Without links, what would the Web be? Imagine trying to find information on the Web if sites didn't have any links. Imagine Yahoo! with no links.
Have you ever wondered why some sites seem to have links pointing to them from all over, while other sites are nearly linkless? Or why sometimes a search engine ranks one site's links above another's in the search results?
There are several ways a link can show up on a site. Banner ads are basically just a link from one site to another. So are text links, or links sent via e-mail in e-newsletters. Buttons, badges, icons, affiliate links, directory listings and search engine listings are nothing more than links. Click them and you get sent somewhere else.
There are a few reasons why you might link from your site to another:
The other site paid you to do it.
The other site offered you a link if you returned the favor.
Your site has a mini-directory of other sites, and providing links to useful sites is what you do.
The site had content that was so useful in its own right that you decided to link to it. (Think of all those local sites that provide weather forecasts via a direct link to Weather.com.)
Think of the word "useful" as a continuum. The most useful sites are those that provide deep, reference-quality content about a specific subject on which the editor or provider is an authority. Think of the National Institute of Health's Medlineplus site (www.medlineplus.gov), and you have an example of content on the right side of the continuum. Hundreds of pages of articles and resources about health, all of it free, all generated by experts in the field. Of course not every site can be like Medlineplus. Most sites just don't have the type or depth of content that prompts others to link to them. But every site could probably be a better resource than it is.
The nature of linking is that the more your site is there just to sell something, the less likely you are ever to be linked to, unless you pay for those links through affiliate programs.
The NetSense in all this is that you might want to take a fresh look at the content on your site and see if you have some area of expertise that you could expand upon to provide deep, useful content beyond selling a product. An example? Maybe you are a regional dairy with a corporate Web site that two people visit each month. Nobody cares about your site, and why should they? So why not create a couple content areas that describe from start to finish how milk gets from the farm to the dairy case? Why not create a section called "Everything you ever wanted to know about pasteurization." What if you built a topical Web directory called "MilkLinks" with links to every dairy resource online? Now you have content you can announce to hundreds of educational site's e-newsletter editors, to site reviewers and to many other folks online who would be interested.
The more you go about creating a useful Web resource and the less you go about creating a homage to your com-pany, the better off you will be and the more links you will receive.
Eric Ward creates vertical URL announcement, submission and linking plans for major Web site launches. Contact him at AdAge@netpost.com.