One of the constants in search engine optimization strategy is the need to build links. While other factors change and the search engines swap in and out different weightings for various elements, having a large number of good-quality links has stood the test of time. They serve as an indicator of a page’s relevance and of its standing in the search engines. Links are also the lifeblood of any successful site, acting like arteries pumping fresh new visitors through the heart of the site.
Despite these plus points, is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Will too many links have a detrimental effect? Google seems to think so, but the good news for those who have worked to create a library of quality links is that the problem lies not with inbound referrals but on-page links from one section of the site to the other (or to external pages).
Having too many links per page will undermine ranking aspirations by infringing on the search engine’s design and content guidelines. Google starts out by recommending that links on a page are kept to a reasonable number, which they classify as below 100. This rule of thumb is somewhat outdated and can be traced back to when spiders read a smaller portion of a web page – the more links contained within the page, the longer it was. To ensure its spiders performed effectively, the benchmark of 100 was set. While search engines now read much more of a page before indexing it, having more than 100 links can set off the spam filters and result in a lower perceived page quality.
While Google won’t automatically class a page with more than 100 links spiraling off as spam, it may choose not to follow some or all of the paths off to other pages. If this is the search engine’s only route to that page, it may miss being indexed purely because it hasn’t been correctly integrated into the site’s architecture. If a page is falling foul of being one of too many links and missing out on a possible SERP inclusion, it could be that you (conversely) actually need to build external links in order to negate the impact caused by too many on-page links. Building links back to a page that isn’t being read due to being one of too many links will deliver traffic and will also provide a secondary route into the site for the search engines. Creating this bypass will ensure that the page is accessed and eligible to rank.
If you have a large site selling lots of products or services and have pages that have more than 100 links out of sheer necessity, how do you avoid falling foul of the 100 links rule? The first and most obvious solution is to cut the number of links. Product or catalog pages will have lots of links by their very nature, so ask yourself if it’s possible to split the offending page into two or more new pages. Can products be re-categorized to sit on a new page without sending would-be customers off course? If so, you’ve quickly halved the number of links counted per page and are well on the way to dropping off the spam radar.
Having counted the number of links on each page of the site and come up with an excess of 100, take the opportunity not to berate the potential shortfall in organic placement but to assess end-user value. The 100 link benchmark falls under Google’s quality guidelines for a reason – think of a link as a choice your visitor has to make. When they come across a link on the page, they must decide whether following that link will lead them to the desired information or if they should ignore the link and continue with the same page. With more than 100 links, your visitor must make more than 100 decisions; this is an overwhelming prospect at best and a definite conversion killer at worst.