Linking 101

Here’s a topic I’ve covered many times over the years, but haven’t touched upon in the longest time. The catalyst for writing this article came from a brief discussion with a long time friend of mine about the gripe I have with Google and my blog articles.

donut links

Truthfully, Google sometimes feels like they hate me. Many times my article don’t show up within the first 300 links on there and it irks me to no end. In those times, I’ve learned that the only time I’ll find an article of mine is when I type the entire title of the article surrounded by quotation marks (that’s how you search for anything that has specific terms in the way you want to see them).

I said to my friend Chuck that whereas Google seems to hate me, both Bing and DuckDuckGo seem to love me. I’m almost always in the top 10, many times in the top 5. Since Chuck often writes for Search Engine Journal, I wrote him on Twitter saying this might make an interesting topic to cover one of these days. He agreed with me on that, but added this one bit of perspective regarding Bing:

Quick answer – bing is using more machine learning and relies less on backlinks than G

I had to stop and take a quick breath on that one. It’s something I hadn’t remembered about Google, yet it started to make sense. They tend to believe that the relevance of websites is determined by how they stand when other people link back to them. It’s not 100% on that, as there are other ways of doing well with linking, but in general it’s the way they see things. It explains why there are so many people contacting us, asking if we’ll add a link to their site on our site. I used to make money on my former finance blog adding links to other financial sites for a small sum.

What’s funny is that this wasn’t always the case. Back in 2008 there was a website that sued the New York Times for linking to their article, which showed how little people thought about its benefits at the time. I wish the New York Times would link to anything I’ve written anywhere… as long as I haven’t committed any crimes. 🙂

In that regard, I thought it was worth the time to talk about linking again. I might link to some older articles because, as I said, it’s been a long while, and there’s not a necessity to skip out on those if they give a bit more detail than I’ll give in this post.

Let’s start from the beginning for the uninitiated. Linking is pretty much what the internet is based on. Every time you see something on a website that has an underline on it, and you hover over it and you see some kind of change, that’s a link that’s going to take you somewhere else. On most of my sites I don’t have links underlined (I haven’t totally figured out this theme yet to make that change), instead bolding certain words and topics so that everything doesn’t look overly messy. Not all sites use underlines, so I’m not the only crazy person out there.

Links are important because they help the writer highlight something that will either help the reader gain more understanding, or give the reader something else to read on behalf of the writer, or sells something. Links are good for almost everyone almost all of the time. For instance, if I was writing about marketing and mentioned the topic “branding”, I could link in that post to my article telling a story about a friend of mine and how he branded his business without having to rewrite the entire thing in another place. However, if I happened to mention an encounter with a cute dog and posted a link about a cat, just having it be a story about a pet wouldn’t work well.

Hopefully in today’s world, most people know that someone linking to your website or blog is a very good thing, especially if it wasn’t asked for. This is known as “backlinks”, or one-way links, and search engines consider those valuable because, in their minds, the site owner has deemed that content important enough to link to without requiring the person to give a reciprocal link back. So, even if the writer is using your content to help them with what they have to say, online it helps the originator of the content just as much.

The only time someone might not benefit is if they’re content is being linked with someone whose content is somewhat controversial; that’s a nice way of putting it. If you write about roses and you find your link on a hard core pornographic site, you might not appreciate it as much and want the link taken off; that “guilt by association” thing. However, people aren’t under any obligation to remove your link from their sites, and most of the time, it’s good news for you. It’s also not as beneficial when someone is stealing your content as soon as you’ve written it, but there are ways of getting those people.

External links help drive people to your site; no links, and you have to hope for your hard core visitors only. On my blogs I give people who comment the opportunity to link back to their blogs in two different ways. One, if you put a link back to your domain it’ll highlight in your name, even if people don’t immediately see it. Two, I use CommentLuv, which gives commenters the opportunity to pick from a short list of articles of theirs that they want to highlight for people to see what they’re producing.

I’m nice that way, but not too nice. If a commenter adds a separate page to their domain link, I remove it. If they had a blog article they were being linked to, CommentLuv immediately removes that once I’ve removed the added extension. I don’t like being taken advantage of; some won’t see it that way, but I do.

