With Google’s crackdown on link spam, many sites have become fearful of linking to any external content. Too many people were succumbing to the temptation to try to game their link profiles to artificially appear more authoritative than they should be. So Google had to do something to clean that up.
The unfortunate side effect of that is now many sites have cut back on or even stopped altogether linking out to other sites. Is that a warranted reaction to Google’s actions? In this episode of Here’s Why, Mark & Eric explain why links continue to be a primary way Google assesses the authority of sites and web pages for its search rankings, and why building outbound links to good, quality resources serves the web and your site users.
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Mark: What are you doing, Eric?
Eric: Well, this great blog mentioned our post and I’m trying to click through to our site.
Mark: Let me see. Eric, they didn’t link. There is no link.
Eric: There’s no link?
Both: THERE’S NO LINK!
Eric: So it happened again, didn’t it?
Mark: Yes, a major tech blog mentioned our Google+ study, quoted one number from it, but provided no link so readers could see the study for themselves.
Eric: Disappointing for us, eh?
Mark: Sure, but we’ll be fine. I mean our site does very well in search; so missing one link doesn’t get to me. But what really gets to me is the lost value for readers; especially for information like this. So the writer says, “Stone Temple Consulting indicates there are potentially far fewer people who regularly putz around Google Plus, just 111 million, in fact.”
Well that’s great, that’s the quote, but here’s the thing. That number really needs the context of our study post to be properly understood. So by not linking to the study, the blog deprives its readers of the chance to check things like data and methodology, and to decide for themselves whether or not the data and interpretation are valid.
Eric: Well, maybe it was just an oversight on the part of that author?
Mark: Yeah I wish that were the case Eric. But we’ve noticed that only linking internally now seems to be the policy for this site, and for a number of other major online publishers.
Eric: So why do you think they’re reluctant to link to other sites?
Mark: Well, it could be for any of a number of reasons. But I wonder if at least some of this is an overreaction to Google’s crackdown on link spam. Links continue to be a primary way Google assesses the authority of sites and web pages for its search rankings.
But too many people were succumbing to the temptation to try to game their link profiles to artificially appear more authoritative than they should be. So Google had to do something to clean that up.
Eric: Hence the Penguin and other Google algorithm updates, as well as manual penalties against spammy sites.
Mark: Exactly. So, some site owners may be under the misunderstanding that now all links are bad, that linking to other sites might make them look spammy.
Eric: Now it is true that recklessly linking all over the place, with commercially-valuable anchor text, and mostly to lower authority or irrelevant sites, might make you look suspicious to Google.
Mark: Right again! You keep this up and someday you’ll be a genuine SEO!
Eric: Thanks, I’m working at it!
Mark: So what you said is true, but does not actually apply if you’re linking to good quality content that’s relevant to your page’s topic. Think about it, Google not only wants us to link, they need us to link. As we said at the beginning, it’s still a primary way that they measure authority. Now it would be suicide for Google to do anything to discourage good, justified linking.
Eric: But isn’t it the case that some sites don’t link out because they want to keep people on their sites?
Mark: Sure, and I completely understand that motivation. We work hard to get people to come to our sites; why would we want to send them somewhere else? My response to that is summed up in three words: Great. User. Experience. In a previous episode of Here’s Why, you explained why we should be thinking of user experience on your sites as a ranking factor.
Our viewers should check out that video at the link we’re showing now. Well, providing useful, relevant links is part of a great user experience. It’s part of a long-term play to get more than just the quick grab of your audience’s attention. If your content is supremely helpful, including getting people to great resources to learn more or verify your information, people will remember you favorably for that, and want to use your site again in the future.
Eric: Thanks, Mark. Folks, don’t break the web. Linking out to valuable and relevant resources makes you more useful to your visitors, and won’t get you in trouble with Google. For more on this topic, visit the link we’re showing you now and read Mark’s post about the fear of linking out.