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Those of you have started to explore the world of Search Engine Optimization have probably started to under stand that amid the myriad of factors, algorithms and rules. There are a few over-arching themes that are extremely important:

1) Have a website that is built well

2) Have content that uses the keywords you’re trying to rank for

3) Get links

These factors build on each other. Your website code and architecture is your foundation. Send all the links in the world to a poorly built website and you’ll be struggling to rank for the terms that matter.

So let’s assume that we’ve built a website with good code, logical architecture, and good on-page optimization (e.g. using the keyword in the page title, header and image alt-text). Then the question becomes, how do you build links?

Link building is one of the most challenging aspects of web marketing for many businesses. This challenge has led many to look for easier ways to do it. This is where link exchanges or farms, paid links and reciprocal linking came from. As soon as someone said links were important for search rankings, scummy little companies sprung up over night offering you thousands of links for a nominal price.

The problem with that kind of link building? It’s crap. It doesn’t work. In fact, it could actual penalize you! And what’s more, once a link is out there it can be damn hard to get rid of. Which means a mistake in link building can hurt you for a long time.

That’s where content comes in. The idea is, if you create compelling, interesting content, you can attract links. There is no doubt that creating content is a hugely important part of online marketing – not just for building links, but for garnering authority, shares on social media and general engagement with the web community and of course, remember that building links using a guest posts is a great way to increase your Google ranking.

The trouble is – creating content takes work… a lot of work. In fact for many small businesses, the required time for producing content simply exceeds the perceived return. Not to mention if you’re just starting out in your online marketing effort, it’s going to take a long time for your content to get traction.

With paid/manipulative linking a  no-go, and content a long term investment, it’s no surprise that people express frustration at the whole “link building thing”.

What’s the answer? You have to embed the activity of building links into the fabric of your organization.

Part of the problem is that link building – really everything online is left to just the marketing department and maybe some IT personnel. But opportunities for links exist throughout the entire organization. Let’s look at some examples:

  • The CEO of your company is the member of a local professional networking association.
  • Your accountant volunteers as a board member for a local non-profit.
  • The IT Manager uses a piece of software from a small vendor that he absolutely loves. He has a great relationship with the developers of the software.
  • The company sponsors a charity benefit every year.
  • You run a successful internship program with the local university.

These are all pretty standard situations within any normal company. So how can they be leveraged for building links? Let’s look at that list again:

  • The CEO of your company is the member of a local professional networking association. The CEO asked the professional networking association to add a link to his company under the “members” page of the association.
  • Your accountant volunteers as a board member for a local non-profit. The accountant asks to have a link to your website from their profile on the Board of Directors page
  • The IT Manager uses a piece of software from a small vendor that he absolutely loves. He has a great relationship with the developers of the software. The IT Manager writes a testimonial for that software that the vendor can put on their website with a link back to your website.
  • The company sponsors a charity benefit every year. Your company can get your logo with a link on the non profit’s website.
  • You run a successful internship program with the local university. You ask the university to set up an internship page for your company on the appropriate department website.

These are all stupidly simple, but extremely powerful ways of building links. But none of them can happen unless people outside of the marketing department understand that there is power in links.

Building a culture of link building involves educating your company that a link is something of value – and that there is real benefit in getting a link out of general business interactions with any external people or organizations.

By educating your entire company, opportunities that you otherwise never would have known about will start flooding in your door. If you want to get really innovative, think about running an internal competition on who can come up with the best opportunity for a link?

  • Finally, to get your creative juices flowing, here are some other great link building ideas that leverage your entire company.
  • Run a large web presence? What about finding some local non profits and offering them free web hosting in exchange for a link on their site. Non profits often have extremely authoritative websites, and the hosting cost will be nominal – especially if you’re already hosting a lot of sites. The non profit gets the benefit of your experienced IT team – you get the link. Good trade.
  • Personal affiliations. Any associations, qualifications and organizations that your company’s people are involved with are opportunities for links. Many such websites have “profile” pages where members can post a website link.
  • Sponsorships. Anything your organization sponsors, make sure that a link is part of the sponsorship benefits
  • Education. Any affiliation/connection with educational institutions should be mirrored online with links.
  • Your suppliers. People who consider you a good customer are great opportunities for links. Offer to write them reviews or testimonials in exchange for links from their site. This a great exchange! Testimonials help them get more business and the links a prominent and high value.