Links are important, and backlinks are great, but one can have great success without backlinking. Back in the day when we used to be able to track the ranks of our sites (it’s been a while), I went on a quest to find a site that had a perfect 10 out of 10. I found this one which I talked about in an article titled The Almost Perfectly Optimized Website, which is the W3C site; if you don’t know about them and you have coding questions, that’s the place to go.

The thing about them is they don’t have any external links (at least they didn’t used to), but a lot of internal links to every specific topic they talk about. They do that in every single article, which is pretty amazing and helpful. It also makes them a pure authority site that Google understands.

Another site that’s “almost” perfect is Wikipedia (I shouldn’t have to link to them lol). They have lots of internet links, and a lot of people link to them in their content. They also have external links to other information; it depends on who’s writing or editing a page to add those things, and for many topics they link to outside sources at the bottom of the page.

One last thing I want to cover is a coding difference you want to make where it concerns external vs internal links. If you add an external link, the last thing you want to do is send people away from your site with the possibility that they won’t come back. If you add this, target=”_blank”, at the end of an external link (don’t forget to add a space after the previous quotation mark), when someone clicks on an external link it’ll open another page while keeping yours where it is. You can decide to do that for your internal links if you wish, but I choose not to.

I think that’s enough of that. I’m sure there might be a lot more questions, but hopefully I’ve covered the basics for you. Let me know your thoughts if you have any.

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4 thoughts on “Linking 101”

  1. I also find that it’s much easier to rank on Bing and other “alternative” search engines. The machine learning explanation makes sense.

    Do you think that we will continue to go down the road to more AI-driven SEO? I hear that some people are writing articles using AI. We are blurring the line as to what is real anymore.

    1. I think that as long as Google’s driving the traffic to most of our sites, AI driven might not be the way to go since that’s not how they’re doing it. What I will say is that finding ways to get the word out about one’s site or blog is even more important now than it used to be. Internal linking can help a lot, but it’s hard to keep up with if you have a lot of content. It’s also hard to do alone, but I’m good with it.

  2. Google hates everybody, at least since they dropped their own “Don’t be evil” motto. Now it’s like they’re competing with Zuckerberg and don’t much care about smaller site owners at all. In fact, they don’t HATE us: We are beneath their notice and have no value to them at all. I know that’s an ego buster, but little bloggers have helped give them the impression that they are gods to us all. It has gone to their heads.

    Always do your own vanity surfing in “incognito mode.” No matter what search engine you’re on. If you’re not too lazy to do it (as I usually am), log out, delete cookies and cache, reboot your browser, and THEN do your vanity surfing. It can be eye-opening, to see the differences.

    I have my doubts about machine learning and too much reliance on it, but then again I don’t necessarily WANT any company to know me TOO well, and machine learning has serious limitations. For one thing, it doesn’t like an extensive vocabulary or complex sentence structure. It struggles with spelling errors (though it can be taught, just like predictive text or autocorrect, to guess adequately).

    I go back and forth on Google and Bing as to which has better results (your name is, well, not as unique as mine – so try searching mine, first and last, to compare the results). I actually went on the warpath twice in the last four months to get those people searcher databases out of my top results and out of my life. (Most of their info is wrong, anyway, so why bother? I don’t care if it’s ACCURATE info, but they always show about 3 complete strangers living in our house, and we bought our house brand new, so no one but us has EVER LIVED HERE. I should never play with Medicare scammers; now my cell phone’s listed as Mildred (the infamous 93 year old climber of Mt. Everest who doesn’t need durable medical equipment, Sweetie, just a little Aspercreme…) There actually IS a Mildred, and I know her address, now, but she’ll never sell her house because the house flippers are using a bad online database and I can’t get it corrected permanently.

    The whole POINT of the web was hypertext and interlinking so we wouldn’t all try to reinvent the wheel; if someone wrote a truly authoritative and well reviewed article on a thing, then we all ought to LINK to it and not bother cluttering the web with inferior, possibly inaccurate, and not nearly as authoritative information.

    We all know how well that worked out. I still think, some days, that there ought to be one Internet for the grown-ups: scientists, professionals, and people who can at least walk and chew gum at the same time, and another for everyone else.

