Archive for June 23rd, 2011


Contextual Links for SEO

Getting backlinks to your site is probably the most difficult, time-consuming, misunderstood, pain-in-the-ass task associated with search optimization, yet widely considered to be, ultimately, the most important single element to a successful SEO campaign. We’ve talked before about the mechanics of acquiring backlinks and the kinds of places you try to acquire them from. Today, we’ll get into a notion that is frequently misunderstood and even more frequently mis-applied.

The contextual backlink

A contextual backlink is simply a link that appears inside text. Let’s see an example.

Are you moving to or out of Eugene, Oregon? Store your extra things in a heated, secure facility. Specializing in environmentally controlled storage, RV storage, boat storage, moving supplies, and all your Eugene storage needs.

Of course, the link, Eugene storage, is contextual. Why do we care? Because Google seems to really like contextual links, as if they believed such a link is more likely to be naturally placed than a link that looks like:

Eugene Storage
West Eugene Heated Storage

Grants Pass Storage Facility
Click here

This type of link works especially well in blogs—and you might have noticed that now almost every damn blog you encounter is literally stuffed with them. Look at this blog excerpt from TechCrunch:

Contextual links example 1
Anything in green text, whether underlined or not, is a link. The red dots on the right edge are my marks indicating lines containing contextual links. I see eight in this post alone. Some of them might be considered useful, like the link for “soundcloud integration” as somebody might conceivably be interested or curious in that topic. But really. A link for “existing arrangement?” That link has nothing to do with anything except some small SEO boost for somebody who most probably paid for it.

We’d have to call that sort of contextual linking SPAM. The sad thing about it is, is that the scheme actually seems to work. That’s just the thing ComDex (remember ComDex?) was doing to boost JC Penny’s ranks on thousands of keywords.

Just ’cause it works don’t  necessarily make it right.

Still, contextual links—when applied in a responsible manner—can be very helpful for the reader, as well as for the search performance of the site being linked to.

Here’s example of some contextual links that are a little less spammy.

Warehouse management troubles cost American wholesalers millions of dollars per year. It’s a pity, because there are a host of technological solutions that could be employed. For instance, a complete inventory management system using RFID hardware combined with warehouse management software could reduce costs due to lost inventory.

In the above paragraph, the contextual links lead to pages that might actually be useful to someone reading the article they’re embedding in. They are also clearly links, and the link text is descriptive enough that a reader would know just what she’s clicking on.

One last note about contextual links. You can easily use CSS to make contextual links disappear into the text—no blue color, no underline. Don’t do it. For one thing, it makes them pretty useless as links. For another, more important thing, when Google finds them they will know without question that your intention was to fool them.

And it’s not nice to fool mother Google.