The secret life of links

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Written by Chris Hirst. Posted in Internet Marketing and Search on 18 April 2012.
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According to popular belief,  links pointing to a URI only serve one purpose, and that is to promote a website through the ranks of the Internet search engine, though mainly Google results which area also known as SERPs, which is an acronym of Search Engine Results Pages. While this ranking factor is true in some part, it is also misleading in how it is perceived. It is NOT the links themselves that help to promote the ranking position of a URL, it is the words in the anchor text that used for the link. The link itself simply acts as a pointer or a conduit to the URI where the anchor text weight is to be passed to.
 Anchor text is so called because the H.T.M.L. code <a href="URI">text</a>, is called an anchor element so it naturally follows that the text that appears as the "hyperlink" is named 'anchor text'.

First off in the secret life, is that links can and do drive direct traffic (visitors) to your pages, yep, that's right PAGES, not just to your website root document URL (the 'home' page) but to ANY document URI that you want to bring attention to (promote).

In actual fact, this is what your prime motivation should be when "link building", that of gaining traffic and increasing the visibility of your pages, it is really not necessary to "build links", to gain rankings, to increase visibility and/or visitors. You can cut out the middle man (search engines) and increase traffic, sales, visibility, public awareness, etc. without trying to find links that are "quality", "authority", "important", SEO 'friendly'  or any other of verbs that are used to describe them. By garnering links that send direct, interested, also called pre-qualified traffic or visitors it really does not matter whether search engines consider the "good" or not. If these links also help to boost the position in the SERP for any particular word or phrase then it is a bonus.

Link building in this way also removes the concern of outbound links from a URL being restricted in any way, such as using a 'nofollow' for the rel attribute, or by adding a meta robots element with a nofollow directive in the document head section or even having the URL blocked in "robots.txt". These restrictions only apply to search engines and instruct them how the link should be handled by their systems, they do NOT apply to  users visiting the URI where the link is placed and clicking on the anchor text to visit the URI that is the target.

These restrictions deserve an explanation here:

Robots.txt is a text file placed in the root URL of a website and serves to indicate  exclusions to the website structure that compliant 'bots' are not allowed to visit and index.
The meta "robots" is a directive to search engines applied at document level by the site operator/owner to inform them whether to index the document or not, the "NOINDEX" value, and/or whether the links pointing OFF the document should be used for "URL discovery" or pass any 'value' to the target URIs "NOFOLLOW". The default behaviour of search engines is to assume taciturn permission has been given and they are to index the document and 'follow' the links, ("INDEX, FOLLOW"), so the directives are for exclusion only.
The rel (related) attribute of anchor elements is the lowest granular level of applying restrictions and is used to instruct search engines that a single instance of an anchor element should NOT be used for used for passing anchor text value along to the target URI, it does not indicate that the link should not be used for URL discovery, just that no value should be gained by the target URL from that link.

As you can see from this, there are NO methods to indicate to, or instruct search engines that a link should be followed, or that is HAS to be used for passing value along the path to the target URL.
By the way I keep saying 'URL/URI' instead of 'page' simply because it is URLs that search engines index and show in their results, not 'pages', if a document can be accessed by two or more unique URLs all those URLs may be or will be indexed as duplicates and link pointing to the duplicate URLs will not 'count' towards the preferred URL called a "canonical", and of course in the secret life of links there are several ways to deal with URI duplication as well.
One is the "Canonical link element" <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/" /> to be used in the <head> section of the document, the rel attribute is set as "canonical" and the href attribute should be the preferred (canonical) version of the URI. According to the head of Google's 'webspam' team,  Matt Cutts, this is not a full directive, but a signal or a hint that will be "honoured strongly" by the indexer. This is the simplest to implement the others require server side intervention and will depend on other factors not related to this article.

So, moving on to the true value of links, that of promoting and advertising your document URLs to potential customers or readers is where anchor text is at it's most useful. What words you put in and around the link is going to determine whether the document viewers are going to click on the link and visit your website documents. You should not get bogged down with the "most important key words" so-called advice, the anchor text should be a "call to action" in marketing parlance which means "words  or phrases that urge or challenge the reader to take the route or the action that you want them to take.

Thinking about exchanging links with another website owner?? Click Here to see the how and the why!

You haven't got any "key words" in the text but you have put a message in front of the reader, which is far more powerful than Link Exchanging? or Reciprocal Links? You have TOLD THEM what they have to do in order to read the document, and left them in no doubt what the document is about.

Looking at links from a user aspect gives you FAR more scope and flexibility in where you build links, how you get them and how you word them, and of course having a well worded link designed for humans, looks FAR less 'spammy' than a "key word" link does so are less likely to be rejected or deleted by a site owner.


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