Links are a complete mystery to many site owners first engaging in SEO, and I can certainly sympathise. When thinking about how to improve your site, it’s not immediately obvious that you need to look at what’s going on in other areas of the net and not just what’s happening on your website.

Inbound website links are like a thumbs up from other people

This being said, links are immensely important. I can’t really emphasise this enough. Without a good link profile, your site isn’t going anywhere on the search engine results pages, no matter how much SEO work you’ve put into your pages.

First of all, we need to answer the question ‘Why do I need inbound links?’ Links are such an important part of search engine optimisation that everyone involved in the industry forgets that they aren’t an obvious factor to a newcomer. Unless you’re already involved in SEO, you probably don’t give the sites linking to you a second thought, but here’s why you should:

Reason #1: The search engines love links

Basically, links are important because the search engines need references. Once upon a time, the search engines trusted websites. What was on the page counted a lot toward where the page would be placed during a search. Then a few site owners did some underhanded tricks to get their pages featured for popular searches, and the search engines became wary of trusting what sites had to say about themselves. Enter inbound links, which work as personal references.

This is a very simple way of putting it, and of course the whole links issue is a lot more complicated. Not all links are equal, and it’s best to obtain links from high-ranking sites or pages that are relevant to yours.

Reason #2: Links bring you traffic of their own

The major reason you want to pursue links is stated above, but there is also an argument for building links for the notoriety they represent. If you have a link coming in from a popular site, then you’ve snagged a valuable, highly-specific source of traffic that doesn’t rely on the search engines.

Reason #3: Links are going to be even more important in the future

As SEO develops, so does the techniques used by the search engines to get around black-hat SEO (techniques that aim to mislead search engines into awarding rankings). As time goes by, it’s becoming apparent that a good reputation will be a site’s best asset. This means that every smart site owner will be building bigger and better link profiles from now on.

Building links

The second question to ask is ‘How do I get links?’ Actually, this is the question every site owner finds themselves asking continuously because link building, like the rest of search engine optimisation, is an undertaking that never stops.

Link building is not easy, but there are established ways to go about it. A lot of site owners buy links from sites that have a good PageRank, hoping to buy into some of the credibility those sites have. Buying links is strictly against Google’s Terms of Service, however, so doing this is a bit of a gamble and could result in your site being penalised in the rankings. Writing up a list of desirable sites and begging for links (or building up relationships to get links) is a safer way to go, but takes more time and patience. There are ways to attract more links to your site though, including building relevant, interesting content.

Links are a complicated issue, and it’s a good idea to investigate thoroughly. There are lots of hidden rules and pitfalls, so read up as much as you can, or better yet, talk to an expert.

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