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.