SEO: Linking Strategies from Outside Sources

This is something I drafted up for a discussion on our boards at work and figured I’d pilfer as content. If I’m going to do the work anyways, might as well get some content for my site.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a tricky subject but one of the most widely accepted processes is having numerous, quality links from outside sites builds trust in a page and domain, helping both page and domain to gain value in rankings for the keywords associated.

There are a few widely accepted facts (since there are no certainties in SEO) I’ve discovered and seen in action that follow in (relative) order of importance (and not comprehensive):

  1. Deep links are better. Using a blog example a link to a post is better than a link to category page. A link to a category page is better than a link to the blog’s homepage. Why? Because each link gives a little “link juice” (value that search engines associate with a page) from the referring site. Typically the more broad a page the stronger it’s natural link juice. Basically your home page naturally has more link juice than a new oist on “Why kittens are cute.” This is because of the way web page hierarchies are setup (it’s too long to go into detail here) so the “link juice” passed from the referring site will make a bigger impact on an post (which has very little “link juice”) than the home page (which already has a lot of “link juice” both from internal and external links). Think of it like this – you have an ounce of real juice to share. Your home page is a swimming pool, a category page is a kiddie pool, and an post is a cup. In which one would you see the biggest impact? The cup.
  2. Niche links are better. An article about “Why kittens are cute” will get more “link juice” from a site about (and recognized as being an expert – ranking in search engines – for) animals (good), cats (better) or kittens (best) rather than a site about golf. Why? Because search engines (SEs) give more value to links from perceived experts in the niche. If you were buying a computer and one friend you had was a computer programmer and the other was a ditch digger in whose opinion would you place more value? Probably the computer programmer – same thing with SEs.
  3. Links from sites with greater site age and trust are better. Trust is built through many ways, but basically it’s a catch 22: if other sites trust you (link to you) for keywords, you are trusted for those keywords (and can then pass on that trust). Site age refers to how long a site has been indexed in the search engine – the longer it’s been indexed the more trust. Google especially weights in site age and trust more than any other SE. Trust is also built in part (it seems) by how often your site is updated. Sites that have been stagnant for a long time (months, years) gradually lose trust to more recently updated sites under the impression that the information goes state and/or becomes dated on updated sites over time. This can be offset if others sites are regularly linking in to the site. Example: on a certain keyword a site that has been updated recently and regularly gets lots of incoming links is better than a stagnant site with lots of fresh incoming links or an updated site with few fresh incoming links which are both better than a stagnant site with few fresh incoming links.
  4. Links with keyword built text are better. This does not mean make a link that says “cats, kittens, animals, ….” etc. SEs can pick up on that and call it “keyword stuffing.” This does mean that a link to the kitten article is more valuable if the link text (the words between the opening <a href=”..”> and closing </a> tags) says something like “an article about why kittens are cute” than “kittens” or “cats”.
  5. Links with titles are better. The anchor tag (<a>) has an attribute called “title” in which you can put further keywords. This is especially good for links that are auto generated. A good example is “read more” links you see sometimes on blogs that link to the whole post. This can also be used to make a normal part of a sentence a link but still get the keyword effect. Example: … Check out this <a href=”” title=”Why kittens are cute”>great article about cute kittens</a>.

Some of those are basic and more for beginners (my intended audience when I crafted it) but there is still some value for the intermediate SEO out there.

Conclusion: there’s more to SEO than to simply have a lot of sites link to you. One good site (a trusted authority in your niche) is worth dozens, hundreds or even thousands of links from smaller sites, blogs and web directories.

Random Tidbits: Sticking with the SEO theme I found 2 great items on SEOmoz (view source for an example of title tag use on that link – not that SEOmoz is going to get a lot of link juice from the likes of me).

  1. Matt Cutts on Nofollow, Links-Per-Page and the Value of Directories – Matt spreads some knowledge on several hot button SEO topics including use of nofollow, which is sometimes misunderstood. Matt works for Google (SEOmoz calls him their “spam guru”) and is one of the best sources to understand Google.
  2. SEOmoz’s SEO Expert quiz – test your SEO mettle in 75 questions. See if you can beat my horrible impressive 55%. Seriously, the best part is at the end it shows you the correct answers along with a brief description. Unfortunately, you can’t save that page to keep that information – unless you print it as a PDF to your computer.