The most important factor to improve your site’s search engine optimization (SEO) might surprise you. According to the 2009 SEOMoz.org survey of top SEO experts, keyword-rich links from other Web sites (that point back to your site) do more to bump your page rankings than any other element.
Unfortunately, getting those links can be difficult and time consuming. But with persistence, patience and some old-fashioned networking, you can acquire quality links to your site — and greatly improve your chances of ranking highly in relevant search engine results.
Why Links are Important for SEO
“Links are like doors,” says Thomas W. Petty, CEO of the Bay Area Search Engine Academy, which offers SEO workshops in Sacramento and San Francisco. “The more you have, the more likely someone is likely to walk through them.”
Links to your site, as well as within your site (from one page to another), can help search engine robots more efficiently find and then index your site’s content. Conversely, if your content isn’t included in a search engine’s index, people can’t find it when conducting keyword searches.
In addition, links to your Web pages on other sites help potential customers find you. They’re especially valuable if the link is part of an editorial endorsement of your product or service.
Search engines are also likely to interpret legitimate links to your Web pages from other sites as a vote of confidence from those sites. The more votes you get, the more likely search engines are to consider your pages important. And a page seen as important has a stronger chance of ranking high in relevant search queries than a page considered unimportant (or worse, seen as spam).
Consider Google, for instance, which has about 65 percent of the U.S. search traffic. Its search engine technology takes into account more than 200 factors when deciding how important a Web page is to a particular keyword search. Among those factors is PageRank, a patented algorithm that assigns a score of one through 10 to Web pages based on each page’s perceived importance.
A page’s PageRank score is influenced, in part, by the PageRank score of other Web pages that link to it. While some SEO experts debate the overall importance of PageRank to SEO, it still points to a larger truth about SEO.
“Good links to your site are far more important than how you use keywords,” says Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz.org, an Internet marketing and SEO consulting firm.
To see this principle in action, says Fishkin, type the words click here into a search engine. Most likely, the no. 1 result will be Adobe’s page for downloading the free Adobe Reader software (for viewing PDF documents). However, nowhere on this Adobe.com page or within the page’s HTML code is the keyword phrase click here used.
So why does that Adobe page rank number one for a keyword phrase it doesn’t contain? Because countless Web sites include a link to that page with the keyword phrase click here in the anchor text. (Anchor text is the text within a hyperlinked phrase. It’s an important place to put keywords for pages that you want to optimize.)
Keywords Are Still Key
The importance of links vs. keywords doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimize your pages with relevant keywords, as described in SEO Tips: How to Increase Traffic With Keywords. Keywords are critical to helping a search engine determine the subject of a Web page, blog post, YouTube video or other content.But keywords alone aren’t always enough to goose your ranking in a Google or other search-engine query. In fact, ranking high for competitive keywords is extremely difficult without a solid network of good-quality links pointing to a relevant page on your site, says Matt McGee, a Search Engine Land editor and search marketing consultant for small businesses.