Inserting Keywords into Links for SEO

By Peter Kent

Keywords in your pages are very important for SEO. But keywords outside your pages can also affect the page results. That is, the keywords in links pointing to your pages are very important.

If you have hundreds of links around the world pointing to your site, with the words rodent racing in the links, then search engines will get the idea that your pages are somehow related to rodent racing. It actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Google reads those hundreds of sites and gets a darn good clue regarding what your site is about. In effect, Google has recruited site owners to tell it what other owners’ sites are about.

Link text, in geek terminology, is known as anchor text. The link tag is an <A> tag, and A stands for anchor. Thus, if you hang around in geek company, you may hear links referred to as anchors.

Now, wait a second. This is important. If a link pointing to your site can describe to a search engine what your site is about, you’d better do all you can to make sure the link says what you want it to say! It’s in your interest to get the right keywords into the link.

A you browse the web, you’ll see that many links provide relatively little value to the sites they’re pointing to. Sure, a bad link is better than no link, but a bad link could be better than it is. Here are some of the problems you’ll see:

  • Image links, including buttons or banners linking to sites: Search engines can’t read images, so they’re not getting keywords from them. (You should add keywords to the ALT attributes in the image tag, but search engines may not value ALT text as highly as link text.)

  • Links containing words that are not useful keywords, such as company names: In most cases, company names don’t help you in search engines. Use the keywords your potential visitors and clients are using.

  • Combinations of descriptions and click here links: For instance: For more information on rodent racing — rats, mice, gerbils, and any other kind of rodent racing — click here. Wow, what a waste! All the keywords are there; they just have no link! Remember, click here links are a total waste of hyperlink space.

The Googlebomb lives

Just how powerful is putting keywords in links? Well, consider the Googlebomb.

The most famous example is the miserable failure Googlebomb from back in the years 2004 to 2007. Back then, if you searched at the major search engines for that term, the #1 result in all three was President George Bush’s bio page on the White House website.

This feat was accomplished by a small group of people using links in blog pages. Despite the fact that this page contained neither miserable nor failure, and certainly not miserable failure, a few dozen links with the words miserable failure in the link text were enough to trick the major search engines.

Eventually, Google bowed to criticism and changed something to ensure that the president’s page no longer appeared in the search results. Yahoo! and Bing did not make this change, at least at that time, so this particular Googlebomb, paradoxically, only worked on Yahoo! and Bing.

It’s unclear what Google did to remove the George Bush result. It says that it “came up with an algorithm that minimizes the impact of many Googlebombs.” Nevertheless, Google didn’t completely throw out the concept of using keywords in links to tell it what the site is about. In fact, its statement suggests just that. It “minimized” the impact of “many Googlebombs”; it didn’t completely stop them.

How can you be sure? Well, try this. Search Google for the phrase click here; what comes up near the top? The Adobe Reader download page. Why? Because millions of pages around the world have something like this:

The following PDF document can be read with Adobe Reader. To download it, click here.

Go look at that page; “Click here” doesn’t seem to be anywhere inside the page. Yet it’s in the top three (#3 right now, #1 in the past) for that phrase. It’s the power of links!

Clearly, the way Googlebombs work has changed over time. In any case, though, the fact is the basic principle behind Googlebombing remains valid: Putting keywords in links tells search engines what a referenced site is about, and the more links with keywords the better.

Here’s the ideal combination for links and the pages they point to: The keywords in the link match the keywords for which the referenced page is optimized. If you have a page optimized for the phrase Rodent Racing, point links with the words Rodent Racing to that page.

PageRank versus Keywords

So which is more important, PageRank or keywords in the link? Well, they’re both important, and the ideal link is a high-PageRank link with good keywords. But here’s an important point. Many in the SEO business will tell you that low-PageRank links are worthless, but that simply isn’t true.

Keywords in links are very valuable because they directly tell the search engines what the referenced page is about. So even low-PageRank links, if they have good keywords in them, can be valuable to you; and high-PageRank links without any keywords are also a good thing.

Get a good mix

Although you can’t always get what you want — high PageRank links with great keywords in them — that’s not so bad. You need a good mix of link types. You want your link profile to look natural, not like it’s the product of a highly efficient SEO-based link campaign.

You want a variety of keywords in your links, not all of them using the exact same keywords. You want some follow, some nofollow; some text, some images; some from blogs, some from social-network sites, some from news sites, and so on.

Don’t worry too much if all your links are not perfect. Having all the same kind of perfect links doesn’t look natural and may cause search engines to downgrade some of the links.