The other day I received an email asking me for a “link swap”. The person who sent the email lavished me with praise about my website before saying they’d love to have a link on such a site. If I gave them a link, they promised me they’d return the compliment and give me a link on their website. 

They were somewhat taken aback by my reply which said that I didn’t partake in “link swaps” because they are worthless to both sides. Indeed, they do more harm than good. In the “olden days” of the Internet, “link swapping” was all the rage. Indeed there were programs and services that would automatically find “useful” websites, send them a message asking for a link. They would then fill in a form, create the link and that would produce the code for your own website which would insert their link in return. 

Of course, that’s all just nonsense. If your website is about accountancy why would I want to click on a link to a site about boiler repairs? That would be like going to your local bakery to be handed a leaflet about car servicing. No connection. Yet, even today, people think this swapping approach is the right thing to do with website links.

It all came about because of Google; they are to blame for a lot of things…! They constructed their algorithm on the basis of linking. If a site has more links to it, then the algorithm deems it to be popular, and therefore it rises up the rankings compared with other sites on the same topic which have fewer links. This is still a fundamental part of the algorithm and, frankly, it is flawed logic. Just because something has popularity, does not mean it is good. But I digress…!

Whatever we might think of the problem with Google’s algorithm, they lead the way in the world of search. So if you want to be found on search engines, you need to get plenty of links. These days, Google determines the quality value of the links you get. If you are a law firm, for instance, and the links you get are from other legal sites, then that’s a big tick in your favour. You want links in your sector to help increase your ranking on Google. 

That’s what a good search engine optimisation (SEO) plan will include. Your SEO company, or department, should continuously be looking for link opportunities in your particular fields of expertise. 

But that’s SEO. And, take a deep breath, SEO is not that important. There, I’ve said it. But Google’s own data shows that of all the websites in the world they index, on average only 27% of the traffic those sites receive comes from a search engine. In reality, what this means is, if you spend your time worrying about SEO and not thinking about the other ways you get visitors to your site, then you are ignoring about three-quarters of your potential visitors. In reality, it’s far better to concentrate on that 73% and ignore SEO until you can afford it.

Links are all very well for algorithms. However, as far as I know, your website is not going to sell anything to an algorithm. It’s people that you want. Concentrating on getting your website higher rankings in Google by a link-building campaign will only achieve a small amount of traffic. What you want is people to click on links, so they come to your site, or, preferably, to a specific page on your site. Far too many businesses concentrate on pleasing Google’s algorithm when they should be focusing on human beings. 

What we all want are links around the Internet which people will see and say “oh, that’s interesting, let’s go there”. 

There are three places where you can get such links. One is social media. The more links to your website on social media, the better. Google only partially uses social media activity; it indexes some social media posts but does not use that information in ranking. So those links to your web pages on Twitter and Facebook, for instance, have no impact on how visible you are on Google. However, they do make you visible in front of billions of people, which is much more valuable. In essence, this means being active on social media. It also means ensuring that people can share your content when they find it on your website. If you don’t have share buttons on your content, you are missing out on ways of generating new traffic.

The second place to get links is on popular blogs and websites. This means contacting bloggers in your sector and get them to write about you. Frankly, it’s plain old public relations, but these days it has to have a new name, so it is called “blogger outreach”. But it amounts to the same; you need to provide the top bloggers and leading content-based websites with useful material for their visitors, and you’ll get a link. That link will be on a site with a large number of readers who will then head over to your website because it is recommended on a site they already trust.

A third way of getting useful links is to spy on your competition. Head over to Similar Web and type in the address of your primary competitor and check out the list of referral sites. If those people are linking to your competition, there is a good chance you can get them to link to you. Plus being a referral site means that people are interested in the link and clicking on it. The visitors to those referral sites are clearly interested in what you and your competitors do, so it is worthwhile having a link in the same place. You can find similar information by using SEMRush and checking the backlinks section.

So, there you have it; three ways you can gain links that will be useful as they will generate human traffic to your website. The bonus is that it will also impact upon your Google rankings. If you focus on the 73% of people who visit sites without going through Google, you will even manage to do the right thing to gain the Google traffic too. In other words, make the most of your links by concentrating on people, not algorithms. But I think I have said that kind of thing before…!


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