Why Links Are Important for SEO in 2020
And what kind of links will help your Google rankings
Why should you care about links?
Link building is one of the most important SEO “habits” you need to adopt. Adding good quality links to your website will do wonders for your rankings. Not in isolation of course – there are plenty of other things to add to your SEO agenda – but links are a key ranking “signal”. Which means search engines will look at your website’s links and use them as one of the main indicators of your site’s quality.
Why are links important for SEO?
The answer lies in how search engines like Google work. Consider this:
The worldwide web is made up of over 100 trillion webpages and Google supplies results for more than 100 billion searches every month. When you search for something in Google, it does not go looking for the information around the web, and they certainly don’t have teams of people scrolling through websites all day!
Google’s stores the addresses of billions of web pages in an index. It constantly adds to its index visiting one website after another by following links. So when you use Google’s search bar, it uses its algorithms and bots to crawl through its index to find the web pages that most closely match the search term you just typed in. So the more specific your search term or phrase, the more relevant the results you will get.
That – briefly – is why you need to have links of varying types on your website. Because…
Links show Google that your site is easy to navigate, relates to useful external sources, and is trusted by others
Links are therefore vital to improving your search engine rankings
What type of links matter to search engines?
Links on a website fall broadly into three categories:
- Internal – help visitors to navigate around your site
- External – where you link to other relevant sites w
- Inbound – where an external site has linked to your site – usually known as “backlinks”
For large organisations who have dedicated SEO teams, link building is a core part of search marketing strategy. There’s a right way and a wrong way, however, to build links on your site. If you care about the long-term viability of your website and business, you should only engage in “natural” link building. Meaning, the process of earning links rather than buying them from “Link Farms” or otherwise gaining them through manipulative tactics (sometimes known as “black-hat” SEO, a practice that can get your site essentially banned from the search results).
That said, natural, organic link building is a challenging, time-consuming process. Not all links are created equal: A link from an authoritative website like BBC News will have a greater impact on your search rankings than a link from a small or newly built website. But high-quality links are harder to come by.
We will tackle each link type in turn, and in order of difficulty.
Internal links are a good place to start your link building strategy. Internal links connect your site content and give Google an idea of the structure and hierarchy of your website. No doubt you have a menu on your site, either in the header and/or footer of each page, or down the side in the wireframe. If your site is set up properly then each menu item should link directly to the relevant page. These are internal links!
However you should also consider the user experience of your site visitors and use contextual links within the main content on each page to help them navigate around without having to scroll up or down to find the menu. For example, if you wanted to help your visitors find your “Product” page from the “Home” page, you could include a link in a paragraph or sentence on the Home page that describes the range of products, for example:
“We have a wide range of sports trainers in our online store to suit every type of event.”
The underlined text is where you could add a link to the relevant product page (also known as “anchor text”) and in most systems it’s shown in a different colour to highlight to readers that there’s a hyperlink present. Anchor text is also an important ranking signal as search engines are always on the lookout for context.
NB: Never EVER use “Go Here” or “Click Here” as anchor text since those phrases are generic and ultimately meaningless to search engines. Plus using descriptive anchor text is a better quality user experience, and search engines are all about the quality.
External links are where you link to another site that has a useful source of information for your visitors, e.g. a partner organisation, associate trade association, etc. You don’t usually need to ask for permission to link to another site, and anyway, they’ll probably appreciate the backlink from a useful site like yours! (For more about backlinks see below.)
External links provide important clues about the relevance of a page, and this is extremely helpful for search engines. Ultimately, search engines want users to find the information they are looking for, and when you include links to helpful content, you are doing them (and yourself) a great favour. Again, the anchor text used in the links is usually a good indicator of the content on the target page or website. Linking out to useful external content helps search engines understand your niche, and it can increase trust in your website.
It’s important that you only link to sites that have relevance to your own site or the subject of the web page or article. If you link out to “spammy” sites, it will reflect negatively on yours. The minute someone clicks on a link to a spam site, they will remember that you sent them there, and they will likely associate your website with the spam content. This is why link farms and reciprocal link schemes are such a bad idea and can lead to lower page rankings.
Backlinks – where an external site links to your site – are hugely valuable in terms of SEO “juice”. Backlinks are like a massive vote of confidence in your site and are excellent for your search engine reputation. However, it takes a long time to build up any significant quantity of backlinks, hence why search teams in large, competitive industries spend a lot of time and resource building up backlinks.
You should take every opportunity to acquire backlinks. The most obvious is to make sure that your current website address is included in your entries in online business directories, networking groups and trade associations as a starter.
You can also contact other organisations or individuals with a close synergy to your company or propositions and offer to swap guest blogs or articles, with your respective by-lines or bios including a link to your site. This is a longer-term approach but well worth the effort not just in backlinks but in the business relationships you build as a result.
You may get approaches from organisations offering to swap links with you or some other reciprocal arrangement. If the company is unknown to you, we recommend that you handle these requests with great care and thoroughly investigate the companies first before making any commitments. These are often the link farms mentioned above and any associations with them are unlikely to do you any favours, much less generate any quality backlinks. We find that as we get better at our own SEO and climb the page rankings we get several requests like this a week!
But as your website and your reputation grows quality backlinks will build naturally, so long as you are actively marketing your website and continually adding useful content.
How to check your links
There are a number of free online resources that allow you to check the current status of your website links, for example:
Small SEO Tools has a website link analyser that details all your internal and external links
SEO Review Tools shows you what backlinks you currently have. The answer may surprise you – we’re constantly finding new backlinks we knew nothing about!
You should also check for any broken links via Broken Link Checker. And if you do find any you should either fix or remove them immediately: broken links are a huge red flag to search engines.
Your next steps
Link building and monitoring is one of the most important tasks you can implement on your website on a regular basis so we recommend that you:-
· Plan for long-term backlink acquisition
· Use your internal links to create a good quality customer journey
· Check for broken links on a regular basis
For more information or help and advice about link building or any other SEO strategies, please contact us.