And with a headline like that, I'm sure everyone interested in SEO - Search Engine Optimization is now reading.
Back in the early nineties I published a national (and free) magazine called Enrage Magazine. It was all about bridging new culture. I had this crazy idea that bands like Slayer could coexist alongside Green Day and that stories about cyber culture could line up nicely with articles about Jim Rose and his Circus Sideshow. In fact, I recently came across this item (courtesy of Mark Shainblum) - Enrage On Net! (I think it was meant to be a press release). Check out this quote of mine from 1994: "The Net and other digital media are the future of publishing... We must be out there getting our message across in this medium or we risk becoming irrelevant." Mark also makes this interesting comment: "Enrage, published by Mitch Joel, was arguably one of the earliest magazines in the world to go online. When I laid eyes on the World Wide Web for the first time, on a Sun SPARCstation running Mosaic, my words were already there. That was an experience."
What did I know? This Internet thing is still probably just a fad ;)
Back to the story... the first issue of Enrage had a cover story feature on the Internet. Circle back to those times and the Web was still extremely nascent. The latest breakthrough (beyond the basic Web Browser) was hypertext - the ability to have links on a page that people could click on and be transported to another page. I know, it sounds so basic and lame, but at that point in time, this was breakthrough technology. The point of hypertext was to help link related pieces of content together, to help foster some kind of cohesion around the many different voices that were popping up online, and to make the content increasingly easier to find and organize.
We tend to forget where we came from, and we tend to only look at where we're going.
Now, links are all about Google Juice. Links are only about increasing your visibility in a search engine to increase traffic or acting as some kind of digital beacon to let another website know that you've mentioned them. If you read this Six Pixels of Separation Blog on a regular (or even semi-regular) basis, you'll notice that I link to everything. If I mention Google, Facebook or Twitter, I still hyperlink to them on the first mention. Do I really believe that I am increasing my searchability by doing this? Do I think that companies of that size are even noticing that I'm mentioning them?
The answer is "no" to both.
I link to make your online experience that much better. I know full well that you know how to type in www.google.com into your browser, but that isn't the point. First off, I want to make the experience seamless for you, so adding in clickable links that enable you to move around the Web is simply a common courtesy. Second, what has always made me love the digital space is the non-linear and non-hierarchical nature of it. Links give you this amazing freedom that regular text can't. It takes you from a two-dimensional context into a three-dimensional matrix-like grid world where the words can literally transpose you all over the place and into a forest of new and exciting content.
So, maybe the power of reciprocated links is loosing some steam in the search engine optimization world. Maybe if you can't benefit from that in terms of increased traffic or a higher PageRank, there is no real point in taking the time to add links.
I think differently.
I think links are what makes reading content online so interesting, engaging, exciting and fresh. I choose to link in hopes that others do as well. I choose to link in hopes that it becomes standard operating procedure and a best practice for online content. I choose to link so that you can choose where you want to go now or next. Linking has become way too much about what it can do for the content creator. I think it's time to go back to the beginning and start linking because it's about what it can do for the reader and their online experience.