel of your site. Even if they require a text link, how would you feel if a visitor to your site clicked on such a link and found one of your competitors (who is also a member of this service) right at the top of a page? Also, while most of these services disallow adult oriented sites, I have seen situations in which some adult sites have been able to become members. How would you feel if an adult site found its way to the top of one of these pages?
ii) Most of these services give the same pages containing the links to each of its members, i.e. the pages that you are required to upload to your site are exactly the same as the pages which all the other members of that service are required to upload to their servers. Even the file names of the pages tend to be the same for all the members. Most search engines are now able to detect such duplicate pages in different domains and may either ignore the pages or may even penalize all these domains for spamming.
iii) Instead of linking only related sites with each other, most of these services link all the members with each other. This means that lots of unrelated sites will be linking to your site. As I mentioned before, links from unrelated sites are simply not as valuable as links from related sites.
Hence, I don't recommend that you join any reciprocal link programs.
3) Exchanging links with other webmasters
Another way of improving the link popularity of your site is to exchange links with other webmasters who have sites which are related to yours, but are not direct competitors. Here's how you can do it:
First, open a database program like Microsoft Access and create a new table containing fields like FirstName, LastName, Email Address, URL etc.. Then, make a list of the sites belonging to your competitors. Then, go to AltaVista, and type in the following in the search box:
where somesite.com is the domain name of one of your competitors. This will give you a list of all the sites which are linking to that competitor. Then, find out in what context a particular site has linked to your competitor. If this site is an affiliate of your competitor, then your chance of getting a link from this site is limited, unless you offer an even better affiliate program. However, if you find that this site has a Links page which contains links to other sites, one of which is a link to your competitor, then it is an excellent prospect for exchanging links. Find out the name and email address of the webmaster of the site and add them to your database. In this way, go through all the sites which are linking to your competitors, locate those sites which you think may want to exchange links with you, and build up your database.
Once you have done that, create a Links page in your site, and add the URLs of these sites to the Links page. Then, send an email to these webmasters, introduce yourself and your site, congratulate them on building an excellent web site, tell them that you have already added a link to their sites from yours, and then ask them whether they would be kind enough to add a link to your site. In your email, emphasize the fact that exchanging links in this way will be mutually beneficial for both of you because it will help both of you drive traffic to your sites. Wait for a month or so to see the response. Some webmasters will agree to link to you. Others will simply not respond. After a month, remove the links to those sites who are not interested in exchanging links and using the methods outlined above, try to locate more sites with which to exchange links.
When you send the email to the webmasters, make sure that you personalize each email. Don't begin every email with "Hello Webmaster", begin with "Hello Mike". If you want, you can use email merge programs to automatically personalize each email. You can check out some email merge programs by going to http://download.cnet.com and searching for "email merge" (without the quotes).
The main problem with this method of improving the link popularity of your site is that it takes a lot of time. You may find that the number of links you manage to get just does not justify the time that you spend over it. However, I have been evaluating a program named Zeus which automates this process of exchanging links to a large extent. You can download a free trial version of Zeus from http://www.1stSearchRanking.com/t.cgi?1130&zeus/
Another thing that you can do is to mention in your Links page that you are willing to exchange links with other web sites. This allows other webmasters who come to your web site to propose a link exchange.
4) Starting an Awards Program
A moderately effective method of improving the 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 the award get the chance to display the logo for your award. This logo is linked to your site, preferably to a page which contains more information on the award.
If you publish a newsletter, consider declaring the winners in your newsletter. You can also perform a review of the winners' sites in your newsletter. This adds useful content to your newsletter and also gives more webmasters the incentive to apply for your award, since you may review their sites in your newsletter. This also gives them the incentive to subscribe to your newsletter to see if they win the 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 the credibility of your company. Furthermore, make sure that the logo you design for the award looks professional. If it doesn't, not many webmasters will want to display it in their sites.
5) 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 the link popularity of your site. If you really like a product, simply write to the company and tell them why you liked the product so much and how it has helped you. Chances are, the 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 the company that you have no problems if they publish your comments, but request them to add a link to your site along with the testimonial. There is every possibility that the company will agree since publishing the URL of your web site gives more credibility to the testimonial.
Of course, please don't go about giving testimonials to every company you can locate just because it will improve your link popularity :-)
6) Posting to Message Boards and Discussion Lists
Another moderately effective method of increasing the link popularity of your site is to post to online message boards. At the end of every message that you post, you can sign off by mentioning your name and the URL of your web site. If the message board allows it, you can even include a short promotional blurb about your site at the end of your posts. However, make sure that the individual messages that are posted to that message board are archived in static HTML pages (i.e. the URLs for the individual messages should not contain a "?"). Otherwise, the 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 the web in static HTML pages can also be used to boost the link popularity of your site in a similar manner. In this case, the signature file that you use with your email program should contain the URL for your web site.
