Links: Good Links, Bad Links

What Is a Link?

Link is short for hyperlink and refers to an element in one web document that connects to another section of the same document or another document on the same or a different domain. The first kind of link is equivalent to an internal reference in a book, and is called an internal link. The second kind of link is like a bibliographical reference in a book that guides the reader to a separate source, and is called an external link.

Links can appear either in running text, in which case it is generally given a separate color from the text, and a third color to reflect the fact that it has been used. A link page is a typical type of page on a website along with a Home page, an About page, a Site Map, etc. Links can be set to either replace the current page in the user’s browser or to open another page or tab to display the linked material. The second type of link fills up the user’s screen, but is less disruptive to the user’s perusal of your material on your site.

Types of Links

There are a number of different kinds of links that you should know about.

  • One-way links—these links go in one direction only.

1 —> 2

  • Reciprocal links—these links are mutual between two web documents.

1 <—> 2

  • Three-way links—A “for the search engine” set-up with two intermediate sites before the link returns to the original site:

1 —> 2 —> 3 —> 1

Link Farms and Free For Alls

Some people distinguish link farms and free for alls (FFAs) as two separate link problems. In this understanding, link farms are defined as a group of web sites in which every page is hyperlinked to every other page, often as part of an automated process and without regard to topic and theme.

This is different than a webring, which is a set of thematically linked sites, usually linked in a circular structure.

FFAs, on the other hand, are defined as (usually short-lived) sites which accept link submissions which are typically given an initial placement at the top of the list and moved down as more submissions arrive. They are noted for generating SPAM to those who sign up. It’s usually quite difficult to disentangle oneself from either of these sorts of arrangement once one has entered it.

Link Schemes

Google, however, seems to take a broader view and prefers the term link scheme to refer to any set of links that are created for no other reason than to affect search engines’ estimates of a page’s value and manipulate page rank.

This can be gathered both from the Google Webmaster Help Center article on “Link schemes” as well as from John Mueller, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst who characterized the links you want to avoid as those that either a) you would not link to if search engines didn’t exist and b) that you are ashamed of, get more information in this Google group. If the link is hidden from your visitor, it very likely falls into this category.

Specifically, Google warns about:

  • Links designed to increase page rank
  • Purchased links for any purpose that are not purposely marked with <nofollow> or in some way so they do not affect search engines
  • Links to sites run by spammers or that host any type of dubious material
  • “Excessive” link exchanges or reciprocal links
  • Other Link Issues

Although it’s name may lead you to suspect a connection with the practices described above, overlinking is actually another issue altogether. There are several kinds of overlinking:

  • Too many links in each sentence of running copy
  • Help links with little information or unnecessary links
  • Identical links repeated within a single page.
  • Links that pay no attention to the context, and so are actually unrelated.

This might happen when, for example, a link was automatically created and only covered part of a keyword phrase. For example, in the sentence:

Bill Gates is the Chairman of Microsoft.

it would be inappropriate, not to say ridiculous, to have Gates in this particular sentence link to information about Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; the city of Gates, Tennesse; or the Navy cruiser USS Thomas S Gates.

  • Links from your own sites or blogs that aren’t revealed as such, and whose main or sole purpose is to provide incoming links.

So after reading all these warnings, how should you set up links? Read the article “Successful Linking” for hints on how to proceed.