All About Links

January 13, 2005

Backlinks, inbound links, outbound links, reciprocal links, etc.  There are too many names for a relatively simple concept.  Let’s de-mystify all of this, shall we?

Link Tutorial

A link is simply a place where you click on one web page to go to another.  This is also occasionally known as an “anchor”, which comes from how it is referred to in HTML.

Anatomy of a link

A link has some simple components — the “link text” or the “anchor text” is the text of the link itself.  For example, on this link the link text or anchor text is the phrase “this link”.

The “URL” (“uniform resource locator”) or “HREF” is the address of the page the link is pointing to.  In the above example, it’s the home page of this site,

A link can also have a “title attribute” — if you hover your mouse over the example above and hold it still for a few seconds, in most recent browsers the words “this is a title” should appear over the link.

Last but not least, a link can have a “target” — this is mostly used to cause links to open in a new window, rather than the current one, or to control frames on a frame based site.

In HTML, the link above would look like:

<a href=“” title=“this is a title”>this link</a>


  • “<a” is HTML for “anchor”
  • “href” is the type of anchor (a hypertext reference)
  • “” is the URL or where the link goes
  • “this is a title” is the title attribute
  • “this link” is the link text or anchor text
  • “</a>” at the end means we’re done writing our anchor.

Types of links

Some other site ==> Your site

A link from another site pointing at your site is often referred to as an “inbound link” or a “backlink”.

Your site ==> Some other site

A link from your site to another site is often referred to as an “outbound link” or an “authority link” (more on this below).

Your site <==> Some other site

When your site and another site both link to each other, this is often referred to as a “reciprocal link”.  Conversely, links like the two above (where only one site links the other) are also referred to as “one way links”, regardless of whether they’re “inbound” or “outbound”.

Your site ==> Some other site ==> A third site ==> Your site

Another type of linking can occur when a third site is involved in what would otherwise be a reciprocal link.  Each site has one link in and out, but by involving a third site, there is no reciprocal linking.  This is often referred to as a “triangle link”.

What’s important to know about link components

Search engines assign “relevancy” to links based on the link text.  This means that a link that reads “blue widget repair” will help the site being linked to have improved results when people search on “blue widget repair.”

Similarly, some search engines assign relevancy to the title attribute — if that same link had a title attribute of “widget sales and service” it could help the site being linked to have better results on the search term “widget sales and service.”

As a result, when getting links to your site, you’d much prefer that the link text and title include keywords or phrases that you want search engine traffic on.  Some people placing links to you will probably be happy to do this, and others won’t.  Often you’ll get links to your site that you have no control over, but if you do have a choice, you’d prefer that they target your search terms.

Caution — it’s possible to have too much of a good thing: if you have too many inbound links targeting the same term, some search engines may start to penalize your results.  Vary your phrasing, and target several phrases.

What’s important to know about link types

Search engines assign your site relevancy in search results based on the number of relevant inbound links.  A relevant inbound link is one from a site that is seen as being on a similar or related topic.  Most inbound links are worthwhile, but relevant ones are more worthwhile.  It’s more valuable to get a few links from many sites than it is to get many links from a few sites.

One way links are considered more valuable than reciprocal links.  Reciprocal links are still worthwhile, but they aren’t assigned as much value as one way links are.

Links from some sites give you more relevancy than links from other sites — the more relevant the search engine considers the site linking to you, the more relevance you’ll get from the link.  Some sites, such as “free for all” link sites and “link farms”, as well as sites such as adult sites and “semi-recreational pharmaceutical” sites are considered by some search engines to be “bad neighborhoods”.  A link from these sites will give you very little value, and may even hurt your relevancy.

Outbound links can help you, or hurt you.  If you place links to “authority sites”, sites that search engines consider to be an authority on a subject, these links can improve your search engine results.  You can often find sites that a search engine considers authoritative on a subject by searching on the subject and looking at the top results.  Conversely, just like inbound links, outbound links to “bad neighborhoods” can hurt your search engine results.

Caution — it’s easy to get caught up in search engine effects, and overlook the users of your site.  It’s fine to link to “authority” sites, if they actually add value to your users at the place where you place the link.  On the other hand, adding links to authority sites just to add them looks stilted and can hurt your credibility in the eyes of your users — who are typically people you want as customers.

Other things about links

There are several more esoteric types of links that we haven’t covered here.  For instance, bookmark links can link to other sections of the same page, or a specific section of another page.  Links don’t always have to be to other web pages — a “mailto” link can indicate that the link is to an e-mail address, the the user’s browser will open a new message to that address when it’s clicked on.

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