The link anchor is by far the single most important benefit in developing ranked results for a very simply reason -- it is the bridge of "content" from one page to another page. I term this "content" since the link itself on the "linked from" page is simply extending some form of topical discussion.
I repeated this phrase from "internal links" as it is extremely profound - yet more importantly why many "get it wrong".
The link text (or image) is precisely content on the page it resides on extending the topic elsewhere and "in support of content on the linked to page". To say - link development (e.g. link exchanges) is the only thing that helps in ranking is a bit like saying "gas" is the only thing that gets you moving from point A to point B in a vehicle - the tires, oil for the engine, and even the steering wheel matter not?
Why are external links important?
"Reach" -- extending your circle of influence. Regardless of in or out of your website they have a profound impact on your marketing reach.
Why are they important to search engine ranked results?
Without getting into the topics of PageRank and/or Link Popularity - they are a credential of worthiness.
You can to a certain extent manipulate such credentials by adding/building duplicated websites (mirrors), your own supplementary websites (good or bad crosslinking) but in reality these are "beginning strategies" that if you only invest in mimicking your own -- you "will" be less productive.
The link (development of) works hand in hand with website diversification (or content development) as more content (unique that is) means greater influencing contributors to continue the development of unique links and these (unique links) have far more value to the website being developed than those in beginning strategies.
Why resort to beginning strategies at all? (Some may be termed: mirrors, doorways, hallways, and satellites for the purpose of link manipulation) -- Simple: they are easily developed - you need not search for, enquire, need permission (to some extent) or wait for a positive/negative response. Notwithstanding, should this be your only tailored strategies (in link development) you are less likely to get the most of results and more likely to find yourself in hot water - by potentially getting a client's website penalized or even banned.
Is it worth "linking out"?
Yes -- Seed the Web with Linkage - the World Wide Web isn't pervasive because it is a "one way medium". A little common sense and logic is needed though - link where it makes sense to do so. It's worth noting that regardless of whether a link is immediately returned there is something into it for you (or the client). The link and anchor benefits the "link to" page regardless of where that page resides. As such, all subsequent links benefit in progression and in the instance that "the link" is to an industry/market related website (or to a website that shares some topical/regional linkage with you) somewhere along the link progression, links back to you will benefit as well.
It is best to start developing link exposure to you as a disadvantage of linking the potential of sending website visitors elsewhere. Directory submissions are the best place to start for which, DMOZ and Yahoo (Yahoo if the $299.00 is within the budget) are accredited as being highly desirable.
DMOZ - Open Directory Project [dmoz.org]
It is best to consider here the website's value to the web -- rather than the value of the link to you (your client). DMOZ adds value to researching topics or regions which is quite a bit different than the normal perspective of SEO clients - gaining ranks, visitors, and possibly sales. As such, you really need to use an alternate vantagepoint:
1. Does this website offer topical research for a chosen category not currently available, or
2. Does this website offer "value added" information for a chosen category, or
3. Does this website offer a "unique perspective" to a particular category?
If yes, to one or all three, then a possible submission maybe accepted. Prior to submitting you should familiarize yourself with DMOZ Guidelines and carefully consider the "link anchor" and the listing description, plus be patient.
Resource Zone is the DMOZ/Open Directory Project Public Forum sponsored by members of the ODP Community and is intended for discussion of ODP-related issues. You may enquire on listing status here, and it is worth noting that if a submission is declined - spend time with the client to assist development with DMOZ in mind so that a submission can be accepted. A DMOZ listing, seeds listings in almost all major search engine directories including Google, AOL, Netscape, HotBot, Lycos, and many others, plus websites that use DMOZ as a primary or secondary directory resource.
Additionally, Seotie [seotie.com] is a fair tool to use for automatic notification of DMOZ.org listing inclusions.
Submitting to other directories can further progress your link development strategies. snipped
(not sure if this is within WebmasterWorld TOS so if view not - please edit)
Reciprocal Link Exchanges
Submitting to directories can be an exhaustive exercise - just the same so can managing ranked results.
However, complementing reciprocal links is another way to continue the link development process. It can be quite beneficial to implement an "Add URL" link/page to offset the need to spend much time searching, enquiring, and managing link requests.
Link development requires significant resourcefulness, perseverance, forward thinking, and time to be of any real benefit -- it's not some magically solution that some would suggest - "just get links"... there's a bit more involved than that! :)
Internal Links [webmasterworld.com]
[edited by: DaveAtIFG at 7:48 am (utc) on Mar. 17, 2004]
[edit reason] Removed self promo [/edit]