In any serious discussion of Search Engine Optimization, you will hear the term "backlink". A backlink (also known as an inbound link) is a link directed towards your website from other sites. Backlinks are the most important ranking factor for search engines, helping to decide where to rank a web page in search results. Google, for example, will give more credit to websites that have a number of "quality backlinks." They will, in fact, consider these websites more relevant than others in results pages. Backlinks, therefore, have become fundamental building blocks to the SEO process.
But what is a "quality backlink"? Essentially, the sites directing links to you must have content that is related to your site. If they do, those backlinks are considered more relevant (Backlinks found on sites with unrelated content are considered less relevant). The higher the relevance of the backlinks, the greater their quality. Let's say, for example, that a program page your school has for "Automotive Mechanic Training" gets a backlink from an auto repair shop. This would be considered a relevant, quality backlink (as opposed to getting a inbound link from a website about cooking supplies and recipes).
That said, criteria for quality inbound links has gotten tougher (thanks to people using hidden links or so-called "backlink farms" - pages whose sole purpose is to provide inbound links to websites).
Here are some tips on how to increase your school website's backlinks:
Have great content
If there's nothing for people to link to, they won't. Put some effort into creating dngaging content that best represents everything you have to offer (including informative program pages, blog posts, YouTube videos and photo galleries), and you will have taken your first step to generating quality backlinks.
Keep your eyes peeled and be polite
Keep an eye out for sites that mention your school without a link (or those that use anchor text like "click here" instead of your school name) and ask them nicely to add a link. Most of the time, webmasters will be more than happy to oblige, particularly if you return the favor somewhere down the line. Using Google alerts is a good way to make sure you don't miss any mentions of your school or program.
Use press releases
Press releases are a secret SEO weapon, and regularly submitting press releases (filled with backlinks using keyword-rich anchor text, i.e. "Accounting Training in Toronto" instead of "Click Here") are an easy way to promote events and increase backlinks.
Submitting content to article syndication sites like EzineArticles can be an effective method of increasing backlinks to your school's program pages.
Submit to directories
It's not typically an SEO best practice to pay for links but there a few good paid directories that we would recommend submitting content to. These include: Yahoo Directory and business.com. Another good open directory (and free!) project can be found at dmoz.org.
Participate on relevant forums and blogs
Having a presence on popular forums can can be helpful on the Search Engine Optimization front, as posts (preferably with a sig link back to your school) can help increase your backlinks. However, please keep in mind that spammy or generic comments can reflect badly on the school. Links in blog comments, meanwhile, won't help your SEO, however, they can be a good tool for building your brand, getting visitors and increasing future backlinks.
Leverage social media
The more great content you share, the more likely someone out there will retweet or repost something and help generate an inbound link back to your website.
Think quality not quantity
It's better to have ten quality backlinks than a hundred lousy inbound links. Paying for links or using link exchanges or other link schemes is just not worth it, especially since Google may punish your website for using these tactics. Be patient and focus on quality.
Philippe Taza is the founder and CEO of Higher Education Marketing, a leading Web marketing firm. Taza has worked in the Canadian Education market for nearly a decade, specializing in Google Analytics, Education Lead Generation, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Mobile SMS Alerts, Social Media Marketing and Pay Per Click Marketing, among other Web marketing services and tools.