in Start

How to Search Engine Optimize Your Links, URLs

Links make the blog world go round...

[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series.]

As you may have noticed in the last few blog posts in this series that search engines really care about links, both the links that are pointing to your own site from other blogs (externally) and the links that you have within your own blog and blog posts (internally).

As usual there are a few things to consider so that you can do it more optimally, both for your users and search engines. Why? Because links provide, from a simple perspective, “votes” for the quality of your blog and the ranking in search engines.

In fact, links remain one of the most important external factors for your blog! The more links that you have coming to your blog (and within your blog placed and linked strategically) the better you will do in search engine rankings.

But, of course, there are some link strategy and methods that you’re going to want to be aware of so you can do the be the most fertile ground for links ever! You see, some links are just better than others.

We’ll first take a look at quality link structures, search engine limitations when it comes to links, and a cursory look at the power and strategy of link building.

Link Structures that Search Engines Can Crawl:

The first thing that we want tackle is simply remembering that search engines can only index and understand content that they can see. You can use both this strategy in the last post to see what search engines see or even the spider test tool to see the actual links in your blog.

Sad. Why won't you let me crawl?

The fact is that unless a spider (or a search engine bot) can see these links then the links don’t actually “exist.” That’s right – if they can’t see them then they might as well not even be there. Not the optimal situation, right?

Unfortunately even as I randomly browse the web I see many sites and blogs that are doing serious damage to their own search engine optimization efforts as they hide or obfuscate their links, navigation, and site architecture in such a way which hinders search engine.

Even sadder is that most bloggers do this without even knowing the significant impact. The result? All the major search engines will simply not crawl those links, follow them to the content, and index them and thus not storing them for retrieval when a needy person looking for the blogger’s valuable content.

This content (great content) does not exist and no marketing, strategy, targeting, or magic will help Google know that it does, in fact, exist.

Here are a few types of elements and features of your blog that are going to hinder search engines and their crawlers from indexing content and links. You’re going to want to know about these as you make decisions about how you display your content to your end users.

Generally, you’ll want to try to avoid as many of these as you can:

  1. Frames, iFrames – From a technical perspective both frames and iFrames are crawlable but the issue is not with them being crawled but creating a cohesive and understandable content structure for search engines to follow. You would essentially force the search engine to “jump” in and out of the frames and it’s best to just stay away from them completely.
  2. Javascript – It’s very possible to create links via Javascript and if you do you’re either got some advanced scripting or code that you need to execute or you hired some developer who didn’t know what they were doing with your blog. In either case I’d just avoid them since search engines historically either ignore them completely or give them very little weight for the links that are being used. Move to a more standard HTML link code if you can but if you have to stick with them (for whatever reason) then at least have alternative HTML links as well.
  3. Blocked Pages – There are some webmasters who are practically clueless when it comes to their websites. In fact, I’m not sure they even deserve the title of “webmaster” considering some of the harm that they are doing to themselves and their clients! The management of one’s robots.txt file is vitally important and sometimes these site owners restrict spider access to a page (or an entire site) without their own knowing. Any link that heads over to those sites will be blocked and sadly your efforts will be diluted.
  4. Flash – Links inside flash can’t be indexed. Sad. Although dozens of links might be headed toward your flash content it’s just not being able to be reached due to the structure.
  5. Java – Java can make links invisible and thus unable to be retrieved by searches performing a query.
  6. Plugins – Same thing as flash and java above.
  7. Forms – Forms are sweet for usability and user engagement and can include drop down menus or even very large interactive content. The challenge though is that a search engine can’t get through the forms and to the links behind the form.
  8. Search – This is perhaps one of the largest areas of opportunity for bloggers and website owners since there are billions of pages that are hidden because they require internal queries to be made accessible. Spiders and crawlers won’t perform queries to access those links and so they are completely overlooked
  9. Page with Too Many Links – I’ve mentioned this before already but search engines tend to crawl only about 100 or so links on any given blog page. They do this because they are trying to limit the amount of spam content they rank and index to as to continue to provide the best results for users.

Now that you’re aware of some of the things that you want to avoid so that you can be a SEO link master let’s get started on how to optimize your links so that Google and the other major search engines love coming to your blog day-in and day-out!

It pays to be descriptive.

Descriptions, Descriptions, Descriptions!

Did you know that the words in your links can be really important? Not only for the links that are within your own site but the links that are coming to your site as well.

