2011 is looking to be the year that Google and other search engines stamp hard on some of the more unsavoury search engine marketing practises that have been seen in use, even by famous brands. The latest update (Google Panda) has seen many of the low quality and spammy sites targeted, and it is likely that one of the next targets will be low quality links that offer little value to website visitors.

How do you set up a link building programme that will ensure that your site does not fall victim to future Google updates? Whilst link building may seem a black art, it isn’t and working in tandem with your search marketing agency, you can create links that will offer long-term value to your SEO efforts, as well as to your site visitors.

For many search marketing agencies, brought in to offer their expertise to help your website attract visitors, knowing your competitors or those within your industry or sector who have authority can be quite difficult. In this, you can help out by listing all those who are competitive, and those who are complementary to your business. The search agency can then target these to establish valuable links.

Competitors are obvious, but sometimes those who are complementary may not be quite so apparent. It may be a supplier, agent, customer, directory used by your sector, magazine or trade publication, exhibition or conference which can offer a quality link to you.

Links may take a different form than the good old anchor text-heavy, blue URL we are accustomed to seeing. The link could take the form of an ad, a tweet, an article about your company or a product, it could be a short video that features your URL within the clip. Think out of the box when seeking quality links.

Broken links are likely to be more heavily penalised this year too, as offering your website visitors a link to a 404 page means that you are not regularly monitoring what you are linking to. This also applies to your backlinks (i.e. those who link to you). Long-established links on external sites may lead to a 404 on your own site, particularly after a site redesign, so you should check all links back to your site are working as often as possible.

Also, are those backlinks pointing to the most appropriate content on your site? You may have updated your content, added new content or products, or added an exciting extra like a video or podcast, so if you think a link on an external site could be pointing to a more relevant or fresh item of content, contact the webmaster and suggest the change. This is also a good opportunity to offer reciprocal links if you feel the site is of value to your users.

Check all your links open in new tabs or windows. This is such an elemental mistake, but so many sites are still sending visitors away with this simple to rectify error.

Keep up to date with changes in your industry sector through news, trends, articles, blog posts, and social media, such as Twitter. The best links you will get will be when you post up to date, quality content. By knowing what is happening within your own industry, you could easily become one of the authoritative sources of information if you regular offer opinions, news, reviews, reports, white papers, and webinars.

Implementing all of the above during 2011 will help to bring traffic to your website, as well as creating a valuable resource for your visitors, and feeding the search engines what they are looking for when ranking the top sites for your keywords and phrases.

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology