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ION's Search Engine Optimization Training: Instructions for building Link Popularity

SECTION TEN - Raise your PageRank & build your Link Popularity

        Throughout most of this website I've been spouting off over and over again about the importance of Relativity in your Keywords and even your links. While it is of paramount importance to get your site found often in the first place, it doesn't address the problem of competition very much. To beat out your competition for the same keywords, we have to turn to the tactic of building your link Popularity.

        This step is easily the most involved & time-consuming step of the whole process. If you don't have any competition for your keywords, Congratulations! Skip ahead to section #11... I really envy you! The rest of us will be basically building our online popularity by getting other websites, (the more related to our topic the better) to link to our websites.

        Now we have to overcome our first human element in the SEO process, we have to persuade other people to do something, instead of just having some software run some numbers for once. But it's not as scary as it sounds, because the people you'll be persuading are in the same boat as you are, wanting you to link to them as well! (At least they do if they know what's good for them...) Not only that, but the software packages linked to from this page will enable you to do every step without breaking a sweat. All it takes is a little patience, a bit of effort, and you'll have the PageRank you need to rank #1 across your topic before you know it.

SEO terms you will surely want to review for this step:
            Link Popularity             One-way Links
            In-Bound Links             PageRank Algorithm
            SERP Check             PageRank Calculator

How to build your link popularity & raise your PageRank:

  1. Start by gathering some reconnaissance. In order to find out how many links you need to dominate any one keyword phrase, use this great online tool for each of your target keywords:

    • Links needed estimator tool

      Theoretically, if you have no competition for a keyword, then your links needed will be down to one or even zero... Of course it's not an exact science, as it greatly depends on where you find your links, their PageRank, how competitive the industry is, and which search engine reported these numbers.

  2. Now open up your Keyword Database again. It's time to use that last column, called "Links Needed." For each keyword you're competing over, (You should surely know them all by now, right?) enter into your database the number found for each keyword phrase. Yes, it takes a little time, but no one's written a software yet that I can find that automates this process. (Hint, hint, programmers!) So for now, it's necessary to run the tool for each keyword phrase, and I'll let you know right here when that process changes.

  3. Your Keyword Database has finally reached its full potential. This spreadsheet is the very core of your marketing campaign now, and should be treated like gold, kept hidden, guarded, and even secret... With it you can sort by the demand column to know how many people you are aiming to bring on your site each month, or you can sort by the ratio column to know how likely those keywords are to 'pay off.' Today you've added a third functionality though... If you sort by the 'Links Needed' column, you'll know about how LONG it will take to reach those #1 spots! Therefore, assuming you follow the rest of the instructions on this page, this column is the very first indicator that this or any other organic SEO process can give you that shows the length of time until your website's flooded with traffic! -No small thing as far as the internet goes. Now it's time we get those links built.

  4. The best links (in the eyes of the search engines) are incoming links, those that you don't provide a reciprocal link for. Most of these are not easy to get, but there are a few tactics such as submitting to directories that will gain you a few. (As mentioned in section Nine.) Writing great site content, as we talked about in section four, adds value to your site that will automatically encourage the masses to link to you without a reciprocal link.

    As for now however, the best way I know to get lots of incoming One-way links is to send out an official press release. Unfortunately, there is no free service for this anywhere. Even if you write your own press release, distributing it widely is something that only those in the media with connections can get done for free. Also, press releases in general have to be about something newsworthy. The more newsworthy it is, the more publishers will want to print it. And no, the opening of a new online store is hardly ever newsworthy enough to get more than a one or two publications, if any. So if you can find an "Angle" to pitch your tidbit of news from, you should try to have a professional copywriter write it up for you and get it as interesting as possible, and then released in the media as widely as possible. A few lucky business websites have even gone from not listed in Google to #1 in the rankings in three days flat with a good press release! The downside to press releases is that unlike links from fans of your great content, these links last only as long as the online articles are posted by the news agencies. More than likely the links will start to disappear again in a month, but not all of them. Also, it's not free, so if you're on a budget, you'll have to shelve that option for now.

