Search engines use links to determine the order they list sites in their search engine results pages (SERPS). They also use links to discover new webpages and sites.
Without inbound links, a website is unlikely to appear top of the SERPS for any competitive keyphrase or words. Thus links are (along with on-page factors) the primary way search engines decide ranking order.
For example, site A (bmw.cars.co.uk) and site B (bmw-cars-for-us.org) both have equally relevant page content. Google needs to determine which site to list first in the SERPS, this is when links determine rankings. Site A, has links from other trustworthy and quality sites, whereas site B has none. Site A, therefore appears first because it is considered by Google to be more important.
Search engines use links to determine what to include in their SERPS. Good websites make it easy for Google and other search engines by having an appropriate sitemap.xml in the root of the their domain. Search engines use this file to locate pages on the site. Another way they find pages is to follow links; both the internal linking structure on your own site, but also the external links that link sites to sites. The internal link structure on your own site should be flat and keyword rich. It’s good practice to links pages according to their title. Pages that are many clicks away from the home page are unlikely to be listed in the SERPS because Google will determine these as being unimportant – because they are so deep and removed from the home page. Important links on your site should feature on your home page, or at least in the top level pages.
If you own multiple domains and they each have their own inbound links from other third party sites, then linking between them intelligently would be advantageous. Although search engines can detect who owns the domains from the whois records, providing each site has its own pagerank, then linking between them would pass link juice from one to another. As with all links, the trust, authority and relevance of each site will determine the link value.
Quality links and independence
For SEO to be effective, inbound links are vital. Links should be sought from independent third party websites including blogs, social media and news outlets. Other sources could include directories such as yell.com or bluepages.com. We personally do not suggest sourcing links from other directories, as many of them tend to be spammy, which may influence your rankings negatively in the future. One way to track your existing link profile is through Google webmaster tools.
When sourcing links, try to add them consistently over time, rather than in intervals. Search engines can detect when links first appear between sites. It is considered less spammy to grow your link profile at a constant rate of links, rather than in intervals. This however, does not apply to everyone. Clearly, if you develop a website that is link worthy, this will naturally attract links.
Pay particular attention to where on the page links are placed and other nearby links. Links ideally should be in the main content (body copy) of a page rather than in footers and sidebars. Also avoid outbound links that appear sitewide, as these are often interpreted by search engines as paid. If nearby links on a page are spammy i.e. adult, porn etc, then these will have an impact on your link profile. You must ensure that your links are in close proximity to high quality links, this helps with website association.
Links should also only be sought from quality websites. There is much speculation about relevance when it comes to links, but from our experience, links do not necessarily need to come from websites that are relevant to your own. There is however a correlation between the words and phrases positioned around your links, hence this is where relevance was probably born from. Always try and source links that will drive traffic and new customers to your website. If you are chasing links purely to improve rankings, then this is a very slippery slope. Links from directories that cover all industries and sectors are particularly useless in today’s SEO marketplace, so these should be avoided. Such links may actually harm your rankings.
About the Author
This article was written by David Vidgen is the owner of davidvidgen.co.uk an Inbound Marketing Agency in Birmingham, specialising in building website designs for small businesses in Birmingham and website conversions.