Backlinks have become a topic of much discussion since Google’s Penguin update set back the ranks of websites whose backlink profiles seemed “unnatural.”But before we get into that, let’s stop and take a step back to look at the backlink “bigger picture.”
Links are the glue that holds the web together. Without links between sites, the web would be a lot less of a “web”—it would probably be a strange collection of isolated pages. That wouldn’t be much help, because we’d have no way of moving between those pages—either on our sites, or between sites.
So links are an integral part of the web. They’re a bit like the roadways that web traffic drives on. Search engines link to the sites they list, advertising links to sales pages, and other tools that aren’t part of the web, but are still online—like RSS and email—help us generate traffic through links.
Links and search
The search engines have always given attention to links between sites, as those links are seen as an indication of the authority or value of the linked sites. Originally they gave value to links, the link text, and the metadata associated with links, such as link titles and follow attributes.
But things have changed. The idea that links between sites were bad news originated with the idea that PageRank could be reduced if you “shared” it among too many external links form a page. And now the Penguin update has people scrambling to remove their backlinks from sites that link to them. What a turnaround!
Organic search is, for most of us, a major traffic generator. But by trying to shape their backlinks—and their “backlink profiles,” the aggregate of all the backlinks to their sites—many bloggers worked to construct links that best suited the search algorithms.
As we’ve seen, that’s a risky thing to do, because as soon as the algorithm changes (as with Penguin), your site loses rank.
The far better option is to construct all links—the ones you include on your site, the ones you publish in off-site content and promotions, and so on—for users, the same as you do (I hope!) your content.
Links for readers
It makes perfect sense that the links that generate the greatest traffic will be those that make the most sense to users, and are the most attractive to them.
What that means is that link context, and link text, are really important. They’re important in attracting readers’ attention and encouraging them to click. But context and text are also critical in qualifying the readers who do click.
To put that another way, there’s no point misleading readers with the text of your link, and the place where you include it, because they’ll only be disappointed when they get to the linked page. Oh, and the search engines will penalise those sites, too.
Of course that reality can also work for us: we can use honest, reader-focused linking to ensure that the people we want to reach the content we’ve prepared specifically for them, do! Not only will the readers love us, but the search engines like it, too.
A good link
So, what makes a good link?
The text that’s used in links to your site should describe the content that’s being linked to.
That means that the links to your blog won’t all read the same way, they won’t all talk about the same product or promotion you’re running, and they won’t all be crammed with keywords.
They won’t all link to the homepage, either—over time it’s only to be expected that different people will link to different pages on your blog, in discussions about those different topics and posts.
This is natural linking at its best—and it’s how users make sense of the information that’s available on the web.
Don’t forget, either, the menu, sitemap, and footer links on your blog. Does it really help users on your fishing blog to include the keyword “fishing” into each main menu item, page title, or footer link? Hopefully they’ll be able to tell from the context provided by your blog’s design and content that the various sections are about fishing.
Ultimately, I feel that good links are like good SEO—if you do it as a matter of course, and a matter of providing great content to your readers, the backlink issues will all take care of themselves. What do you think?