It is out of question that quality backlinks are crucial to SEO success. More, the question is how to get them. While with on-page content optimization it seems easier because everything is up to you to do and decide, with backlinks it looks like you have to rely on others to work for your success. Well, this is partially true because while backlinks are links that start on another site and point to yours, you can discuss with the Web master of the other site details like the anchor text, for example. Yes, it is not the same as administering your own sites – i.e. you do not have total control over backlinks – but still there are many aspects that can be negotiated.
Getting Backlinks the Natural Way
The idea behind including backlinks as part of the page rank algorithm is that if a page is good, people will start linking to it. And the more backlinks a page has, the better. But in practice it is not exactly like this. Or at least you cannot always rely on the fact that your contents is good and people will link to you. Yes, if your content is good and relevant you can get a lot of quality backlinks, including from sites with similar topic as yours (and these are the most valuable kind of backlinks, especially if the anchor text contains your keywords) but what you get without efforts could be less than what you need to successfully promote your site. So, you will have to resort to other ways of acquiring quality backlinks as described next.
Ways to Build Backlinks
Even if plenty of backlinks come to your site the natural way, additional quality backlinks are always welcome and the time you spend building them is not wasted. Among the acceptable ways of building quality backlinks are getting listed in directories, posting in forums, blogs and article directories. The unacceptable ways include inter-linking (linking from one site to another site, which is owned by the same owner or exists mainly for the purpose to be a link farm), linking to spam sites or sites that host any kind of illegal content, purchasing links in bulk, linking to link farms, etc.
The first step in building backlinks is to find the places from which you can get quality backlinks. A valuable assistant in this process is the Backlink Builder tool. When you enter the keywords of your choice, the Backlink Builder tool gives you a list of sites where you can post an article, message, posting, or simply a backlink to your site. After you have the list of potential backlink partners, it is up to you to visit each of the sites and post your content with the backlink to your site in it.
You might wonder why sites as those, listed by the Backlink Builder tool provide such a precious asset as backlinks for free. The answer is simple – they need content for their site. When you post an article, or submit a link to your site, you do not get paid for this. You provide them for free with something they need – content – and in return they also provide you for free with something you need – quality backlinks. It is a free trade, as long as the sites you post your content or links are respected and you don't post fake links or content.
Getting Listed in Directories
If you are serious about your Web presence, getting listed in directories like DMOZ and Yahoo is a must – not only because this is a way to get some quality backlinks for free, but also because this way you are easily noticed by both search engines and potential visitors. Generally inclusion in search directories is free but the drawback is that sometimes you have to wait a couple of months before you get listed in the categories of your choice.
Forums and Article Directories
Generally search engines index forums so posting in forums and blogs is also a way to get quality backlinks with the anchor text you want. If the forum or blog is a respected one, a backlink is valuable. However, in some cases the forum or blog administrator can edit your post, or even delete it if it does not fit into the forum or blog policy. Also, sometimes administrators do not allow links in posts, unless they are relevant ones. In some rare cases (which are more an exception than a rule) the owner of a forum or a blog would have banned search engines from indexing it and in this case posting backlinks there is pointless.
While forum postings can be short and do not require much effort, submitting articles to directories can be more time-consuming because generally articles are longer than posts and need careful thinking while writing them. But it is also worth and it is not so difficult to do.
Content Exchange and Affiliate Programs
Content exchange and affiliate programs are similar to the previous method of getting quality backlinks. For instance, you can offer to interested sites RSS feeds for free. When the other site publishes your RSS feed, you will get a backlink to your site and potentially a lot of visitors, who will come to your site for more details about the headline and the abstract they read on the other site.
Affiliate programs are also good for getting more visitors (and buyers) and for building quality backlinks but they tend to be an expensive way because generally the affiliate commission is in the range of 10 to 30 %. But if you have an affiliate program anyway, why not use it to get some more quality backlinks?
News Announcements and Press Releases
Although this is hardly an everyday way to build backlinks, it is an approach that gives good results, if handled properly. There are many sites (for instance, here is a list of some of them) that publish for free or for a fee news announcements and press releases. A professionally written press release about an important event can bring you many, many visitors and the backlink from a respected site to yours is a good boost to your SEO efforts. The tricky part is that you cannot release press releases if there is nothing newsworthy. That is why we say that news announcements and press releases are not a commodity way to build backlinks.
Backlink Building Practices to Avoid
One of the practices that is to be avoided is link exchange. There are many programs, which offer to barter links. The principle is simple – you put a link to a site, they put a backlink to your site. There are a couple of important things to consider with link exchange programs. First, take care about the ratio between outbound and inbound links. If your outbound links are times your inbound, this is bad. Second (and more important) is the risk that your link exchange partners are link farms. If this is the case, you could even be banned from search engines, so it is too risky to indulge in link exchange programs.
Linking to suspicious places is something else that you must avoid. While it is true that search engines do not punish you if you have backlinks from such places because it is supposed that you have no control over what bad guys link to, if you enter a link exchange program with the so called bad neighbors and you link to them, this can be disastrous to your SEO efforts. For more details about bad neighbors, check the Bad Neighborhood article. Also, beware of getting tons of links in a short period of time because this still looks artificial and suspicious.