Business Website Link Protocols - dummies

By Jan Zimmerman

It has become standard operating procedure to have a page for external (or outbound) links on your business website. Often named Links or Resources, this page displays reciprocal links and convenient links to sites with additional information.

Google, which incorporates outbound links as part of its algorithm for ranking search engine results, prefers sites whose outbound links demonstrate a broad relation to cyberspace. The better structured your own links page, the better the offer you can make when you request a reciprocal link from others. To help structure your links page, try to follow the principles described in this list:

  • Limit the number of external links. If you have more than 50 or 60 per page, organize them by topic and start another page.

  • Summarize the content of your links. Insert one line of text below every link for its summary.

  • Include educational (.edu), government (.gov), and not-for-profit (.org) sites among your outbound links, even if they don’t link back to you. By adding objectivity and credibility, these links generate goodwill among your customers and extra value toward the Google search engine ranking.

These principles are visible on the links page for Wanderlust Jewelry, shown in the following illustration.

[Credit: Courtesy of Wanderlust Jewelry]
Credit: Courtesy of Wanderlust Jewelry

Links from your site that originate on a regular text page are even more valuable to offer, but you don’t want to draw visitors away from your message and calls to action. Think about internal HTML pages where outbound links might appear without distraction, such as testimonials, success stories, client lists, or lists of retailers.

Generally, you can link to another site without obtaining permission, as long as the other site appears independently. Occasionally, you’ll come across a site such as Forbes that requires permission. (Use the request form on the site.) This situation is unlikely, except with large corporations. If you aren’t sure whether you can link, look around a large website for the media, legal, or public relations section for directions.

Don’t open other sites within a frame on your site without prior permission from the owner of the other site. (Frames aren’t search engine friendly — you shouldn’t use them anyway.) Don’t make it appear in any other way that someone else’s content belongs to you.

Some external sites might refuse to link unless your link page is accessible from the navigation, not just from other pages. That’s your call. You can easily include a Links or Resources page in your site index at the beginning of the development process.

If the page is an afterthought, decide whether it’s worth the cost and hassle to modify the navigation. As a simple alternative, include the Links page as an option in a linkable footer.

After you start a link campaign, your inbox might fill with requests from other sites asking you to link to them. Evaluate every one strategically for the value the link brings, such as a high Google PageRank or your target audience. You’re under no obligation to post other links unless you have promised reciprocity.

Be leery of requests from sites that ask visitors to vote on your site popularity, charge for links, or otherwise get you in trouble with search engines. Some of these are truly scams: They return afterward to ask for payment, similar to the way fake yellow pages bills are sent in the mail.