Which is better? On-topic links or off-topic links?

The Importance of Links to SEO and Inbound Marketing Success

Being Found Requires Having Been Found

It’s ironic, but if you want people to find you via organic search, it’s important that other people have already found you.

Google has a concept of “search signals” which are the 220+ factors that are used when ranking websites on a SERP (Search Engine Result Page).

For more information on SERPs and how they’re formatted, click the link in the prior sentence.

I’ve learned from personal experience as well as the personal experience of others, that there are two search signals that are much more important than all the others.

They are:

  1. Having strong search friendly title tags (more detail on that is provided below).
  2. Being linked to by other relevant websites.

Search and People Friendly Title Tags

Although the focus of this post is links, I did mention the importance of title tags, so it seems proper to elaborate.

In your title tag about 62 characters are displayed in the SERP. However the length of the title tag field is 110 characters. I did not figure this out myself. Evan Bailyn of FirstPageSage did. He conducted some experiments specifically to answer this question and found the limit.

There are two aspects to a good title tag.

Search Engine Friendly Title Tags

What you want here is that the title contains A LOT of words that people search for, either individually or as part of phrases, where no words are used twice (ideally) and the title reads well to a person.

Bear in mind that while a person sees only about 62 characters, the search engine bots see the entire title.

People Friendly Title Tags

In view of the fact that long titles are more search engine friendly, but get truncated after 62 characters or so, make sure you put the most important words on the left.

An Example

Let us assume you wish to construct a title to attract people who are interested in Inbound Marketing, Lead Generation, SEO, etc, etc.

The SEO Benefits of Strong Title Tags for SEO Success and Lead Generation via Inbound Marketing

Is a good SEO friendly title. No words are repeated and it contains many of the keywords you wish your post to be found for. However it’s 95 characters long. This is what is will probably look like in the SERP:

The SEO Benefits of Strong Title Tags for SEO Success and Lead …

Alternatively it might look like this:

The SEO Benefits of Strong Title Tags for SEO Success and …

The point is the words you most want to be seen by people must be on the left so they appear in the SERP.

Back to the SEO Importance of Having Already Been Found

The other really strong search signal is the aggregate of what websites link to pages and posts on your website. What matters is both quantity and quality.

It’s Called PageRank

PageRank is THE original search signal, from the day when there was only one search signal.

It is so integral to how Google ranks webpages that the first name of the search engine was BackRub.

The name was changed to Google about a year later.

Within the PageRank algorithm:

  • Every webpage on the Internet is assigned a numerical value based on the value of the links which point to the page in question.
  • Every link is assigned a numerical value based on the value of the webpage the links originate from.

The higher the PageRank value of the pages on your website, the higher they appear in the SERPs.

Below is a video of Matt Cutts of Google describing what PageRank is and how it works.

Not All Links Are Created Equal

While you need links to the pages on your website in order for them to rank higher, some “link building” practices became forms of Web SPAM over time, and Google updated to algorithm to no longer use those links.

A specific example of this is people brought up sets of webservers that were nothing more than huge directories of outbound links. For a fee, you could buy hundreds of links from these “link farms” and artificially inflate the ranking of your site.

So while PageRank is still a critically important search signal, some links help while other links hurt.

How do You Properly Build Links Today?

The recipe is really quite simple and it’s a two step process.

  1. Publish articles and stories you are proud to share with others.
  2. Ask others to share them.

Share of course means “link to”.

The way you know if your posts are good or not is are other people willing to share them. If they are, they’re good. If they’re not, they’re not.


Being found requires having been found. Proper link building as described above is a necessary part of obtaining a high ranking for your website. It is conceptually similar to priming a pump. You exert some energy to get it started before it runs on it’s own.

Learn More

Check out Inbound Marketing University

Download the eBook: The 7 Fundamentals of Being Found Online

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  • Cynthia Klein

    Reply Reply December 9, 2014

    I was always thinking of making my title short as I do for my magazine articles. You gave me great insight into the best length. Thank you so much Kevin.

  • Marina

    Reply Reply December 12, 2014

    So you want to create links to reputable sites. Asking people to share your articles makes sense. What about sharing links to other people’s articles? How do you know if they’re “reputable”?

    • Kevin Carney

      Reply Reply December 13, 2014

      Please clarify. What do you mean by “sharing links to other people’s articles”?

  • Marina

    Reply Reply December 15, 2014

    Well, the video cuts off before he answers his own question: “what does it mean to be reputable?” You want to ask other people to share your stuff and you want to share theirs. You need to relevant and reputable. How do you verify that you are linking with someone reputable?

  • Pat Dwyer

    Reply Reply December 15, 2014

    Ok, got it. Great info, thanks. Titles are important and also great content that other sites will want to link to.

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