As we’ve mentioned before in previous articles, links are a positive signal to search engines affirming the value and validity of your website. By this logic, the more websites linking to you the better your page rank, right?
Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple.
In the early days of search engines, yes, it was that simple. Early search engines only assigned value based on quantity. They possessed no ability to ascertain quality or origin of external links. Webmasters constructed entire networks of interlinked pages designed to boost the ranking of specific websites and this still happens today! Their overall impact is, however, diminishing. This and other tactics intended to fool search engines and boost page rank are considers “black hat” strategies. After all, how does a web crawler definitively ascertain the value of the originating site? Only the people behind the search engines know. Suffice to say that as search engines and their crawlers evolve, so does their criteria for evaluating the origin of the website hosting your link. As you attempt to gain stature in the eyes of the search engines, be wary of engaging in the following practices; the short term gain isn’t worth the monetary loss and long-term recovery!
- Many directories will offer to include your link in exchange for their link on YOUR site. These reciprocal links typically will not markedly boost Page Rank and, to both the search engines and the users, are considered spam.
- Paid link directories CAN be beneficial to your site, depending on their source and stature. There are many industry-specific directories which will both drive users to your business and improve your page rank. Conversely, there are many more cheap directories which will list your website for a fee, do little for your page rank, and drive zero traffic to your site. If you are considering paid listings to improve page ranks and exposure for your business, shop around first to find a relevant directory.
- “30,000 Backlinks for $30!” DON’T DO IT! This is the type of SEO claim we see frequently and, while their claim may not be entirely false, these types of schemes and “link farms” are targeted unrelentingly by search engines. Any boost in page rank won’t last and you’ll be out the $30 you spent in the first place.
Wait. Don’t be scared. Linking sources are valuable to your website and you should
try to cultivate these external links. Like a network of friends and business contacts, the more websites that give you a reference and say positive things about you, the better. And, like these human relationships, search engines take note of the link origins, overall relevance to keywords searches, “Fresh” links, and now, social sharing! That’s right. It’s not just a numbers game anymore. Some of the principal factors search engines use to critique links to your page.
- Trust – The more trustworthy the source of the link, the more influence and validity it gives to your website. The best source of links? Government and educational institutions (.gov and.edu). Although it is very difficult to have a .gov or .edu provide a link on their website to yours, the stature of these websites is very high in the eyes of search engines. Similarly, a notable website such as The New York Times with an immense audience will boost your visibility and Page Rank exponentially.
- Social Signals – My grandfather used to clip newspaper articles of interest and present them at family gatherings with the words “I didn’t know if you’d be interested…” Social networks are a hotbed for article sharing and, while the search engines won’t give your site a huge boost for shares, they are taking notice.
- Freshness – Like the content on your website, the “fresh factor” of links also can go stale. If your site stops gaining links over a good bit of time, your Page Rank will stagnate, too. Your audience will stop to growing and fall away if your website doesn’t stay fresh and so will your links.
- Relevancy – Gosh those search engines are smart! While crawling across the web, the search engines assign value to the link based on the originating website’s keyword relevancy to your site! If, for example, the leading authority on orange grove cultivation links to your website of machine gun parts, the value will not be as high as a link from a tripod manufacturer.
As the search engines develop new ways to gauge the validity of websites, the emphasis on quality over quantity will help users find the best website matching their query. Looking at this from a short-sighted point of view, this refinement will devalue websites that spend money “buying” links in bulk
and raise the value of websites that build links organically through content generation, blog posts, and other means. Should you seek out opportunities to build networks of links across the web? Absolutely. As a business owner, however, use discretion when you consider an exchange and ESPECIALLY if you hire an outside business to conduct your SEO! Ask them what strategies they employ for their clients and, because each business is unique, how specifically would they approach SEO for your website. Don’t end up at the bottom of the page rank barrel or get knocked out by the next Panda update by Google! Link smart!