The Internet is a really strange environment. No other business model has ever been so contradictory, so hypocritical, so confused. Here’s the problem.

For a website to rank well in any search engine and especially Google it must have links. Although there are many ranking factors at play, links are still key to getting organic traffic. However, the best links according to Google are natural links, that is, when another website chooses to link to your website or their own accord because they like your business. This is considered a “vote” in Google’s PageRank system.

But, if your site is new there is no way for anyone today to find out about it in the search engines. In the past people used to find new websites by searching web directories. Today everyone goes to Google (or one of the other SEs) first. So if you are not in the search index how do you get discovered to then win some natural links? It really is a catch 22 situation. And although Google loves natural links, to get anywhere in the Google you have to build your own links.

Link building is almost considered to be spam. It can be argued that every single link that you personally create with the sole purpose of boosting your site in the search engines is a form of spam. Even if you are contributing to a blog by joining the discussion or writing a guest post, deep down inside you know that you are there to get your links. Is this wrong? Many people think so. Is there an alternative? There are some, but not many.

Google is extremely strict on buying links. If you buy a link on a website just to boost your PageRank then Google will punish you and probably also frown severely on the site that sold you a link. So buying links is not an option as you could get stung and never recover.

So you need a link building strategy of some sort. Really all you can do is accept that from now on every link you get could be treated with mistrust by Google at some future date, because they could change their search algorithms further to reduce the amount of gaming that webmasters and SEOs do. But for now, here is a plan that mostly works, when done right.

First, use some good old fashioned favourites. List your site in all the free directories that are still active and have some good search presence. There a thousands of web directories out there and a vast majority are completely useless, free for all link farms disguised as a web directory, but there are some good ones still. Best way to find a directory that is liked by Google is to search Google. There is no point submitting your website to directories that are not in the Google index, this will do nothing for your SEO efforts.

Blog commenting is another simple link building method. Do not spam. Everyone hates spammers. Go for quality rather than quantity and go for discussion rather than random remarks. So find blogs in your area, or in totally different fields that interest you and join the discussion. Consider your website being linked as an additional extra, not the sole reason for you being there.

Guest blogging is one of the better new ways to build links. Communities such as bring professional writers, businessmen, bloggers and publishers together. Again, the links are an added bonus, the main reason to guest blog is market yourself and your business to others.

More traditional methods simply involve contacting other websites and asking if they would link. This is very hit and miss, but if you personalise your message you may get lucky. A friendly email praising their site and suggesting how a recent article you wrote would fit in well with their next blog post is one way to ask for a link. Or you could take the route of “please add me to your blogroll”.

Forums are another way to get links. Forum moderators are really hot on spammers these days, so again, like blog commenting, join a community, be a part of it, and then when the time is ripe, share something specific on your site that will add value to the conversation.

If you can get some links using these methods then you will get listed in Google and in time your rankings should increase. Continue to build a high quality site and hopefully people will start to talk about your business and link to you.

Do not forget social media today, this is the next big area and is still evolving. Some SEO pundits believe that in time social media will be as important as traditional links, although the volumes of user interaction will have to be much higher. Maybe 10,000 social media likes will be equal to 1 link on a PR5 website (for example).

Right, now you have a plan, get to work. Happy link building.

Jon Wade writes. He used to dig holes. For a while he moved bits of paper about on desks in some of the worlds biggest financial institutions. But now he writes. Mostly he writes for Shareholders Portal, but also blogs about SEO and Google too, because he finds it interesting and it fills in the time when the markets are a bit slow. SEO is not so much a hobby, more a chore, as there is nothing worse for a writer than having his words go unheard.