You may have heard terms such as “linking,” “link building,” “linking campaigns” and similar expressions. This post is a question and answer style guide to linking for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. I will add to this free tutorial periodically but there is certainly enough information for you to gain an understanding.

What is a link?
A link (aka hyperlink) is type of connection between two websites. It can also be a connection between a webpage and document (such as a PDF file). The former definition is of most interest here.

Why are links so important for SEO?
Every time someone decides to place a link on their website that points into yours, it’s like a vote. Google will look at that link and recognize it as one website owner voting in favour of another website. The more people linking into your website, the more votes you have in Google’s eyes (so to speak). The more votes you have, the higher your rankings will go. (That’s a simplified version but the concept is the important point).

What is a text link?
A text link is when the link consists of text as opposed to a graphic image.
A text link will say something like this: “read about Internet marketing
An image link may look like this:

Which is better?
For SEO purposes, a text link is considered to be better.

Because you can put keywords in the text of the link. The keywords that you put in are collectively called “anchor text.” Google will read those words (the anchor text) and use it as part of their assessment of what your webpage is about. Note that I said webpage and not website. That’s because Google assesses each page on your website with a specific term/topic. It is not sitewide.

Can you tell me more?
Yes. If you have a page about digital cameras then you want the link pointing to that page to say something like “check out these digital cameras.” Notice how your main keywords (digital and cameras) are mixed into the anchor text (the text of the link). If you have a different page on your website that is about mobile phones, then you want the text of the link to say something like “cheap mobile phones” so that Google gets the message that each page is about something else. In this case, mobile phones.

Where should a link point to within a website?
For SEO purposes, you want to consider the links across the pages within your website. For example, if you’re on the “Services” page of your website, and you want people to see where the homepage is, your within website link should say “Home.”

What about links from other websites?
You want to have links pointing into your website from other websites. Ideally, the text in those links has some of your keywords in them.

Is it better to have links within a website or from other websites?
It’s important to have both of these types of links.

Should I link to other websites?
Yes. It is natural to link to other websites and it shows Google that you are taking part in the natural flow of the web.

How many websites should I link to?
Link to a handful on any given page. My personal take on this is to link to a selective group of topically relevant websites. For example, if you’re a plastic surgeon, link to the main Botox website but not necessarily to a car manufacturer. That’s just a personal bias. You are free to link to whatever website you want. A few off-topic links won’t hurt your site’s ranking. I would advise you to try to stick to linking to quality websites. Stay away from low quality websites.

What is a low quality website?
These are websites that are crappy all around, like websites that sell Viagra. Others can include online casinos, adult entertainment, and others of that type. You also want to stay away from link farms and bad neighbourhoods.

What are SEO link farms and bad neighbourhoods?
A link farm is made up of crappy websites that primarily consist of lots of links on them as well as a series of websites that link to each other. The end result is a bunch of bad websites linking to each other. By linking to one of these websites, you are telling Google that you are voting for that crappy website and Google in turn could penalize your site. Remember that when you link to someone else’s website, you are acknowledging them as being legitimate. Link farms are considered to be bad neighbourhoods (of websites) and are typically produced by software. Google is pretty good at getting rid of these but you do still see them in the search engine results pages. An SEO expert will spot these a mile away. Someone not familiar or experience enough with SEO may not realize that they are looking at part of a link farm. The average website user will recognize these junky websites but not know what they are.

What is “strategic linking?”
Strategic linking is a term coined by one of the first SEO companies, Uniseo, in 2004. It means that linking is not randomly done but there is actually a purpose and method to it.

Do SEO companies link without a strategy?
Unfortunately, yes. There are many scammers in the SEO industry that just want to make a quick buck. They will tell you that you just need a 1,000 links pointing into your website and you’re all set. They typically go on to buy crappy links, sometimes from the same website. For example, they may find a 1,000 page website and add the link in the footer of each page on the site. That means you instantly get a thousand inbound links from one site. All bad news.

That’s not good?
In the early 2000s, that worked. Around 2005, Google plugged that loophole. Now it’s a factor that makes Google take notice and potentially penalize a website.

Why is 1,000 links bad?
If you get that many links in a short period of time, it’s clear that you’re gaming the search engines. The essence of SEO is to make changes to your site (on-site SEO) and get links pointing into your website, without making it look like you’re doing so. If Google suspects something is fishy, they may penalize or ban your website.

