Thursday, July 23, 2009

Drive Traffic to Your Site Through Links

If you want a popular website or blog, you have to have two things. You have to have links and you have to be relevant. Of the two, it is most important that your content be relevant. If you have that and at least one link from another website, your links will eventually grow. But the topic of relevance is a topic for another day. Today, I want to talk about links. This will be a fairly lengthy post, but if you’ll stick with me, I’ll show you what links are, how to get them and why it works.

What Links Are

Links are like hooks that draw surfers from one webpage to the next. They can be internal or external. There really is no difference between the two types of links, other than control. In their most basic form they look like the following:

<a href="">my website</a>

The a comes from the word anchor. Anywhere you need a link, you place one of these anchors. Most comment forms allow you to use the anchor tag. By doing do, you can include a link to your own website or that of another. If you are writing a blog post, you can include a link to a related post, encouraging the reader to read that post as well. When you have links coming from other websites, the person writing the content for the website has included HTML that is very similar to what I show above. If you care to, you can even view the source of a website and verify that to be the case. There is nothing mysterious or complicated about the basic anchor tag and it is very easy to use.

At a higher level, a link is a line of communication on the Internet. Search engines find new web pages by following links. If you have a website and no website has a link to it, the search engines will never find it. Going a step farther, if Microsoft, which has thousands of incoming links, had a web developer who created an HTML file, placed it on the server and never connected to it from another web page, that HTML file would never receive any hits.

One way to look at links is to think of them as votes. The more links we have coming into a site, the more votes we have. When we create a link, we are taking a portion of those votes and we are passing them on to either another page within our site or to another website. If that is all we know, it is easy to conclude that incoming links are good, but outgoing links are bad. We want to draw in more votes and release fewer.

How We Get Links

Things are not so clear cut when we start talking about how to get links. It used to be that we created relevant content, other webmasters read that content and linked to it as a reference. We still hope for that, but blogging has changed much. These days, we can visit other people’s websites and add a link to our own, without even asking. We can go to various social networking sites and we can add links, once again, without asking. That sounds a little odd, but if the people running these sites understand the system, they want you to add links to your site or anywhere else, as long as it is relevant to the discussion. If you are reading this, I would love for you to leave links to your website in the comments to this post, as long as it isn’t something inappropriate. Having links pointing away from my site will actually increase the flow of traffic to my site. I’ll explain that in a minute. We get links when we include links to other sites in our blog posts. Those links may not be as valuable as links referencing in our site, but they are links all the same. The more we use the anchor tag to point to relevant data, drawing a line either to or from our website, we are potentially increasing the flow to our site.

How It Works

It took me no time at all to understand that links coming into my site produce traffic. That much is obvious. But it is a little harder to comprehend how visitors linking to their own sites or putting links in our posts will increase traffic to our site. So, let’s look at that.

The most obvious thing that people leaving comments do is that they provide fresh content. Google loves fresh content, so it is a great thing, no matter whether we write it as a post or a reader leaves a comment in the blog. Their comments are certainly worth more than any draw away from the site that most of them will produce.

The out going links help us because people track where links are coming from. It could be a webmaster, wanting to know why someone visited his site, or it could be some other means of tracking links. It could be that the blog post you reference lists every link to it along with the comments. It may not result in someone clicking to follow the link, but Google follows every link and factors all of them into the ranking algorithms.

If you want to find more readers for your blog, learn to use the anchor tag and use it often. Link to pages within your site. Link to pages on other people’s sites. Visit blogs and other websites where you can add to the discussion and create links. But keep it relevant. Links appearing on other people’s websites that aren't relevant have a tendency to disappear and all of your labor will be in vain.