Guess how most visitors get to your Web site? A recent study conducted by Forrester Research showed that 81 percent of customers find Web sites through the use of search engines, making them the single largest source of new Web site visitors. And with more than 750 million searches performed every day, it's little wonder that businesses are racing to get a piece of the search engine pie.

Currently, Google.com has the largest slice-accounting for more than 75 percent of the world's daily searches-so it pays to make friends with them. Last fall, Google increased the degree of importance it places on inbound links-your company's links on other Web sites. For example, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Web site includes a link to every single member. It's a concept known as "link popularity," and it has become the hottest topic in the Web site industry. The more inbound links you have, the more popular your Web site will seem to Google.

At the core of Google's ranking logic is the Google PageRank, a number, from 1 to 10, that Google assigns to each site in its index, based mostly on the number of inbound links or "votes." The more votes a site has, the higher it rises on Google's search engine.

For this reason, you need to develop and maintain a proper link campaign to achieve high rankings and establish relevant traffic to your Web site. Here's how: 

How do you rank?

First you need to determine your site's PageRank and inbound links. You can do this by installing the Google Toolbar at toolbar.google.com on your Web browser. (This only works for Windows users.) When prompted, select the "Advanced Option." The tool bar shows up as a small green bar under the words "PageRank" on your browser. If you hold your mouse pointer over the bar it will reveal small text showing the PageRankT, from 0 to 10, for your page. If your ranking is a four or greater, you're doing pretty well.

Accessing inbound link information is also easy. Again, pull up any Web site. Now click the "Page Info" or "I" button on the Google Toolbar and select "Backwards Links" from the dropdown menu. The "results list" shows the number of links to that Web site as well as the sites from which they originate. 

Increasing your popularity

Next you need to build inbound links to your site. You want to be on sites with a PageRankT of 4 or greater. Quality outweighs quantity.

There are a number of ways you can quickly increase the number of inbound links. First, register with search directories such as Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) and the Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.org). These require a small fee but the costs are well worth it.

Second, make sure you are listed in various business directories such as associations you belong to-i.e. local chambers or industry organizations. You can also leverage your relationships with your business partners. For example, ask the manufacturers of the products you sell to list you in their online dealer database. Honda's "Locate a Dealer" feature takes you to a searchable database of their distributors. You can also ask your various vendors to spotlight you as a featured client on their Web site or in the online client list. Lastly, check out the competition. Sites that link to them might also be interested in linking to you. You can do this by using the Google Toolbar "backwards links" method discussed previously. 

Ray Villares (rvillares@gravityfree.com) is co-owner of GravityFree Web Design, www.gravityfree.com, and chairman of the Small Business council for the Sarasota Chamber.

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