  5. So let's go out and actively find your link partners. These are other website owners/webmasters that are in the same boat that you are in, and would like to swap links with you in order for you to both be that much more visible to the search engines. Although One-Way links are something special to always try for, many people who try to get in-bound links without offering a reciprocal link in return find out that this can be very hard work. Especially when they are simply promoting an online store and have nothing newsworthy enough for a good press release. So even if you've sent out a press release and have already had some success that route, you'll likely want more incoming links in the future, so you'll then need to find your link partners like the rest of us.

    Note on link swapping: When Swapping links with another site, an "even exchange" is one link for one link, both of the same PageRank, from a page the same depth down from the index page on its' site, and of course, on sites of the same topic. Never trade a link from your index page for a link on their 3rd level down page, especially when its PageRank is lower than yours!

    Section Ten shortcut:
    The rest of this page shows a complex process that will allow you to build your incoming links for free, as you should by now all expect. However, of all our 12 sections, this is the most complicated part and most time consuming for most. Many people who start this process decide that it's much easier for them to use a link-building software suite such as ARELIS to handle this part of their SEO campaign, and they tell me that they wish I'd have just advised them to get it around this part of the process... So I am. Unfortunately, ARELIS does cost money to purchase, (not too much though) so I will only offer ARELIS here as an option for the faint-of-heart now. (It's a 4.71 MB Windows download.) You can also view and purchase it from the Advertisement inside your Link Popularity Check software tool, which you'll be downloading later in this section. (They were made by the same company, Axander.) If you do purchase ARELIS, it takes care of all of the link-swapping steps on the rest of this page for you, enabling you to skip ahead from this point to section Eleven.

  6. Alright, if you're still with me, then the free way it is. Download and install the Google Toolbar. (This requires Internet Explorer or Netscape. If you don't use those browsers, click here instead.) Once installed, make sure you have PageRank scores displaying in it for the websites you surf. (If the PageRank score is not visible yet, click the "options" button and then click the checkbox beside "PageRank Display.") Technically the PageRank score shown in your browser bar isn't the exact one that Google uses to calculate their rankings, as Google announced publicly in November... However, we know it is quite close, and it's the closest that they are going to let us see in any case. This is still a very valuable tool no matter if they say it is just for 'entertainment purposes' or not.

  7. Next, Open your Keyword Database file again, (or click here to download a fresh one) and click on the third tab, a worksheet named "Link Partners." To save time, we've made this great page to be a place to facilitate of all of your link finding. From this moment on, every time you see a website that is on or close to the same topic as your site, but not in direct competition with it, enter their URL and contact information into this 'Link Partners worksheet.'

  8. To start your search, look at which sites are linking to yours already. There is no shame or harm in asking them for a return link. It's only fair!

  9. Next, use PROG to search all of the keywords that you are going to use. A site linking to you that uses the same keywords that you use gives you a little more relevance in a spider's eyes. Prog is a lot like Google, but it displays the resulting sites' PageRank right there in the listing, saving you the time of clicking on the sites with too low of a PageRank score for you to consider.

  10. Then, visit and sign up with the following free link-swapping service websites:

    Each of these will have categories for your site to fit in, so pick the most relevant one and hope that it has lots of members already. The size of these fluctuate with popularity, so I recommend using them all simultaneously. There are many NON-free versions out there, but these are all the free ones I've found so far.

  11. For our next technique, use the following free tool on your competition:

    • Link Extractor web tool.

      With this great little tool, you'll be able to find all the links to your competitors websites! After all, if they link to your competitors, who more likely to link to you? Simply enter all of your competitor's URLs in one at a time and let it do it's thing... It will find you hundreds of links in a couple of minutes, and all you'll have to do next it simple weed through those links to find websites that are in a related topic or industry, but aren't your direct competition.

  12. Still looking for more link-able sites? Once you've used up all of the above resources, we've got one last suggestion for you to dig through, and it's a 'doosey.' Simply browse your topic(s) in the following directories:

    Drill down to any relevant topic or industry categories that you find, and search all the sites listed in them for possible swaps. Keep an eye out as well for TOPIC directories listed as well! This step is obviously very time-consuming, but you won't find such a large number of possible swap partners so tightly grouped anywhere else. When you've finished with this final partner search, you're link partner database should be huge, no matter how tightly-niched your market is.

  13. Now that you have built up a huge list of websites to contact, it's time to do something about them. The tedious part is over, it's time to have some fun and (finally) some human interaction. It's time to email each of these sites individually, and ask them for a link!

    DON'T PANIC! I'm about to show you how to automate this process as much as 90%. There are actually two parts to this process, 1, Dealing with the emails; & 2, Posting their reciprocal links on YOUR website. We've got free tools to help with both! In fact, there are three different free combinations to use in order to automate your link campaign for free, depending on your host server abilities:

    • Use Mach 5 for emailing with LinkMachine for your links page automation.
      Pros: High quality programs, both supported & powerful.
      Cons: Limited to PHP Ver.4 & above only, & Mach5's free version is limited to 50 emails per batch. (Which is still ok for our needs, but horrible for spammers!)

    • Use Mach 5 for emailing with Link Swapper for your links page automation.
      Pros: ASP Able! -Nothing else we've found allows ASP instead of PHP.
      Cons: The directory is very simple and non-glamorous, with very little or maybe no support. Also, Mach5's free version is limited to 50 emails per batch. (Which is still ok for our needs, but horrible for spammers!)

    • Use Links Assistant for both tasks.
      Pros: One program for both, fully integrated interface. easy to use and very intuitive!
      Cons: Has no support, and is also limited to PHP Ver.4 & above only. (No ASP)

      So which combo is right for you? First find out if your host server allows PHP. If so, I don't advise using Link Swapper. (If ASP is your only option, then the 2nd choice above, with Link Swapper, is your only choice.) After that, it depends on your need for more options versus ease... If you just want to do the bare minimum and don't want to learn an extra software package, go with Links Assistant. (Unless of course you won't want to try an un-supported software. Many businesses won't.) If you want more options, and can handle installing and learning two software packages, the first choice above is for you. (The best all-around option I know that is free.)

  14. Armed with the information in the 5th column of your keyword database, (# of links needed) we have to use this process to get as many incoming links to your site as your keyword database requires. Any incoming links help raise your PageRank, of course, but to be sure that you squash your competition for that keyword phrase, you need to have that phrase included with a link to your site. For instance, let's say you are competing for the keyword "deep fat fryer." At the time of writing this, 'Deep fat fryer' needs at least 26 quality PR4+ inbound links with the anchor text 'Deep fat fryer' to stand a chance at top 10 ranking in the Google search engine. That means that you would have to have the webmaster who links to your site 'anchor' your link with the text words 'deep fat fryer' in order for your site's popularity with that phrase to go up to first page ranking results. Keep this in mind for all link requests you send out, you'll want them all linking with a keyword phrase. Perhaps you can even give a webmaster a few choices of keyword phrases to use as the anchor text.

    The web is changing all the time, and with Google tweaking their algorithm so often there really can be no guarantees... However, this is the process that the professionals use, so I promise that you'll be quite happy with the results once you get all those required, properly-anchored links! (Given time to be spidered, of course.)

  15. Ready to start monitoring your results? Download the following Link Popularity Checking Software:

    • Link Popularity Check   (Windows, 1.16 MB Download)

      Think of this simple software as your website popularity ranking reporter. You'll want to refer back to it many times in the future to know how you rank against your competition, and on the web as a whole. It allows you to know where you stand and see your site in relation to the web and your industry online, so it's natural to think of this program as the web's "scorekeeper." Although there's no reason to use it every time someone links to you, you'll probably want to use it one to two times a month to see how your progress is going, relative to your competition. Simply load it, run it, and enter your site's URL along with those of your competitors, and click "Update all."

