As the rules and best practices for SEO continue to evolve, everyone’s scrambling to find the new “perfect” formula for generating clicks. After all, clicks equal money, and money makes the world go ’round. Among other bones of contention, this has given rise to a heated debate over author bios and whether or not links should be included. If they are included, are they as effective, better, or worse at drawing and diversifying traffic than contextual links? Like so many other debates in the Blue Nowhere, the answer is not a simple yes or no. Here are some things to consider when debating where and how to leverage link space for the best results.
Pre-Penguin, link-building was relatively simple. Go out, scour the Internet for things that looked like they “sorta kinda” might be related to what you do, pop in some links, and write some mediocre content around them. The problem with this approach was that it effectively cheated visitors, who tuned in for quality information and instead got barely readable gibberish. Putting links in an author bio is helpful if the site you’re writing for is large enough and generates enough traffic to make it worthwhile. An article on the Huffington Post, for example, would be a place where author bio links would be a sound investment. Leaving a comment on Joe-Bob’s Baloney Blog, probably not so much.
To answer this, we first have to analyze the difference between Tier I and II. Tier I is essentially direct sales. “Come over to my site so you can see what I have to offer.” Tier II links include forum postings, bios, and similar types of online communication. The kind of results you want will determine where you should place your links. For Tier I results, a link or three (but no more, as a good rule of thumb) is perfectly fine. If you’re more interested in networking and link building, then you want your links in the body of the article.
They can either help or hurt you. If you are taking on guest bloggers, then the two-way traffic between their site and yours can only help. If you have the same guest showing up too often, however, this can be a detriment. The idea is to create a balance between in-content backlinks, links from author bios, and internal/external material links. By doing this, you’ll not only keep yourself in the good graces of Google and the other search engines, but you’ll find your traffic grows more organically.
Google’s new Penguin protocol examines sites based on keywords. Then it produces an algorithmic analysis. If the curve veers too high toward one aspect of SEO, Penguin may devalue or even omit your site from its rankings. This in turn means all that hard work you expended trying to get onto the coveted front page is for naught. Author bio links are only one example of “too much of a good thing isn’t good” by search engine standards. Because of this, you should have a good mix of high-end content, keywords, and links out and back. If you don’t, the Penguin program will notice, potentially costing you some or all your visibility on Google.
If you must have them, 1-3 is a pretty good round figure. If you have a guest blogger with a lot of irons in the fire and the name recognition clout to justify it, you could maybe even go to 4-5. (Reserve this for Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, etc.) There isn’t a “perfect” number, because so much depends on your SEO/linking mix. What works fine on a site like Lifehacker.com may not fly on yours, and vice versa. Generally, when considering author bio links, less is always more.
They can be. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want people to be more interested in the author than the article, limit the links in the text so the author’s box shows up with greater contrast. Also, remember that most people gloss right over the author’s box, meaning while the backlinking you are getting is growing organically, it may not have the visibility you want. This is why contextual links are so valuable, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future: you know that if someone clicks a contextual link, they did so because they actually took the time to read the information you were trying to convey.
At this moment, there isn’t. Some SEO gurus say “Don’t ever,” while others say, “Do, but be careful.” The best blend of advice seems to be to encourage guest authors to link to their posts on your site in exchange for linkback information. This provides real, two-way communication, not just a one-way sales pitch. In this more symbiotic relationship, both sides stand to benefit.
This assumes you have the time, the drive, and the knowledge of how to write and write well. (Let’s be honest, there are a lot of people out there who routinely massacre the English language just out of ignorance.) This does not make for engaging content and can actually make your business look less credible. The other side of this coin is that although guest blogging has become the most popular way to boost site rankings, guest bloggers may not necessarily know the rules of SEO or how to tag their posts effectively without drifting into gray- or black-hat country. Because of this, it’s up to you to know and understand how SEO works and what you and your guests can do to boost your odds of making a great net-based relationship. If you have the time and the know-how, then by all means do your own posting. Just be ready to bring in a guest when you really need one.
There is no black or white “best” answer to this question. So much depends on what your site is intended to do or sell, who the target audience or demographics are, and a plethora of other questions. In practice, the best thing you can do is start by looking at who you want as guest authors. Can you diversify? Can they? Are they willing to link back to your site in exchange for what is essentially free advertising for theirs?
Author bio links can be very effective, but require some knowledge and understanding of how SEO works on your part. With that said, a good author with a basic understanding of both SEO and guest blogging netiquette can be an immense ally in boosting traffic to your site. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons carefully, but author bio links can be a powerful tool if you use them properly.