Link building is tough, right? Kick it all off with an obvious comment! If you work in SEO you know that it is back breaking, labour intensive work and more often than not it can leave you disillusioned. But as an SEO you have a few tricks up your sleeves - you have the right tools, you know some advanced Google commands and you probably have some great spreadsheets with lists of possibilities and contacts that you have made over the years.
For Joe Blogs though it can be even more frustrating and when I am out and about doing consultancy and chatting to business owners I hear the same sort of questions:
"Where do I start?" "How do I go about getting the links?" and most the most common "How do I know which links are good and which are bad?"
Internet savvy businesses know the importance of inbound links - they just can't distinguish between what makes a link great and what makes a link bad. This is why we still have so many cruddy SEO companies that are selling a bazillion links for the price of a beer.
First things first
There is no such thing as a perfect link - only great links. Blindly pursuing what you believe to be a perfect link will only leave you heartbroken and seriously disillusioned.
What makes a link great?
Let us look at some of the factors that make a link great and if you feel that I have missed some factors feel free to chime up in the comments section. Equally if you feel that some of the factors that I list are wrong let us spark up a debate, these factors are not set in stone .
Topicality of the link - You want links that are on pages that feature content that is contextually relevant to the page it links to; equally having the link on a site that is contextually relevant is going to give the link more weight. It is also important that you think topically about the page that the link goes to - is it the most relevant page on your site for this link?
Trust of the site - Is the site trustworthy? A few years back we may have looked to PageRank for the answer but as that becomes more unreliable we need to look elsewhere. MozRank gives us a quick indicator of the trust of the site and whilst it has shown good correlation with PageRank it is not the be all and end all. Instead take theses two scores and combine it with good old fashioned gut instinct. Ask yourself if you trust the site. Would you use the site and do you trust the information that it contains. Is the site professionally designed or does it look like it was made by a five year old with a bunch of Lego bricks? Trust your instincts.
Anchor text - Ideally you want a text link with the keywords of your choice. It is always worth asking for this don't settle for what you are given, but don't push too hard that you lose the link altogether.
Is the link editorial? You want a human to decide that you are going to get the link not some automated software that can't distinguish between your fantastic business and a spam ridden Viagra link. It needs to be moderated and not free for all - without generalising too much, the harder the link is to get the more valuable it will be.
Do not pay for the link - With all the recent news about big firms getting penalties form Google for black hat link building tactics this should be obvious. Google doesn't like them and if you get caught you are going to be put or the naught step indefinitely.
Try and find pages with very few links on them - Ideally it would be great if you were the only link on the page but how often is that going to happen? The link may even carry so more weight the higher up it appears on the page.
Nofollow - Does what it says on the tin (or so Google like us to believe). A healthy, natural looking link profile will contain Nofollow links but it is crucial that you don't spend a lot of time chasing them (unless you know that it will bring you a boatload of traffic). Get a plugin that allows you to highlight the links that are Nofollow so you can make your decisions quickly - I recommend the SEOmoz Toolbar or Quirk Search Status
Get a link in the body of the text surrounded by related information - Footers and Sidebar links used to work great but limit how many of these you have. A link in the text is infinitely superior, giving the link context, value and weight.
Other questions to ask
Will it send you traffic? It doesn't matter if it is good link and doesn't send traffic - but a truly great link will send traffic as well as boost your SEO efforts.
Do you know who else the site is linking to? Use the Bad Neighborhood Tool to find out
Who else links to the site? Check out the backlink profile of the site itself, are lots of trusted sites linking to?
Is the page that you want the link on indexed? does Google crawl the site frequently? There is no point having a link on a page that will never get crawled.
Is this everything that makes a link great? Probably not - feel free to add some more!