Home Articles Website Linking: the good, the bad, the ugly

Website Linking: the good, the bad, the ugly


Google’s latest algorithm changes have highlighted the effect linking can have on your business and website.

Links come in varying quality, with some getting two enthusiastic thumbs up from the search giant, and others not so much.

Here’s what Shout Web Strategy director Michael Jenkins has to say about the good, the bad, and the ugly…

The latest Penguin update from Google aims to quash websites that attempt to manipulate search engines by using black-hat search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes or creating duplicate content.

Linking is a key way in which search engines rank a website’s relevance and authority. There are three types of links – links that are helpful to SEO, links that are detrimental to SEO, and links that the search engines completely disregard.

Link ranking analysis

Search engines use statistical analysis for link data to decipher which websites are using a reasonable number of rankings or group of signals. For example, if the average percentage of phrase-match anchor text for jeans is 20%, a website that has only 5% phrase-match anchor text under qualifies, while a website with 30% phrase-matching is seen to be over-optimised.

Therefore it’s important to include keywords within reason across your website. These keywords can be implemented within meta descriptions, product descriptions, blog posts, feature articles and buying guides, but shouldn’t be over used. When creating content, try to provide useful information, with keywords appearing naturally and relevantly.

A website should aim for above-average positive SEO signals, but not over-exceed these, whereas negative SEO signals should be between zero to average level.

Differentiating links

There are a variety of links that can be incorporated into a website – some more useful than others. As the search engines improve their ranking algorithms, more will become a waste of time. Let’s make sense of the different linking methods.

Anchor text
The keywords in anchor text, or the text that is used in a link, can be relevant. For example, your website might feature an article or blog post about wedding attire. If a sufficient number of external websites link to this article, then the search engines will most likely deem your page useful and relevant, thus positioning your website highly for the term “wedding attire”.

Using keyword-rich anchor text makes the links more themed and contextual. By having other third parties link to the article, it “link boosts” the content and gives the link more authority.

To increase your chances of ranking highly, use relevant keywords in your article title and title tags, but ensure that the use is natural as you’ll be penalised for excessive or unnatural use.

Reciprocal links
Mutual linking to websites that are appropriate for your business or product offering is fine. They can draw more traffic to your website and increase your networks. What isn’t advisable is partaking in manipulative reciprocal linking schemes or linking patterns, where a website links to another website, then that website links back to the original website. Search engines are increasingly on the look-out for websites that participate in these kinds of schemes, penalising those that do.

It’s important to note that reciprocal links hold no real weight from an SEO perspective. Reciprocal links would have once served to rank a website well, but misuse of this measure has meant that search engines no longer consider artificial links. Website owners should instead concentrate on high-quality, one-way links that are of high relevance.

Directory links
Directories are useful when they actually serve a purpose for your business. For example, it makes sense for a magazine publication to be included in a media outlet listing, while there’s no reason for a pet supplies company to be included in the same directory.

It’s important to consider the following elements when deciding which directories to list your business in:

  • Is the directory from an authoritative source?
  • Will the visibility increase your influence?
  • Will it provide relevant traffic to your website?

If the answer to the above is yes, then by all means link to the directory. But if the answer is no, then it seems there’s no legitimate reason for the directory link and the search engines will pick up on its irrelevance.

Content, blog or article links
Content networks like blogs once had a lot of ranking influence. However, Google has made it more difficult for these websites to be classed highly.

Some networks took advantage of the one-time SEO gold by publishing low-quality articles and having other websites or blogs duplicate them.

If you’re going to link with content networks, make sure they boast authority and adhere to the rules for publication of top-quality and relevant content.

Free article websites are another link-building tactic, with many websites in the past publishing different versions of content and creating links. However, search engines no longer regard these online sources highly. It also poses the issue of duplicate content, something that Google is harshly penalising.

Social media links
Google is now incorporating social graphing and social influence into its ranking methodology to determine a website’s level of authority. Publishing content across social media networks like Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn is therefore a helpful way of driving referral traffic to your website and establishing social influence.

The bottom line

It all boils down to the relevance of a link, regardless of its format. If a link is deemed to be appropriate, then there’s no reason for a search engine to penalise it. Meanwhile, irrelevant links will be looked at unfavourably, and so too your website.

As founder and director of Shout Web Strategy, Michael Jenkins is at the forefront of digital marketing. Since it’s inception in 2009, Shout has built a strong reputation as one of Australia’s leading strategic SEO agencies, assisting online businesses to formulate, implement and track successful marketing strategies. Michael is a respected thought leader and digital strategist, specialising in online strategy, corporate SEO, Google retargeting, email and conversion rate optimisation, and online reputation management.