7) Setting up new web sites
Yet another moderately effective method of improving the link popularity of your site is to set up new web sites and have these new sites link to your main site. If you are Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon.com), you can afford to purchase hundreds of new domains and have these new domains link to your main site. If you are not Jeff Bezos, you can simply set up new sites with some of the free web hosts. (Of course, your primary web site should always be hosted in a separate domain of its own). Simply add a few pages of unique content to each of your new sites, and have each of the pages in your new sites link to your main site.
If you use this technique, make sure that you do not duplicate content across multiple sites. If you do, the search engines might penalize your sites for spamming. You need to ensure that all the pages that you create for these new sites contain unique content.
The disadvantage of this method is that some search engines (like AltaVista) refuse to spider sites which are present in the free web hosts. Still, there are many search engines which will spider these sites, and hence, the link popularity of your main site will improve in these search engines.
8) Starting a Link Contest
A good method of improving the 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 the winners. If you sell a software (or an ebook), you can give away a free copy of your software or ebook to the 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 the contest on a continuous basis and if you declare new winners frequently. If you run the contest for a few months, and then stop it, the 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, the webmasters will have the 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 the page which contains the 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 the home page to the page containing the link). If they don't do this, the search engine spiders may not index the page which contains the link to your site, and hence, may not find your link.
9) Writing articles and allowing them to be re-published
This is by far one of the best ways of improving the link popularity of your site, and one of my favorites. Whenever I write an article on search engine placement, I first publish it in my newsletter and then I publish the article in my site as a separate web page. I also submit it to the following article submission sites:
Many webmasters and ezine publishers frequent these article directories in search of articles. Submitting my articles to these directories gives them the opportunity of re-publishing my articles. While I have had some success with each of the above directories, by far the best among them is the ezinearticles.com directory.
Now, at the end of each article, I mention that people are free to re-publish the article as long as they include my resource box (i.e. my bio) at the end of the article. I always include the URL of my site in the resource box. This means that whenever someone publishes one of my articles in his/her web site, I have another site linking to my site. Also, many ezine publishers archive their ezines in their web sites. If they have re-published my article in a particular issue, I again get a link.
Writing articles is also an excellent viral marketing tool. As some webmasters and ezine publishers publish my articles, other webmasters and ezine publishers will read my article. Some of them, in turn, will publish my article, which will again be read by other webmasters and ezine publishers, some of whom will publish it... and so on.
Also, since only web sites related to mine would be interested in publishing my articles, all these links tend to come from related sites, which, as I mentioned earlier, are more valuable than links from unrelated sites.
Writing articles, of course, has another very important benefit - if you write good articles, it makes you known as an expert in your field. This helps to improve your credibility, which makes people more comfortable about buying your products or services.
Some notes about writing articles:
i) I have learnt through experience that some webmasters will publish other people's articles and will display the complete resource box but will not link to the URL mentioned in the resource box. In order to prevent this, you need to explicitly state that the article can be published only if the URL mentioned in the resource box is linked to your site.
ii) Your resource box should not be too long - it should be no more than 6 lines long, formatted at 65 characters per line. Otherwise, other webmasters and ezine publishers will hesitate to publish your article.
10) Starting your own affiliate program
This is another excellent way by which you can improve the link popularity of your site. When you have your own affiliate program, you give other webmasters the incentive to link to you. In this case too, since most of these web sites will be related to the industry in which you are operating, these links will be more valuable than links from unrelated sites.
Now, when you start your affiliate program, you need to decide whether you want to run the program yourself, or whether you want to outsource it from a third party. While outsourcing your affiliate program has a number of benefits, doing so will not help you improve the link popularity of your site, because affiliates are going to link to the third party's site. In order to improve the link popularity of your site, you need to ensure that the affiliate links are pointing to your domain.
The affiliate program software that I highly recommend and have used for the affiliate program of our search engine positioning services is Kowabunga Technologies' My Affiliate Program, which is available at http://www.1stSearchRanking.com/t.cgi?1130&affiliateprogram/. Although this software is hosted in a domain owned by Kowabunga Technologies, they give you the option of having the affiliate links pointing to your own domain.
11) Submitting to the directories
This is by far the most important step as far as improving the link popularity of your site is concerned. As I mentioned before, what is important is not only the number of links to your site, but also the quality of the links to your site. No links are as important as links from some of the major directories like Yahoo!, the Open Directory etc.. Hence, it is vitally important that you get your site registered by these directories.
Also, you should submit your site to as many of the smaller directories as possible. You can get a list of such directories by clicking here.