It’s no secret that the descriptions in the URLs can help your ranking in search engines and is a vital part of any of your search engine optimization efforts.

There are varying reports that the efficacy of the descriptions within the URLs are varied – that is, how important descriptions are in ranking. Regardless of where you sit all SEOers agree that it’s important.

But not only for simply ranking but also for usability and searchers who are more likely to click-through pages with short and descriptive URLs rather than other pages in search results that are poorly described and particularly long. In fact, it’s been shown in comprehensive studies that short URLs are clicked twice as much as long URLs. Now that’s an important thing to know!

Not only that, but more static-looking URLs are clicked more than dynamic-looking URLs (see my thought about blog permalinks and blog post slugs as well)

Got some work to do? Perhaps! You might have to spend some time cleaning up your old links to optimize your links for search engines and people.

The right keywords make all the difference.

Keywords in Your URLs

It’s been shown that having strategic keywords in your URLs is beneficial for not only click-through rates but also search engine optimization.

The most obvious place to consider for many bloggers is your actual blog domain name – I suggest some things to consider when choosing the best domain name and it’s also why I strongly recommend not using your proper name as your domain name, such as JoeSmith.com.

But the point here is that you the keywords you choose in your URLs matter and that the more you think strategically about them as you create them the better. The blog post slugs post as linked above is one of the best ways to optimize, and as you create new blog post and content you’ll want to make sure that you slugs are directly related to your keywords that you want to use and optimize.

Makes you want to head back and optimize all of your blog posts, right? It sure would help you if you did, but I’m not going to say anything if you don’t feel like it’s worth it!

But, it is worth it.

The right anchor text can help provide more value.

Keywords in Your Links (Link Text, Anchor Text)

The keywords that you use in your links (also called ‘Anchor text’ or ‘Link text’) is also important and we’ll just get right down to business on this one: You see, one of the most obvious examples is when people link to some of their best content with the word “here.”

For example, someone might blog:

This is the best darn blog post ever about ___________ and you should go read it here!

See how the word “here” is the keyword they’ve chosen to link to that “amazing” blog post? Sure, it’s ok to do it occasionally (and I definitely do!) but you’re going to want to optimize your links URLs for keywords as best as you can.

A better example are the few links above where I’ve linked “blog domain name” and “choosing the best domain name” as the keywords that are being used to link to the content. Makes sense, right? The goal is to become better ranked in search for those particular keywords.

But using the keywords also helps with click-through rate as well as a better and more descriptive URL can help get more people to jump into other ares of content. Sure, a well-placed “Click Here Now!” can definitely work but you’re not going to want to rank for “Click Here Now!” in search engines, right?

The words within your links matter and are seen by search engines as a way that the website and blog are described. Just think of all that power that you link to other blogs? Just think of all the power that other blogs who link to you have!

For example, if 100,000 blogs link to your blog with anchor text “the best blog ever” then it’s a very good chance that if someone searches for “the best blog ever” you’ll come up! But if they use the link text “the worst blog ever” then you’re not in a very good spot, are you?

There’s no sense to be worried about this dynamic but it’s healthy to be aware of and it’s important that you treat the blogs that you link to with love and respect, not to mention the right keywords and anchor text! It’s also important that you link internally correct, as with the example above with “here.”

The Number of Links Matter:

We’ve talked about this previously a few times and already in this blog post but it’s worth mentioning explicitly – you will want no more than 100 links per page and you will want as many links as you possibly can from external properties.

Number and quality are important.

But, you only want them from legitimate properties – no viral linkbaiting, black hat strategies, or spammy link farms need apply!

There are definitely a number of strategies that can work to create consistently great links back to your blog but one of the best strategies is to simply create amazing content that deserves to be linked to.

I think this should be the top priority for any blogger who wishes to make a difference in their search engine ranking.

The Quality of Your Links Matter:

Your blog “injects” value for your links and everything that they touch – that is, everything that they link to both internally and externally from your blog.

It’s no secret Google and the other major search engines consider significantly the value of your blog and site when ranking the link quality and the better or higher ranked your blog is the better your links become.

We call this system PageRank – in fact, this is so important I’m going to devote an entire post to it so that we can dive deep into the quality of links via the valuation of your blog to search engines.

Make sure to check out this comprehensive overview of Google’s PageRank to understand how the quality of your links matter!

Let me know if you have any questions!

[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series. Images via 12th, jen, marc, eltito, sel.]