Increasing website traffic in an effort to ultimately boost revenue is a worthy objective for all practices. Before this can be accomplished, however, you must attain a certain degree of website popularity. Increasing website popularity requires the cultivation of good inbound and outbound links with the goal of achieving greater search engine optimization (SEO).

Linking Strategy Terms

  • SEO: Search engine optimization
  • Link popularity: Defined as the number of links, inbound or outbound, that connect between a site and other relevant sites
  • Inbound link: A direct link from another website
  • Outbound links: A bit of an enigma to the link management community. It is generally known that they are a factor in linking strategy, but their degree of relevance remains a mystery.
  • Link farming: somewhat dubious practice that was developed in the late 1990s to take advantage of search-engine dependence on link popularity. Search engines countered the linkfarm movement by identifying specific attributes associated with link-farm pages and filtering those pages from indexing and search results.

Understanding Link Popularity

The algorithms used by search engines are constantly changing to better meet the needs of the search visitor. Even so, links remain a very important factor to a practice's SEO ranking. A link is a connection that transfers visitors from a word, picture, or object on a website to a different item or website. The popularity of these links and their relevance is taken into account in SEO.

Link popularity is defined as the number of links, inbound or outbound, that connect between a site and other relevant sites. Based on the general philosophy of link popularity, a practice's site value is measured by the number of its links to sites with relevant, higher page ranks. Most sites will only link to a site if they value something on the website that is significant to their business. This “peer evaluation” defines the website's significance and importance to the search engines. As a result, search engines believe that a site must be providing relevant and important information to warrant higher traffic. This is the definition of popularity and should be the primary focus of any practice's total website presence.

Defining Link Strategy

A practice's linking strategy should consist of a combination of inbound and outbound links. Building a linking strategy is a long-term project requiring monthly support to update linking data. Linking strategy must be managed and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure the search engines find significance within the intended linking community.

Inbound Links. An inbound link is a direct link from another website. Convincing another website to link to a specific practice's site can be difficult. Success at obtaining inbound links may be low in the beginning, but a practice's patience and persistency will likely be rewarded. Creating a link-tracking system can help manage site requests that may resurface after several months. (For instance, a site contacted some time ago may suddenly decide to allow a link because of a change in that site's focus or direction.)

Examples of inbound link sources include:

  • Professional directories
  • Academic sites, directories, and medical boards
  • Local business websites
  • Blogs
  • Social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Video sites (YouTube, etc.)
  • Manufacturer websites
  • Publishing/article websites

Outbound Links. Outbound links are also important components in a practice's linking strategy. Outbound links are a bit of an enigma to the link management community. It is generally known that they are a factor in linking strategy, but their degree of relevance remains a mystery. Outbound links demonstrate to site visitors that a decision has been made to link one site to another site because it contains relevant content. Outbound links reveal to visitors that their unified linking strategy encourages reciprocal linking with similar content sites.

Maintaining a site that supports outbound links is important. If visitors from other websites come to a practice's site and do not see any outbound links, it is likely they will not attempt to establish a reciprocating link. Conversely, if they do see outbound links, they are more likely to make contact to create a one.

How to Get Links

The first step in developing a practice's link strategy is to identify its website's overall theme or topic. The theme is generally a summary of the practice's strengths. It must be present throughout the site and consistently defined on every page. Each procedure and/or product page should reflect the website theme. An example of a site's theme might be “cosmetic procedures.” Cosmetic procedures could include surgical procedures, nonsurgical procedures, and medical spa procedures.

If the practice's website or web pages have what is known as high link popularity, a high Google or Bing ranking is possible. This status indicates to others that the inbound links are from noteworthy websites. Inbound links from low-value websites (such as homepages or blog posts from friends) will most likely not have as much impact on the search-engine rank as those from links from more well-known websites.

Google uses a link-analysis algorithm to determine if link popularity for a particular website warrants ranking the website in a higher SEO position. This is considered an off-the-page part of SEO for advertising companies, as it is hard to influence the number of inbound links to a particular website without participating in link farming. Link farming is a somewhat dubious practice that was developed in the late 1990s to take advantage of search-engine dependence on link popularity. Search engines countered the link-farm movement by identifying specific attributes associated with link-farm pages and filtering those pages from indexing and search results. While SEO may be used to boost the popularity of the website, only quality information and attractive layouts can truly help with link popularity.

When considering a link exchange with another website, it is important to take time to thoroughly review the prospective site to ensure its theme is complementary. Only sites with similar topics or content should be considered as main link partners. Some examples within the cosmetic industry include salons, day spas, industry blogs, local pharmacies, Chambers of Commerce, aesthetic forums, medical aesthetic sites, aesthetic blogs, and aesthetic manufacturing sites. Compatible links will help target visitors of similar interests while maximizing popularity.

The resource area or links page of a prospective site can help clarify the type of links associated with that site. Linkage to popular, well-constructed sites will be most advantageous to a practice's linking strategy.

When assessing a potential linking site, the following questions should be considered:

  • Does the theme of the site match the character of the visitor the practice hopes to attract?
  • Is the site built to be popular and maximize SEO rankings?
  • Is the linking site's theme clear and consistent?
  • Does the site publish link rules?
  • Do the rules match the theme of the practice's site?
  • What is the prospective site's method of determining who gets to link with them?

Finally, it is important to be in agreement with the practice's webmaster regarding which types of websites might be acceptable for outbound links. A detailed procedure should be posted on the practice's reference page to instruct sites wishing to create such links. Taking these steps will maximize link strategy growth.

A good site-linking procedure should include acceptance criteria. These criteria should be expressed clearly in the practice's posted procedure, which might include verbiage expressed in the following example:

  • We will generally permit links to the following organizations—cosmetic product manufacturers, aesthetic medical boards or agencies, and links to private and nonprofit organizations when there is a direct partnership or relationship.
  • We will not accept links to websites promoting or associated with illegal activity.

Successful Link Strategy

Creating a successful link strategy is just one way to optimize a practice website. Having a clear understanding of how website popularity is measured and the importance of inbound and outbound links will put a practice well on its way toward having a stronger page rank and Web presence, resulting in a more robust client base.

Elmer Books, MBA is a management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group.

Dave Zimmerman, MSSM is a management consultant with the Allergan Practice Consulting Group.