Google hates links.

In the last few years SEO folks have been making the change from “Site Tweaker” to proper marketing people. We’re focusing on design and user experience more than ever before and I’m seeing a move from link filled pages to sparse high quality design.

Like Flash?

Sadly, yes. Way back in the days of Flash websites we would have 5-10 links on each flash page. It was minimalist, engaging, beautiful and it wouldn’t rank on Google if it had a endorsement from Matt Cutts. So us SEO folk would get rid of the rich experience to add a wall of text linking to the rest of the site, a few related sites with a token image and a carousel (of course).

So much link filled goodness.

Yeah, it would get you to rank well, but it made pages hard to consume. In the last few years people using this model have watched their numbers and rankings going down.

So what changed?

Nothing really. Google and Matt Cutts have been telling us since 2004 that pages should have less than 100 links. Google concluded users ignore navigation menus as early as 2003. Sliders have been found to be bad for user experience. So all the information was there, inbound marketers just didn’t see the need till the numbers weren’t meeting the mark anymore.

So…SEO is dead.

Aaargh! It is not dead, SEO evolves like it always does. So how do we evolve this time? If you take all the advice above and apply it to a site you get a responsive page of graphics and cool formatted content that has a few clear links to where you want your users to go.

How’s that again?

Yeah that was a bit quick. Here’s a list and a graphic (right):

  • Responsive Design – Adjusts with the width of the browser automatically adapting to whatever device the site is being viewed on.
  • Graphics & Videos – Images have always been important, but a well designed page has useful graphics and engaging videos moving the user’s eyes where you want them to go.
  • Formatted Content – With the advent of web fonts, we have more options available to us than ever before. Now your site can look like all the cool marketing materials you could never replicate because you needed to be web friendly.
  • Widgets – This is a seperate category that covers things a user can interact with like maps and other interactive things. These add novelty to the page and give the user a reason to stick around.
  • A Few Clear Links – This is crux of this article. Make your links clear and easy to follow to the places you want your users to go.

What do you mean by a few links?

If you look at the user behavior on a website, there are only about four or five pages users go to immediately after arriving at your home page. Why in the world would you have over 100 links when less than ten are being interacted with? Find the places people go and help them get there.

So what links should I use?

Get rid of the menus: top, bottom, right and left. Replace the top menu with four or five links to your site’s main sections. Write short clear content about your site with links to the most popular pages in it. No side menus, no carousel and a footer with a few links in it (like contact, legal & sitemap). You might include special announcements under the main content section and that’s it.

Seems sparse.

It is, but you are helping your users out. Using this process your visitors will be able to find what they are looking for much faster. Much better than hunting through endless menus till they use the site search, or worse, click the sitemap at the bottom.

Does Google hate links?

No, Google loves links. They just hate the misuse of links which is why they ignore your navigation menus, link clouds, footer links, right menu links and left menu links. They love what you talk about on your site and want to give the most value to the links you talk about. If there is no conversation, the link has less value. Put value back into your website.