Links are important, but did you know that the ranking impact search engines give them depends pretty heavily on where they appear on your site? Whether you’re putting together a new site or are improving an old one, give this a read first.

Link strategy to avoid penalties for your SEO

Visibility Matters, Except For Images

Smaller fonts, anchor text further down the page, in sidebars, or areas where the text is less in focus are not weighed as heavily as larger, clear text in obvious place. Areas that are not weighed as heavily include navigation links, sidebar links, footer links, etc.

Furthermore, image links in general don’t seem to carry quite as much impact as text links do. This is an extension of something else that’s been true for a long time, that wrapping images in header tags is spammy and carries no benefit.

Images are a great way to visually break up a page, and an image’s alt tags can be beneficial. But images should be an augmenter to your page, not seen as a major ranking source for keywords.

Multiple Links To The Same Thing

When there are multiple links to the same URL on a page, value to that page will only be weighed from the first link. Since navigation links carry less impact than body content links, this means that if your body content links to a page your navigation already links to, you probably won’t receive the impact that a link solely from the body content would have.

With this in mind you might want to be a bit more strategic with which things you link to in pages and blog posts, or maybe even which things you include in your main navigation menu. (Less is often more there anyway.)

And speaking of repetition in links…

Anchor Text of the Links

This isn’t exactly related to where your links appear, but is relevant enough that if you’re learning about links you need to know this, too.

Basic SEO advice tells you to include keywords in the anchor text of your links. But like anything, doing this too often can actually penalize you. Folks like Matt Diggity have thoroughly tested link variations, and he generally recommends a breakdown like this:

  • 50% of your links as brand links (your name) or straight URLs
  • 25% broad topic anchors (that your keywords would be subtopics thereof)
  • 15% generic anchors, like “click here” or “learn more”
  • 10% keyword and longtail anchors

For most folks, keyword-rich anchors are probably 90% of their links, and notice how in this recommendation those are a mere 10% of what you should be aiming for. The key takeaway here is that your links should appear natural. Google rewards pages and articles that genuinely serve the user, so place them the way that seems useful and clear without being self-serving.

Footer Links

Links in the footers carry significantly less weight than elsewhere on the page. This may be because folks have abused footer links for years for ranking, but likely also because it’s an afterthought.

Keyword-loaded anchor text in footers appear on every page of your site, meaning there are a lot of instances of it. This can seem spammy to search engines, and as tempting as it can be to build keywords in the footer a lot of SEO folks agree it can line you up for one of two things:

  1. A penalty for that keyword.
  2. Google may ignore or devalue the links altogether, neither penalizing nor helping you.

For further learning, check out Moz’s Whiteboard Friday on page links and how they affect SEO.