If you run a small business, you have a lot on your plate. Not all of those things have to do directly with the core services or products that your business provides, of course: As a business owner, you’re well aware that you have to worry about payroll, taxes, maintaining your business space, and other business-side tasks just as much as you need to focus on making widgets or serving customers. That’s what business is all about! Still, some of the things that business owners end up having to worry about can seem just plain strange. Take internet links, for instance: Those little hyperlinks are absolutely essential to the future of your business.
It’s not just links, of course; web marketing and search engine optimization (“SEO” for short) are bigger than hyperlinks alone. But there’s no denying that, when it comes to reaching customers in this modern age, online links loom large. How did it get this way? Let’s follow the history of search engines and the development of SEO best practices to learn a bit more about why links matter — and how you can use them to your business’s advantage.
The rise of the search engine
Links matter, but it’s not because customers will click those links and travel to your webpage — at least, not primarily. The only links that are likely to drive huge numbers of customers to your business’s website are the ones that appear on the search engine results page. The rest of the links to your site that exist around the internet are there not to lure in customers, but to impress search engines.
Search engines debuted in the 1990s, when users of the (then relatively young) internet found themselves frustrated as they tried to navigate from site to site. The early internet had some weird quirks, and navigating the internet without search engines was among them. Typing in full URLs was cumbersome, and using links alone could only get internet users so far into the worldwide web. Search engine developers saw an opportunity: They could create websites that could field queries from users and returns lists of links to other sites as results. This could help customers, make these new search engine sites popular (great for selling ads), and — crucially — could turn the search engines into powerful gatekeepers that corporate websites all over the internet would want to please.
Search engines worked, and still work, by using an algorithm to process queries and come up with a list of relevant sites. The algorithms are secret, but one thing about them is pretty obvious: They only work if the search engine knows what sites are out there, and what is on them. So search engines used programs called “spiders” to “crawl” the web, reading all of the text of a site (and all of the HTML, too) to see what was going on with it. The spiders got around in the same way that internet users did: They used links!
And as they crawled the web, these search engine spiders recorded the links along with the other details about a site. Links, as it turns out, weren’t just useful for getting around: They were useful for determining how popular (and, in many cases, how respected) sites were. Lots of links generally meant reputable sites.
Harnessing the power of Google
There were search engines before Google, but Google eventually emerged as the king of them. And when businesses and webmasters started realizing how much traffic Google was generating, they set about trying to rise up the rankings for query results. That meant lots of link-swapping, which led Google to complicate its algorithm a bit.
But while Google has altered the ways in which it uses links (and has at times tried to downplay their importance), it’s clear to modern SEO experts that links are still vital to SEO; in fact, they’re probably the single most important part of a unified SEO strategy. It’s just that, these days, things are a bit more complicated.
Today, it’s important to have the right kind of links. That means links from sites with great domain authority (DA) scores, signifying their respect in the eyes of search engines. Linked text matters, too. And all of this has to be done the right way; Google considers some SEO techniques to be underhanded and will penalize sites accordingly.
Sound complicated? Well, it is. But the good news is that link building services allow you to outsource this work. Links are vital to your business’s future, but they’re actually one thing that you don’t have to worry about as a business owner — provided you hire the right pros!