Pre-penguin, link building was a pretty easy task. But like with everything, the more people can take advantage of something, the more companies have to adapt to stop them being able to do so.
The “game” before was to get as many links as possible from as many domains as possible and whoever has the most wins.
This has now drastically changed!
Without going down a rabbit hole of why the Penguin update came about, Google realised this was a pretty easy way for webmasters to game their system.
So, what did they do to make it harder to game their system?
They introduced new factors such as:
- Looking at page authority of the site linking out.
- Looking at the relevance of the page linking out to the site it links to.
- Looking at the engagement rate and other user signals on the page being linked from.
- Looking at exact anchor text match.
- Analysis of quality of content with the link in.
Essentially links that are actually going to help your site are now a lot harder to come by, which may seem like bad news, but not necessarily.
It now means that not every Tom, Dick and Harry can game Google’s system. And now those who actually want to put in the hard work to find great links will prosper. Basically, separating the wheat from the chaff (sorry, I just love that saying).
In this post, we aim to show you the factors that go into Googles valuation of links, and how you can use these to build great backlinks.
Links from a popular page are stronger
It’s a rather simplistic explanation, but in general, the more popular a page is (e.g. the more links it has pointed to it) the more link juice it will pass to your own site. We can also surmise that the more popular page tends to have a higher DA, which is the metric we use a lot of the time to qualify popularity.
Essentially, a popular page is more likely to pass on its popularity to your own site if it were to link to your page.
Links from relevant content pass more link juice
Yet again this may seem obvious, but it is one of the important factors in link building. If you own a site about Labradors and you want to gain backlinks, is it better to gain a link from an architecture site or a site dedicated to dog care?
Obviously, the latter.
They can judge the relevancy of a page by a number of factors, such as; anchor text, topic sensitive page rank and phrase- indexing (e.g. how many phrases/ keywords or LSI keywords relating to the relevant topic – in this case, dogs or Labradors).
Links from new domains are more important than links from the same site
Of course, this will depend on the quality of the page linking out.
Say for example you have forbes.com linking to your site numerous times or you have a number of spam sites such as randomsitegj.com linking to you, it would still be more useful to have those links from forbes.com than a bunch of crap sites.
If you have the choice of 50 links from 50 different sites or 50 links from one site. It is still better to have those 50 links from different domains.
Link growth every month is important
Google can look at the trend of backlinks to your site.
Say for example you have a few months where you are gaining a bunch of fresh links every month, they will see this as a signal that you are relevant because everybody wants to talk about you.
But on the inverse, if these links then stop, this is an indication to Google that your site/page may have stagnated and no longer be of interest.
This can then majorly devalue your site in Googles eyes.
Link-spam is worthless at best and dangerous at worst
There are some arguments about whether having spam links to your site will just be ignored by Google or whether it will have a negative effect on your site’s overall SEO score.
The way I like to explain this is; if it didn’t have a negative effect, then the awful negative SEO industry wouldn’t exist, which basically involves pointing a load of spam links to a site to devalue it.
We know that people do it, and it does affect their rankings!
We classify spam links as some of the following:
– web 2.0 links
– spam comment links
– spam directory links
– PBN links
– overuse of exact match anchor text.
Not only this but if we know Google doesn’t like sites that try to ‘game’ their system. Do you think they’re going to value or devalue a site that has 100’s of spam comment links? When it’s quite clear they won’t have put all those links up naturally!
Anchor text is important
If the link to your site is about a beautiful yellow dress, but the anchor text says ‘cute red dog collar’.
Will Google look at that as relevant? Hell, no!
This may seem an obvious example, but the point is to make sure that the anchor text linking to your page is relevant, to either the keyword you are trying to rank for, or just simply relevant to the topic of your page.
I’ve already discussed the type of anchor text you should be using in our ultimate guide to backlinks.
Whilst anchor text variation is important as you can see above, I would still take a 70% approach with relevant anchor text, and then 30% of the rest, as you can see in the chart below. As Google views overuse of exact match anchor text as a spam technique but at the same time, you want Google to understand that the link out is relevant to the anchor text.
Trusted seed site links (or as close as possible) are the most valuable
We discussed this in our page rank patent update of April last year.
Google had introduced the idea of seed sites, which are essentially sites seen as an authority in a given area.
Therefore, if you were to get a link from a trusted seed site in a given niche, that was relevant to your own, then this would pass on the most value to your own site.
