Let’s Talk about Links, Baby

It doesn’t take much research into search engine optimization before you come across linking as a ranking factor. But linking to what? From where? By whom? And how much does it matter?

As your SEO experts, SonicSEO.com has the answers…

Why Quality Links are Important

The Internet is called the World Wide Web for a good reason—everything is connected much like a spider’s web. Links are the connecting strands that let users jump from one location to another.

The same links that users follow to navigate a search path are used by search engine “crawlers” to find and index pages. The quality of the source that links to another site is factored into the destination’s search engine ranking.

Although no search engine spam team says precisely how links are ranked or valued by their algorithms, visible changes in results and metrics of countless sites make it clear that link quality does, in fact, matter to your SEO performance.

Types of Links

Before getting into “the good, the bad and the ugly” of linking, it helps to know some basic linking terminology:

  • Hyperlink: any text or image that allows a user to navigate to a different location, often denoted by underlining, change in text color and/or change in cursor appearance
  • Interlink: a hyperlink that navigates from one page of a website to a different page on the same website
  • Outbound link: a hyperlink that navigates the user away from one website to a destination website outside the source domain—e.g., from ABCCompany.com to XYZCompany
  • Inbound link: a hyperlink from a source website into a destination website outside the source domain—e.g., the link from ABCCompany.com to XYZCompany.com on XYZCompany’s end (this type of link is invisible to users)
  • Editorial link: an inbound hyperlink established by the editor of the source website to a destination that is created without payment or request

In general, inbound links are the links that affect SEO ranking. However, outbound links that connect a source site to a spammy site can negatively affect search engine visibility of the source as well.

The Golden Standard of Links (and How to Get Them)

When it comes to ranking potential, here’s what search engines value—natural editorial links. These are the links that content editors of a source website create without solicitation. They link to a destination simply because that site has quality content that the source’s viewers may value.

The very nature of natural editorial links makes them challenging to get. Because, they’re unsolicited, they’re not asked for or paid for, you just have to have great content…and maybe a little bit of luck.

So, what can you do to build your link profile before your quality content has reached a level of notoriety that speaks for itself? The next best thing—ask a reputable website or blogger to link to your content. Requests may be made via email to content editors or you can do a little ol’ fashioned networking and make requests by phone.

On the screen, manually requested links and natural editorial links look no different. However, the search engine crawler is likely to know the difference because there is no prior linking relationship between the linked source and destination.

Linking Practices to Avoid

In theory, you do not have to have anyone else link to your content. You can do it yourself on:

  • Dummy websites
  • Blog comments
  • User profile pages
  • Embedded text and widgets
  • Forum signatures

In other words, there are a host of places where you can build in opportunities to link to your own stuff…but don’t! These are black-hat linking practices that search engines find quickly and penalize. These are the linking practices that have made many websites nearly invisible, especially since Google’s Penguin update five years ago (which also makes these practices ancient in the SEO world).

To Link or Not to Link, That Is the Question

Link-building can involve a little give and take. Some websites and bloggers are willing to establish a link to your content if you do the same for theirs. Should you? Mutual linking is not a problem as long as you’re linking to high quality content and a reputable domain. Check out the destination before agreeing to create the link. No link is better than a spammy link.

If you have any questions about link quality, ask the pros at SonicSEO.com.