    Then Google and it’s stupid pagerank algorithms made everyone paranoid about linking to smaller, not highly ranked sites. God forbid we share the “link juice.” Of course we still share utter crap, if it’s popular enough – Facebook’s built on the sharing of utter crap.

    Mitch, you kind of have to WORK at making links NOT underlined, as they will be by default. Look in your CSS file for styling on your A tag (also, look for hover and visited – you can change the styling of those, too). See https://www.w3schools.com/css/css_link.asp At least try to make them visually distinct, if you’re going to remove the underlining, and remember accessibility considerations for the colorblind (the old green and red color scheme was also disastrous for some folks). Be kind. While we’re on the topic of accessibility, consider adding alt tags to your images AND your links (or at least make your anchor text very descriptive), since this is what users with low vision will hear their screen readers read to them.

    I’m not always good at this, either.

    The worst kind of links are the ones that just say “click here.” FOR WHAT?

    You wrote, “For instance, if I was writing about marketing and mentioned the topic “branding”, I could link in that post to my article telling a story about a friend of mine and how he branded his business without having to rewrite the entire thing in another place.” Links are a nice acknowledgement that someone else has something to say that you found worthwhile, to add value to what YOU had to say. NOT linking – but copying their story or post – could be copyright violation!

    “If you write about roses and you find your link on a hard core pornographic site, you might not appreciate it as much and want the link taken off; that “guilt by association” thing.” I’d rather have the spurious link-backs than the wholesale copying of my writing or original images to such sites. (That’s happened; I have no qualms about getting whole websites taken off the web. I have DMCA templates at the ready.) As long as I have some control, such as the ability to replace an embedded image with one that says, “This site is run by a scumbag scammer” and change my own to something else, it’s all good.

    I hardly ever get any link-backs, anymore. It’s that selfish fear of sharing link juice, coupled with the fact that a whole generation grew up wary of links thanks to those horrid “in-context text link ads” like Infolinks. So many people don’t even bother with links. (How hard is it to simply hover and look to see where the link is going to lead?)

    I love CommentLuv. People still spam it (boy, do I miss the pro version), but something else usually flags them and drops their comments into the abyss.

    Now, now. What if I commented somewhere and left a link to YOUR blog post in my CommentLuv on others’ sites, because I thought your post was just THAT good? I’ll leave the link, regardless of where it goes, if I allow the comment AT ALL. That’s my little reward for good behavior. But you’ve got to actually BE good – you have to read the post, write a RELEVANT comment, check the little box to prove you’re human…AND leave a link to a site that’s not porn, sex, drugs, gambling, booze, or some morally questionable content – in my SOLE OPINION. You do all that, I don’t care if you’re promoting your dog’s website, I’ll allow it.

    You just sort of trailed off on your last paragraph, here, but I’m curious now what you were going to say…

    1. Ugh! I kept trying to fix that when I wrote the article, and just spent another 20 minutes trying to fix it until I realized I put the open link thing instead of the open parenthesis thing; ugh! That’s the thing about coding; sometimes we overlook the small stuff.

      I actually do all my searching in vanity mode. Using Thunderbird and a couple of addons (including turning off javascript), I can’t be tracked by search engines or other sites. Sometimes I use Brave to check things out, as once again I can’t be tracked using it. Still, you’d think if I were searching for my own content and they were tracking me that they’d show me my own sites; Google hates us all.

      I’ve been through the CSS on the WP14 theme, but I can’t find what I’m looking for so for now I’m leaving it alone. What’s funny is the line shows in the content but doesn’t show in the sidebars; stuff just loves messing with me.

      There’s no “real” keeping up with Google, so we can only do the best we can via easy things like internal linking. Supposedly some time in March Google adding something called page experience, and as much as they try to explain it it’s confusing.

      I’m also good with links to almost anywhere as long as the comment is legit. Yet, since I’m paying for it, I reserve the right to remove whatever I want to. something’s got to be really bad to make me go that far; you’ll never have to worry about it, but now I have to figure out why CommentLuv isn’t showing for anyone again… sigh… a blogger’s life is never easy…

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