Strategic Web Usability

Quit Hogging All The Links!

Ever since Google made links the official currency of the internet, we in the web development community have gotten greedier and greedier. We want to grab up as many inbound links as possible without giving away any of our precious outbound links. This is my 4-part plea for why all of our link-hogging is bad for us and the internet:

Web 4.0 - The Linkless Internet

1. Links Built The Internet

When Tim Berners Lee and pals created HTML, it was made up of two important ideas: (1) the "HT" or HyperText, and (2) the "ML" or Markup Language. The markup language made it possible to adapt documents across many platforms and systems, but the simple hypertext link was also revolutionary. The hyperlink allowed us to make non-linear connections between documents, letting us jump across the vastness of the internet nearly instantaneously to reach information. Without links, the internet would look a bit like my diagram above*.

2. Linking Out = Linking In

It's a simple fact: there's no such thing as a one-way link. For every link into your site, someone else has to be linking out to you from their site, and the only way to build a new inbound link is to create an outbound link. Call me a hippie, but you've gotta give link-love to get link-love.

3. Links Are Useful

Here's my usability plea: links, used well, let people reach valuable information. If a resource is worth mentioning, then it's worth linking to, and if it's worth linking to, then that link shouldn't be nofollowed.

4. Links Get You Noticed

Finally, if nothing else works, let me appeal to your vanity. Many of us, especially bloggers, keep track of who's linking to us and follow those links back to find out more about the source. Linking out is a great way to get noticed by people who might not otherwise pay attention to you.

Update (August 5): In the great-minds-think-alike category, Rand at SEOmoz just posted some more good arguments for linking out.

Update (August 8): Another good post on this subject that apparently predated both mine and Rand's by a couple of weeks: Do you want links? Then link OUT!

* 100 bonus points to anyone who can name all 8 screen-shots**
** Bonus points have no cash value or any practical benefit whatsoever

Tony Sirois (tbonemalone)

 · Tuesday, July 29
Interesting post, but I think the Google's view on links is that they are votes. Like you're saying votes aren't free look at the presidential race. You have to give something a link (but not necassarily a link), money, good content, a refrigerator or something I haven't even heard of yet.

I'm really interested in the bonus points. I've got 7 out of 8.
1. Your web site UserEffect.com
2. Twitter
3. Amazon
4. SEOmoz
5. Facebook
6. Ebay
7. Yahoo

The one that's got me stumped is the yellow and black one? What site is that?

Bonus points idea: whoever can get all 8 sites their bonus points should get them a link from your site to theirs. What do you think?

Dr. Pete

 · Tuesday, July 29
@Tony: I didn't mean to suggest that we all revert to link exchanges and that it's a one-to-one proposition, just that we've gotten a bit out of hand when it comes to hoarding and no-following links.

Nice work on the guesses. I have to admit that the last one is a bit unfair; it's a reasonably popular site but my personalized home-page for that site.

As for giving a link to the winner, I guess you're going to make me practice what I preach, huh? :) I'll seriously consider it. I do follow blog comment links after the first 24 hours, but I admit that my blogroll is a little sparse.

David LaFerney

 · Tuesday, July 29
1. User Effect
2. SEOmoz
3. YouPorn

That's all I recognize. But no kidding, remember Before Google (BG) or even before AltaVista when web sites had lists of links to other sites just because they thought they were cool, and it was the only way to discover stuff? You couldn't really find anything, but just surfing around was amazing.

We've become a bunch of money grubbing greedy bastards.

Present company excepted.

Dr. Pete

 · Wednesday, July 30
@David - There was something kind of fun about just clicking on links and hopping from page to page. Of course, I'm not suggesting we go back to the days when every site had a "Links" page with 10,000 sites listed on it in 6-point type.

You got two right, but there's no YouTube or porn in the eight. Tony actually guessed the 8th one offline.

David LaFerney

 · Wednesday, July 30
No, I wouldn't want to go back to that either, but I would like to see links freely given for their own merits and in the interest of the users. That would be cool.

Dr. Pete

 · Wednesday, July 30
@David - Amen. You took the words right out of my mouth.

