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Why do we need links?

Hypertext links are the system that allows internet users navigate from page to page. In fact the invention of the hypertext link is the reason we have the world wide web we use today. Without links, every page would be an isolated document stored on a server computer somewhere in the world. With links, isolated documents can be formed in to websites, and search engines and website directories can show lists of links, and in effect the internet has become the domain of the link.

Why are links important in SEO?

When we talk about SEO, we mean how best can we promote a web site by maximising the power and impact of each web page, so that each page is as high as possible on keyword search results. By carefully controlling how we link between our pages we can improve the ranking of all our web pages and sculpt how this web page ranking is passed from page to page.

Despite the structure of any well constructed individual web page using unique text content, unique title tag, keyword distribution etc., it is the keywords in the anchor text of links pointing at that page which is the main criteria used by search engines to rank that page. All other aspects of SEO are merely a tiebreaker when it comes to search engine optimisation. Just to repeat: the anchor text of a link pointing at a page is the most important aspect of how that page is ranked by search engines.

Ensure you cover all possible combinations of keyword phrases within the anchor text of your internal links. For example a Google search for the keyword phrase 'Liverpool SEO' returns a different set of results than the same keywords reversed as 'SEO Liverpool'. Therefore only by linking to your pages using both versions of the phrase can the power of each keyword phrase be passed throughout your website.

How can we use links to maximise our page rank?

By creating carefully positioned text links with relevant keywords in the anchor text of every link, the maximum search engine impact can be achieved. There is one very simple rule we must first note: only text links have any SEO value. Links created with images, Macromedia Flash, JavaScript, web form dropdowns etc. are generally not indexed by search engines, and therefore those links are not followed, and the page to which the link points may not even appear in search engine results.

One other minor point, you should always use absolute URLs in links, which means the full web address of the web page including the 'http' and 'www' component, as the destination of the link. Although your server will know where you mean to point a link with a relative URL, you should give the search engine no doubt about the links destination and use an absolute link.

You must then decide what are the main keywords we wish to target on any web page, and use these keywords in the anchor text of the link pointing at that page. For example if the page we wish to promote is about 'carriage clock repairs' this is the anchor text we must use. For example, here is a link with both an absolute URL and keyword rich relevant anchor text, to a page that also has a very relevant page name:

<a href="">carriage clock repairs</a>

To further improve the power of this link we should also use it in context within the page. By placing the link inside a paragraph of relevant text, the search engine will assign even greater ranking power. This link could be best used as follows:

We have a range of servicing options including <a href="">carriage clock repairs</a> for antique and period timepieces from all watch and clock manufacturers.

Compare this with the following example of how not to link and how not to name your pages:

<a href="option1.html">Click here</a> to get your carriage clock repaired.

SEO tip for free? Please don't ever use the words 'click here' as your anchor text.

Creating link menus.

Most websites have a list of the most important pages in a menu prominently across the top or to the side of all the pages on the site. These are the most important and most used links and pages. In these cases space will often be at a premium, and the amount of anchor text may not be all you need to pass on the keyword ranking. Additionally this menu will usually contain a link back to the home page.

The first point to note is, as this is a list of items, you should create the links as an unordered list. This gives the links more context, as the search engine then knows it is a list. Although you may not want to have your menu of links formatted as a list, you can easily use CSS to change the appearance of the list and style the links in any way you need. There are many tutorials on the internet describing how to do this.

Sculpting page ranking using no-follow attributes.

Secondly, you may choose not to use this list as a way of sending page ranking to these pages. By including a no-follow attribute inside any link you can effectively hide it from the search engines. Of course if you use a no-follow attribute on any internal link, you must ensure all of your pages can still be found via other routes through your site. One possible method is to use several keyword rich anchor text links in the text of your home page to direct search engines to different parts of your site, and continue the method of pointing links to other parts of your site with keyword rich anchor text links in the text of each page. It is important to note here, that search engines will generally only follow the first link they find from one web page to another, even if there are several versions of the same link on each page.

For example the home page link found at the top of this site is no-followed. This link only contains the word 'home', something we are not targeting. However in the page footer on many of the pages is a link back to the home page containing the anchor text 'seo web designs'. (This is just like name dropping, might as well practice what we preach and add a home page link in here.) Not ever page has this link, as we are sculpting the page ranking across the site, and need to ensure search engines adhere to our tiered structure.

Use an HTML sitemap with full keyword rich anchor text links and contextual surrounding text.

One technique to sculpt with no-follow is to have an ordinary HTML sitemap page of links, as used on this site. The menu of links at the top of the page is mostly no-followed, but with definite links to the sitemap page scattered throughout the site. The sitemap is then used to give context to the links on the next tier down, complete with one or two sentences of text for each link as well as keyword rich anchors. We can then direct the page ranking directly at the most important second tier pages complete with the keywords we are targeting on that landing page.

Ideally therefore, every single link on your site you wish to use to pass page rank to the receiving page, the destination of that link, should have relevant keyword rich anchor text contained within a surrounding context of related text. Go back to the 'winning website designs' page (the link is at the top of this page as we do not want to repeat it), and study how the link to this page sits within the context of that page.

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