Become a Master Link Architect: Internal, External Linking, PageRank

This could be the missing piece of your blog's continued growth and success! (via iStockPhoto)

[Image via iStockPhoto. This is part of the Developing Great Blog Content Series.]

One of the most important things that you must do as a blogger is not only create compelling and attractive blog posts for your users but also point them to the other great content that exists both internal and external to your blog.

In other words you want to make sure that you’re strategically thinking about all those links you’re creating in your blog posts!

There is definitely a science to it and doing it well can provide exceptional benefits to your blog, traffic, and engagement. If you can begin to link strategically within your blog posts you will see an increase of traffic, your visitors will thank you for it, and you’ll reap unbelievable benefits in terms of SEO. What a nice win-win scenario, right?

Here’s how to get started:

Link Sculpting & Becoming a Master Link Architect

One of the things that you do already is provide links to other blogs and blog posts, both internal and external (“outbound”) – this is a good thing! But have you ever thought about the impact of linking and/or how to do it well?

Here are some things that you’ll want to consider:

1. No Follow or Do Follow? PageRank?

“No Follow” is a term associated with how you decide if a search engine should actually follow this link from your blog to the blog that is linked and give that linked URL value. What this means is that you will not pass the value (or oftentimes called “PageRank”) of your blog to their site. Professionals call this methodology Link Sculpting.

Google says specifically:

From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results.

Why is this important? Because every page of your blog has a value (PageRank) associated with the links coming from it. Every link on that particular page (or blog post) gives some of that total value to websites that it is linked to. Obviously the more links you have the more diluted the value is to each site.

Here’s what Google says about PageRank:

The basis of Google’s search technology is called PageRank™, and assigns an “importance” value to each page on the web and gives it a rank to determine how useful it is.

However, that’s not why it’s called PageRank. It’s actually named after Google co-founder Larry Page.

Make sense? It’s not too complicated an idea.

For instance, in this very rudimentary example, let’s just say that one of your blog posts has a value of 10 and you have 1 link on that page. You pass a value of 10 to that one linked URL. That’s a lot of value! But, if you have 10 links on that one page then each link only gets a value of 1 (10 divided by 10 = 1).

But sometimes you don’t want to pass any value to some of the links in your blog post so as to control the passing of value through your own blog. So, to control this value distribution you can add a “nofollow” tag (instead of doing nothing which is essentially the “dofollow”) to links that you don’t want to receive PageRank.

This is what it looks like from a code perspective:

[cc]Link Here Text[/cc]

See the “nofollow” attribute? Using the same example above let’s say you do have 10 links on that one page that has a value of 10 but you make 5 of those links have the attribute of “nofollow”. So, instead of giving a value of 1 to each of the 10 you only give 5 that do not have the “nofollow” link. Matt Cutts helps explain this in further detail in his blog post here (thanks to Kurt for reminding me of this update!).

Finally, practically-speaking, here is what the major search engines do in light of this practice:

  • Google states that their engine takes “nofollow” literally and does not “follow” the link at all. However, experiments conducted by SEOs show conflicting results. These studies reveal that Google does follow the link, but does not index the linked-to page, unless it was in Google’s index already for other reasons (such as other, non-nofollow links that point to the page).
  • Yahoo! “follows it”, but excludes it from their ranking calculation.
  • Bing respects “nofollow” as regards not counting the link in their ranking, but it is not proven whether or not Bing follows the link.
  • also respects the attribute.

If you can fully grasp this simple concept you begin to see the importance (and power) of managing your links and how you give value to both the links that are internal and external. Give more weight to the links that you want to give PageRank and value to and less to ones that you don’t want to give value or that don’t necessarily warrant and/or need it.

Please note that there are tons of professionals (both legit and whacky) who spend an inordinate amount of time studying this idea and more power to them! I don’t think about it to that level and for all intents and purposes you generally want to not over-think or over-complicate this process – but, it is valuable to you so that you know the general concepts!

2. Yikes! What Does WordPress Do?

Glad you asked! The answer is quite simple: WordPress 1.5 and above automatically assigns the nofollow attribute to all user-submitted links (comment data, commenter URI, etc).

So you don’t have to necessarily worry about sending out value or PageRank to the sites you linked unless you want to specifically send out that value, in which case you have to actually edit core code within WordPress itself (which I highly recommend not doing) or use one of these plugins:

You can also look for other WordPress Plugins that have the tag “nofollow” in them for more options here.

There are many reasons why some of you might want to consider this but for most of us I’d just leave it alone. I personally like keeping a global nofollow attribute but instead focusing my efforts on strategic architecture instead.

Become a Master Architect... like Ellen Page in the movie 'Inception'

3. Become a Master Link Architect

What I want to encourage all of you to become are “link architects” or in other words bloggers who are intelligently using links within their posts to create exceptional value for their users and other blogs.

What this looks like from a practical perspective is creating an internal/external linking strategy that you stick with! Here are some ways to become a better Link Architect:

  1. Always include links to other blog posts that you’ve written to provide more value for your readers. This could be posts along similar themes or content or parent blog posts if you’re in the middle of a Series Post.
  2. Try to have more than just one internal link to other blog posts. You can easily see in nearly all of my blog posts a bunch of links to other blog posts or parts of my blog so that I can keep my audience clicking to other valuable parts. This obviously provides more value to them and more pageviews for me. A win-win situation!
  3. Keep the number of external links to a minimum unless the blog post is specifically designed to provide a list of resources (like if it’s one of these types of strategies here with blog post types).
  4. Always be thinking of how to link to another internal resource at the end of every single blog post. You essentially want your reader to “dive in deeper” instead of head to the next blog. Your goal is to get them to stick around for a bit longer on your blog.
  5. Remember that this will take some time to develop this internal strategy and only through practicing it will you become better at it.
  6. Do not over do it! There are some blog posts which have too many links and it interferes with the ability to actually read the blog post. Don’t do that as it just looks spammy!
  7. Only provide links to resources that have a very close association with the content of the current post. De-contextualizing your links is bad for SEO and is confusing for users.

