At TopSide, we like to keep the big picture in mind, but break complicated search marketing topics down into bite-size pieces. In today’s blog, I’m going to do a brief drill-down into inbound links to websites.

Before doing that, I’ll provide a bit of background. The category of inbound links comprises a major part of what is known as off page SEO. These are basically references or mentions that point to (link to) your website. The search engines look at these back links as votes of confidence and relevance. In contrast, the other “half” of search engine optimization is called on page SEO, which are changes to the structure or content of your website to make it more friendly to search engines. Of course, it must be engaging and useful to your readers too, or they will bounce off or not convert to customers.

To help explain SEO to those less familiar with it, I often compare it to our legal system. In our legal system, we have the “spirit” of the law, which is to help maintain an free, orderly, and productive society. Then, we have the “letter“ of the law, made up of fine print, excruciating details, and sometimes include knee-jerk reactions to current events or trends.

Fortunately, the “spirit” of the Internet and search engine algorithms approach to it have not changed that much in the 6 years I’ve been fully engaged in SEM. Then, and now, one of the better ways to get more inbound links, more traffic, and higher search engine ranking is to provide original, useful content and resources on your website. This can be a product or service comparison table, a calculator specific to your business, a how-to video, etc. Videos are more versatile because you can post them on YouTube and on your website. When others in your industry and your customers or clients find and use your original content, they will naturally link to it and tell others about it.

High quality inbound links can also come from these sources:
– Associations (trade or professional) that you belong to
– Friendly competitors or colleagues in related industries with high quality websites
– Online news releases (real newsworthy stuff – not contrived spammy releases)
– White papers in relevant trade journals
– Authority directories, such as the Yahoo Directory
– Directories specific to your industry
– Local directories and maps, if appropriate
– Meaningful posts on other blogs that are relevant to your business

In contrast to the relevant examples above, way too many resources get used to create links that are from meaningless or irrelevant websites or from spammy blog comments that don’t add anything useful to online conversations. These nebulous “citations” remind me of the category of performance enhancing drugs. To some extent these tactics still work, but once exposed, the penalties can be severe. A recent business blog in the New York Times titled “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search” tells a related story about a well-known U.S. retailer. Check it out.