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Linking is one of the most inherent components of the Internet, and a foundation in business blogging. A solid network of links will help strengthen your content and, when done right, will show the search engines that your content is rich and relevant.

There are three kinds of links I want to address this week:

1. Incoming Links are the links that point to your site from other sites;
2. Outgoing Links are the links you create that lead to other sites;
3. Internal Links are the links you create that point to other pages on your site.

Incoming links from other sites are a strong indication of your site’s popularity, and help spread the word as well as improve your search rank. Obtaining incoming links has become an industry gold rush and there are many companies out there working to arrange link exchanges wherein ‘they will provide a link to your page if you provide one to theirs’. Avoid these; they are not always relevant and Google warns against this practice saying ‘It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links.’

The best ways to obtain quality incoming links is to:

  1. Publish great content that compels your readers to share;
  2. repost links to your social networks such as Facebook and Twitter;
  3. distribute news and announcements, including links, to appropriate news sites; and
  4. participate in relevant discussion forums that allow you to post your URLs.

Outgoing links are also a ‘quality first’ endeavor. Think of these links as you do your personal reputation. Consider how the people you hang out with influence your own reputation; if you are hanging with a ‘bad crowd’ you’ll be considered to be ‘one of them’ by other observers. If you hang with the science club and play with the chess club in your spare time, people might think you’re smart.

Your outgoing links are essentially ‘the people you hang out with’, and will influence your online reputation. When creating outgoing links, consider these three guidelines:

  1. always link to sites that are relevant, or in other words are talking about the same things you are, or are extending the same conversation or providing related reference material. Linking to a site that is not relevant to yours is like shouting ‘peanut butter’ in the middle of a conversation about waterskiing – it is distracting and disruptive, and will be seen as negative by your readers and the search engines;
  2. try to link to credible sites that are ranked higher than you are. For instance this might be an article about hyperlinks in Wikipedia, or a link to an article about link exchanges on an established news site such as CNN.com. Always work to link to sites that will improve your online reputation and lend more credibility back to you, either by their established presence or by their page rank;
  3. link to other sites from relevant keywords. This will help your readers understand the purpose for the link, and gives the search engines a starting point to measure relevance.

Internal links are a great way to strengthen your content. Any time you can relate one post to another it’s a good idea. Linking from a new article to a previous post that provides additional background will give your readers a more comprehensive experience while they are on your site, and gives the search engines a network of links to substantiate relevance within your content.

Internal links are one of the big reasons it’s important to understand how to come up with differing topics while staying on focus; the more you can connect your content, the stronger it will be for your readers and the search engines.

Finally, I want to discuss a few technical tips for creating links on your business blog. I have come up with the following guidelines that will help you get more mileage out of your links:

  1. Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number‘ says the Google Webmaster Guidelines. While there is no definitive number of links to restrict to for any given page, you won’t go wrong to keep the links to a minimum. A good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to one link for every 200 words. Of course there are often reasons to add more, and this won’t hurt if you are making sure they are relevant and unique.
  2. Make each link in a given post unique. Avoid linking to the same page from the same keyword more than once. Your readers will be able to spot the link easily in your text, and the search engines don’t need to be told more than once about a link to another page from a specific keyword. Duplicate links are unnecessary, and will be penalized by the search engines. However it is appropriate to link to the same page from different keywords within your post; this reinforces relevance within your site and demonstrates to your readers that the other page contains additional relevant content.
  3. Be complete with your linking structure. Take the extra minute to add an appropriate title to your link, and to identify whether to open the link in a new window or the same window. Search engines look at link titles and tags to measure relevance, and this is a great way to add a little SEO boost to your pages. My rule of thumb when opening links is to open a new window when I am leaving the site, and to open the link in the same window when they are linking to another page on my site.
  4. Finally; make sure your links are going to stable, lasting pages. Dead links are a detriment to your site and you’ll want to check around occasionally to make sure all your links are still connected to the right pages. If you find a dead link, remove it immediately or redirect it to an appropriate page.

Formatting links may seem like a daunting task, but it is very important to the structure of your site and critical to your SEO. Take a little extra time to make sure your links are formatted correctly and that you are keeping them relevant and reasonable.

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