Image courtesy of Matti Mattila, via Flickr

Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran in the digital content space, you’re probably aware that linking is important. But knowing that linking is important and learning how to use links correctly are two different things.

Although linking has been around since the dawn of the Internet age, the world of media and marketing is changing, and the nature and importance of the link is changing with it. Here’s what digital marketers and content creators need to know about linking in 2012.

Panda updates and social media

Google recently launched Google Panda, an overhaul of its secret sauce search-ranking algorithm. And because Google Panda constantly changes what it considers a “high quality site,” brands can now no longer spend time factoring in black hat linking tactics like plugging in unrelated keywords or creating a website specifically for a keyword to improve their rankings.

Social media has also changed the game for brands because consumers are now getting their information from many different sources. Although linking is still extremely important, companies have to worry about getting their brand noticed in more places than just a search engine.

Internal vs. external linking

Digital content, whether in the form of a corporate website or blog post, should have a balance of internal links (links to other pages in the same site) and external links (links to other websites).

Once content goes live on the web it’s “crawled” by search engine bots or “spiders.” If you can use internal linking effectively then these bots will be able to easily move from one webpage to the next, boosting your SEO in the process.

Internal linking will also improve “time on site”, a measure of how compelling or “sticky” your content is. Easy navigation won’t just help bots get around; it will keep human beings on your site too.

External linking includes links on your site to other locations on the web as well as links back to your site. The best way to generate incoming links is to create quality content that others want to reference – simple as that. Another way is to write guest posts for relevant sites, demonstrating your thought leadership in a given industry (and getting a link-back in the process).

Your content will look good in the eyes of Google if other reputable websites reference your page through linking. This will then increase your PageRank and help your website slowly make its way to the top of the Google search engine.

Incoming links also have an important promotional value. If another website links to your content, you’ve engaged that site’s community – introducing your content and brand to a whole new audience.

Linking responsibly

If used correctly, the combination of internal and external linking will provide your brand’s website or blog with increased SEO success as well as increased traffic and overall interest in your site.

Don’t forget that the words you choose to link to are important. Many brands spend lots of time on keyword research. Although all linking is worthwhile, linking to specific keywords like HR software (see what we did there?) can up the benefits of linking even more.

In the end, linking is the key to getting your website ranked in organic search – in other words, that number one Google spot you’ve had your eye on. And in turn, linking will help connect your brand to communities and customers you never expected to reach.