Links: An Editor’s Look at How Many Is Too Many

By Alan Eggleston

How many links are too many? We are told we need outbound links, inbound links, internal links, but does anyone say how to tell when enough is enough?

Actually, there are articles on the Web, and probably the most important ones are by Google’s Matt Cutts and the Google Webcentral. Both say 100 links on a page should be a limit, although not necessary the limit. Let me explain.

It’s All About the User

To a search engine – any search engine – the user experience is the most important thing. That’s true whether you’re gauging the experience conducting a search or reading a page. So when a Google or Bing or Alta Vista index your website, they consider the experience you’re giving your user or reader. That’s true for any part of their indexing algorithm. It’s also true of gauging your links.

The Trouble with Excessive Linking

So what variables might search engines consider in the user or reader’s experience when looking at the number of links on your page?

How about the number of words? If you have few words but lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “link spamming” (or spamdexing)

How about your anchor text? If you continually use the same anchor text for links on a page, with lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “keyword stuffing.”

What about small or average amount of words, but most of your links are in lists or involve one source or one type of site, such as an affiliate marketing site? Then it can be perceived that you aren’t serving your reader as much as yourself and, so again, link spamming.

And let’s be sensible: Unless your reader is doing in-depth research on something, it’s very unlikely they will follow 200 links, let alone 100. So giving your reader 100 or fewer solid, quality links is way more important than 150-200 flimsy, low-quality links. And the search engines can tell the difference.

What Happens if You Overdo it?

The dangers of having too many links are many. An appearance of keyword stuffing may give your site the appearance of low-substance content and trigger the Google Panda filter. An appearance of spamdexing may give your site the appearance of spamming in general and trigger the Google Penguin algorithm. Too many structured links may make your site look like a “doorway page,” resulting in a penalty. Finally, there’s the whole design element: a page full of links looks less inviting and can be harder to read that one with fewer links.

A Goldilocks List of Link Criteria

What’s the “Goldilock’s Number” of links then? There isn’t a number, but there is that maximum of 100. And there is using links sensibly to serve your reader. You just can’t go wrong serving your reader. So here is what I would make sure I included in those 100:

  • At least one high quality link for each keyword early on the page with a second one at the end if possible. These are probably external links.
  • A high quality link for other important concept words on your page – these may not be keywords but may be words your readers want to know more about. These are probably external links, but if you have a site glossary they could also be internal links.
  • Additional links for keywords to separate quality external sites using different anchor text and that serves the reader understanding or interest – simply adding different links to the same anchor text can be seen as link spamming.

Example: Mulptiple articles about neutron stars using their titles or publication titles as the anchor text. Same keyword (neutron stars), different sources (various publications)

  • Make sure you link to internal pages within your site as well and include those in your numbers. They may be for major keywords or important concept words.
  • Internal links for each hypergraphic and hypertext in your main navigation, top and bottom.
  • Internal links for site subnavigation and external links to outside entities.

Example: Association sites, awards sites, universities, companies you are associated with, etc.

  • Links in sidebars or secondary articles that may be internal or external which may include keywords for this page or for the overall site such as in universal inclusions.
  • Links for headlines or article titles elsewhere on the site, often under the subhead “Also of interest.”

Count any link as a separate link, including advertising links and those double underlined links that used to be for definitions but have turned into advertising links. Those aren’t counted in your ranking, but they do contribute to site litter.

A note about design: A page to be readable needs white space punctuated by dark notes. The more dark notes (words) and blotches (lines) the eye sees, the more disorganized it is and the harder it is to read. So use bold, italic, and underline (links) wisely and sparingly. That may be the most useful guide to building links. If you have a page full of links, you may have an unreadable page.

Which looks more readable:

A page more like this with only some words highlighted and punctuated by bold, italic, and underline?

Or a page like this with most words bolded, italicized, and underlined in an effort to give importance to every single word?

Point made?

Next Up – How to Handle Trolls

Troubled by trolls? What bridge or blog or news comments section is without them? Next time I’ll take a break from optimization to take a swing at handling trolls. Join me!

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