Over the last few years Google has largely shifted its focus from onsite search engine optimisation (the use of keywords, a relevant domain name, quality content) to offsite optimisation.
However, the other search engines still consider onsite optimisation to be an important part of assessing the search rankings – so both are still necessary.
But Google remains the big player. It pays to keep them happy. Apart from having a relevant domain name and having quality content, everything else about onsite optimisation is fairly irrelevant as far as Google are concerned.
So, what is offsite optimisation? In a word: Links. In judging the individual pages of your site, Google looks at the linking structure of that page. In particular, they study the links from your page to external websites.
Internal links are also important in offsite optimisation, but it’s external links that Google bases most of its ranking decisions on. Google views external links to your page as a validation of its quality and value.
Google defines three types of external links. Each type has its own degree of importance.
Firstly, you have one-way outgoing links. These are links from your webpage to an external site. Because there is no incoming link, this does not represent a ‘vote’ for you. Therefore there is little importance attached to outgoing links.
Next are reciprocal links. These are mutual links: you link to another web page, and it links to yours. These are more heavily weighted in importance than one-way outgoing links, as there is an element of a ‘vote’ in your favour. But, because this is an agreement between two webmasters who are building their link network, these reciprocal links have a limited value.
The third, and best type of links are one-way incoming links. An external website links to your webpage, but you do not reciprocate. Here, the vote in your favour is strong. Google base their assessment of the quality of your site on the number of these incoming links you have.
There is, however, another thing to consider. There are lots of ways of generating one-way incoming links through your own efforts. And this is where you need to be careful. There are many link generation tactics that Google disapprove of.
They do not like, for example, bought one-way incoming links. If you are found doing this, it could result in your site being dropped from the Google index altogether. Thus, if you are trying to generate one-way incoming links (as you must if you want to maximise traffic to your site), you must ensure that the link network you are building appears to be as natural as possible.
This could be challenged on several levels.
Let’s say, you have 100 one-way incoming links – and have done for the past year. But tomorrow you have 10,000. Google would suspect dodgy tactics and may drop you within the next 24-48 hours.
Similarly, having many one-way incoming links, with no outgoing or reciprocal links seems unnatural. Again, you risk being dropped.
For this reason, you should begin your link building by generating outgoing and reciprocal links as well. This happens naturally when you first build a website. So use this strategy to keep Google happy.
When you are adding outgoing links to your site, focus on creating links to common, broad-focused resources like Wikipedia, news portals such as Yahoo and MSN, directory sites like DMOZ. Avoid adding such interesting or exciting links that your visitors decide to follow them instead.