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May 6, 2008

Linking Practices – Part 1 of 3: Links Defined

Here in part one of “Linking Practices” I will run through and explain in a little detail.  While each method of linking has its benefits it also often has disadvantages.  More often the advantages outweigh the disadvantages – if done correctly.

Reciprocal Links:
While many believe reciprocal links to be dead, these links have the potential to be either very useful or very useless; it all depends on the source for this one.  A reciprocal link is a link swapped with another website.  While the search engines don’t really give these all that much weight (unless from an authority site) these can be useful in driving traffic to your website from related websites.  With enough of these links each driving small amounts of traffic to your website the increase in traffic can be quite noticeable.

A reciprocal link from an industry leader or a related industry leader can often lead to good volumes of traffic to your website.  The greatest benefit here is that these are visitors that are already interested in your product or service.  The disadvantage of running reciprocal links is that you get the world and his brother wanting to swap links with you, usually with absolutely no relevancy at all.

One Way Links:
These are the most valuable links when considering the search engines.  A “direct “or “one way” link is a link to your website that is not reciprocated.  The reason that this is so much more valuable is because in this case it a website that has linked back to yours without any solicitation (or at least that is how the search engines see it).  The theory behind this and the PageRank algorithm is that every link to a website counts as a vote.  Obviously the more votes you have the move important you site is seen to be.  However it is also believed that every vote that you have to send out weakens your importance.  Kind of like if you had a group of 10 people that all gave you $10, you would be up $100, but if you also had to give out $10 to each of them, then you simply break even.  In the same way, the more votes that you are able to “bank” (not handed back) in this case the better off you are.

The problem with this form of linking is that it can often be very difficult to get this kind of link.  With everyone so afraid of losing out on “link juice” many have become paranoid about linking out without any form of reciprocation.

Three Way Links:
Three way linking was originally a practice created to try and game the search engines.  Basically it was a way of trying to create perceived one way links to websites but by giving out links in return.  Sound confusing?  Many people were confused and many to this day fear it will harm your search engine rankings.  I don’t think this has ever been the case.

Described simply this would be a set of 3 sites that each link out to the next website until the last website links back to the first, or Site A links to Site B which links to Site C which in turn links back to Site A.

siteA -> siteB -> siteC -> siteA

I think most of the search engines have caught on to this practice and now treat these links in small clusters as no more than reciprocal links.

Deep Links:
Deep linking is the practice of building links to individual pages of your website.  Again this can be crucial for gaining favour with the search engines.  While your website may offer a multitude of products, it will be very difficult to rank the homepage for each and every product you offer simply because it isn’t the most relevant page for that product.  Sense would say that one of your website’s deeper pages is more relevant, and therefore a competitor’s optimised page will be a lot more relevant than your homepage.

This kind of link usually comes from a previous visitor that found that particular page useful for what ever reason.  This is also often a one way link to your website with related anchor text.  By finding these individual pages through other websites most search engine bots place more value on these pages.  The downside of this kind of linking is that it can be very difficult to obtain (without simply paying for it that is).

Paid Links:
Just don’t do it!  Okay, so you can do it, just don’t do it to try and increase PageRank or influence the search engine results.  Or even more specifically don’t buy text links where you can specify the kind of anchor text that links back to your website.

Even if you stick to the rules and don’t buy text links to manipulate PageRank or the search engine results you can still gain great benefit for paid links.  Very much like paying for an advertisement in high profile magazine, top radio station or prime time TV, you pay for the link because the site is popular (in this case it has large traffic volumes).  This in turn should help drive large volumes of traffic to your website.

Internal Links:
While all of the other methods of linking mentioned here come from external sources this one is equally important and will be mentioned in greater detail in part 2.

But unless the internal linking of the website is easily crawled by the search engines many of your pages can’t be indexed and will seriously harm chances of performing well in the search engine search results.

This is a brief summary of the type of links to a website.  I will explain how to put these in practice in part 2.

Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development.