Link referrals for SEO—The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Link referrals (i.e. links back to your site) help to establish your site’s ‘authority’. Being seen as an authority on a subject by search engines improves your site’s chances to be ranked higher in search results for that subject or keyword. Links to your site by external sources give your site credibility (they work like academic ‘citations’), provided the links are from relevant and reputable sources and not part of a link exchange network.


I first published this summary in August 2012 as part of my TAFE course. Some of the advice given may be out of date now.


Types of link referrals

The Good

  • ‘Organic’ or natural links
    The best way to attract links to your site is to write useful content that builds upon your keywords and that is first and foremost written for people and not search engine bots (i.e. don’t overload your paragraphs with too many uses of your keywords). By providing useful content that adds value to the subject, other sites will most likely want to link to your site as a trusted resource to complement their own content. These kinds of links often have a trickle-down effect—other sites will link to your site after seeing a link on a respected site. “Quality links beget more links.” (Miller 2011, p.149)
  • Reciprocal links
    This is where you swap links with another web site in a trade (not to be confused with link farms or link exchanging which is bad for SEO – see below). Consideration needs to be given to the ranking ‘weight’ of the other site to ensure you receive more benefits than you are passing on (you’ll receive more benefit if the site linking to you is more popular and ranks highly in search engine results). Also, the other site needs to be relevant to your subject to add real value to your ranking and, ideally, the link to your site will be placed among relevant content or it could be overlooked by search engine bots.
  • Requesting links
    You can contact another website owner or webmaster and request that they link back to your site. To achieve best results from this effort, first undertake some research to find out who ranks highly in search results for your keywords. Consider how your site can ‘add-value’ to their site’s content and send them a personal request that points out your ‘value-add’ proposition. For best results compose tailored requests to each site, personally addressed where possible. There are services that can send out bulk link requests for you but this impersonal approach often doesn’t result in responses, let alone positive ones.
  • Creating your own backlinks
    Blogs/websites that allow commenting on articles often ask for an url, as well as your name and email. This provides an opportunity to create ‘backlinks’ to your site and, if the blog/website is relevant to your keywords, improve your page rank. However, some sites have a “nofollow” attribute set on these urls so search engine robots will ignore them, thereby rendering your link useless for SEO. Similarly, participating in relevant forum discussions and including your url in your signature can help to build up your backlinks.
  • Links from directories
    Although using link farms can be detrimental to your page ranking (see below), listing your site on relevant industry directories can be worthwhile. For instance, a restaurant website competing in a crowded marketplace can benefit from listing its site on a restaurant guide or review website. Most of these directory sites are free, though some do charge. Always ensure the site is reputable and provides useful content, not just links.
  • Press releases
    Writing press releases that are tailored for the web with visual content (images and video) and submitting them to a press release submission service can also help to build links from news sites. Some search engines also list news in their search results. Just remember to include keywords in your headline and present your content in a format that is easy for news sites to use.

The Bad

  • Paid links
    You can pay someone for a link from their site to yours (e.g. banner or pay-per-click ads). These types of links may increase traffic to your site (which is great!) but probably won’t help improve your site’s page ranking. Many search engines overlook these links unless they are surrounded by content relevant to your keywords. In addition, any positive results from such links only last as long as you continue to pay. So, in terms of SEO they are bad (well, ineffective rather) but in terms of driving traffic they can be worthwhile.

The Ugly

  • Link farms
    Link farms, or link exchanges, were established in the late 1990s to exploit some search engines’ reliance on link popularity for ranking. Basically link farms are a network of sites comprising nothing more than urls that pay to list on them to benefit from the many inbound links. Nowadays search engines are aware of this exploitation and will overlook links from these exchanges, sometimes even blacklisting the sites listed. Participating in link farms is not encouraged.

The importance of anchor text on links
When establishing link referrals, consider what anchor text the linkers are using to refer back to your site—the more relevant to your site and search keywords, the better.

Don’t overlook internal links
Internal links within your site are also important for SEO. They help search engine bots understand your site’s structure and the relationship between one page to another. A page that is linked to from the home page (in content as well as from the main navigation) is seen as more important than one that is deeply embedded in the site’s structure. Using a keyword or phrase in the anchor text of internal links helps search engine bots to understand the relevancy of linked pages and provides another opportunity for your keywords to get noticed.

Finding which sites are linking to you
You can use www.alexa.com to find out which sites are linking to yours.

References

Further reading
Listed below are some articles and websites that contain useful, supplementary information:

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