One of the Web's most powerful promotional tools is also one of its most basic: the hyperlink. Singlehandedly responsible for ultimately linking every Web page with every other, hyperlinks from a number of well-chosen sites to your own can literally transform your site into a Grand Central Station on the Web.
“Developing your link strategy is one of the most crucial elements involved in Internet marketing,” says Susan Sweeney, author of 101 Ways To Promote Your Web Site. “It's a very time-consuming task. But appropriately placed, links can be a real traffic builder.”
Chances are, you probably have a few links from your Web site already. Some dealerships, for example, exchange links with a few of their suppliers or trading partners and most of their auto manufacturers. Others offer links to information directories, free map-making services and the like. Larger conglomerates exchange links with all the companies under their corporate umbrella.
But if you're determined to fully leverage the full potential of a cross-promotional links strategy, you're going to want to pursue what industry insiders sardonically call a “link ‘til you drop” approach. Exchange mutually beneficial links with every possible site you can imagine. And then you'll want to link some more.
That said, here are the components of a successful linking strategy:
Exchanging links with professional, business and trade associations to which your company belongs work well, as do links from customers and trading partners willing to give your dealership an online written referral. Moreover, a number of magazines with online presences now often exchange links, or offers links to, the sites of their advertisers.
USE LINKS FROM INDUSTRY SITES:
Given that Web growth exploded, it's no surprise that many search engine keywords that apply to your dealership are also being used by hundreds of others. Don't dispair. Sweeney suggests that you punch these keywords into the most popular search engines, see which Web sites are returned first, and then seek to exchange links with sites that are noncompetitive.
Scores of auto dealers, for example, list their sites with mega directories such as CarSearch.com (www.carsearch.com), as well as specialized info clearinghouses such as www.badcreditautodealers.com, (www.daytonclassifieds.com/wheels/dealers), and Classic Car Marketplace Links (www.findsales.com/classiclinks.htm).
STUDY YOUR COMPETITION:
Competitors that have already implemented a links exchange strategy are also a good place to mine ideas for your own links exchange campaign. Online tools like www.websitegarage.com enable you to enter the Web address of a competitor, and see which sites are linking to that address.
“See what your competition is doing,” Sweeney says. “Determine where they are linked from, and decide where these are the sites that you should also be linked from. Learn what they are doing well, and also learn from their mistakes.”
LINK FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER:
Probably the easiest way to inspire another Web site to exchange a link with your own is to pro-actively add a link to their site, and then send their Webmaster or marketing director an email notice of the link. Sweeney suggests simply stating that you'd like to exchange links and that such an exchange would be mutually beneficial. If it doesn't work out, you can always kill the link.
DON'T POST LINKS ON HOME PAGE:
When offering to post links to other sites from your own, it's not a good idea to place those links on your home page, Sweeney says. Visitors may become intrigued by the link, and click away from your site before fully investigating what you have to offer. Instead, bury links to other sites from within your Web site. Or, dedicate separate domain of your site solely to “Links.”
Joe Dysart is an Internet business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, CA.