Search engine optimization – incoming links

by Anthony on May 17, 2006

Incoming links are very important to your site’s SEO strategy. The basic theory behind search engines is that the engine will pretend to be a user on a website. The ‘user’ starts clicking links – any links. Eventually, they’ll cover all the sites that have links to them. So the more links to your site, the quicker you’ll be found.

Once search engines started getting huge amounts of pages indexed, they needed to figure out a way to rank the page – to determine how important it is, and what search phrases the page would be relevant for. Engines use a bunch of factors for this, but links are an important one.

The more incoming links, the better

See, the more links you have, the better – the search engines will find you faster. The more links you have, the better – search engines think “wow, this is a really popular site, everybody links here – it must be important”.

Quality of links is also important. A link from some crappy geocities site won’t be as good for you as a link from a really popular website. That is, a website with lots of links pointing to it – because now the engine thinks that Site A is important, so when Site A links to you, the search engine will give it more weighting.

Additionally, links from sites similar in topic to your site will do you the most good. If I have a site about foot fungus, and I link to a site about gold coast holiday acommodation, then the search engine won’t see a connection, so it won’t give it as much weight.

Thats the popular theory anyway. Makes sense.

So lets talk about types of links. You have:

  • Reciprical links
    This is when you link to Johnny, and Johnny links to you. A simple link-exchange program. This type of link is very common and very popular, because it works. However, it could be better… search engines recognize this behaviour as artificial, so its not weighed as highly as purely natural links.
  • Link Circles
    Whatever the technical term is, this is when you link to Johnny, Johnny links to Sally, and Sally links to you. Its kind of a technique to get around the issue of engines recognizing the link as artificial, so in that sense, its better. However, its not ideal either – unless all three sites are exactly equal in the engine’s eyes (will never happen), then one site will be getting an advantage over the other two. Its still of benefit to all sites, but not equal.
  • One way links
    This right here, is as good as it gets. You have a link coming to you, and you don’t have to ‘trade’ anything for it. (Unless its a paid listing of some sort, but that usually looks the same to a search engine.) Its kind of like the other site saying “Yep, this site is great and I really recommend it”.

So one-way incoming links are the best ones you can get, but don’t turn down the others either!

A word on outgoing links

Seems to be a few schools of thought on this topic. Should you link to other sites if you don’t have to?

Some people say that every link on your page dilutes your pagerank a little. That is, the more links you have, the less each link counts for. This makes sense.

Some go further, and say that when you link out from a page, it actually lowers the pagerank of that page, transferring it to the destination pages. Therefore, they say, you should avoid linking to other sites like the plague! This one doesn’t make so much sense to me.

Popular opinion also seems to indicate that if I link to a site about green bananas, then the engines will count me in the ‘green banana’ community – therefore, I can improve my own ranking by linking to other sites related to mine. This makes a certain degree of sense to me. I don’t believe that this technique will raise my pagerank at all, but I do think this will help the engines classify my site. For example, if my site is all about ‘court’s, I could be talking about the law, or basketball. Theoretically engines would figure this out from the other words on the page (it gives ‘court’ the right context), but I can help them out by linking off to related sites.

Helpful Hint:

A good way of getting incoming links is to submit your site to free directories. This directories are often held in good esteem by the engines, and a few links from these sites can go along way. Whatever you do though, don’t wind up on a link-farm. This is a site with nothing but links to other sites – The distinction is mostly that a directory will group links, seperate them on page, provide a description of the site – and a link farm just grows links. I haven’t heard much about link-farms in recent memory actually, come to think of it, so perhaps this isn’t an issue anymore. But there was a time when one would be penalized for using link farms.

I’ll post up some directory resources soon.

A word of caution…

I’ve been reading some discussions recently, and these discussions have been confirmed by Matt Cutts on forums and blogs. Basically: you don’t want a million links from crappy little sites. You’ll be much better off to have a dozen links from high quality sites. I guess Google is viewing sites with a gazillion incoming links as artificial, for the most part – those links have to be part of an artificial and planned campaign.

Its worth noting that the number would have to be pretty high to hurt you – I think we’re in the realm of those damn viagra-vendors who spam blogs and forums all day!

Since I’ve started writing this four-part series, I’ve discovered a few other blog entries. One topic is especially important to my last few paragraphs.

Text Link Brokers Says: (On the topic of Recip links vs One Way Links)

So, to answer the question which is better? The answer is neither. You need a blended approach to link building – they can’t all be one way inbound links nor is it in your best interest to do all reciprocal links. You need to do a little of both.

To expand on this quote: Rob is saying that when you have the choice between a recipricol link (you link to me, and I link to you), make it look natural. He points out that newly established sites will typically only get links from other sites with low rankings – but as they’re established, they’ll get better links. So when you first get your site, exchange links with crappy sites. After you’ve grown, get links from better sites. He umms and ahhs a littel about buying links, but recommends buying a link in Yahoo directory. (Shame, its about the most expensive listing you can get.)

What he’s getting at here, is that if you have a site with no recipricol links, and 500 incoming links – well thats good, right? Thats what you should be aiming for!! Except that realistically, the engines will figure you have paid for these links, and penalize you. So look natural… get a combination of one-way and recipricol links to your site.

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