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In my last blog, I spoke about Do It Yourself marketing for law firms and how small to mid-sized firms can take on and handle their own online marketing needs, and still be successful. Still, when it comes to online marketing, even with the do it yourselfer, there are important facets of the search engines that cannot be neglected.

In the last few years, we’ve watched Google release one algorithm update after another, leading the SEO industry to wonder whether or not it is still wise to use links on their sites. The answer is not always so cut and dry, and the line between building links and earning them may have been blurred.

In the past, when the Internet was still new, a site could simply add links to sources in much the same way as a writer makes a bibliography. Anyone who wanted more information on the topic could simply click on the link and be directed to the new site. Google would then rank a site “good” based on the number of links there were. Once that caught on, then people began creating backlinks, which started much of the confusion and controversy on links today. According to Search Engine Watch,

Figuring out ways to create backlinks became a new industry. Some purposely manufactured links made for Google search results that weren’t necessarily the best results. That’s when everything went haywire.

This left many people wondering just exactly what should they be doing with their links. To link or not to link became the question of the day.

Link Juice

If you haven’t heard the term “link juice,” this is defined as the power of equity that is transferred to a site by way of links. Each link is considered as a recommendation of the site and can be a major factor in determining where your page falls in Google’s rankings. A site’s link juice should be spread out over several pages rather than focusing on just one page (the home page for example).

This becomes a problem, however, when source information is linked from one site to another. The new site then uses the same information but does not use the original source link. If this is done repeatedly, Google may see this as being unnatural or even manipulative. While we all know that a link to the original source of the information would be of the most value to the reader, it wouldn’t serve the needs of the sites that use it. In fact, it will only serve the business if they are the original source of the information.

Why Businesses Avoid Linking to the Original Source

There are several reasons why a business may choose not to link to the original source. For one thing, there may be fear that the site they link to is better than theirs and they may be leading their customers into the arms of another business. As they explain at SEONews,

It is true that a well-known site that references content on a lesser-known site will get linked to like crazy. For example, Hubspot publishes “ultimate lists” with data from numerous sources. Bet they get lots of links and the original sources don’t. And bet some of those sources spend precious time trying to get the link redirected.

Other reasons why they may choose not to link to the original sources could be because of public policy, or they simply don’t want their visitors to click away from their site.

The Value of Links

Any business that is online will eventually come to realize that links are extremely valuable. Whether they are manufactured or organic in nature, they need to recognize that Google factors these links in determining the sites place in the ranking. It’s important to understand that there are more factors involved than just having a link on your site.

Google does not just up your ranking because you have links as it recognizes that there are many businesses that are buying links or manipulating them in order to push ahead. This means that the quantity of the link has little or no value to Google, but the quality of the links will carry a lot more weight.

Online marketing pros suggest that a website owner work to build their links gradually over a period of time and focus on organic links rather than push the envelope and force the issue. They also recommend that links come from a variety of sources, rather than a select few. Since Google actually takes the time to determine where the link is coming from and how fast a site is collecting them, they will be able to determine whether or not a link is truly organic and valid.

Google Strategy

Google has implemented a multi-angle strategy that modifies an algorithm signal based on a business’ niche. Some niches are often loaded with spam and others may be known for being highly competitive, so Google will use a different strategy to analyze these sites. Still, there are a few things you can do to make sure that the links you use will work in your favor.

First, use natural backlinks that are earned and not purchased or manipulated and focus on quality, not quantity. As they explain at Packerland Websites,

Google has redefined its definition of quality content. These days, it is not enough to post a long and unique article filled with relevant keywords. The article has to be useful. It has to illustrate example and provide video clips and infographics that entice people to share the article more.

This makes for a difficult task for the small business website to stay competitive. Google tends to favor well-know name brands creating a disadvantage in many cases. However, while it may be difficult, it is not impossible to do. Website owners need to learn to think more deeply about the quality and diversity of their sites, and be creative in ways that will make them stand out. If they do this, they will be able to sift through much of the confusion about how Google sees the links that everyone wants to add to their sites.

But they have a value that goes well beyond search engine ranking. As one programmer explains, links are for life. They relay to your visitor that a site is trusted and the information is deemed valuable. By adding links to your site, you’re not only leading your visitor to something that will solve a problem they are dealing with, but it will also raise your site a notch in their eyes.

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