Links vs. Content: A Needless Debate

What do you need to focus on to give your website a high ranking in the search engines, content or links? When working on your site’s search engine optimization, there is only one correct answer: both. Wayne Hurlbert explains why.

Search engine optimization experts are often seen as roughly divided into two camps regarding the relative importance of links and content.

Some experts recommend employing a powerful linking strategy to boost a website in the search engine return pages (SERPs). The other theorists suggest that keyword rich content is king in the quest for high search engine rankings. Both sides of the debate consider their choice to be the main key to unlocking high placements.

A third concept suggests that both content and linking strategies are equally essential to achieving top positions in the SERPs. That idea is more likely the best one for most webmasters to employ.

As with an automobile, you need good tires and a full tank of gasoline  to travel any great distance. Remove the tires, and your full gas tank won’t get you very far. By the same token, a brand new set of tires isn’t of much value if your car is out of gas. The same theory applies to content and links. Both approaches are needed for strong search engine results.

You want your website to rise to the top of the Google searches for your chosen keywords, right? Why settle for one policy, when you can employ two good ones in tandem, working together?

To begin with, you need lots of keyword rich content.

If you aren’t sure what a keyword is, it’s simply a word or phrase someone would enter into Google’s (or any other search engine) search box. For example, if you are in the travel industry, your main keywords would revolve around travel, destinations, airlines, cruises, and so forth.

To go back a step, high rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs) are the end product of what is known as an algorithm. It’s simply a mathematical formula that varies from search engine to search engine. The algorithm focuses heavily on your incoming links, your website title and description, your scripting and coding, and your on page written content. While there are many more factors than that (Google says well over 100), an important consideration is the keywords in your written content.

Search engines love content. Period.

The more content in your website, the better the search engine spiders will like it when they come to crawl your site. To make your content even tastier for the spiders, you need to use your targeted keywords fairly liberally on the page. In other words, sprinkle your content with the terms people might be searching for, and they will find you!

You can go keyword overboard with your keywords by keyword covering your keyword page, but that keyword idea is a bit of keyword overkill. Get the picture?

It also might backfire, as keyword “stuffing” is considered likely to be frowned upon by the search engines, and you might be penalized. A penalty is never a good thing. Being sent to the back of the search results is not something you want to happen. Use some logic and common sense in your approach to using keywords.

It’s thought by some experts that about  three to four percent of your words should be your various keywords for good search engine optimization. That is simply a guideline, however, and you don’t have to strictly follow that rule. As a density level, the guideline is designed more to prevent overt keyword stuffing of the page, rather than to create optimal keyword density.

In fact, the amount of keyword saturation is a debate in and of itself. It is generally thought that Yahoo and MSN Search tolerate much higher keyword densities than Google. What you do need, however, is to optimize your search terms, by using them freely throughout your page content.

Keep your visitors in mind when writing your on page copy. Gaining high search rankings are of little value if visitors leave the page immediately due to unreadable wording. Think in terms of conversions into customers and clients, and focus less on the raw visitor numbers. Write for your visitors and not for the search engines.

If possible, fit your chosen search terms into your site’s title, description and URL. After that, place them in the headlines of your articles, and highly positioned on the page, whenever you are able. If you can put them in bold lettering, that emphasises their importance to the search engines as well.

When you write your content, be sure to use your targeted keyword(s) on your pages. In longer articles, you can slip them in as phrases two or three times. The search engine will calculate them to be important search terms for your search. As a result, your site should rank much higher for those words.

Be sure to include page topic relevant keywords in the title tags of each and every page on the website. Resist the common temptation to use only the company name as the title tag. If the business name must be used, place it after the relevant keywords in the title tags.

For really competitive keywords, where the search results return well over a million well optimized entries, it is recommended to optimize for only one keyword or phrase per page. Don’t spread your page too thinly in highly competitive searches. Focus your efforts!

Use your chosen search keywords early and often.

Your site will rise higher in the various search engines.

Good content will also attract many one way incoming links…

Keyword rich content will get you part way to your destination atop the search engine results. If you are seeking to gain high search engine results for highly competitive keywords, content is perhaps not enough on its own. The King needs help.

Every King needs a Queen. In this case, the Queen is links.

You want your website to rank highly, and content alone is not enough. Your site needs a good linking strategy to add incoming links to your valuable content. You should also consider linking out to good quality sites that are of help and of interest to your visitors.

With newer algorithms thought to be taking link context and site themes into consideration, you will want to be sure your linking policies take them into account. Consider the needs and requirements of your visitors first, and you are unlikely to go wrong.

Search engine algorithms not only consider the number of incoming links, but also their quality. It is thought that links from websites with a similar topic or theme to yours will carry much more weight than links from highly dissimilar sites. Some thought has also been given to the value of linking out to sites with closely related themes.

In establishing what could be considered by search engines to be an “authority site,” a website’s linking structure is very important. A group of links to and from sites on the same topic as yours would go a long way toward establishing an authority site. It is thought that such sites will be given strong placements in the search engine results.

Make certain as well that your site maintains a strong ratio of incoming links to outgoing links. For every link going out to other sites, be sure to have several websites linking into your site.

Incoming links increase your website’s Google PageRank, which is the measure of the relative importance of a Web page on the Internet. A higher PageRank gives your site a boost in the Google algorithm. While PageRank is only one factor in the calculation, it is part of the algorithm, and therefore requires some consideration.

For off page linking benefit, it’s considered good practice to use theme related anchor text to lead to your site. The anchor text should be some targeted keywords specifically directed to the page being optimized. By aiming different keyword anchor text toward different Web pages, the possibility of an over optimization penalty can be removed entirely.

While SEOs disagree as to the extent of the algorithm working against too many keywords used too often as off page anchor text, it’s easier to be safe than sorry. Varying the keywords in the off page anchors should help to eliminate that problem.

Don’t neglect your internal site linking. When placing a link to another Web page on your site, be sure to use link anchor text relevant to the receiving page. While the link popularity value might be fairly weak, the development of an overall relevant site theme is very important. Internal linking through sitemaps and page to page links help in that regard, as well as assisting visitors to easily navigate the site.

Since you can control the on page content of your website, it is tempting to let King Content rule the Kingdom alone.

Content alone may be enough to gain high search engine rankings in lightly contested, and perhaps in moderately competitive keyword situations. In more highly competitive keyword searches, however, a single content only policy may not be enough to win the first page on the results.

On the other hand, it is wise to avoid a strategy that considers only the Queen, and emphasizes links at the expense of content. You will not get the full benefit from the search engines either, because the algorithms consider both links and content to be important.

Working with the strong content idea, links will be naturally attracted to your site. Be sure to not be too passive, and expect sites to simply link on their own. An active recruitment tactic will bring in even more links to your site.

A strong search engine optimization strategy will consider both links and content. There is no reason to ignore links for content or vice versa. King Content and Queen Links working together as a Royal Family will get your website to the Palace, in the form of high search engine rankings.

Let the King and Queen work in harmony for you.

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