Links: the good, the bad, and the ugly—Part 1 (SEM 101)

Lord Alfred Douglas once said, “All good poetry is forged slowly and patiently, link by link, with sweat and blood and tears.” He could have just as easily been talking about high-ranking websites (had he known about them — his quote pre-dates the 1920s!). The way to search engine optimization (SEO) success is neither fast nor simple (not that it has to be hard, though). But the accumulation of valuable, relevant, inbound links from authority sites to your site is a sure-fire way to improve your site’s ranking with search engines.

Links are an oft-misunderstood commodity in the world of SEO. Do they matter? Sure, if you want to rank highly in search engine results pages (SERPs). The rank of two sites on the same topic offering equally good, original content will be differentiated in the SERPs by the inbound links they get externally, and to a lesser extent, the outbound links they make to external sites.

Just to be clear, we’re talking about external inbound and outbound links to pages on other websites, not intra-site, mailto, or scripting links. Let’s take a look at what makes some links good or bad.

Endorsements

Think of links as a de facto endorsement. When you link to a site, you are endorsing that site. A site that links to your site is endorsing you. These links implicitly state that, “I, webmaster of my site, believe the value of the content at the site I am linking to will be useful to my customers.” That’s optimally why sites link out to one another, which is a good thing.

If you don’t feel you can endorse the quality of the content at another site, you shouldn’t be linking to them. And you shouldn’t seek links from sites who’s content is not worthy of endorsement, either. After all, you probably wouldn’t endorse Charles Manson as citizen of the year, and I doubt you’d want his endorsement, either. That would be bad.

Relevance

Frankly, when seeking an endorsement with an external, inbound link, the theme of the site you want to link to yours should be relevant to your site’s theme (or at least relevant to the theme of the page you want linked to). Same goes for those external sites you link to. Relevance is key to lending credibility to both your site and the other site, regardless whether it is an outbound or inbound link.

Instead of you thinking like a webmaster who’s trying hard to manipulate your search engine rank, just for a moment, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Will they really benefit from clicking on that outbound link? Will they learn something new that is relevant to the current page they are on? To illustrate this point, let’s say your site is all about women’s fashion and you have a page on how to select the right handbag. Linking to relevant pages on sites like Chanel or Jimmy Choo would be a useful strategy. The key point is to enhance the customer experience that starts with a search query, includes finding your site, and then going from there. If your site facilitates that process, that’s good!

Here’s another angle: let’s say a back-alley thug walks up to you in the parking lot of a funeral home and says, in a menacing way, that he knows of a great restaurant that you needed to try. That endorsement seems wildly out of place because of the context. And would you be inclined to respect his recommendation? Probably not (especially after he’s gone!). So this is bad.

Quantity vs. quality

This is a leading misconception among many webmasters. They naturally assume that if one inbound link is good, ten are great, and 47,500 must be fantastic! All things being equal, that might be true, but it is very rare that all things are indeed equal. Just go and try to find 47,500 high quality sites that are relevant to yours. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Instead of making the mistake of focusing on quantity, you’ll be far more successful if you focus instead on quality. A small number of highly relevant, inbound links from sites with solid reputations can do more for you than a ton of junk links. Attempting to boost the quantity of inbound links by artificial means, such as link exchanges, is old-school thinking. That’s bad.

Relevance is the word today, and that helps distinguish the quality of links. If you run a local restaurant and you get an inbound link from a site that sells Internet marketing services, do you really believe that will influence potential customers to dine at your restaurant? Probably not. But what if you got a link from a well-respected foodie blog or restaurant review columnist? Now that will likely make a lot of folks sit up and take notice. That’s really good! Search engines understand this and take this into account in their rankings.

There’s more

The list of factors that go into determining what makes links good or bad is extensive. And when things are done with the intent to deceive search engines, things can quickly turn ugly. We’ll continue this discussion in Part 2 of this post later in the week.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to post them in our SEM forum. See you again soon…

– Rick DeJarnette, Bing Webmaster Center

Join the conversation

43 comments
  1. Anonymous

    Hi

    Would it be possible for the "webmaster" section to have "webmaster tools" – as well as any comment that is appropriate?

    Regards

    Lloyd

  2. Anonymous

    I found your part on endorsements very useful since I never really thought about endorsements as a part of good SEO.

    Thanks,

  3. jackin

    WOW! What a great fact you told in this post that "Relevance is the word today, and that helps distinguish the quality of links" It's a superb post that every SEO should read because it will help them to gain nice SERP's. It is better to have few relevant links than to have unlimited unwanted unrelevan links.

