At EggCup Web Design we often get asked this question by clients who’ve seen that their competitors’ website has a an entire page dedicated to links. Some of them panic, thinking that if their competitors have this, they should have it too.
Or, worse yet, they receive an email from somebody full of disingenuous praise about their website. This person then goes on to offer to link to their website in exchange for a reciprocal link back…
Flogging a dead horse
Problem is, the links page is dead. And reciprocal links are dead too. However good the offer might seem, however well-intentioned your friend’s advice might’ve been, however well your competitors’ website might seem to be doing, do not under any circumstances create a page full of links. Google will hate it, and nobody will ever look at it.
Here are a few problems with link pages, with appropriate recommendations:
You’re driving potential customers away
Imagine you’re a shop-keeper (if you aren’t already) for a few minutes. A customer walks into your shop, and instead of having a meaningful discussion with them and building up rapport, you reel off a list of other shops: “Frank’s Fish and Chips”, “Dave’s Hi-Fi Store”, “Sarah’s Salon”.
Now that customer might well go and check out Dave’s Hi-Fi Store. But the one thing I’m absolutely certain of is that they will leave your shop. And they won’t come back.
Stop sabotaging your business. If there are any pages on your site that don’t have a topic (for example, they are nothing more than a page full of links) then those pages should not exist.
The golden rule of content creation is simple: if you’re not sure whether you should add a piece of content (and this includes links) to your website, ask yourself whether that content will create value for your visitors.
It will serve your business best if you encourage your visitors to hang around for long enough that they might turn into a customer, or at the very least come back again later. That’s a basic principle of good shop-keeping.
Apropos of precious little
Link pages lack content, and the links they contain lack context. Why should I click the link to “Sarah’s Salon”? How is that relevant to my current objective? Why are you recommending her business to me?
If any of the pages you’re linking to aren’t relevant to the topic under discussion on your page, you definitely shouldn’t be linking to them. And if your page doesn’t have a topic, see the above point.
Reciprocal links don’t work
Back in the bad old days of the Internet, it was easy to fool search engines into thinking your website was well linked-to by encouraging other website owners to add links back to your site from their websites. Usually the price you’d pay for this would be to do the same favour for them in return.
Well, no more! If you’re still doing this, Google knows about it, and it won’t be giving you a prize for it any time soon.
If you’re linking to a website simply because somebody asked you to, and they promised they’d link back, remove that link immediately.
From an SEO perspective, any link to your site that isn’t earned stands on shaky ground. An example of an earned link is one that others choose to create of their own free will, because your content is useful or inspiring and they want to share it with others.
Links that you ask for (or worse, pay for) are not earned. These are exactly the kind of links Google has been working so hard to shake out of their search results — don’t let one of those links be yours.
It also stands to reason that people who ask for reciprocal links are probably engaged in other dubious SEO practices too. As soon as your back is turned they might well remove their phoney endorsement anyway. This will leave you linking to them, with nothing to show in return.
You’re responsible for the links on your site
Back in the days when Google first emerged, it stole a march on its larger competitors by producing better search results. It did this by evaluating the links on the pages it crawled. Pages that got more links gained greater authority, and when those pages linked out to other pages, the receiving pages gained a share of that authority too.
Every time you link to another website you endorse that website. You are in effect saying “hey, here’s a great page, go and check it out”. If that’s not how you feel about the page in question, you shouldn’t be linking to it — Google, and your website visitors will consider you to be responsible for the quality of the sites you link to.
Your website will become known by the company it keeps — hang around with the wrong crowd and their bad reputation will rub off on you.
By all means you should link out to other websites; it’s very much a part of what makes the Internet work. But only link to external sites when it makes sense to do so.
For example, link out whenever you want to bring a concept or topic into a discussion, but don’t have the space to explain it, or if somebody else has already done a better job of explaining it.
Take this Moz article explaining why you should link out to other websites as an example of this post linking out to relevant, useful, and high-authority content. The above link explains a topic which is related, but tangential to the main thrust of this article.
In short, the only external links to appear on your website should be:
- Situated in context and relevant (or at least related) to the topic under discussion
- High-quality: the page explains something better than you could
- Those that employ ‘good information scent‘. Links should clearly hint at the nature of the content they’re linking out to. If I ever see another link using ‘click here’ as the anchor text…
If you’re still not sure whether your website content is hitting the right notes, and you’d like some SEO advice speak to us and we’ll see how we can help make things better.
Featured image by Kristin Wall (Own work) [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr