It is now common knowledge, at least among online marketers and search engine optimization (SEO) specialists, that the success of a SEO campaign is dependent to a great extent on the success of link building efforts. Greater the number of links from high-quality, relevant websites, greater the chances of a website getting ranked higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords. However, this fact is lost upon a high number of website owners, particularly small to medium sized enterprises. Recently, we were extremely surprised that one of our SEO prospects in Singapore had zero link popularity several years after the website had gone live. So, there is undoubtedly a need to educate clients and prospects on the basics of link building and why achieving a good link popularity is an important tactical step in online marketing / SEO. When undertaking a link building project, there are three criteria to be borne in mind: * Quantity of links: More the number of links, the better it is * Quality of links: Better the quality of pages and websites from which the links are obtained, greater the weightage of those links to the overall link popularity of a site * Relevance of links: Greater the relevance of the sites from which the inbound links are obtained, better the results will be with the overall off-site SEO efforts. Focus the link building campaign on the above three aspects to achieve optimum results. How to embark on a link building campaign The key to building high organic search engine rankings is to ensure that the search engines view the site to be 'naturally' relevant to its target users. Therefore, all efforts in the various aspects of SEO, including boosting link popularity, should take into consideration the need to make them seem natural. Broadly, we consider two approaches to building links--the one-to-many approach and the one-to-one approach. The one-to-many approach to link building helps create visibility for a website quickly. In this approach, we disseminate information about a site through various legitimate distribution/ syndication channels, for example, press release distribution services, article marketing or suitable viral marketing techniques (we will cover each of these techniques separately). Not only do many of these sources provide a website with the much sought-after inbound links from multiple sources, they can contribute to direct growth in traffic to a website. In the one-to-one approach, the link building specialist identifies niche websites that could be potential link partners to pitch their own websites. To reiterate, the criteria used in the selection of link partners are: quality of the site (how good is the content?) and relevance to the theme of the site to which a link is being sought. Very often, the Google Page Rank of a web page is considered as an indicator of how valuable a link from that particular page will be. It is certainly not the only factor that should be considered, though it's good to bear that in mind. Post -identification of the sites to be targeted, the next step is to approach these websites and solicit inbound links. The objective is to convince the potential link provider why it would be beneficial to link to the website being marketed. While there is software available that attempt to automate the entire process of link building, it is often helpful to approach potential link providers on a one-to-one basis to provide a personalized contact. This is a tedious process which requires patience and perseverance; however, the benefits of getting good quality inbound links will certainly be worth the effort. Building one-way links for a website is definitely with this one-to-one approach is much more challenging as it involves convincing the other party of the merits of linking to the site. Some common ways that can be used to build one ways links are directory submissions (both paid and free) as well as buying links on relevant websites. The latter approach (buying text links) is still under a cloud and there is a debate on their value to improving search engine rankings. Of course, as long as the links provided are related and relevant, I don't foresee search engines viewing it negatively. Alternatively, many SEO professionals opt for building reciprocal links, where in they swap links with another website. These links are deemed to be less valuable than a one-way link from a good quality website, but as long as the 'reciprocal' links are relevant (thematically), these may continue to offer some value in the SEO process. Conclusion In an ideal world, just putting up great content would attract others to put up links to a website. However, that is not the case and a concerted effort needs to be put in to inform the world about a site and getting them to link to it. Link building, therefore, is a vital aspect of any search engine optimization activity (which can be achieved using a combination of strategies and techniques). It is important however to ensure that the link building team understands the big picture of what is being attempted, so that they do not do anything that will ultimately harm a website. The cost of being penalized by the three big search engines is very significant and no online marketer can bear to incur that cost. About the author: Shashikant Shinde is an Online Marketing & Research Associate with On Target, a Singapore based provider of search engine optimization (SEO) and other online marketing services, including link building and directory submissions.