Google penalizes and bans websites over links?
Yes. If you hire an SEO company without integrity, they may get too many links pointing into your website too quickly. Google may penalize your website for that. They may also penalize your website if you make it obvious that you’re actively link building. For example, if you use the exact same anchor text (e.g., Montreal Web Design Company”) over and over again. When other websites naturally link to your websites over time, they will vary their text. Following with my example, they may use “Montreal web guys”, “web designers in Montreal,” “and other variations.

What is a Google penalty?
The most common one is a drop in rankings. Sometimes websites get dropped by a dozen pages in the search engine results (so if you were on the first page, you would now appear on the 12th page where no one looks). On other occassions, your site may go to the very last page of the search engine results for a given term, or worse, be placed in supplemental hell.

What is supplemental hell?
New SEO consultants rarely know about this but experienced ones will tell you that having a website in Google’s supplemental index is a bad thing. It’s like a secondary database of web pages and it’s very difficult to get out of. If you’re in it, it’s almost as though your website (or webpage) doesn’t exist. You don’t have to worry about it in most cases (although large, repetitive sites should take note of this concept). I’m just making note of it.

Is the speed of link acquisition relevant?
Yes. Getting too many links too fast is bad. Unless you were on CNN which would likely get the blog world, Twitter, and other social media platform users talking about you and linking to your website, it’s not natural. Websites don’t just get a hundred links pointing into them without something happening (such as a you being in a CNN story, your issuing of a press release, or something similar). Typically, websites naturally get linked to from various other websites over an extended period of time. It looks suspicious if you get a lot of inbound links in a short period of time.

At what point in the SEO process do you get links?
If you’re implementing a strategic plan, this may vary. That said, if you’re launching a website or you’re nearing or at completion of an on-site SEO work, then you should do it at that point. You could also be a little more conservative by waiting a while to see how Google reacts to your new changes and then engage in active link acquisition later (like a few weeks or months later).

How much do links cost?
This is a tricky question. If you don’t have any links pointing into your website, you need to get some. You could do some basic work on your own but these days it has become complex. To try to avoid messing it up, you should consider hiring an SEO company. If you do, expect to spend at least a few hundred to a few thousand to tens of thousands to get other websites to link to yours. It will depend on many factors, such as how large your website is, how competitive your terms are, your long-term plan, budget, and so on.

Are there ongoing monthly fees associated with links?
Again, this is a tricky question. In most cases, yes. If your website’s rankings go up, then you may be able to stop getting more links. However, if you stop paying for links and they are removed, you may lose that “link juice” within a few months and your rankings might go back down. There is no way to be absolutely certain in all cases.

Google is trying to evaluate link sources to see if they are genuine but also to see if there’s stability. If you have quality links for a long period of time, Google recognizes that. Websites that sell advertising, advertorials, and other forms of links know that and so they sell them on a periodic basis (such as monthly or annually). It’s no different from placing an ad in your local newspaper. They ask you to pay for each ad you place. When you stop paying, they sell the space to someone else which of course is well within their right to do so.

Is it possible to get permanent links?
Yes. Permanent links are inbound links (links that point from other websites into yours) that will stay there for a long time, without having to pay ongoing fees. The better sites that offer this are becoming increasingly difficult to find, especially since everyone wants to monetize their sites. Additionally, SEO spammers have taken advantage of sources of permanent links and website owners have become so much more SEO aware. Links from many of these once fruitful sources have dried up in number and/or value.

Do my competitors have incoming links?
If you’re in a competitive industry, chances are they do if they have high rankings.

How many links do I need?
That will vary from website to website. In some cases, a few high quality links will be sufficient. In others, you’ll need many more to rank well for certain terms. There is no fixed number. The search engines evaluate every link differently so the cummultive effect of links on any given website is constantly changing. That’s one reason why you may notice that your website bounces around the search engine results pages a lot (e.g., from being #3 on the first page to being #1 on top of the second page).

What are important inbound linking factors?
There are few standouts:

  • Use of keywords in the link text.
  • The number of links on a webpage.
  • The topic/thematic connection between sites (e.g., “camera website > camera website” versus “furniture website > camera website”).
  • The relevance of links on a webpage.
  • The number of websites linking to you (and varying the link text across each site).
  • The quality of the website that you’re getting the link from.
  • The position of the link (e.g., is it in the footer, the middle of the first paragraph, etc).
  • Longevity (i.e., the older the link, the better).
  • nofollow vs dofollow tags. That’s a little more technical.

Is there a list of important points to consider?
Yes. You should also check out my SEO Linking Checklist for more info.

Where can I learn more about linking?
You can hire an SEO consultant (like me!). They can also find links for you.