What’s The Big Deal About Links?
“What exactly are website links and why should I be so concerned about them? My Internet rep is telling me they (links) will help my search engine placement, but what does that mean? After all, that’s why I hire an Internet marketing company right?”
Well yes, but search engine marketers sometimes have different philosophies about the best ways to utilize web links, so there really isn’t a simple way to answer this question. Instead, I think a basic “Search engine 101” lesson will shed some light on the significance of links and provide you with a foundational understanding.
Google as the #1 Search Engine
Google as the top search engine is common knowledge these days – which is why search engine marketers focus a great deal of their efforts on “being found” here. The reason for Google’s dominance is straightforward: Google users consistently find what they are looking for.
How Google Works
Google’s tune from Day 1 has revolved around providing users with a rich experience. As such, they have dedicated themselves to developing search technology that provides its users with what they seek. This technology has evolved throughout the years and includes a complicated set of criteria to determine a particular website’s worthiness of being included prominently in search results. Website links happen to be one of the more heavily weighted criteria and have consequently gained plenty of attention from search engine marketers. As Google’s official Webmaster Guidelines Blog notes “Your site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity.”
Interpretation: Links are like votes and the more votes your site has, the better it will rank.
Are All Links Created Equal?
Google says links are good so you should go out and get as many as you can at all costs right? Wrong. As with any set of “rules”, there will be those that set out to find loopholes. Because of this, Google looks unfavorably at some types of links which may do more harm to your search engine placement than good. They say, “Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?'”
Interpretation: If you want to be rewarded with good search engine ranking, make your web pages primarily for your audience, not for search engine robots.
Are There Different Kinds of Links?
Yes, and here is a short list of some you may want to be aware of:
- Paid vs. Non-Paid Links: Some webmasters engage in paid link exchange schemes but disregard the relevance of the links being exchanged. Buying or selling links to manipulate the Google algorithm is a violation of their webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.
- Inbound vs. Outbound Links: Websites that link to your site (inbound) act as votes for you. When you link your site to another site (outbound) it counts as a vote for them. More votes for you = better search engine ranking.
- Hidden Links: Hidden links are links that are intended to be seen by search robots but not by humans in an effort to manipulate a site’s ranking. This is another deceptive tactic frowned upon by Google.
So that’s linking in a nutshell. Remember, although linking is important, try not to go crazy. Make sure your links make sense as to where they are ultimately leading the visitor, and always write to your audience. That way, you have the double-benefit of gaining more “votes” for your website and writing in a conversational style that doesn’t turn off the viewer.