People have been talking recently about the diminishing importance of links in SEO, but I for one have seen no proof of this. Granted, other metrics are undoubtedly used such as title tags, content and more recently social metrics, however, as far as SEO is concerned, backlinks still play an important role and I can’t see this changing in the foreseeable future.
Types of Links
Now, I don’t mean blog comments, in context or directories here, that’s a topic for another post altogether, but what I’m talking about are the links which bind the internet together overall, the web. These are made up of links within a website and those which point from one site to another, so both in and out of your own site. Firstly the links within your own site which guide a user to the next page, be it from a link within the copy of a page, or your main navigation, are both absolutely essential if a visitor is to stand a chance of remaining on your website for any longer than it takes then to read that page, so if for no other reason than this, everyone has (or at least should have) good internal navigation.
This leads on to the inbound and outbound links on a page, these tell users (and search engines) that the page being linked to is considered by the author of the linking page, to be a good relevant resource which is relevant to their own page and offers further detail or resources. This is the very nature of the internet and the search engines know this better than any of us.
So what about nofollow tags?
The no follow tag was introduced a few years back as a way of a site owner linking to a page without giving it a vote in the Pagerank algorithm, they still leak that small amount of Pagerank but don’t pass it to the other site. This became necessary when blog comment spam was rife (well, it still is!) and people could increase the Pagerank of a site simply by spam comments on other sites. The same goes for forum signatures and profiles, but the nofollow tag essentially gives the site owner a way of making that link worthless in the hope of only getting genuine comments and users, unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case, as I know myself that comment spam is still rife from the amount which is caught daily by my spam filters.
Inbound or Outbound Links?
In short both. While you need inbound links, ideally from authority sites in your niche, there is some evidence to prove (my own testing included) that linking out to other relevant and ideally authority sites also helps, such as this related one on Search Engine Watch, so try to drop the mindset of hogging all your Pagerank, it’s highly likely that the benefits of linking out to a couple of related resources from a page far outweigh the amount of PR which you will lose. In fact, when you think about it, a typical website coul have anything from 20 to hundreds of links in it’s navigation, not to mention footer links, sidebar links and those in the copy itself, so what you are passing on is minimal.