Welcome to another post in the Content Creator Basics series. Here, we’ll share our go-to tips for flexing your freelance writer muscles—whether you’re writing content for someone else or for your own blog. Check in each month for more tips to sharpen your online content writing skills.
Links are an important tool for sharing information. But if they are under- or overutilized, you could run into problems. Here, we’ll talk about the dos and don’ts of using links responsibly so your blog content and websites gain more SEO clout from Almighty Google. This advice applies whether you’re writing content for yourself or for someone else.
Following the Anchor Text Dos and Don’ts
Anchor text refers to the word or phrase we highlight when we put a link in an article. Linking on a keyword or phrase often looks better and heightens the post’s accessibility, especially when compared to linking a long URL.
For maximum readability, use anchor text responsibly. Here are a few basic dos and don’ts.
1. Anchor text should have a clear tie to the cited information and the resource.
For example, if you’re citing a statistic, the link should ideally be over the statistic and not another irrelevant phrase in the sentence. Here’s an example:
No: “For the majority of online content, it’s ideal to write at a 7th- to 9th-grade reading level.”
Yes: “For the majority of online content, it’s ideal to write at a 7th- to 9th-grade reading level.”
2. The cited information should be easy to find on the next page.
If someone were to breeze through the linked article or use the search function to find the statistic, the fact should be easy to find. This is an easy way to raise your authority as a writer because you’re citing a reasonable source and you’re saving your readers from a rabbit hole of information.
3. The anchor text shouldn’t be negative or biased.
If anything, it should be as unbiased as possible, especially if you’re producing content for another client and linking to their webpage. Thus, a link to someone else’s website shouldn’t be overly negative or promotional. Here are some examples (we’ve bolded the words where you would insert the link):
No: Residential plumbers can solve all your problems for free.
Yes: Residential plumbers can diagnose and fix common problems with your pipes.
No: It’s hard to trust lawyers these days.
Yes: It’s hard to know where to turn when you’re being sued, but a lawyer might be able to help.
You’ll notice that the issue here isn’t the anchor text but the surrounding sentence. If possible, ensure you make statements that apply to the industry as a whole and soften your language. For example, you could say a new roof is “an investment” instead of “expensive,” or a service could be “budget-friendly” instead of “cheap.” The trick is to tell the truth without overpromising or putting your client in a bad light.
4. The anchor text shouldn’t be spammy.
If you survived the years of spam emails from distant rich princes, then you likely know what a spammy link looks and sounds like. When putting in a link, do so responsibly. The information you’re citing should be helpful or at least worth the click. It’s disappointing to see a statement that promises an answer or a solution, just for a link to lead to something unrelated.
Using Outbound Links
Outbound links are resources that take readers away from your website. So if someone reads your blog and clicks on a resource, they leave your whole website and go to a different one.
It’s safe to say that a statement that needs additional support or that is not your original work deserves an outbound link. Conversely, a point that is easy to Google is considered common knowledge and doesn’t need a source. Otherwise, the entire text would be blue and underlined, right?
Google algorithms generally encourage outbound links. In fact, the more outbound links there are pointing readers to a website, the more that Google could see a website as legitimate. That’s how websites earn the coveted spot on a first-page Google search. But the links must follow the dos and don’ts mentioned, or else the website could be flagged as spammy. Google won’t shut down the post, but they won’t bump it up for relevant readers, either.
To find the balance, use consistency as your guide. Rather than using one blog post with say, 20 outbound links, churn out 10 blog posts with two outbound links each. Google tends to favor earnest content that is meant to serve the reader, so the blogger who consistently posts weekly or bi-monthly will likely get better traction than the blogger that puts all their outbound links in one basket.
This principle doesn’t quite count for listicles; if you were to write a post about 5 books you would recommend, it’s still wise to have 5 outbound links to those books or authors. However, consistency, like the slow and steady tortoise, will help you set expectations with your readers so they trust that your links are meaningful and helpful.
Using Internal Links
Internal links keep people within your website. However, these links take them to another relevant page. The most common example is a link from a blog post to a contact page, services page, or another relevant blog post. Internal links can be especially helpful if you’ve created a blog series and readers need to read all the posts to understand the full concept.
Google can track how long someone is on your site—and the longer someone is on your site, the better. You can keep readers on your site by writing pertinent and relevant content and adding internal links so readers stay on the website a little longer.
However, littering your blog posts with too many internal links can come across as spammy. Try having one internal link per post, unless you’re adding links to the rest of a series like in the earlier example. Or, if a post has a huge announcement, it’s appropriate to add multiple opportunities to click the same link. While we want links to be user-friendly, we don’t want the reader to feel tricked into giving us clicks.
Using Affiliate Links
Affiliate links are links to a sponsor’s website—often the bread and butter of bloggers and influencers. Usually, the blog owner earns compensation or free products if they encourage people to click the link and visit the sponsor’s website. They may earn additional money if their referral buys something from the sponsor.
These types of links can make or break your readers’ trust. Most blog writers write a brief disclosure at the beginning of the post. These warnings generally read something like, “This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the links, I will receive XYZ compensation.” They explain their intentions with the post so the readers don’t feel tricked into a scheme.
For WritersDomain content, we don’t add affiliate links. However, we do take care to ensure that if outbound links go to a competitor’s website, they don’t go to a product or services page. We avoid the appearance of sponsored links whenever possible because the content is meant to focus on industry insight, not sponsoring products.
Auditing Your Links
It’s silly, embarrassing, and unhelpful to have broken links in your posts. These are either incomplete URLs or links that have since been removed or renamed. Check important links every once in a while to ensure they work. Doing so is as simple as checking important blog posts or pages and clicking all the links to ensure they take readers to the right place. Working links means your readers can trust you more and your content is professional.
At the end of the day, we use links to show off our expertise. We’ve all read articles with no cited sources or far too many. It’s likely that your gut can tell you how many links are considered just right. The principles listed here may shift or change over time, but the overall key still stands: stay true to what you know, cite your sources, stay consistent, and build trust with your audience.