Links are a really important factor in search rankings. Alongside quality content, links are one of the three most important ranking factors for SEO, according to Google.
Why? Links create credibility and signal to Google that your website is well thought of by other websites. Think of it this way – if you asked three random people where the best place to go for doughnuts in Belfast was, and they all said the same place, you would feel pretty assured that this was where you should be going for your next batch of treats. Links act in the same way for search engines, and have long been treated as votes of confidence and importance online.
So are all links the same? Nope - unfortunately not. Some are worth their weight in metaphorical gold, and others are sadly not worth very much at all.
Although there are many factors involved in determining the value of a link (or as SEO experts like to call it – link juice), we thought we’d pull together our top five, based on our expertise and experience. Here are some things you should consider when developing your SEO linkbuilding strategy:
The authority of the linking website is considered by many SEO experts as the biggest factor in the quality of a link.
Google's Search Quality Rater Guidelines put a great deal of importance on the concept of E-A-T — an acronym for expert, authoritative, and trustworthy. If you are linked to by a site which has high authority, this link is likely more valuable that a site that doesn’t display these characteristics as strongly.
In the early days, this factor was called ‘PageRank’ – and was Google’s way of determining the authority, or credibility of a website. Websites with better link popularity (higher quantity and quality of links) had higher Page Rank and therefore more authority. Although PageRank doesn’t exist in the same form anymore, there are many other SEO tools, such as SEMRush, which help SEOs and marketers understand a website’s domain score and authority (read more about these tools here). The higher the authority – the better the link in theory.
*Word of caution – some links from websites which have high authority, don’t always positively impact your rankings. For example, links from social media posts or links from forums are sadly not as valuable. Although the overall domain (e.g. Facebook.com) might have authority, the page on which your link appears is one of billions on the site, and therefore it’s only benefitting from a tiny share of that authority.
In addition to the website having strong authority, a link is also considered more valuable if it comes from a relevant source in your industry or sector. So for example, a random blog linking to you won’t have the same link juice as say, one of your suppliers recommending you online.
Unfortunately there are no quick fix tools to tell you if a site is relevant or not, so it’s a case of using your own intuition to know what will be valuable or not. It’s also good to know that links can be valuable, even if the site isn’t directly relevant to your sector – for example links from government sites are also considered good quality.
Some links are given a special tag that tells the search engine not to ‘click’ on them, i.e not to include them in their crawl and therefore, not to attach any value to them. When a link has a no follow tag, the SEO value of a website is nothing.
So why would a website do this? The main reason is to reduce spam. When ‘nofollow’ was added to links in blog comments, comment spam dropped dramatically. It also aims to discourage practices like selling links.
However, ironically, no follow links are still followed – despite what Google says. There are many SEO experts who are sceptical about the no follow attribute, and although it does not get any page rank, there are some who think it can bring authority or trust.
Nothing has been proven though, so we’d advise erring on the side of caution.
So we know that linkbuilding is absolutely crucial for good SEO, however it appears that where links are concerned, the phrase “too much of a good thing” applies here.
If you fill your webpage full of links, then unfortunately this reduces the value of each link on the page. This is because every URL has a limited amount of authority that it can pass to other websites.
So if you were linked to in an article titled “top 100 coffee shops in Ireland”, in theory the link wouldn’t be as valuable as if that article focused on “The top 10 coffee spots in Ireland” instead.
And finally, anchor text is still important. This refers to the key phrases within a link. So for example does the link say ‘click here’ or does it include more valuable keywords and phrases for your business? For example, to go back to our doughnut analogy at the beginning of this article, if the link said ‘Best doughnut places in Belfast’ – that would likely be more valuable than a find out more or click here link text.
The good thing is that SEO tools can tell you what link text is used in all the links that link to your website. If the link text isn’t keyphrase focused, then it would definitely be an idea to focus on this as part of your linkbuilding strategy.
So there you have it – just some of the factors which affect the SEO value of a link.
There are of course many more – this article by On Crawl highlights 20 factors it thinks are important.
As algorithms change, and search engines continue to tweak their ranking factors, there’s no doubt that the debate about valuable links will continue to rage on. However, what is clear, is that links will continue to remain a key part of good SEO for the foreseeable future.
If you want to know more about how linkbuilding can play a part in your SEO strategy, get in touch with us today. Our friendly team of experts can help you navigate the ever changing world of SEO.