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Got Website Links?

Having a website doesn’t do you much good if no one sees it. Collecting links—having other sites add links to yours—is one sure-fire way to increase traffic to your site.

Why links?
Search engine optimization* expert Judy Taylor says website links are “the single most important thing you can do to raise your site ranking.” When delivering search results to a user Google decides where to place your site by looking at how many other site owners feel it’s important enough to link to. In fact, she says, “Links are, next to key wording,** the most important consideration in increasing your site’s ranking.” So if you want to come up at the top of the first page instead of the bottom of the fifth, links matter.

And the more links you have, the more likely someone is going to find you while looking at another site, too.

Linking don’ts.
Not all links are created equal. It used to be that reciprocal links were the way to go: I’ll link to your site if you link to mine. But that doesn’t work anymore. Reciprocity cancels out the power of a link. So go after one-way links wherever possible, and keep the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” links to about 10% of your total.

Resist the temptation to take shortcuts. Stay away from linking schemes and networks, referred to in the industry as “bad neighborhoods.” Joining these may help in the short run, but Google and the other search engines will penalize your site once they catch on.

Linking do’s.
Google likes to see a natural linking pattern—a site that has a few reciprocal links, and lots of one-way or “straight” links that come from as different types of sources as possible. Here are some of the best ways to pursue these links:

Simply ask for them. Find sites that are dog-related in some way and just ask. If you feel it would be helpful to have something to offer in return, be creative. For example, offer to give all your clients coupons to the local boutique pet supply shop in return for a link.

Join referral networks. For example, join local trainer, sitter, or dog walker association sites and add your listing to their website.

Blog. Guest blogging on others’ sites is a great way to create links and make yourself more visible. Some guest spots will give you link juice, some won’t. But even in the latter case you are still raising the chances that people find you and then choose to go to your site.

Participate in forums. Join and comment regularly on online forums related to your business. This can include Yahoo Groups, Facebook and LinkedIn forums, and forums on association sites such as apdt.com. Same as with blogging, some of these efforts will create actual links and some won’t. But same as with blogging, you stand to increase the visits to your site either way.

Write articles. Submit articles to sites like E-Zine.com that welcome knowledgeable material from experts in their field. Or create a lense on a dog-related topic on squidoo.com.

Market your own content. Have strong content on your own site—blog entries and articles, for example—and market it using social media like Twitter and Facebook and community marketing like an email newsletter.

Extra credit assignments from Judy Taylor, our SEO expert.

Get links from a .edu or .gov site. These sites are particularly difficult to get links from. So if you see an opportunity, take it. Perhaps you have a friend who works for a school or school district that could help you get a link to an article on your site about humane education or child and dog safety. Search engines will give these links more weight, so give some thought to how you might get one or more.

Get listed on DMOZ.org. This directory is run by hand, meaning that all applications are reviewed and decided upon by a human, so Google gives the links that come from DMOZ a lot of credit. It’s not easy to get listed, but it’s worth the effort. If you haven’t been accepted after a month or two, Judy recommends trying again. Choose a different content area and reapply—it may be a matter of finding the right spot for yourself, or getting in front of the right editor.

Getting started.
Search engines like to see what they call “natural growth” in a site’s links. So don’t feel pressure to gather all your links this moment. Instead, make a plan to pursue links over time. Set aside regular time to work on your site, adding one website project (getting on DMOZ, for example, or starting a blog or joining some forums) per month or quarter.

*Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a collection of practices designed to increase the ranking of your site. Your site’s ranking is what determines whether you come up at the top of the first page when someone does a search for dog pros in your area, or the bottom of the fifth.

** Key wording is an SEO strategy in which the text of a website is written to match the words internet users are most likely to type in to find a particular service.