The nature of search engine optimization continues to change as search engine ranking algorithms evolve. At one time, all you had to do to get a web site listed in any major search engine was to submit the site’s home page URL to the search engine using a submission form on their site. Today, that may get them to recognize the home page, but they may not index the site and add additional pages beyond the home page. Obtaining inbound links to a site, called backlinks, is an essential ingredient for effective search engine optimization.
Linking strategies have also changed because search engine spiders have become focused not only on the number of inbound links they find, but also on nature of the backlinks. Some backlinks now hold more value than others.
Each inbound link used to count as a link, and each one counted for something. All other things being equal between two sites typically meant that the site with the largest number of links pointing to it ranked higher. Why? Because a link to a site is considered to be a popularity vote for the site. The assumption is that the site with the most backlinks must have the best information on a given topic.
Large Numbers of Backlinks
It didn’t take long for Google and other search engines to recognize that it is fairly easy to buy large numbers of links to a site. Many large web sites offer "site-wide links", which are a link to a another site placed on every page in the site. A site with 100,000 pages can therefore sell large numbers of inbound links to a site owner, which used to result in a quick boost for the site in search engine rankings.
In the 1990s, the easiest way to obtain links to a site was by exchanging links with other sites. This became known as “reciprocal linking”. Groups of related web sites used to band together and form “web rings”, which means that site A links to site B which links to site C which links to site A, forming a ring. Some of these groups of sites just simply exchanged reciprocal links with all the sites in their group.
Why These Types of Linking Strategies Links may Not Be a Good Idea
Matt Cutts is a Google engineer who has stated in several of his blogs that Google is looking for “natural linking patterns when they analyze the backlinks to a site. He has also stated that excessive reciprocal linking may cause Google’s Googlebot spider to index a site less often. The reason for my theory that site-wide links and reciprocal links may currently do more harm than good is because they are easily detectible as artificial linking, and therefore easily discounted or penalized by Google and other major search engines.
I have also personally seen a situation where Google did respond (a rare occurrence) to a site owner’s request for a reason as to why their formerly high ranking site completely dropped out of Google’s index. The response indicated that the site was penalized due to link farms and web rings. Against my advice, this particular site owner was engaged heavily in buying site-wide links and was engaged in reciprocal linking programs with their customers. The large number of inbound links most likely did contribute to the site’s success for quite some time, but once Google changed their algorithm, it was time to change linking strategies and tactics.
What is a Natural Link?
While the search engines do not define a “natural link”, it is intuitive that this simply refers to a link to another site that would occur naturally within the text of an article or on a web page whose content and theme are closely related to that of the site being linked to. In Matt Cutts blogs, he had identified problems with particular sites that contained links to unrelated sites. The lesson to be learned here is that you need to be careful who you link to as well as focus on obtaining links from sites that reinforce your site’s theme.
Here are my observations on the effectiveness of inbound links.
- The best backlink is always a one-way natural link from a leader or an authority site in your industry.
- The second best backlink is a one-way natural link from another site focused on your industry.
- The next best is a casual natural link to your site from a site not related to your industry.
Unfortunately, it is not feasible for probably 95%+ of site owners to pick up type #1 links. This would mean links from authority sites that rank well and whose site is considered to be very influential in the industry. If your site is sells PCs or contains PC information, that would mean links from IBM, HP, Dell, Tom’s Hardware, etc.
The competitive nature of businesses rules out #2 for most sites. It’s almost impossible to get someone in the same business to provide a one-way link to your site, unless you buy it. If your site does not compete with another site and your site offers information or products that benefits the other site’s users, you may get the site to link to you naturally. However, that is still not an option for many small site owners.
Option #3 is a bit serendipitous, but you can attract large numbers of these links. In other words, you pick up these links when someone likes an article or information on your site and mentions it and includes a link on their site to yours. This is a good reason to focus on writing useful articles, because people like to link to articles that provide solutions.
Google uses a factor called PageRank that is a pseudo-measure of the quality of links to a web site or a web page. PageRank can be viewed by installing Google’s Toolbar plugin in your browser or by using any of several PageRank viewers available on the web. A few years ago, whenever two pages were basically equal in terms of merit, the page with the higher PageRank always ranked higher. It was also evident that almost all of the top-ranking sites in Google were sites with high PageRank values. That’s not true any more. Today PageRank may have little or no effect on the actual ranking of a web page.
PageRank is still assigned to Web pages based upon the PageRank of pages that link to it. In other words, a percentage of a web page’s PageRank is inherited by the pages that you link to.While PageRank may have little influence on a site’s rankings in Google, high PageRank sites tend to be visited much more often by Google’s spiders, which means the sites that they link to are visited more often. It therefore can be worthwhile to try to obtain links from Web pages with higher PageRank values.
Some Guidelines About Obtaining Inbound Links
Do: Try to obtain one-way links from sites with topics related to your industry
Do: Write original content articles that provide useful information. These types of articles will naturally attract links from other sites in your industry.
Do: Use directories to supplement the number of inbound links to your site, but so not depend upon directories as the sole source for backlinks. You will still need links from other sites to help reinforce the keyword theme for your site.
Do: Focus on obtaining hyperlinks that utilize your targeted search keywords in the hyperlink text. In other words, if your site sells widgets, use the word "Widget" in the hyperlink text, as well as variations, such as "Large Widgets", "Blue Widgets", etc. The text in a hyperlink helps reinforce the keyword theme for the receiving page.
Do: Focus on obtaining "deep links" to the inner pages of your site. Growing evidence indicates that Google is reducing the ranking ability of web pages and articles that do not obtain any links from other sites. Focus on building links to important pages within your site and not just the home page.
Do Not: Exchange reciprocal links with other sites. Reciprocal links may just cancel each other out. Excessive reciprocal links are likely to have detrimental effects, at least with Google.
Do Not: Buy site-wide links. It is believed that as far back as two years ago Google started discounting the value of site-wide links and may have counted all links to a site from a single site the same as a single link. Today, search engines may be penalizing this practice. In my opinion, it’s not worth the risk.
Do Not: Place "Link Farm" or "Link" pages in your site. These are pages with no content, but do contain links to other sites. Almost all of these pages are getting tossed into Google’s Supplemental Result Index, which means the page will not likely show up in normal search results. if you are going to include pages with links to other sites, make sure that you include a small paragraph of text that describes the site or the page that you are linking to.