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Inbound links – references and hyperlinks to your content from other sites – are critical for any media site. They expose your content to a broader audience, potentially improve your organic search rankings and help to establish your brand as an authority on a topic or an industry.

But link-building has evolved from the “if you link to me, I’ll link to you” mutual back-scratching of the early blogosphere.  Social media has changed syndication strategies, with Twitter, Facebook and other social-sharing services giving scale to inbound links.

One aspect, however, remains fairly simple: to get link love, you usually have to give some link love. Part of aggressively promoting your brand means linking to content from other trusted sources – even if those sources are your competitors or your advertisers. Here are seven groups who hold the potential to drive more inbound links to your site – if you can offer something valuable to them in return.

1. Staff writers and editors

Your content creators should be encouraged – strongly – to link to their articles and other assets on your site from their personal blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc. Doing so not only helps drive traffic back to the site, it helps the individuals establish and promote their “personal” brands.

2. Bloggers

Find the experts and authorities who cover your space and add them to your site’s blogroll. Read their blogs, comment on their posts, and include a link back to your site. They’re likely to reciprocate – because they get the same traffic lift in return.

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3. Freelancers

If you use freelance writers, encourage them to link back to their articles (and others of interest) from their personal blogs or social sites. As with your staff writers, doing so will help them promote their own skills in addition to sending traffic back to you.

4. Competitors

Ellie Mirman explains the importance of linking to competitors. You may not like it, but the nature of content consumption has changed. It’s no longer an either/or choice between your publication and your rivals’ – the Web has made it easy for your audience to aggregate multiple sources of content. You may as well make it even easier – and show them that you have their interests at heart.

5. Vendors/advertisers

This is another contentious source for outbound and inbound links. If you’re writing about a new product, service or business, should you link back to the company’s website? The answer is yes. Don’t look at it as free advertising – look at it as a service for a reader who wants more information. This should not be confused with paid placement or advertorial – this is providing links in editorial where a company or business is mentioned.

6. Professional associations

Industry trade groups, enthusiast clubs, and any other association formed around your niche are great sources for sharing content and links. These groups are usually hungry for good content relevant to their members. Consider offering them repackaged content or an occasional guest post in exchange for link-backs.

7. Your “fans”

This is probably the most valuable source of links. Readers that have chosen to follow your publication on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites can quickly spread the word on an interesting article, blog post or video. By cultivating a larger group of fans outside of your core digital and print properties, you can begin to rely on them to spread the word and drive more traffic back to your website.

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Of course, once you get all the new visitors that come to your site through these inbound links, it’s up to you to inform/ entertain them to keep them coming back. That’s a topic for another post.

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* Adapted lead image: Public Domain Dedication (CC0) Public Domain, via

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