A few years ago links were considered as the most important search ranking factor. Due to many algorithmic changes, that were made after people started to game search engines, the value of links has been diminished. This has lead people being rather cautious about links, in a fear of being penalised. How do links affect your blog post SEO? Can you use them to improve your search ranking?
If you ask anyone with a good knowledge about how the web works, they will tell you that anchor, <a>, is the most important element in HTML. Yes, some might say it's <title>, but they forget one basic truth about anchor. Without links web would be mighty hard to use. And the <a> element is used to create those links. Links are used to transfer you between pages of a site, and between different websites. They are also used by search engines, obviously for linking you from search results to relevant sites, and for their bots to crawl around the web, to search sites and pages to be listed in searches. Links are the doorways, portals, roads, paths and highways of the web.
Here's the basic structure of a basic link:
<a href="http://example.com">This is the anchor text (start of your link)</a>
Unfortunately for all of us, hyperlinks are losing their original value. It appears that lots of people are afraid of clicking links. This is because such services as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram don't like people leaving their sites and apps, and have made links appear scary. But while aforementioned services are trying to kill links, search engines still rely on them. For your SEO, the most important links are internal and inbound links. The links, within your site and those pointing to your site, help search engines to crawl the content of your blog and determine its relevancy to certain search phrases.
Inbound links are those external links that point from other sites (other domains than yours) to your blog post. Often they are called backlinks but, to keep things consistent, I will use the term inbound link in this article. Sometimes inbound links are called external links, but it's known to cause some misunderstandings. That is, because an external link refers to a link that points out from your blog post too. A link like that is often called an outbound link. Because the value of external, inbound links is often explored in regards of search engine optimising, they are as often confused with outbound links. While lots of people believe outbound links are a search ranking factor, according to Google's John Mueller they aren't. Apparently linking to someone else's site isn't giving you any SEO advantage. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use outbound links. It just means you should use them to add value to your blog posts, give relevant information to your readers and, perhaps, build connections. The last part is a nice bonus, but not the main reason for linking.
A pretty recent test suggests that outbound linking could have a positive impact on your SEO. I take this with a grain of salt, since it's unclear which other ranking factors were affecting the results of the test. When it comes to search ranking, I'll rely on Google's own people knowing it better. Then again, there are many other search engines besides Google. I have no idea what their official stance is on outbound links and their value. I would guess it's in many cases something similar to Google.
Inbound links are considered as a very important search ranking factor. While some time ago experts would agree that inbound links are the most important search ranking factor, it seems like many have curbed their enthusiasm about the subject. Because Google is now penalising websites for certain less than ethical link building efforts, the fan base of inbound links and inbound link building has been reduced. Just any inbound links don't cut it, they must be from quality sources. Some evidence suggests that the anchor texts used to refer to your blog post may affect your search ranking within certain queries. However, anchor text over-optimising, i.e. using keywords in links, has diminished the value of them. Too many links with the same keywords pointing to the same page or article is a known way to spam search ranking, thus in the worst case, it may lead to penalisation by search engines. Additionally, if the inbound links are not relevant to the used anchor text or are not relevant to the rest of the referring content, your site could be penalised.
The best scenario for improving your search ranking with inbound links would be getting natural links from quality websites, which point to various pages of your site. Instead of getting lots of inbound links pointing to your blog's front page, you should get other sites to link to specific, relevant blog posts. The links should be from highly ranked sites. That said, if you get those inbound links, be happy and thankful, but don't try to game this or your site will be dropped somewhere very low in search results.
While you want, and need, to get links that point to your site to improve your search ranking, trying to get them, you may be forgetting something very important. Not only links pointing from other sites can affect your search ranking, but so can your internal links. Internal links are those links that point from a page to another within your site. For example, a link in your blog navigation, pointing to your about page, is an internal link. Additionally you can link to other blog posts from your posts. When it comes to internal links, many of the same considerations apply to them as to the inbound links. Only link from your blog post to another if their contents are relevant to each other. For example, I could try and create internal links from this post to my previous one talking about the meanings of colours and how colour psychology is pretty foolish. However, that wouldn't make any sense for you or other people reading this post. Rather more relevant internal link would be that to my older post about what SEO is. (Speaking of which, do check it out if you have any doubts about the subject. It gives a short definition for SEO.) As with external links, and quite frankly any other SEO efforts, over-optimising your internal links is only going to be bad for your search ranking. Rather than trying to force internal links, use those that will add to the content in hand and, in that sense, improve the experience your readers are having with your blog. Treat linking to your other blog posts as a way to tell your readers that there's more stuff they might like to read, rather than as a method of improving your search ranking.
As a matter of fact, every optimisation you do for your blog, do them to serve your readers and serve those who find your blog through search engines or share them on social media. Only by doing that you can really improve your chances to get your blog posts to be found through searches. That's how mine are found, anyways.
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I'm Mervi Emilia Eskelinen, an artist and online presence strategist from Finland. I coach and consult indie businesses and bloggers to find focus with their branding, marketing and web. I have almost 20 years of experience, a bachelor's degree and some fun certifications in everything about digital media and marketing.