From its beginning, the Web has given us access to resources via hyperlinks. At the time, that was a revolutionary way to connect people to information. Now, we take them for granted and might not be fully aware of how links play a central role in a website’s visibility. The fact is, all other things being equal – graphic design, usability, branding – the website with the best links to and from it will rank higher than its competitors .
Link strategy tips to set the stage for a vibrant online presence
What can a web designer do to influence a site’s links? Quite a bit, as it turns out. A web page has three basic types of links: Inbound, external and internal. As a designer, you control the internal and external links. And while you cannot control the inbound links – who links to the site you build – you can lay the groundwork for amassing links from other good websites.
Provide reasons for other sites to link to the website: Supply resources they value
Links to your site – called inbound links or backlinks – carry the most weight in a site’s online presence, yet do you ever think about them, let alone include them in your project plan? Without links, the website is virtually invisible on the Web. Without links, your client is going to wonder why nobody can find the site.
Attracting links is the reason content marketing is so popular, yet content does not equate to blog posts. Use your creative talent to dream up new ways to engage people: Explore what people need and enjoy using, and make the site interactive. Anticipate what gets visitors truly excited – so they feel compelled to share. Your ideas can add value to the site…and the joy you have in creating it could be contagious.
A website for a spanking new company also needs a short term assist, to get at least a few inbound links. Start by claiming the business in reputable directories (see Directories and Citations for help). Link to the site from social media profiles and professional/accrediting associations…wherever the client rightfully owns a spot.
Link out: Add external links to materials that your website visitors want
Facilitating discovery is what the Web is all about. Whatever you do, never make a web page a dead end! By anticipating what visitors are interested in, and by directing them to high-quality source materials, users become enthusiastic about your site. If this strategy seems counter-intuitive to your client’s desire to capture visitors and convert them to customers, help them see that visitors willingly return to the websites that are the most useful to them.
Use internal links: Show how each page relates to every other page of the website
Establish a clear hierarchy with the website’s navigation, so the people who use it quickly find what they are looking for, and the search engines that crawl it detect which pages are the most important. Make sure all of the essential information is within two clicks of the homepage; don’t make people work too hard, or you risk losing many of them along the way.
Use internal links: Guide visitors to the next relevant page
You know the type of visitors you would like to engage with, and you know the website best, so anticipate their needs and help them progress through the website by linking to another page. They will appreciate your suggestions to get to the next logical place. Keeping people on the site means they will learn more; longer time is a signal to search engines that the site is useful.
The one big caveat to link building: Not all links are equal! The goal is to connect with individuals and organizations whose association supports the website’s high-quality profile. A stellar online presence occurs when the site earns links from influential people. When you attract authoritative connections you will have taken web development to a new level.
Previously, since links play such a crucial role, a common ploy in SEO (search engine optimization) was to buy links and use “link farms” that supplied hundreds (or thousands) of links quickly. Don’t do that or you risk putting the site’s health in jeopardy. (Google explicitly says that buying links is a violation of its policy and that offending sites could be penalized.)
Does developing a link strategy mean a project will take longer? Perhaps at first. But when you get in the habit of incorporating this concept of connected purpose into the project from the beginning you will find that it directs the website’s priorities. There are billions of pretty websites; what distinguishes a successful site is the way it connects with everything else on the Web.
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