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Best Practices for Cross-linking

by: Jayme Westervelt, April 2006

Cross linking sites together means that you are putting a link on site A to site B. These sites can be owned by the same person or just related sites wishing to link to each other. Cross linking is meant to help users by pointing them to other sites that might be of interest to them or that might give them further information on a particular topic. Unfortunately many will cross link merely to inflate Page Rank in the Google algorithm, quickly forgetting what cross linking is really meant to be used for.

If the sites that will be linked together are owned by the same person or company, there are basics guidelines to follow:

  • Unique Content - this one is such a basic "no brainer" that it shouldn't even have to be mentioned, but it is the most often forgotten. If you are going to link two sites together, they must each have unique content. The content may be similar in theme and compliment each other but it must not be duplicated.
  • Different IP addresses - this isn't a "must do" but it is a "should do" if possible. Having two sites that link to each other that are on the same IP address will not cause you a penalty with the search engines but for safe measure you should consider having them on different IP addresses.
  • Humans first - when considering to link two or more sites together, make sure you are doing it for the right reason: for the human visitor. You want to enhance the users' experience by giving them options to visit other sites that will be useful to them. If you are linking the sites together for Page Rank purposes, you are doing it for the wrong reason.
  • Multiple Sites - you don't want to create multiple sites just for the purpose of linking them all together. This will only create a suspicious-looking link ring that will be of no benefit to the user, especially if the sites do not contain quality content. Each site should have a sufficient amount of links coming into them from independent sites.

Now that the basics are established, there are some rules to remember when putting the links in place:

  • Excessive = Unacceptable - linking two sites together from every page within a site is unacceptable. Link only where it makes sense to link. Keep the number of links between sites at a minimum.
  • Natural - placing your links where they logically and naturally fit into the website is the best way to cross link. For example, you have a user on site A that is looking for a pair of high heeled shoes. They love the red high heeled shoes on the site but are interested in other colors. Site A only offers red but site B offers more. This would be a perfect spot to link to site B, which sells high heels in all colors.
  • Anchor Text - where ever possible, use keyword-rich anchor text to link the sites together. The anchor text not only clarifies for the user what the site they are going to is going to be about, but it helps to clarify it for the search engine spiders as well.
  • Rel=nofollow - even though cross linking should be done purely for the human visitor, many will do it for the search engines regardless. If you are worried that cross linking two sites together might cause you issues with the search engines then you can use the "rel=nofollow" tag around the link. This will help you to avoid any issues the link might cause.

Many site owners have multiple reasons to cross link two sites together; complimentary product selection, more content etc. Cross linking two sites together is a great way to offer the user more options and enhance their experience. Again, linking one site to another should not be done purely for the search engines and rankings. Also be aware that over-linking sites together will cause a penalty; creating a tight link ring without any outside sites linking in will also cause a penalty. Be smart about cross linking; follow the basic guidelines and rules and you should have no issues with either your human visitor or the search engines.