Like anything man-made, the Internet has evolved slowly but surely over the years. Right now, it is considered to be the ultimate source of information, largely through the help of search engines. With a command from the user, these folks scour the Web and deliver the content best suited to answer our queries. But of course, this is not done by some Merlin in the clouds — this is where SEO comes in.
SEO is basically the art and science of vying for the top ranks of the search results, done through strategically crafted content. We see these nowadays — advertisements, blog posts, entire websites, and more. SEO — or Search Engine Optimization — has even turned into the lifeblood of some businesses (especially those that are completely online). This does not mean that everyone has perfected SEO, however — despite it being a simple concept, many are still making fatal mistakes that tend to push down instead of up the search ranks.
One example of this is the practice of “generic linking” that has appeared over the past couple of years. This is most commonly seen in “click here” links — those that try to invite the user to go to a different page with a bland come-on or a promise. Ever since the release of Google’s Penguin algorithms (which has gained notoriety for condemning keyword overstuffed and spammy content), the technique has been used by many to “balance” out their link profiles through generic anchors. While very widespread in use, it has achieved very little success. Some of the pages do rank, but that is only for a few days until Google sees through the scheme.
But of course, there is a way to rank without using these inorganic “click here” links. Instead, Google and SEO experts advise using descriptive words when a link has to be used. These links are those that pass on “relevancy signals” towards the target page. Search engines are programmed to discern between content in as human a way as possible — just like how much the words “click here” lack relevance and context to the human reader, so does it lack relevance and context for the search engine. In contrast, placing a link that uses a more natural language scores both for the readers and the search bots.
How do I create a relevant, natural link?
Here are a few tips for creating relevant links that actually help in your SEO.
1. Brands and Company Names.
Company names make some of the best links when called up. You can link anywhere, from websites of brick-and-mortar industries to ecommerce sites. The only qualification here is that the link is actually relevant to your content.
However, take extra caution when the name you are linking too matches or sounds like generic, highly commercial anchor text — for example, a business name like “Dallas Flower Express”. In this case, there is barely a clear line between natural, business-related anchors and over-optimized, spammy anchors. This can send a confusing signal that can boggle the search engines –to them, you might appear to be gaming the system. And of course, it will always be best to link to brands that have powerful name recall.
2. Personal names.
Another tip, much like linking to brand names, is to link to people. Linking to a CEO, for example, is a safe bet since there is a good chance it is never overused. Conversely, you can attract name-based related links through building a strong profile or “About” page for your company of business.
3. URLs as links.
Generally, URLs are never the best anchor texts. These are non-descriptive for search engines, and often hardly readable for users. They are also clumsy to write on your end.
However, there are rare moments when it is possible to use URLs in a “normal” sense. One example is when the website’s address changes — “The URL has changed to www.newURL.com”. You will not always have to include the full address. Keep in mind that while URLs are not at the top of SEO relevancy, they are still marginally more useful than generic “click here” links.
4. Link to the reader.
Lastly, the most important part of linking strategies is linking to the reader itself — by making sure that your text flows naturally, without any forced or spammy phrases. In the end Google is not your customer — the reader is. The top goal of any SEO is always usability and usefulness over trying to outsmart search engines.
Like most arts and sciences, SEO is a field where taking shortcuts — and repeating them over and over — are bound to get you in trouble. The best thing you can do is to craft every link as uniquely as possible.