Michael  Jenkins

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Website Links: Best Practices for Online Success

Google's latest algorithm changes have highlighted the effect that linking can have on your website and subsequently your business. There are varying qualities of links, with some good, some bad and some downright ugly. For any of you that need a refresher course i put together the following to help you navigate the new Penguin changes.

weblink types The latest Penguin update from Google aims to quash websites that attempt to manipulate search engines by using black-hat search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes or creating duplicate content.

Linking is a key way in which search engines rank a website’s relevance and authority. There are three types of links – links that are helpful to SEO, links that are detrimental to SEO, and links that the search engines completely disregard.

Link Ranking Analysis

Search engines use statistical analysis for link data to decipher which websites are using a reasonable number of rankings or group of signals. For example, if the average percentage of phrase-match anchor text for jeans is 20 percent, a website that has only five percent phrase-match anchor text under qualifies, while a website with 30 percent phrase-matching is seen to be over-optimised.

Therefore it’s important to include keywords within reason across your website. These keywords can be implemented within meta descriptions, product descriptions, blog posts, feature articles and buying guides but shouldn’t be over used. When creating content, try to provide useful information, and the keywords should appear naturally and be seen to be relevant by the search engines.

A website should aim for above average positive SEO signals but not over-exceed these, whereas negative SEO signals should be between zero to average level as surpassing this will most likely harm a website’s ranking.

Differentiating Links

There are a variety of links that can be incorporated into a website. Some are more useful than others, and as the search engines improve their search ranking algorithms, more will become a waste of time. Let’s make sense of the different linking methods.

Anchor Text

The keywords in anchor text, or the text that is used in a link, are not considered an actual link. However, anchor text can be relevant. For example, your website might feature an article or blog post about wedding attire, and if a sufficient number of external websites link to this article, then the search engines will most likely deem your page useful and relevant, thus positioning your website highly for the term “wedding attire”.

Using keyword rich anchor text makes the links more themed and contextual. By having other third parties link to the article, it “link boosts” the content, and gives the link more authority. To increase your chances of ranking highly, use relevant keywords in your article title and title tags, but ensure that the use is natural as you’ll be penalised for excessive or unnatural use.

Reciprocal Links

Mutual linking to websites that are appropriate for your business or product offering is fine, and can draw more traffic to your website and increase your networks. What is not advisable is partaking in manipulative reciprocal linking schemes or linking patterns, where a website links to another website, then that website links back to the original website. The search engines are on the watch-out for websites that participate in these kinds of schemes, and are penalising those that do.

It’s important to note that reciprocal links hold no real weight from an SEO perspective. Reciprocal links would have once served to rank a website well, but misuse of this measure has meant that search engines no longer consider artificial links. Website owners should instead concentrate on high-quality, one-way links that are of high relevance.

Directory Links

Directories are useful when they actually serve a purpose for your business. For example, it makes sense for a magazine publication to be included in a media outlet listing, while there is no reason for a pet supplies company to be included in the same directory.

It’s important to consider the following elements when deciding what directories to list your business in – Is the directory from an authoritative source? Will the visibility increase your influence? Will it provide relevant traffic to your website? – If the answer is yes, then by all means, link to the directory. But if the answer is no, then it seems there’s no legitimate reason for the directory link and the search engines will pick up on this fact.

Content, Blog or Article Links

Content networks like blogs once had a lot more ranking influence. Yet Google has made it more difficult for these websites to be classed highly due to websites taking advantage by publishing low-quality articles and having other websites or blogs duplicate these.

There is also the problem of ownership. Once something is published on an external website, it may be hard to have it removed or updated. This poses a major challenge if you receive a suspicious link notification from Google or other search engines. If you are going to link with content networks, make sure it’s one of authority and adheres to the rules for publication of top-quality and relevant content.

Free article websites are another link building tactic, with many websites in the past publishing different versions of content and creating links. However, search engines no longer regard these online sources highly. It also poses the issue of duplicate content, something that Google is harshly penalising websites for doing.

Social Media Links

Google is now incorporating social graphing and social influence into its ranking methodology to determine a website’s level of authority. Publishing content across social media networks like Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn is therefore a helpful way of driving referral traffic to your website, and assisting with the establishment of social influence.

The Bottom Line

What it all boils down to is the relevance of a link, regardless of its format. If a link is deemed to be appropriate, then there should be no reason for a search engine to penalise, while irrelevant links will be looked at unfavourably, and so too your website.


COMMENTS

Posted by Anton Koekemoer, 15 August 2012

Hi Michael,

Great wrap up on Links when it comes to Google and protecting your investment (website and linkbuilding efforts). Personally – I think as long as you keep things (link building) natural and don’t do excessive linkbuilding and other black hat options , then you most likely will be a lot safer in the long run – as Google tend to get smarter and or better at detecting spammy or blackhat methods for trying to rank better in the SERP’s , and they make regular changes to these algorithms.


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