Where Should Your Inbound Links Point for SEO?
External links are one of the most important factors for determining the authoritative strength—and therefore rank—of a given page on the web. Internal links, which exist on your own domain and point to pages within that domain, do pass some value (and also make it easier for search engines to properly categorize and understand the layout of your site), but external links are far more valuable because they’re considered to be third-party votes.
Unfortunately, the process isn’t as simple as accumulating as many external links as possible. To avoid and take action against web spammers, Google has a strict and complex series of rules around what constitutes a “good” link. As these rules have become more complex, some SEO experts and business owners have chosen to avoid link building entirely, though for most of us, the strategy remains both fruitful and necessary for a long-term campaign.
The source of a link matters greatly, and gets a lot of attention; for example, a link on a high-authority, national publisher is going to get more link juice than a link on some barely known site with a questionable authority. But what about the other side of the equation? Does is matter where your inbound links are pointing?
What Makes a Link Valuable
First, let’s explore exactly what it is that makes a link valuable, according to Google. There are a number of different qualitative factors involved, though we don’t know exactly how comparatively important they are because Google is pretty secretive about its ranking algorithm. Consider these factors:
- The authoritativeness of the linking domain, or how trustworthy the domain is seen by Google.
- The popularity of the linking domain, or how much regular traffic the domain receives.
- The relevance connection between the linking page and the destination page.
- The anchor text, or the text grounding and surrounding the link itself.
- The number of domains that link to the destination page.
- The variations of anchor text used across domains to link to the destination page.
- The pre-existing relationship between the source domain and destination domain (i.e., if they’re owned by the same person, any shared links will have less value).
Let’s explore these in a little more detail, with the function and necessity of that “destination page” in mind. First, we can say definitively that the authoritativeness and popularity of the linking domain are factors that have no bearing on the destination page—these factors apply no matter where you’re linking. The pre-existing relationship factor also matters little to where your links are pointing, specifically.
The most important factors for destination page consideration, then, are the contextual relevance between the source page and destination page, the anchor text used for a link, the variations of anchor text used for a link on other domains, and the number of other domains linking to a given page. Evaluating these factors, we can come up with a short list of basic rules regarding your selection of destination pages for link building:
- Your chosen page must always be contextually relevant to your source page. For example, you could link to a specific blog you’ve written on a given topic rather than simply linking to your home page to get some extra relevance power.
- Your link should be embedded in text that is relevant and descriptive of the content on your destination page. The more variations you use for this, the better.
- The more domains that link to a specific page, the higher that specific page’s authority is going to grow. You can use this to your advantage in a few different ways.
Exactly how you implement your strategy is up to you, but you’ll be served well to keep these rules in mind.
One strategic option is to direct the majority of your links to a handful of pre-selected pages. This funnels extra page authority to those specific pages, giving them more of a chance of ranking (and more earned referral traffic, too). Once you’ve selected your specific pages, you can pre-select sources that are relevant to those pages, and allocate most of your time toward supporting them with new domains. Of course, if they’re high-quality pages, they should be able to attract links on their own as well.
Overall Domain Growth
An alternative option is to focus on the growth of your overall domain, rather than any specific pages within that domain. Here, you’ll focus on building as many links to as many pages as possible, incorporating every page of your site eventually as part of your strategy. Diversity is key here, which means using as many different sources, anchor text snippets, and destinations as possible. Each page will get less page rank, but your entire domain will stand to benefit.
The Bottom Line
The biggest requirement for a chosen destination page in an inbound link is its relevance to the source page you’re building it on. Beyond that, the pages you choose to link to are up to your strategic vision. If you want to focus your strategy on building overall domain strength, it’s a good idea to diversify the destination pages you use throughout your strategy, possibly emphasizing root navigation pages like your home page. If you’d prefer to route more visibility, authority, and traffic to specific individual pages of your site, favor them on multiple domains. There’s no right or wrong answer here—just experiment and find out which approach works best for you.
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