You weave the foundation for your web enterprise from a series of links. We're very clear that the depth and quality of your inbound links constitute the commercial infrastructure, the playing field, of your enterprise. Since we're located within eyesight of the Golden Gate Bridge, it's hard to avoid the suspension metaphor. Links are the suspension and bridge that allow traffic into your site. By definition, the relationship has to be two way. You must offer some sort of outbound links as a part of your traffic development.
We think that there are several discrete types of inbound link. They vary in quality and effectiveness. Since, for all intents and purposes, your operation *begins* at the inbound link, we think that it's critical to manage them.
Imagine a matrix with one dimension being content and the other, context. Each scale runs from 0 to 9 (like the matrix management courses that I'm sure you've been exposed to).
The simplest and least effective link has neither content or context (0,0). It appears on a long list of links with no discriminating information. These are easy and inexpensive to arrange. The web is full of hot lists. We call them "Commodity Links". Like the mundane parts of a suspension bridge, you must have all of the commodity links you can get. They don't discriminate, they just keep you even.
The second type of link has content but little enduring context. (9,0). Think of reviews that run for a short while and then get lost in the review archives. They provide burst traffic with little sustained volume. The best example of this is being named as a "cool Site". The traffic spikes and your email baskets burst at the seams, little revenue emerges because the traffic source is more important than you as a destination. We call them "Feel Good Links".
The third type of link has context but little content. Yahoo! is our favorite example of this (0,9) type of link. The link endures and gets your operation identified as 1 of X businesses in the niche. We call them "Library Links".
Obviously, your ideal is to have all your inbound links well positioned with very positive reviews in an enduring place. It's why the Top 25 Recruiters list works so well as a traffic generator for the Websites on the list. These 9,9 links, which we call "Relationship Links", usually have some underlying reciprocal relationship. It can be as simple as a trade of links and a simple cross-promotion agreement to complex revenue sharing arrangements.
There are, equally obviously, many shades of link types inside the matrix. Nothing really fits solidly into any of the categories. There's also the question of the volume of traffic generated by the link. A relationship (9,9) link on a heavily trafficked site can make all of the difference to your business. The same link on a site that gets 10 visitors a week is not worth much effort.
Given the complexity of the Web in it's current form, we generally argue that the optimal approach is to create the largest number possible of inbound links. Then, we suggest that you mine that "pile" in search of the commodity links that are most easily converted into Relationship links. So, effectively, you continually refine your incoming traffic as a way of defining your demographic.
Finally, there is the question of site design and your inventory of content. On the web, you can get lots of traffic to a dumb destination. Converting that traffic into return visitors depends entirely on having changing and useful content that is easily accessible, relevant and understandable. In other words, success is dependent on both traffic and audience development.