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Search engine optimization - part 3 - linking

How to optimize links on Web site for search engines

How to link pages on site

Web site structure is important factor too. Easy navigation for visitor, also means easy spidering and fast indexing on search engines. What means, forget JavaScript menus, dynamic urls with too many parameters and (or) session IDs, links inside forms...

If your site is not indexed (or only main page is), that means that search engine spider cannot follow links from main page. Solutions is to add simple text link menu, or, for dynamic sites, use SEF (search engine friendly) urls (mod_rewrite).

Site Map

You don't need to link every page from the main page. If your site contains many pages, link all pages from site map. Site map contains list of links (with or w/o brief description) to all pages on site, providing easy navigation for confused visitor, and good starting point for search engine spiders. You can take a look at this site map. That is simple sitemap, generated using server side script. Time saver, but all that can be done by hand too.

Internal linking

Look at this site structure. This page, for example. With links above and on bottom of this page, you are probably know where you are now. Even when this is the deepest page on site, path displayed on top and bottom can bring you back to the main or to the higher level page.

That is for visitor.
The fact is that part of page where is links group, called menu, (that includes paths on this page top and bottom) are ignored when search engines are looking on page importance.

An other fact is that linking pages from main page, outside of menu (see main page on this site) can boost page importance. Also, if link is surrounded with related text that can help too.

Linking related pages using links in content of page, surrounded with related text, and using appropriate link title, is the way to show search engine spider that linked page is important. What more links are pointing to that page, importance of that page is higher, and it will be ranked higher than other site pages.

So, conclusion for internal linking optimization can be shortly: New pages added to site - add link to that page and short description on main page, to enable search engine spider to find it faster, an to indicate there is new content on site.

Most important pages - Permanent link from the main page, link from other pages of similar theme, variations in link titles, keyword in link titles, variations in surrounding text. Not important pages, contact forms for example - use dynamic linking, HTML noindex tag, or rel="nofollow", to avoid high popularity of contact form page, just because it is linked from every site page.

Link spam penalty

Something you need to care about is link spam penalty. What means, if you have 10 pages on site, and 20 links to one page from another website pages, that is not naturally. Too many links on one page (big site, all pages linked from main menu) is not good also. For big site, use main menu for connect to other sections of site, not for link to every page.

Duplicated menu is one more problem. While large dynamic menus (DHTML) were not followed from spiders in the past, now is situation different. If you have a two menus on page (dynamic and text links), add one dummy "page" to website, link that page from dynamic menu, track if that page is spidered from all three (google,yahoo,msn). If yes, remove additional text menu, or you could be penalized for link spamming (MSN). Instead, use classic sitemap for other spiders.

On many Web sites, you can see links to other websites or to some section of that website. According to Yahoo, those links don't have any value, they are ignored. The same situation is probably with MSN/LIVE. What means, if you want to boost popularity of linked website or page, you need to place that link higher (in source code of page).

Link to content ratio

There is a rumor, not confirmed, that MSN search engine is penalizing websites where is many links on pages and low text.

Links farms are extreme example, but, think about it. Five, ten links to another websites will not hurt, if there is enough text on page. But, if those ten links are the only content on that page, that is not good.

External linking

This is not SEO course or tutorial, so, I will not go into details. Just most important stuff.

Link popularity, Google PR, incoming, outbound links are phrases you can use in further research about this kind of linking. What is most important here, it is that all links from other sites to your site, with keywords in link title, are showing to search engines what your site is about and how much is important. Same is for individual pages. Internal or external links to that page, their number, keywords used in link title are factors to calculate page importance.

Many links to other sites from that page are lowering that page popularity. There is way to preserve popularity of that page, simple with adding tag "rel=nofollow" on the end of url of listed sites (i.e. a href="websiteurl" rel="nofollow")
Do not overuse this tag, use it in affiliate links and in links to commercial websites, including your competitors.

Do not use it when linking to authority websites and good resources. At least one clean link from your Web page is recommended.

Link popularity

Back in the past. Since search engines started indexing dynamic pages, due to large volume of new documents, they need some another, faster way to rank websites. Links to website are counting like votes, and optimized OnPage factors (keywords) only, are not enough to rank.

You need at least one link from another website (keyword in anchor text) to get some rank for that page. While link quantity was important in the past, today, link QUALITY is more important. Don't look for number of links, look at number of links from good positioned websites.

Link popularity doesn't mean that your site is popular because of 500 links to it. Key is in quality of those links, what means, one link from yahoo or ODP directory is weighted more than 100 links from "links farm" pages. Or, link from very popular site. If your site is featured on some very popular (authority) web site using "good site" in link title, be sure that your site will be positioned high for keyword "good site", even then when that keyword is not found on your page.

Who is linking to my site?

Take a care who is linking to your site. Avoid sites with unrelated theme (if they are not popular), try to gain links from related sites.