Steven Bradley

 · Saturday, August 2
I hear you Pete. At first I think it was people hoarding PR and more recently PR sculpting might be making people afraid to link out. It's all so ridiculous not to link to other sites though.

If I ever think my readers would find another site useful I'll always link to it. It makes my site better to do that and does help attract the attention of the other site owners. I'll even go as far to say if you link out to sites Google trusts, then Google might also trust you a little more.

David LaFerney

 · Sunday, August 3
I wonder. Are there any Scientifically Documented ill effects of "normal" linking out? Or is the evidence that you lose link juice by doing so really just anecdotal?

Dr. Pete

 · Sunday, August 3
@Steven - That's exactly my feeling: I'm not going to load the site up with links just to get attention, but I'll link to anything that I talk about (unless I'm talking about it in a negative way).

@David - I think there's some evidence of dilution, but it's pretty minor, and probably insignificant when we're talking about normal linking patterns, like linking to a couple of resources in a blog post.

Jeff Manson

 · Tuesday, August 5
I am in the camp that links are good for the internet and the user (links built the internet). Great way of finding other resources and cool sites! If you can link to a site that will be beneficial to your user and that source has better information than you can provide, it is definitely a good thing to do :-)

Julia

 · Thursday, August 7
Hi, I'm so happy to see this kind of article and the comments it's getting. I speak mainly as a blogger, but a blogger who came on the web from a purely literary/humanitarian side and back in 2006 knew next to nothing about the web, SEO, the benefits of links, etc. There have been some really cool projects I've taken part in as an online publisher, and I know for a fact that one of the reasons to that is how I use the blog. It's not a place where I brag about myself, it's the way to give people information about whatever I chose to write about, and links are essential for this. At the same time, I have recently had a short argument about whether and how a company blog should or should not link out. By looking at the stats for my blog, I see how useful people find many posts exactly because they follow the links, and they keep getting back to those posts. Without turning the spotlight on myself I can only say that when it is relevant and appropriate there should be no question "to link or not to link". And it's not even about "links build the internet" thing, which is correct anyway. :-) As we know, today's web is more and more conversational, and if you link out appropriately and relevantly, it's easier to get in-links. There are other points I can think about, but this is just the main one. Thanks a lot for your article.

Dr. Pete

 · Thursday, August 7
Thanks, Julia. I think "relevant and appropriate" says it well. Linking or not linking can be done to excess, if you only do it for strategic reasons (e.g. traffic). If you link to resources that are relevant and appropriate, you'll rarely go wrong.

Erik Cunningham

 · Thursday, August 7
Amen. I followed a text link from SEOmoz to get here!

Regarding "nofollow" links, I think they are appropriate for directories that allow people to add and edit their own URLs. They help protect the directory from linking to bad neighborhoods but still help the user.

Dr. Pete

 · Thursday, August 7
Thanks for visiting, Eric. No argument on nofollow - it was introduced for good reasons and has its place. Like anything, it shouldn't be used indiscriminately, and I make every effort on this blog to follow links from commenters.

Gregor

 · Saturday, August 9
Hi Pete,

Thanks for the link (proof that vanity and link love works!)

Cheers,
Gregor

Dr. Pete

 · Saturday, August 9
@Gregor - No problem, I sincerely enjoyed your article and thought it was a great complement to this one. I also thought you deserved a little credit for being the first one on the "scene" :)

Jim Connolly

 · Friday, September 5
Nice post and some great, informed comments too.

I have three blogs, two with a page rank of 5 and one, jimsmarketingblog.com which is just a couple of weeks old.

The two blogs with a page rank of five, link out all over the place and I have not bothered doing any kind of seo with them. They are just 4 months old. One of them, thetechnewsblog.com also gets stacks of hits.


Thanks for a great post!

Jim Connolly

Both the

Hayden Dell

 · Friday, November 28
Dr. Pete,
I love #4, there is no question that I look through my Webmaster Tools links about once a week to see who is linking to my site. Oftentimes I discover great new content by seeing who is linking to my content.
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