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A link is a reference and what it is for us

There has been a lot said about getting links, PageRank and all that. It looks like everyone is obsessed with getting links, no matter the quality, targeted visitors or any ethical concerns. Let's see another perspective on what a link is and how it can affect our understanding of being linked to and linking out.

A link is a reference

Links are usually editorial votes given by choice.. (Matt)

While Google makes us think that a link is a vote, it is not the first one to create a notion of a 'link. The first one was Tim Berners-Lee, the one, who is associated with the creation of the Web. Though I fail to find the right quote for now, I believe it said something similar about a link being a connection between two documents.

From my point of view, a link to another document is created, when there is not enough information in the current document and a reader needs to be referred to another page or website. In this case, the reader can read more after clicking on the link.

In this definition, there is no notion of 'voting' for a page that the current document linked to. It is simply a reference to another source of information.

Now that it may be more or less clear about a link being a reference, let's see how it brings us to our link building process.

A reference link in link building

Once we change our attitude to a link from the one being a vote to the one being a reference, we should observe several changes in our link building strategies. For instance, if we earlier couldn't think of another complimentary website 'voting' for ours, it seems perfectly natural for such a site to refer his readers to our site on a related topic for more information.

Of course, creating quality content was supposed to get votes earlier - and it will get references now. But the difference lies in the understanding what content is suitable for getting references from other websites:

  • as a reference is made to another information that the link source doesn't have, it is perfectly clear why creating unique content is essential
  • as another differentiating reason to link may be to point to another quality resource, quality content becomes an obvious advantage as well
  • then again, it makes perfect sense to link to other related websites of similar or higher quality (this benefits your readers anyway and you have a chance to build "mutually beneficial relationships")
  • on a related note, it now makes absolutely easy to link to external websites, whenever you want, without being afraid to cast a vote for an unrelated source or to be considered offtopic
  • the notion of a reference also enables us to shift our focus to creating top quality (not just readable, palatable or good quality content), as it implies a higher number of references to more quality information

It is true that you still had to focus on quality, when you considered a link being a vote for a quality resource. But now you can breathe freely, as there's more room for you to spread your wings over link building.

The most important thing about shifting your attitude from a vote to a reference is putting the search engines to the second plan. Now you can focus on your visitors, readers or customers, who appreciate unique, valuable information and they'll appreciate your linking to other useful resources.

For the people vs for the search engines

Another moment that you can think about is whether to focus on the real people or the search engines, when planning, developing or promoting a website. If you focus on the people, you will be able to detect and find ways to proide value to them. Of course, you need to have the search engines in mind, when doing your website stuff, but enough to make your site search engine friendly, in addition to being people friendly.


Sometimes, a simple shift in attitude to something can open hidden opportunities and new ways to something you wanted to achieve. Considering a link as a reference should enable you to provide value to your potential customers along with building a great website.


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