This pyramid explains a little more how it works.
So say for example there was a site called cakebakes.com (we’re sure it does exist 🙂 ) that was an authority in the cake-baking community, had a very high DA, consistently ranked at the top for keywords related to cake baking. We would assume that this is a trusted seed site. If you had another cake baking site and you got a link from that site, it would be the most powerful link possible, passing on a lot of authority, if you then linked out to another site, you would still then pass on some of that link juice you received from the seed site, and so on and so forth!
It’s also worth mentioning that if a site is deemed untrustworthy – especially in industries such as health, finance etc (think YMYL) a link from them would be seen as less valuable. As they may propagate information that can affect the physical and financial wellbeing of its users.
Links within the main content are the most valuable
This means that links included in the main body of the text, preferably in the first paragraph or so are viewed most favourably.
As this shows Google that the link fits in with the content (hopefully, naturally) rather than having to be put on the side, such as in sidebars, footers, headers etc. Or hidden in expandable tabs or accordions, which looks suspicious in the eyes of Google.
If we think about it, where is a link more naturally going to be placed, in the text, or hidden in a corner somewhere?
Of course, the link shouldn’t be placed in the exact same spot every time as this can look spammy, but the link should always be in, or around the first paragraph for maximum authority.
No followed links do still pass value
Sites such as Huffpost, Forbes, etc all no-follow their links, but does that stop them passing along any of their link juice? The answer is no.
Even Googles language on no-follow links is a little unclear, they say “in general we don’t follow them”.
However, numerous experiments, and simple experience from those of us in the SEO industry have shown that in fact no-follow links, especially from bigger/ higher DA sites, still pass on link juice, as even though it says ‘no follow’ it is STILL a vote of confidence from a very popular page to the site it links to.
There is a difference between paying for high quality, relevant links and buying easy to abuse, spam links
If you were Google would you tell users that actually, if done in the right way, they can buy links?
No, of course, you wouldn’t but it does still happen and it does work.
If I pay for a link from a relevant, and/ or high authority site, with a great piece of natural content linking to my page. Will Google be able to notice if there has been a monetary transaction for it or not?
The answer is NO.
Google doesn’t have eyes everywhere (though we think they do sometimes).
The way Google figures out if webmasters have bought links is by looking at typically spam techniques that those webmasters would use.
Such as buying a bunch of web 2.0 links, comment links and just a general plethora of 1 penny awful links.
But if you’re buying links in the same way that you would ‘earn’ them, then Google literally cannot notice.
The difference between buying links now and 10 years ago is you have to do it NATURALLY now e.g. the site must be relevant to your own, and the content quality where the link is placed must be high quality, and longer in length!!!
But many SEO professionals actually do a disservice to new websites when they tell them they shouldn’t be looking to buy high-quality links, but instead “earning” them, because both can be done!
I’ve used the analogy before, but it’s the same as me baking a delicious cake, and then having no one there to try it.
At the end of the day, SEO is bad for Google but great for the businesses using it! Just like you would pay to market your business, backlinks are essentially the same, as long as they are done respecting the other factors mentioned above this.
I mean look at some of the statistics on what you need for these keywords to reach page 1 (top 10 results) and then tell us whether you think some SEO professionals, and Googles utopian view of how link building works, which involves waiting for sites to link to you, or begging high authority sites to link out to a site with little to no authority, would actually help emerging businesses get to page 1.
Remember that this is the number of links that would have to be directed towards the page where you are trying to rank for that keyword. Not even your site overall!
We have taken this keyword difficulty rating from AH refs, but of course, it can’t be followed verbatim, what this doesn’t show is the quality of the other domains ranking in the top 10 overall.
For example, Google will be likely to rank a page higher if the sites overall domain authority is very high, even if they do not have as many links to the page as some of the other sites that have a slightly lower DA.
Not only this but these judgements on how many links are needed also do not give an indication of the quality of the links.
For example, 50 links from Huffpost or Forbes will be worth much more than 50 links from a site with DA 20 (though it is necessary to have a mixture to look natural).
However, we use these keyword difficulty ratings because it gives a general idea of HOW difficult it can be to rank, especially for competitive keywords, and also because it shows how important backlinking is to rank in the top 10 as this is the main metric that AH refs show us when we look at keyword difficulty.
If you have any more questions about what we’ve discussed today, pop us a message in live chat or an email, and we’ll get back to you straight away! 🙂