A Short Introduction to Links and their Importance to SEO
Links can appear almost anywhere. They are the things that connect website pages together and help you get from one website or piece of content to another. So, you will have links on your website that connect to other internal pages, as well as links to external, third-party websites.
The main focus of this article, however, is third-party websites linking to yours. What is the importance of this to SEO and how much emphasis should you place on getting other websites to give you a link?
Links perform two main functions in Google and other search engines – they help Google understand the relevance of your website as well as its popularity and trustworthiness.
What Is Your Web Page About?
Let’s look at the first function above – relevance. Google uses a computer programme to analyse all the websites and web pages on the internet. This is known as the Google algorithm. As its job is to provide answers to people conducting searches, it is not enough for Google to know what web pages exist. It is not enough for Google to know what is on those pages either.
Instead, when Google’s bot crawls your website and all the other sites in the world, it needs to understand what the page is about. For example, it must be able to tell the difference between a web page that talks about eagles (the bird), the Eagles (the band), or even the Eagles (the American Football team).
Google uses lots of factors to help it achieve this, but one of the most important is links. So, a website about eagles is likely to have links to and from other websites about eagles, birds, and related topics. The same applies to the Eagles the band and the Eagles the American Football team.
It’s a Popularity Vote
While understanding relevance is critical, the most important function of links is to help Google understand the popularity of a web page. So, a link acts like a vote for a website. This means, in very simplistic terms, the more votes (links) you have, the better.
The theory Google works from is that people link to the content they think best matches the message or information they want to present.
Google doesn’t just look at the number of links a website has, however, as the source of links is also important. Google uses the source of a link to determine the authority of a website. Again, it does this by using the knowledge and actions of real people. Specifically, it assumes (probably correctly) that people prefer to link to websites they trust.
Taking this a stage further, links from websites that Google believes are trustworthy are much more valuable to your website’s SEO than links from low-quality, spammy websites.
More on Popularity
There is more than one type of popularity, however. After all, if Google’s analysis of links focused exclusively on the volume of links a website has, websites like Wikipedia would appear at the top of just about every search results page.
Instead, there are three main types of popularity in Google:
- Global – this applies to the big sites on the internet. Wikipedia is one of them but there are many others including the big e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay.
- Local – links can also show you are popular locally. For example, a plumber that operates in Auckland would struggle to get the same amount of links as a major US brand that has multiple operations in multiple cities. Google knows, however, that a Kiwi homeowner is not interested in plumbers in New Jersey whenever they are dealing with a burst pipe in their Auckland home. So, it doesn’t matter how many links the US company has. Instead, Google assesses local popularity to decide which local plumber’s websites to include on its search results pages.
- Niche – sometimes niche popularity is important too. This applies to non-local businesses as well as blogs and other websites that have a wider audience than the local area. Links help Google understand how popular a website is within its niche.
What is Anchor Text and Why is it Important?
Most links you see on web pages are words or phrases highlighted in blue which you can click on. Those words or phrases are anchor text and they are much more user-friendly than a URL.
Best practices for anchor text are to use words and phrases that relate to the page being linked to and that fit naturally on the page. You should avoid generic phrases like “click here”.
Obviously, you can control the anchor text on your own website, but you have limited control when other websites link to you. Where it is possible to make a suggestion on anchor text, however, follow the best practices above.
The Value of Trusted Websites
Google has to deal with huge volumes of low-quality, spammy, and often fraudulent content on the internet when it is delivering search results to its users. It does this by measuring trust . In other words, there are a collection of websites on the internet that Google trusts.
This could be popular and authoritative websites like those mentioned earlier. It can also be websites from particular types of domain. Government websites and university websites are two good examples. The same also applies to some non-profit organisations.
Links Don’t Age Well
The power of a link to your website will not last forever. In fact, its value decreases over time. Therefore, it is important you continue to generate new links. Ways you can achieve this is by updating previously published content, re-purposing content in another format, and publishing regular new content.
What About Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Channels?
One of the easiest ways to get a link to your website is via social media. After all, you control what is posted to your Facebook business page or Twitter account. Do these links help with SEO?
Google and other search engines treat links on social media differently to standard links found on other websites. That said, most SEO experts believe links on social media are one of the factors Google uses when determining its rankings. It is not possible to know how much importance it places on these links, but they are worth getting, not least because they may directly generate traffic from the social media channel.
Blackhat Link Building and Why You Should Avoid It
As soon as website owners and dubious digital marketing operations realised links were important to Google, they started to fake them. Examples of this include setting up link farms, link neighbourhoods, or offering to buy or sell links. In other words, any tactic that involves getting a link unnaturally.
This type of link building is one of the main features of blackhat SEO, so is something you should avoid completely. Google and other search engines are getting much better at identifying such practices and they are ruthless with websites that get caught.
While you might see improved rankings and increased traffic to your website for a short period of time as a result of blackhat SEO and link building, the best you can hope for over the medium and long-term is a drop in your rankings. Even worse, you could be dumped to the very end of Google’s search results (i.e. hundreds of pages deep) or you could be kicked off completely.
Trying to cheat the system simply isn’t worth it.
The only way to get links that will give you consistent and safe results is to create great content on a regular basis that earns you natural links. Of course, there are strategies you can use to hustle this process along – an SEO agency in Auckland can help you implement such a strategy. Doing it the right way, however, is the only way.