If you read about search engine optimization or SEO, you will come across people talking about links or hyperlinks. Links are important for SEO, but I bet those articles didn’t take the time to explain what they are and why you should care. So, let me explain it to you.
What is a link?
A link is a clickable (or touchable) snippet of text that connects two web pages together on the internet. When you click on a link, your web browser takes you to whatever web page that is linked from that text. You can have different types of links such as text links or image links, but the fundamental idea is the same. You click on a link and you go to a different web page.
What is a hyperlink?
A hyperlink is the exact same thing as a link. It’s just a fancy word for link. I guess you could say hyperlink is the proper name for links. But people shortened hyperlink to just link and so if you hear the word hyperlink, just know that it’s more jargon for the word link. Nothing more complicated than that.
How do links get me traffic?
Everybody wants traffic to their web site, but without links, there is no way for people to show up to your website. Think about it for a second. If you don’t add a link to your Facebook page or twitter profile, people have no idea how to get to your web site. So, at a fundamental level, links are a way for people to navigate the internet and make it to your web site.
Why are links important for SEO?
The value of links in search engine optimization come down to people and how they reccomend things. Before Google or Bing, search engines relied on the content of a page to decide what is the most important page to show up for a search query.
This worked well when you didn’t have a lot of pages on the internet because there might only be 100 pages on the internet about some topic. So, at that time the search engines only had to find the 100 or so pages related to a particular phrase like “running shoes”.
As the internet grew, it became harder and harder to decide what pages should show up for certain searches. Imagine there are 10 search results on a page. Yet there are 100 running shoe companies with 1,000 different types of running shoes. How do you decide which 10 pages are the most important?
In real life, you see what your friends bought for running shoes. You go to the store and ask the shoe salesman about the different types of running shoes. You read Runner’s World Magazine to see what their product reviews of the latest running shoes are. All that boils down to human reccomendations.
Google realized this. They came up with a clever way to use human reccomendation to find the most important pages for search queries. They used links.
A Link Is A Reccomendation, A Link Is A Vote.
To get a link on the internet, some other person needs to link to your page from their page. However, a link contains two pieces of information that are valuable to google - a URL and the link text. The link URL tells Google where it is linking to and the link text tells Google what you are linking to the page about.
Here is a concrete example. I’m go to link to Nike’s website for running shoes. By doing that, I’ve made a reccomendation to people who click on that link. I'm basically saying I think that page is worth visiting if you are interested in running shoes.
In many ways, you can think of a link as a vote. When you link to something you are sort of ‘voting’ for that content to rank higher for that term.
In general, the more human reccomendations for a web page, the higher Google is going to want to rank that page.
Don’t Stuff The Ballot Box
Notice that I said links are human reccomendations in the same way that votes are? When links stop being human reccomendations, they start being seen by Google or Bing as not genuine. Non human generated reccomendations are seen as being like stuffing the ballot box.
When you hear about a site getting a penalty on Google, almost every case is about what google might call “unnatural linking”. I would call getting links that aren’t human reccomendations. You can get a few of those links. But if you get thousands and thousands of them, it starts to look an awful lot like stuffing the ballot box or getting votes from dead people or cats.
Human Reccomendations Are The Future
Google used links because they were the best human generated reccomendation system they had at the time. For the most part they are a reliable way to rank web pages. Moving forward, there are going to be more types of human reccomendations that Google finds and uses to rank sites. You might hear people talk about social signals being important for search engine optimization. That is what they are talking about.
A Facebook like, a Twitter follower, an Amazon product review, a Yelp review, a Google+ like or follower. Those are all different types of human recommendations. While all of them will be gamed over time, genuine recommendations from people will form the basis for how Google, Bing, or any other search engine rank things. And, more broadly human recommendations are how people find products in real life, not just on the internet.
Get Human Reccomendations
So, what is a link or a hyperlink? It’s a way for people to find your web site on the internet from some other page on the internet. Also, it can be a kind of reccomendation for a web page. The more links that you have pointing at your website coming from legitimate reccomendations and trusted resources, the more traffic your website will recieve.
If you have other questions about links or online marketing in general, please fill out our contact form. We will answer your question as quick as we can.
Article posted on February 13, 2014
Top image by: smemon