Links are an important part of our page. They are good indicators of what content the page authors perceive as important. As such, search engines naturally place great weight on them as well. They probably take more aspect of links into account than any other part of a web page. In general, more weight is given to keywords in a link than to those in plain text.
Outgoing links are, as just described, often the content elements that the writers think are important. They link to other sites to show that the content is important, to allow the viewer to get further information on a topic, or as a way of showing where the authoritative site for a certain topic is.
Choice of where to link, though, is important. If you have lots of links to sites that are perceived as “bad” then your page will actually be penalized. That’s why reciprocal link schemes are a bad idea for us. They gain from our trusted .edu domain, but we lose reputation by linking to them. Several links to important content resources, though, makes your site content more valuable and can even result in other sites linking to you.
One good use of outbound links is when we use the external site as an “authority” resource… our site provides valuable content but we then link to a site that is generally recognized as authoritative on specific content elements within our page. Consider making links to such trusted domains as are found on the Moz Top 500 list.
Like with keywords, links that are located higher in the page outweigh those located lower in the page. Best practice, then, will be to write content so that important links can be placed in the first paragraph or two.
You do have to be careful, though, not to create too many links. An SEO concept to be aware of is link bleeding. In general, each page’s link value is divided among all of the links on the page. In theory, then, having a large number of links can dilute the value. According to Google this shouldn’t be seen as an issue for normal content links, but you might want to consider using “nofollow” markers for things like tag clouds or links to sites that have a negative reputation. Tag clouds in particular can be mistaken for link stuffing since they are made up of several unrelated links right next to one another.
Be sure to keep your page links up to date. Broken links can be a sign of stale content and potentially subtract from your page rank.
Incoming links are a way of determining how popular your site is, and popularity implies trust. The more outside pages you have linking to your site the more weight the page will be given. As with everything else, all incoming links are not equal. Links from other trusted sights are much more important than others, and referrals from known link farms can actually penalize your score.
Building up these external links to your audience is one of the hardest parts of optimizing your site. It is not something that generally has a technology based solution. Old fashioned techniques like issuing press releases, making comments on (legitimate) blog and forum post with a link in your signature, and collaborating with peers to link to one another’s content are all effective. Care must be taken, though, to not become associated with link exchange programs or link farm marketing schemes. These can actually penalize your page rank.
That being said, the advice directly from Google is to spend your time concentrating on content rather than link building. Their mindset centers around providing good content. If you are a recognized authority and produce content that people want to consume, the people will link to it and the issue will take care of itself. Becoming the “go to” destination is easier than artificially building up links.
Structured data is becoming more and more important to SEO. Structured data is code added to the HTML markup that adds semantic meaning to your content. Search engines can pull out this added context and use it to help understand your page as a complete entity rather than a collection of individual words. Search engines can now extract this semantic data and present it as rich snippets within their return text or within the Knowledge Graph. As schema structures become more robust having some sort of semantic formatting of your pages is going to become increasingly valuable. Right now using structured data will provide an edge over those sites which do not use it. In the future not using it will be a significant competitive disadvantage. There are several types of structured data syntax, but Google recommends microformats, which are fully documented at schema.org.
Domain is generally considered to be an important SEO data point, but realistically there is little that we can do about it here on campus. We pretty much all live under the .tamu.edu domain, with some of us further having our own subdomains. This is a bit of a mixed blessing.
The great advantage that we have is that .edu domains are considered to be more trusted than other commodity domains such as .com or .net. This means that by default we will get at least a little boost for our content just because we are an educational unit. (This is also why we get so many emails asking us to exchange links. They know that links from .edu sites provide great SEO value to them while their link back to us does nothing. Please be aware of how outgoing links affect both the target site as well as your own when choosing what to link to.)
The disadvantage we face with our domain is that tamu.edu does not contain our primary university name, and we can’t change that because the ampersand (&) is a reserved character and can not be part of a domain. Having a key word in a domain is a great benefit to search returns, so consider that if you ever have a project that requires buying an outside .com domain.
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