You always want to start your search engine optimization campaign with a solid foundation: a quality website with high-quality, relevant content. Optimizing your own website is often called “On-Site SEO.” But the story does not end here.

Search engines are always looking for clues as to the best websites for a given search. They look at not only the content and other important cues from the website itself, but they also consider “Off-Site” factors as well.

So, what are these “off-site” factors? Let’s take a look at three important areas: inbound links, local search directories, and social media engagement. Today, we’ll focus on inbound links and link building.

“Authority” and Inbound Links

An important term in the SEO world is “Authority.” Authority refers to a website’s influence, trust and quality. As search engines try to provide the best search results they can, they look at how authoritative and relevant a site and page are for a given search.

A critical factor in determining a website’s “authority” are inbound links – those links from other websites back to your website (a.k.a. backlinks). Each link back to your website is like a vote. The more votes, the better. However, all “votes” are not created equal. Generally speaking, links from other authoritative and popular websites count more than links from small or low-traffic websites. So, in your link building process, quality counts.

Can bad links hurt me?

The short answer is Yes They Can. Up until very recently the search engines would generally ignore links that they considered bad links. A bad link is any link that a search engine thinks is unnatural or artificial and appears to be trying to manipulate PageRank.

The search engines are continually trying to improve their “secret formulas” for search results and this certainly includes detecting any attempt at gaming the system through manipulating links. For example, in April, Google released its “Penguin Update,” which hurt a number of sites participating in link schemes or otherwise spammy link practices.

Examples of bad links include:

  • Paid links: buying a link on a website and not marking it as advertising
  • Link schemes such as excessive link exchanges
  • Links from article marketing sites with low-quality content that focus more on anchor text instead of content
  • Links from dangerous sites that have been flagged for malware or spam.

Building a Quality “Link Profile” – How To Get Inbound Links

Getting quality inbound links should always start with developing and providing quality, relevant content that others would naturally want to link to. Once you have the right foundation in place for your own website, here are a few suggestions:

Understand Your Competitors’ Link Profiles

You can use tools such as the SEOMoz Open Site Explorer or MajesticSEO to understand what sites are linking to your online competitors, what types of links they have and what anchor text they use. You can use this information to help identify similar websites to approach for backlinks to your site and improve your link strategy.

Write Guest Blog Posts

Blogs often need additional content to help expand their reach. As you identify quality blogs related to your topic or industry, you can approach the site owners and offer to write a guest blog post. Your guest blog post will not only raise your professional profile, but also provide a link back to your own site. You will typically be able to include a byline or bio with a link back to your site. You may also be able to provide a link back within the content itself, if the link is highly relevant and beneficial to the reader.

Participate in Forums and Comment on other Blogs

By participating in forums or commenting on blogs for your industry or niche you can help others and share your expertise. This helps to raise your own profile. You are often able to include a link back to your site in your signature. It is important that you are truly sharing with and helping others in the forum and not just spamming the forum for links. You want to build a solid reputation for expertise in your area.

Request Links

If you have developed some quality content, tools or other items of interest, you can request links back from other sites where it is helpful to their readers. This approach is easiest when you already have a relationship with the other website owner. If not, then you need to make sure that your pitch is interesting enough for the website owner to give you a link.

Look For Other Link Opportunities

Many other opportunities abound. Examples include:

  • Press Releases;
  • Directories (industry directories, local search directories, etc.);
  • “Link baiting” (the process of creating highly engaging tools, infographics, videos or other content that entice others to link to it);
  • Getting interviewed by media outlets;
  • And many other creative ways...

Some Closing Thoughts On Link Building

Link building is a tough job and a lot of hard work, but it can pay great dividends. You need to remember that quality is as important as quantity. Be careful of where and how you are building your links. Keep balance in your link profile with a variety of types of links. Try to build a little each month. Stay at it and you will see results.

Next week we’ll look at another off-site SEO strategy for local search.