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It’s hard to find link targets that satisfy all these criteria, but concentrate your link building efforts on those link targets that score highest.
(i) The target website is somewhere you’d like to be seen. That for me is an absolute must when looking for links targets. Look for respected sources of information in your industry and it is probably safe to say that it will be regarded as an authority site by Google, and a link from them to your site will be valuable.
(ii) The target website must be relevant to your business. It is likely to be used by people who would be interested in what you have to offer. That doesn’t mean you stick rigidly to sites that are exactly on topic. Look also for sites that are related. So a company that offers data recovery services will want to be seen not only on technology sites, but also sites whose main focus may be on health management, education or local government but also have a section on ‘technology in health management’, ‘technology in education’ and so on.
(ii) The website should be able to drive appropriate traffic. That not only means the same target market as your website, but at the right stage of the buying cycle.
(iii) The website should perform well on Google. The pages upon which your link might sit should be found in the Google index. To find out simply select a unique group of about 6-10 words, put them into the Google search box and enclose them in quotation marks. If the page has been crawled it should come up in the research results.
(iv) The links must be visible to the search engines. If dynamic linking techniques have been used to hoard PageRank, then the link is valuable only for the traffic it brings: they will not help your search engine rankings in any way.
(v) The website embeds the links in the body copy or editorial. This is much better than listing them at the side or bottom of an article. I’ve found that if another writer mentions my site in the body of an article, I get more traffic than from my own articles that includes a link at the bottom of the article.
(v) The page on which the links will sit should not be too far from the home page. Search engine bots are unlikely to go more than three levels deep on any website. So links buried deeper may not be found. When looking for quality links look for websites that provide links as close to the home page as possible. Even a massive site like BBC News has a rule that every piece of content must be available within three clicks of the News home page.
(vi) The target website allows you to use your own linking text. Webmasters know the value of linking text and they should take the trouble to link to you with meaningful text rather than just your URL.
(vii) The target website links to specific content. External links to your site, particularly if they are included in editorial should link to a specific resource, not just your home page.
Do you have other criteria? I’d very much like to hear them.