Also, remember that you’ll make all this linking easier with making sure your post slugs are concise and strategic and your permalink structure is very pretty.

Finally, WordPress makes this super easy to do with one of their newer features which makes it even easier to find internal blog posts to link to:

WordPress makes it so easy!

WordPress makes it very easy to do this! You should become very familiar with this tool and use it every single blog post!

Why would you want to do this for every blog post? I’ve already mentioned that this generally provides more value for your users because it gives them more resources to view and also gives you more pageviews but here are some additional reasons why:

  1. It re-surfaces older content that might have been missed by newer visitors and subscribers. This is the #1 strategy for internal linking and one you need to be thinking constantly. I know that some of the best blog posts that I have were ones that I wrote in the first month of this blog and yet most of my visitors have no idea that they exist unless they actually jump back into my Archives. By linking them in newer blog posts they now see these blog posts for the first time!
  2. It provides more context for your current blog post. Sometimes you want to strategically limit the amount of information in your blog post because you’ve already answered some of the needs in another post. Just link to it! Done and done.
  3. It keeps your blogs concise and clean by not having 10,000 word blog posts (not like you were doing that anyways, right?). Get to the point, provide value, and jump off to another blog post to continue.

Do it!

4. Open Outbound Links Internally or a New Page, Tab

One question that I get a lot is whether one should open new links (or “outbound” links) in the same browser tab or window or force them to open a new page so that the user can essentially stay on your blog as they go explore another one.

What’s nice about WordPress is that this option is very easy to use as you use their link button:

Just a checkbox away...

What I typically advise people is to have your visitor open a new tab or window when they click links external to their own blog.

But, if I’m honest I’ll admit that I break this rule constantly – it doesn’t necessarily bother me that much if someone leaves my blog to go check out another resource and this is mainly because I personally don’t like opening up new tabs when I browse so I maintain that courtesy at times on my blogs. Sure, some “professionals” would say that I’m losing clicks and page view time but I’d rather make my visitors happy.

To each his own on this one, for sure!

5. Paid and Affiliate Links

Now some of you might actually be at a place where you are receiving compensation for linking to other properties or websites in your blog posts. First off, congrats! That’s a great place to be.

But, if they ask you to make sure that you do a “dofollow” on their link then I’d tell them politely that you’re not interested in doing that. I always do a “nofollow” on paid links simply because it’s not worth the risk of getting in trouble with search engines about having “dofollow” paid links which they’ve penalized historically.

Just tell them that they’ll get a link to their site but it’s going to have that “nofollow” attribute and be happy with it. If they’re pushy then tell them that you won’t accept their link at this time.

The same thing goes with all your affiliate links to products and services that you might be endorsing. Just make sure that they are using a “nofollow” tag and you’re good to go.

That’s what I would do. You can do otherwise if you’d like.

Anchor Text is a very important SEO Strategy!

6. The Importance of Anchor Text

The “Anchor Text” is the portion of the link that is actually clickable. For example, the anchor text for this link Digital Tentmaking is “Digital Tentmaking”.

Simple enough, right? The thing though is that this is extremely important! The anchor text determines how search engines interpret your links and how to continually classify sites. How this practically works out if that I continually link a property with a certain anchor text then eventually that keyword(s) will begin to influence search results (hopefully positively).

So, if I keep using the anchor text “Digital Tentmaking” when linking to and everyone else does it too then it is a very good possibility that when someone searches for “digital tentmaking” the results will return my blog near the top of the results.

What does this mean practically for you as a blogger? A few things:

  1. Consistency is important! If you refer to your blog and links in many different ways and with many different anchors then you won’t do as strongly with those keywords.
  2. Strategy is important! Think of the keywords that you want to be associated with and then use them throughout your properties, social media, and other websites so that search engines can begin to associate those keywords to your blog! This is so important and so effective!
  3. Coach your visitors and community to use specific keywords! I don’t do this as often as I could but some bloggers swear by it. What some bloggers do essentially is tell their community the anchor text(s) that they want them to use when linking back to them. This is a very strong strategy and could seriously increase your SEO ranking if executed well.
  4. The Anchor Text “Click Here” is a highly clicked-through link but isn’t very good for SEO. You just have to find a balance here that works for you. Sure, you’re not interested in ranking high for “click here” but you want people to click through your links, right?

Of course you can think of how this could be abused and over-used so don’t go there either. Also, you can probably think of how this could be seriously bad for someone if their anchor text is something negative like “Worst Blogger Ever!” as an anchor text. There are enough examples of malicious people creating spam websites with loads of negative anchor text towards someone they dislike to push their results down or give them a bad search engine reputation.


7. Final Thoughts

One of the best pieces of advise that I can give you comes directly from Google’s Quality Guidelines for webmasters:

Make sites for users, not search engines.

And I believe this to be true! I think it pays you back in spades when you become a link architect that thinks of your users first and then trusts that Google and the rest of the search engines will pay you back for your great work, your increased traffic and the engagement that follows.

And trust me, this happens! I’ve seen it historically and it’s very rewarding. Seek to serve your visitors and your community first and you’ll find a much more organic level of growth that’s trusted and way above board.

Stay within the good graces of the search engines and you’ll find that they will reward you well. Fall outside their guidelines and (sometimes) it will be incredibly hard to get “good” with them again, not to mention your users!

[Image via iStockPhoto. This is part of the Developing Great Blog Content Series.]