  16. LPC was great at showing you the overall score, but it is actually more helpful to know your per-keyword score in the major search engines. This is called a SERP Check, and the best SERP Check tools all cost money to use. Three free notable tools are:

    • Virtualpromote's SERP check, which lets you choose five keyword phrases and searches the top ten Google rankings for each.

    • WebCEO's (free version) "Check Rankings" tool which checks the one search engine of your choice for five keyword phrases (at a time) from all of your site's keywords, which it pulls from your site live, searching however many positions deep that you choose.

    • Digital Point Solutions Keyword Tracker, which lets you check as many keywords as you want, WITH A HISTORY for each keyword, (to check your keyword placement over time) but only from Google and also requires an account with them, and a Google API key. (Both free)

  17. Last but not least, let's make sure you've 'spread the wealth' across your website. If all of your PageRank is on your first page and isn't showing up on other content pages on your site, for instance, your spider pals aren't traversing your site as freely as they'd like. A great tool to rectify this situation is Mark Horrell's Inter-site PageRank tool, (web-based, no download) which will spider your site and make suggestions how to evenly distribute your PageRank. The more pages on your site that come up with a high PageRank, the higher your overall sites' worth is in most search engines.

Winning the Link Popularity game

         Let' be brutally honest for a moment. If you are fighting over a difficult industry, such as online pharmacudicals for instance, the job of marketing your site is much, much harder. Many SEO firms have had to turn down a client or two that wanted be on the first page of results for such keywords, because the client didn't expect the expense to be so high. It really is much harder to win such SEO Campaigns, not because the site optimization is any different, but because the links needed jumps up from under 100 links to the 'over a million' range!

Many SEO firms charge $6 to $10 per link just for that part of their service. Even at $10 per link, that is a fair price for a small business' campaign, wouldn't you say? To go from #10,349 to #1 in Google would be worth much more than $1000 bucks for any small business, right? But even down at a low $6 per link, that price jumps to $6 Million or more (no joke) for a company of the same size, but in a different industry, needing to win much harder keywords. Ouch. Some fights should never be fought in the first place.

The point of this 'game?' Choose your battles well. If you can find profitable keywords, then you can play. If not, don't. -Oh, and never get caught in a land war in Asia.

A note on PageRank relationships

        You've probably noticed that the Links Needed estimator and my previous last comment on the list above both mentioned PageRanks of PR4 or better. It's not chiseled in stone, but that's the best anyone can give for an estimation. There is no solid way to tell if two PR2 links is worth one PR4 link, for instance... The web is just too dynamic for the answer to be the same in any two comparisons. Instead of worrying about that, it's more important to think about relevancy of your links than about every last PageRank score... Unless it's more than two lower than your sites' score. Once your site is PR3, you should no longer swap links with a PR Zero site. It would be best to never swap links beneath you, of course, but when you're just starting out it's a valid exception. This is ok since the difference is so slight... But a PR8 site swapping with a PR4, that's too much of a gap and it will probably hurt your PageRank score by the very next spidering. You've been warned!

Our final, modest word on building your link popularity

        Again, link building is without a doubt the hardest, most time-consuming part of getting your site to the top of the Search Engines. If you've spent time making your Keywords work hard for you and have discovered that they can only take you so far up in the search engines alone, then spending time on this part of your SEO project is simply paramount. We hope to save you lots of time with the tools above though, and for the first time ever online, all in one place, now you can do it all for free.

Whew! You made it. The hard stuff is over... The last couple of steps are about understanding and 'tweaking' your traffic in different ways. First up, Traffic Logs. Your server-generated web traffic log files are the first, and most important step in understanding the needs of your traffic, and in doing so, making it grow.

Click here to continue on to Step Eleven.

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