Search engines love authority. They’re designed to spot sites that have high-value links and push them higher up the results pages. That’s one reason why you’ll find MedLine Plus and the Mayo Clinic listed above personal blogs when you search for information on the common cold. Authoritative sites appear as references on millions of other sites that link to them, and these inbound links obviously boost the linked sites’ value. For established sites that have already filled a market completely, that’s good news, but where does it leave smaller businesses that also have something to say?
Outbound links also build value – or in some cases, lower it. Quality outbound links to high-value sites have a halo effect, giving the site linking to them a reflected glow of relevance and authority. Conversely, links to spammy or low-value sites can drag down the value of your site. Guilt by association is alive and well for search engine algorithms.
Let’s go back to that example of looking for information about colds. If you ran across the same information on two sites, one of which linked to the Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic, the other of which directed you to Aunt Dotty’s home remedies page and a blog about common cold myths, which would you consider the more authoritative site? It’s obvious to you that a major medical database has more information than a personal blog, and it’s equally apparent to search engines.
When possible, your content creation team should look for authoritative sources for outbound links. Sites with .gov and .edu domain extensions typically have more credibility to search engines than .com sites, but that rule isn’t hard and fast; some .com domains are also authoritative. Industry magazines and websites are other good sources of information and make valuable outbound links.
Is Reciprocal Linking Dead?
The importance of relevant, authoritative links doesn’t mean Google and its counterparts completely devalue backlinks from blogs and smaller sites, though. If that were the case, no site could gain SEO traction on the ones already standing atop search engines’ front pages. We know that isn’t the case because SEO is highly competitive, and sites regularly play chutes-and-ladders with each other on results pages.
Link-swapping was once a common practice and was a mainstay of early SEO. Unfortunately for white-hat SEO specialists and content providers, black-hatters drilled the concept into the ground, swapping links that made no sense and creating page after page to form backlink networks in an attempt to create false credibility. Google has long since closed that loophole, but that doesn’t mean reciprocal linking is dead; it’s just changed to meet the needs of current-generation SEO.
Trading links in blog posts and articles is valuable only when those links make sense and occur naturally. When they’re used this way, reciprocal links are good for both sites, but they also have clear benefits for visitors who want more information. It’s a bonus to your blog readers when they can find related stories at the click of a link, and search engines recognize the value an intelligent linking strategy represents.
Making the Most of Anchor Text
Anchor text, the specific word or phrase that becomes a hyperlink in the published content, is highly relevant to readers. It’s also an important clue for search engines. Outbound links that don’t match the anchor text, irrelevant words used as anchors and heavy overuse of links are all signs of the kinds of spam Google wants to crush.
Anchor text should look natural and be varied throughout published text. Ideally, they’re terms your readers might type into a search engine. In other words, linking to a Search Engine Watch article about using improv to create better content should use the title or some variation of it so readers have a good idea of what they’re going to find. Links that have anchor words like “click here” or “site” don’t tell readers anything they don’t know, forcing them to hover over the link to see the alt text. Great content uses anchor text intelligently and naturally.
Search engines see what casual readers don’t: the relationships behind domain names. Google and other search engines do this to foil the old SEO trick of pasting up dozens or hundreds of one-page sites and building a network of low-value links. Outbound links that aren’t related to your site are more valuable than those that redirect within the site or lead to another page with the same ownership.
Links enrich your content tremendously. They invite your readers to be part of a larger information web and demonstrate diligent research on your part. By using them judiciously as part of your overall content strategy, you leapfrog over competitors who still use outdated SEO strategies.
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