search engine optimisation; this includes both inbound links from other websites and how pages within a website link to one another.
Looking at the link profile of a website helps search engines determine:
- Relevancy (what the website is all about)
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- Authority (how important the website is compared to its peers / how much trust should be placed in what it says)
To determine website 'authority' the search engines effectively do what anyone does when they aren't sure about someone - they look for other people's opinions.
Inbound links to a website are like votes of confidence; the more a website has from other trusted, respected sites, the higher its authority is likely to climb, increasing the probability of high rankings. Simple½
Unfortunately for Google & co, webmasters quickly got wise to this system and set about trying to beat it using various artificial link building schemes (like excessive reciprocal linking, link farms etc). The upshot of this link-building arms race is that search engines are now highly sensitive to unnatural link profiles and will penalise sites they think are trying to gain an unfair advantage.
Act natural, Google is looking
One sign of a website attempting to skew the search results in its favour is an unusually high proportion of inbound links with the same anchor text (the wording used to describe the link).
For example, a website trying to rank highly for 'red widgets' would benefit from having several links that use the anchor text 'red widgets'. However, an unnaturally high percentage of links using this anchor text could raise flags within Google and cause the value of the links to be discounted.
This is because genuine links from other websites tend to come with a variety of different anchor text; including the company name (e.g. 'The Red Widget Company') alternative descriptions (e.g. 'Cool widget supplier') and those relating to the article context (e.g. 'check out their website').
To build a more natural looking link profile try to vary the anchor text a little. If you already have lots of 'red widgets' links, target other related terms, such as 'buy red widgets', 'red widget company' or simply 'widgets'.
Internal link structure
You may already have been asked to tune your internal link structure in your personal SEO
advice. Properly structuring your internal links helps to:
- Ensure all website pages are indexed by the search engines
- Direct the flow of 'link juice' to your most important pages
- Increase the relevancy of a page to a keyword phrase
Although inbound links are an important relevancy signal (lots of other sites linking to yours using the anchor text 'red widgets' is usually a good indication that your website is widget-related), internal links also help the engines to determine relevancy.
Where possible, link to your internal pages using the keyword phrases you would like them to be found for in the anchor text.
For example, a gardening site featuring a 'How to...' guide would do well to ensure that the chapter on lawn care is linked to as 'lawn care' rather than 'Gardenco's guide to gardening: Chapter 3 - Caring for your lawn' or, even worse, something entirely non-descriptive like 'page 2'.
In addition to serving the website visitor, each internal link should help the search engines decide what the target page is about.
Internal links can also be used to channel PageRank around a site. A page buried deep within a site that is only linked to from one other page will have a much lower PageRank (and will probably find it more difficult to rank) than a page one level from the homepage that is linked to by lots of different pages.
In addition to links in your navigation menu or footer, it's often a good idea to place links to relevant pages within your main text areas. If you are talking about red widgets in your product descriptions or even a blog post, get into the habit of turning the reference into a link to the relevant page.
There is no need to overdo it - just a few links here and there when appropriate can make your intended website structure much clearer to the search engines and aid your rankings.