Search for "link partners" from time to time, at Yahoo, using, or using Google Webmaster tools. Sometimes, a sneaky competitor can submit your site to unrelated (say sites, and search engines are not that smart to know that is not you who is responsible. This could be confirmed when you see some strange keywords in website log. This is an old SE exploit, I am publishing here as example only, those links are today devalued only (sites not related), like what happened with MSN duplicate content trick, or 302 hijacking. Search engines are reacting faster today than a few years ago :-).

Crosslinking and reciprocal linking

Avoid extensive linking between two sites, especially if they are
using the same IP (shared hosting), sites could be penalized. Instead, use three-way linking (3 sites) or star (5 sites) to pass PR around. Again, do not link sites on the same IP.

Again, there is a rumour that reciprocal links have no value. Two websites with related themes, links from related page should be O.K., but linking from links page, or main to main page, I agree. Do exchange links with another websites, but do not link to the page where is listed link back to your website.

Invisible linking

Was popular in past, first to hide good pages from copycats and competition, after, to spam search engines with doorway pages. Search engine spiders can recognize this kind of linking. So, do not use dots, invisible gifs and CSS to hide links. That will not boost page popularity, but will, for sure, trigger search engine spam filter. For search engine, you are then automatically one of the bad guys.

Free one-way links

How to get free, one-way links from other sites? Magic word is "free". Provide good, useful and free content, not only for your grandmother, for all visitors, and webmasters of other (related) sites will add link to your site, because they found that site is useful for their visitor too. That is the "lazy way", but most effective.

Anyway, leave link to your website where ever is possible (blogs,forums,social networks...), but do not force that (spam). Do not use tools for spamming forums blogs and guestbooks, it is not worth. You can write some useful forum post or blog comment too.

Links balance

No links from your site, it means that you don't want to give more information to your visitors. This is human logic, and probably can't be found in various SEO articles (maybe not yet). If there is no links from your site to other related sites, your site could be penalized. If not now, later, for sure. So, a few links to related important (authority, hub) sites could only help.

Search engine software is trying to think like visitor, so anything on your site what is not good for visitor, it is not good for your ranking. That includes links leading from your site. Balance between inbound (inside site) and outgoing links is important (or will be), and think about that. Also link to content ratio, described above, is (or will be) important too. Less links to another sites from one page will keep that page popularity.

Do check websites linked from your website. Even quality website could be hacked and trojan spreaded. And you are then linking to "malicious" website. Ask me. I had that experience.

Hide affiliate links

Affiliate links should be hidden from search engines, using script redirection (not followed from search engine spiders), or with rel=nofollow added. Search engines don't like affiliate links if they are not theirs. And You want to boost link popularity of your merchant? I know for advertisers who have affiliate program to use affiliates links (link to their domain with affiliate code) to boost search engine position of their sales page (one way links). Compete with them then.

More links to my site, more links...

Webmasters are spending time and money to get quality links to their site. Like everything, money can buy everything, even links from high ranked sites and directories.

Good idea about useful sites with many links pointing to them, showing that site is popular and can be useful for visitors, slowly becomes bad idea. Links popularity is abused, spammer's sites "popular" and in near future link popularity could be less favored from search engines. Focus on incoming links quality, because it is, and it will be important.

Google PageRank and supplemental pages

Supplemental pages are in supplemental index, and they are displayed on SERP only in cases when result cannot be found in main databases, what means only for keywords nobody is using.

Reason of supplemental databases on search engines is large number of new pages everyday, and even Google have a problem with indexing. This is not only Google problem, all search engines have a problem with limited databases and resources. Some websites must go out, some to sleep.

With more quality links to your pages, situation will be better. So, try to get PR 3-4+ (get quality links from other sites) for your website and work on way to pass that PR to other pages. Always add link back from those pages to the main page and to the higher level page. And refresh pages from time to time. And get links to important pages on website from another websites.

However, after classic sitemap (lot of links on one page) is added and linked from the main page, it could happen that main page PageRank is "sucked" from sitemap so, main page temporary could lost PR (say from 4 to 1). Then, you have a situation when PR of main page is 1, PR of inner pages is 3 (and later, 1). If sitemap is linked from other pages, PR will go up after next update (and little boosted). You don't need to worry too much while bar is green or even PR is zero, but if it is grayed (could mean site penalized), than you should worry. Grayed tape on Google toolbar could mean new page or penalized page, although not always. for example, when your main page is PR 1 and inner page doesn't have any link from another website.

One more reason for supplemental pages on your website is duplicate content. Be sure that first ~300 words (and/or title and description) on top of your pages are not the same. If that is not a case, look for your page, is it copied on other sites? Your original page could be seen from google as copy, if it is newer (updated) than copy on copycat site, or if copycat site has strongest link popularity. More about that in protect web page content article.


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