Back in the early days of blogging, you found a lot of links that were scattered throughout a blog post with underlined words like “here and here” and the like. (That’s anchor text, by the way, which I discuss in detail below.)
I was as guilty as the next blogger, but one day I found a blog that regularly used descriptive text as the anchor text. Basically, it told you what you were linking to before you clicked on that link, which I found first very odd, then very comforting. It was great knowing exactly where this blogger was sending me, you know? So I knew I wasn’t gonna end up on Goatse or whatever?
So I got the bright idea to just ask my readers in an early blog: “which way do you prefer that I do it?” Someone kindly pointed out that linking with descriptive and keyword-oriented anchor text gave the recipient, linked-to site added SEO juice — this was years ago, mind you, before SEO became such a common area of effort and inquiry.
So, I started learning as much as I could about links — publishing them, getting them, and so forth. Today’s SEO Saturdays tip is about how to link out to other sites and blogs in the most SEO-friendly way so you give the receiving site the most bang for your link buck. This creates goodwill, and helps you in your effort to get quality, organic links back to your site.
The Anatomy of a Link
The first thing to look at is the anatomy of the HTML link. Basically, the HTML code for a link to another site contains specific attributes, each of which has a unique function, which you should understand if you want to use links in the best, most effective way possible:
- The URL — the address of the site/page you’re sending readers to
- Title — the text that appears above the link on your website, once published, when you hover the mouse over the link
- Anchor text — the text in your written content that is “tied to” the outgoing link
And finally, there’s the decision whether to set the link to open in the same window or a new window. Each of these attributes is important to your link-out strategy. Y’know, if you want the peeps you’re linking to to return the favor one of these days…
In most cases, you’ll be linking to a particular page of content within a site’s overall structure. In other words, you’ll link to http://pajamaproductivity.com/specific-blog-post instead of http://pajamaproductivity.com.
But what if you just want to link to another site, point out something of interest there in a general way? Then you’ll have to select which URL to send visitors to, and that depends on the context.
Do you want to introduce your readers to another blogger? You can link to the blog’s home page or you can link to the “About” page for that site.
Do you want to show some static content or all the content about a particular topic on another site? Check out how that site organizes its category pages or tag pages, and link to that.
Like that. Easy peasy.
The Anchor Text
Next to the URL, the anchor text is probably the most crucial part of the equation. Instead of linking to an article and writing something like “click here for more,” describe what you’re linking to, using that site’s keywords if possible. (You can usually tell by scanning the page you’re linking to — look for words in the title and headings, especially words that recur more than a few times.)
The anchor text is what the search engine bots will gobble up when trying to determine what the linked-to page is about, and how reliable that page is. You can’t do anything about how the search engines view your credibility (except as an ongoing project) but you can be specific with your anchor text, and help the other site owner out a little bit. You know, you scratch their backs, they (will be more likely to) scratch yours. See how that works?
Whenever possible, I provide a title for my links so that readers can verify where I’m sending the visitor. For this attribute, I almost always just use the title of the page I’m linking to, followed by a “|” and the site name. I confess I’m not always good about titles, and I need to make a stronger effort on this point myself. (See: lazy.)
Window: New One or Same?
Whether to tell the browser to open a new window or open the linked-to page in the same browser window as your content is a hotly-debated topic. Well, I mean, in some corners of the internet. (Personally, those are corners I back the hell away from quickly but that’s just me.)
As a personal preference, I set most links to open in a new window. I don’t want to send viewers away from my site permanently. What if they can’t get back? It’s a terrifying thought.
On the other hand, some readers appreciate links that open in the same window. After all, users can always control-click or right-click to have it open in a new window (or tab).
Link Well, Link Often
Use the attributes for links properly most of the time, and particularly with bloggers you’re looking to build relationships with, and you’ll earn yourself a lot of goodwill. And goodwill, like attention, is the new currency, right? Right. Link on, rockstars.