    I am awaiting for the second part of this post! ( hope 2nd part will cover how to get or search relevancy links)

  4. Anonymous

    Erm… your SEM Forum link doesn't work

  5. Anonymous

    I think the theory behind inbound links and endorsements is great. All the more, relevance has always been a major factor in SEO. Mix that in with the substantial desire and effort to obtain qualified traffic, and you can build your online presence organically. Who cares how big your grapefruit is.. if it tastes good, size is not an issue to me.

  6. Anonymous

    This is interesting to hear coming from Bing.

    I've been saying since the launch that Bing is a vast improvement over Live and this article helps endorse that belief.

  7. Anonymous

    I gotta say, it's kind of funny that you link to Charles Manson's wiki page and the root URLs of Chanel and Jimmy Choo while telling people to do the opposite.  You're joking, right?

  8. oguzozi

    hey,

    This is interesting to hear coming from Bing.

  9. Anonymous

    Wonderful article indeed, thanks to the writer for such a nice and informing piece of word.

  10. killtest

    thanks very much. it is very useful.

  11. rjsnobhill

    Great article. One comment: when considering a link, try the website several times to be sure you don't get redirects. For 6 years I worked on an Internet zine, Fashionlines.com, and some pretty scary websites popped up sometimes  when we hit it. – Ann Seymour

  12. rickdej

    Thank you all for the feedback! I updated the SEM forum link in the post. As for the question on Webmaster Center tools, you can find them at http://www.bing.com/webmaster/.

    Rick DeJarnette

  13. Anonymous

    Will a good inbound link to my homepage also improve rankings for other pages on my site?

  14. Anonymous

    Quite interesting to see a search engine being so open and insightful.

    Although I would agree concetrating on quality is important, it is good to make sure you have a natural profile – and this undoubtedly includes weaker links as well as stronger ones.

  15. Anonymous

    Thanks for this post. Looking forward to learning more about SEO and bing!

    @businessethos

  16. malji_nidjo

    Great post. I allways searh for more and more link exchanging, now i konw where is mistake. Thank you i hope that we have more posts like this one,

    Regards

    Majice

  17. Anonymous

    I've found out that links play a big rule in SERPs, and improving its quality seems a hard game.

    For this post, are you saying that every SEO should focus on quality link building?

  18. seoworkgroup

    I like ur idea of endorsement……

  19. Quality Directory

    This is important for every site owners, especially the SEO firms that use Black Hat methods to try to manipulate search algorithms. At the end the bad linking methods will not produce the desired result, at least on the long run.

  20. miauw

    Very nicely explained.

  21. luke.sarker

    Please give example in article

  22. Anonymous

    Yeah right.

    Great SEO article.

  23. panther45

    Again very helpful,if you notice at the top of my site there is a button with share on it. Hopefully people will use this to create or recommend links on my site. Its a free feature, it also tracks who gives you the links.  www.top100hotsexypromdresses.com

  24. Anonymous

    thanks very much. it is very useful.

  25. woodzebay

    This makes sense and is something that I've been saying to individuals on various other SEO related forums. Thanks

  26. karadagli_61

    thanks

  27. Anonymous

    hey,

    This is interesting to hear coming from Bing.

  28. autotoolshop

    Thank you for this article. I wish Bing can index more pages and update more often.

  29. spackindia

    thanks for the article about linking,will help us a lot.

  30. royhunters

    Thanks for a great search engine! We wish you the best!

  31. Anonymous

    This is very useful information; thank you!

  32. webdigger

    Seems real time results are becoming ever more important.

  33. alain.foussat

    Very interesting post. It's good to read about the ugly side of links building. However efficient it might be, down the line link building is a form of manipulating search results (whether we like it or not).

  34. tobto

    it will be interesting to know how 'relevance' urls are important in age of social activity with twitter, facebuk, etc,..

  35. allen.nick715

    Nicely return, you are very correct do quality links. 1 quality link is better then 100 spamming links.

    I read your all post's they are very informative.

    Thanks.

  36. renewantivirus

    This article will save my efforts and time to create link building everywhere ahahahaha. Now then i only realize my little mistake

  37. blue234

    Interesting take on quantity versus quality. I agree quality is more important than quantity. However I wonder how "relevance" works in the case of an article directory when there are over 500 categories like in the case of http://www.abcarticledirectory.com . A link to an "accounting" site is just as relative as a link to a site dedicated to "writing".

  38. bridge0116

    All good poetry is forged slowly and patiently, link by link, with sweat and blood and tears.

    it indeed!

  39. x-trem24

    I try now to do some SEO for bing too. SEO is a big topic.

  40. sudip_cal

    great info there buddy

  41. cellhub

    Really Thanks for this great information, Rick.

    Thanks Again!

  42. Free Online Education

    Seems, Link forums is still not working..!! Can someone please reup?

Comments are closed.