Without a doubt, links still play a major part in establishing a high position in the search engine rankings. Not only are they valuable in the eyes of the search engines, but they help a wider audience to discover you through signposts on other websites. Additionally, links on authoritative sites can give your site credibility.
When considering a link building strategy, it is important to understand firstly who your target audience is and which sites, companies, or organisations they relate to and look up to. Unless you are in tune with your audience, it can be very difficult to get the links in, and to, the right places. Many SEO practioners believe that the primary purpose of link building should be for your audience, and not for the search engines.
The second important factor is to understand how the search engines view links, place value on them, and establish which ‘nodes’ are linked together to then create elements such as PageRank (PR), TrustRank and so on. If you pursue a policy of gaining links on link farms, in directories, and paid links, your research into how the search engines regard such matters will prepare you for when this generates little or no additional quality traffic, and you are not rewarded by the search engines for your endeavours.
High quality links are of the utmost importance in SEO, and whilst you should be seeking sites with a PR of at least 4 or above, it is also worth considering that one of the things in life over which none of us have any control is Google’s Page Rank update! A site with good quality content that currently has a PR of just 1 may well be upgraded substantially in the next PR update. You should be looking for content that is firstly of interest and value to your audience, and then worrying about the PR of the site. If you have discovered a goldmine of information for your visitors – link to it, whatever its PR.
Search engines do not just consider external links, to and from your site, but also internal links within your site. For many, a strong internal linking policy helps to ‘churn’ visitors within their site (or sites), rather than losing them to other websites through external links. In order for this strategy to work effectively, it is essential to a) have high value, unique content, b) themes and c) a co-ordinated and consistent approach to anchor text.
Themes have not lost their value over the years, and work equally as well for the search engines as for your site visitors. A theme allows the search engines to qualify what exactly your content is about, and therefore where it fits in the index, and helps to guide your visitors to the content they desire. A theme will help you to define the core keywords and phrases which you wish to target, and give you plenty of fodder for competitive analysis, as well as long tail searches and keyword purchase. Themes are also valuable in tracking down and understanding your target audience.
Remember: the search engines will not buy your products, rave about your company to their friends and neighbours, or become a loyal customer for life. The customers should always come first in any search engine marketing strategy you pursue.