With apologies to FUBU (an apparel company whose name stands for For Us By Us), it's almost as if Google could be rebranded "FHBH" thanks to its ranking practices relating to links. Links are the most important elements of search engine optimization because Google assumes they "are created by humans for humans," says Danny Dover, SEO lead with Seattle-based SEO software provider SEOmoz.
"Out of all the SEO metrics—so out of the Google algorithm—about 60 percent of them have to do with links," he adds.
But Dover and others who weighed in with tips on how marketers can best use links to boost their SEO say the most important aspects are the basics: providing quality content that's relevant to the audience and only linking to quality sites. Those elaborating along with Dover included:
- Steve Beatty, SEO strategist with San Diego, Calif.-based search marketing firm Covario;
- Justin Briggs, SEO Consultant with Seattle-based Internet marketing consultancy Distilled LLC, the U.S. wing of London-based Distilled Ltd.; and
- Mike Gullaksen, vice president of search with Covario.
1. Quality content. Dover says: "Google really likes the idea of links because, generally, humans create them; which means they're—in theory—harder to manipulate. And Google sees links to a given website as votes. So something like [The New York Times] is going to get a lot of votes, a lot of links, because it has valuable content that real human beings are reading and linking to. The same thing goes for any site. And the place where it gets tricky is, once a site gets a lot of links, links that it passes out are worth more than your average blog post. A link from [the Times] is going to be much more helpful for you than a link from Joe Schmoe's blog." (For more on how The New York Times enhanced its SEO rankings, see this SEOmoz video on optimizing topic pages from New York Times Chief Search Strategist Marshall Simmonds,)
2. Inbound links are more important than outbound links, Briggs says. So it's critical to determine if incoming links come from quality sites.
"Google developed the 'nofollow' attribute as a way to combat spam," Briggs says. "Adding this attribute tells Google not to follow a link. A link with the 'nofollow' attribute is meant not to pass PageRank value. Use 'nofollow' when linking to untrusted content, paid links and links added by user-generated content."
3. Relevant content. "Once you know the needs and wants of your customers, deliver it to them via rich content; whether that be information, widgets, videos, blog posts, flow charts, etc.," say Beatty and Gullaksen. Then ensure that the portable content contains optimized links back to the company site. Also, they say, syndicate the content the company creates to the "appropriate social communities, blogs, power users of social networks, customers, etc.," as well as having it on the corporate site.
4. Use outbound links to make friends, gain attention, influence trust and gain some ranking benefit, Briggs says.
This work can result in later links to the company site, he says. One caution: "Don't chase the 'celebrity' sites. Target the mid-tier and small sites, because they're more likely to notice your link and the traffic you send."
And, while the direct ranking benefit of outbound links appears negligible—one of his colleagues once measured it at 5 percent for a particular site—Briggs quotes Matt Cutts of Google's Webspam team as saying parts of Google's system encourage links to "good sites."
5. Despite what some think, outbound links to quality sites don't hurt SEO, Dover says. "All of the engineers I've talked to at the search engines say that [wanton use of outbound links leaking SEO juice is] not actually what happens; you don't lose juice, you just pass on juice. And juice isn't really a finite resource; it's something that we came up with to measure websites on the Internet."