The Good and the Bad of Links Within Content

content-linksA lot of people are confused about links within content. Due to the many iterations of the Google algorithm, opinions are not only divided but they are also varied about what is and is not acceptable to Google.

I can answer that question very simply and very logically. Google has never really changed its advice – only the way it evaluates web pages. I’ll get to the simple logic in a few moments, but first let’s look at the problems that content publishers now face.

First, let’s examine what link juice means

The reason there is such a hoo-ha about links is because they pass page rank from one page to another. Page rank is a measure of a page’s quality. The higher the quality score of a page, the more rank it passes – aka link juice – to other pages when it links to them.

To explain, say there is an article on that has a page rank of 6. That article links to two other pages, one of which is your site. That page rank of 6 would be divided by 2 and shared between the secondary pages, and the rank of those pages would go up as a result.

In reality it’s not that simple because Google doesn’t just take the rank of a page and divide it equally between all links on a page. Some degradation is built in, and the sharing of the value depends on where on the page the links sit. A link at the beginning of the article is more valuable, generally, than a small link in the footer. Also, the quality of the link plays a role – how it is formatted.

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With this in mind, many search engine optimisers have benefited from tailoring links throughout a site so that the link juice is maximised. Google calls this ‘page rank sculpting’.

Without going into too much detail about how page rank sculpting works, let’s examine some of the common assumptions regarding links.

Assumption 1: Too many links on a page will get you penalised

No. Not always. This assumption comes from the notion that a page full of hundreds of links will annoy Google, especially if it looks like you are just trying to get as many links noticed as possible. Google doesn’t mind if you have a page full of links, but it may not give the page a decent score.

Many people live by the ‘no more than 100 links on a page’ rule, assuming that Google will not index anything on a page beyond 100 links. Whether that’s true or not, you need to know only one thing – is my page full of links adding value to the reader?

Links tip 1: Try to keep links on your pages to a minimum. When you add up the navigation menu, the footer, all the links in the article – if the sheer number of links on the page is devaluing it, you need to take action to rationalise the number of links on the page.

Assumption 2: Linking from your articles to the home page will boost your rank

This is a dangerous assumption and I am including it because I’ve seen several clients doing it. Let’s look at an example text.

Imagine I have written this paragraph as part of an article about weather-proofing treatments for wooden window frames, because I am a window sales company and I am publishing content related to window sales.

The highlighted text in that paragraph is a link to the home page of the site. Why? If I am reading an article on a site that specialises in window sales, why do I need to click on the phrase window sales to go to the home page when I could just click on the home link in the navigation? What value does that add to me as the reader?

The example link has been created to try to pass not only link juice to the home page but also keyword-specific link juice. If the phrase is repeated around the site, logic suggests that Google would consider the home page to be highly relevant to that phrase and therefore rank the home page higher when people search Google for ‘window sales’.

In reality, this is the kind of activity that will now, probably, get your site de-ranked and even penalised. Trying to gain link juice through irrelevant links with anchor text that is more spam than navigational.

Link tip 2: Instead of linking routinely to your home page, you can link to specific relevant pages, if this helps readers. Just don’t use the same anchor text (the text that forms the link) all the time. Only link to something if it is really useful and relevant to do so.

Assumption 3: Linking to lots of pages from articles is bad

No, this is not always true. Whenever you add a link into the body of your articles, ask yourself one question. “Am I doing this to help my readers or am I doing this to get some Google benefit?”

If the answer is the latter, don’t do it. The only time you should ever add a link to a page hoping for Google benefit is when you are also adding value for the reader.

Link tip 3: There’s no set rule to how many links are allowed in an article. As long as each link is relevant and useful and adds value, use it. Great content comes first, SEO value comes second.

Google blog example of links

This is a screen shot of an article on the Official Google Blog – which you can read here. This article contains more than 12 links, all of which point off to other domains within the Google family.

What type of linking is acceptable to Google?

At the beginning of this article I said there is a simple logic to follow. Google wants us to create websites that are written for people, not for robots. If you follow that rule, all you need to do is think about links as navigational aids, not page rank sculpting tricks.

In the previous paragraph I have linked to an article I wrote a few months ago. That link is there primarily for your benefit. Google will see it there, and I hope it does, but the important thing to note is that I have created a navigational and contextual link to another page that’s relevant to this one. I haven’t just linked a top search term to the home page.

Put users first and Google second and your site will be healthier than if you try hard to game Google.

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