Website owners are on a never ending quest for insight into what makes Google tick. Keeping your site on top is crucial for your business and keeping up with Google changes is more than a full time job.
Our goal here is to make things just a little bit easier for you, by breaking down the information we have, in a way that makes sense for you.
One of the questions I get asked most often is: Google is out to shut down bad links but what exactly makes a bad link???!!! <insert big sigh of frustration here>
As with all things Google, it’s complex and requires some analysis but this data should help guide you through the process. Put your thinking cap on, crank up the tunes (or grab some coffee – anything to help keep you awake while you do the tedious analysis!)
We all know that Google looks at anchor text (for those that don’t know, that is the clickable text part of the link). Google likes to see a keyword phrase that is relevant to the page being linked to. They also like to see anchor text vary. The means you don’t want all your links to have the same anchor text. When attracting links, you need to get creative in trying to get links with relevant anchor text that is varied. Sometimes this is easier said than done. If you are giving people an article or something where you control the linking (you supply content in exchange for a link and you get to provide the anchor text), that one is easy. But if someone just picks up a page or image or something on your site and links to it, you don’t always have control on how they link. You want to look at your link profile and see how your anchor text varies and if you notice you have too many links without much anchor text variation, then you can either try to build new links with different anchor text or you can reach out to site owners and ask them to alter the links or remove them altogether.
Note, you also want to try to vary the pages these links go to. Don’t set everything to go to the homepage. Try to go after deep linking, so your internal pages get some love too. And as mentioned above, it’s great if the page that the link is going into is about the keyword phrase used in the anchor text.
Another thing you want to look at is the quality of the page that links to you. Does it look like a useful, high quality page (Yes? Good! No? Bad!). Is there any indication that the page has a penalty (very bad). Are there too many links on that page. There is debate about how many is too many. I often hear 50 cited as the magic number. In my experience, it’s less, 25 as a maximum is what I look for. You want to look at home many inbound links that page has (meaning how many links are pointing to that page). Lower quality pages aren’t going to help you.
Then you need to look at the site as a whole, not just the page the link resides on. Ask yourself the same questions for the site as a whole. If it appears low quality that link is going to be of little value to you and could even hurt you.
The age of the domain is a factor but it’s harder to evaluate this one. A longer history usually implies more trust but that is not always the case. You can try poking around to see if you can determine the age of the site via Whois, but I don’t think this one would cause me to want to remove a link. So all things being equal, links from older sites are better but don’t waste too much time on this one.
While there is some debate about how important the topic of the page that links to you is, I think it’s always better to have the page be topical/relevant. If you ever get a manual review, it will help for the reviewer to see a connection between the 2 pages and see the value of the pages being connected
Another factor is the TLD (meaning is the domain a .com, a .net, an .edu etc). Pages on .gov or .edu domains typically carry a lot of weight. However that is not necessarily just because it’s a .edu or .gov – it’s because those pages are often high quality sites with lots of links coming into them. They are usually reputable and have authority.
The age of the link is also a factor. Newer links take some time to increase value. Typically within 3-4 months, the link has matured and it won’t gain much more value over time (just based on time alone, but the quality of the link could increase if the other factors changed/improved for that page/link).
Type of link does appear to matter. A text link it typically valued higher than an image link (even with an ALT tag in place on the image).
As with most of these other items, there is some debate about whether text surrounding the link plays a role. In general, it appears if your text is mixed within content (therefore has surrounding text) it is more valuable than a link that is just sitting there on its own or sitting amongst a bunch of other links.
The position of the link on the page is also a factor. The higher up on the page, the more valuable the link. Footer links and Blogroll links are pretty useless these days.
Reciprocal links are bad if it’s just one “link” page linking to another “link” page on a site. However the link isn’t automatically less valuable just because you may link back to that site somewhere on your site.
If you really want to analyze your links, you can use one of the tools out there (as with most tools, some are good, some are OK and some are bad – but rarely can a tool replace a thinking, analytical human being that can make decisions based on data and factor in exceptions). If you want to do it manually, you could consider setting up a spreadsheet that looks something like this:
Use your judgment or create your own grading system. Then you can decide which links you may want to alter, request removal for, or even disavow.
There is some debate whether you are better to focus on cleaning up links, creating new ones or just focusing on quality content and social activity to boost your site.
In addition to reviewing link by link, you also want to know your general metrics, like how many links you have, how many pages they are linking to on your site, what your most linked to page is and what the most used anchor text is.
At a minimum, understanding your link profile is a good idea, even if you decide not to actively try to change or remove links. Good luck!
I would love to tell this how you putup and analyze your data. This is a a nice guide for someone to conduct link analysis.
You can do link analysis as well through Yahoo Site Explorer. Yahoo gives you a directory of all the Pages indexed and also all the incoming backlinks. Granted, this is essentially maybe 90% of his or her links.
You say “Reciprocal links are bad if it’s just one “link” page linking to another “link” page on a site”, but what do you think about big sites linking press articles directly from the homepage, is that reciprocal linking?
You have some very insightful nuggets of information here. In your opinion, is the anchor text as important as it used to be, and is it becoming less important?
As for topicality/relevancy… if I provide business formation services, and I have links from marketing sites or coaching sites, is that considered relevant?
Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it!
Yes, I do think anchor text is as important as it ever was. I think things are going to keep changing with links and links in general will be valued less and social interaction will be valued more. But as long as links have any value, anchor text will be one of the key factors.
I do think that would relevant. My rule of thumb is if you can explain in one reasonably short sentence and justify the link, it’s likely good. In your case, the explanation is “they need to grow the business once it’s formed” so I definitely count that as a logical connection.
Good article! I noticed that having the domains linking to your site belong to the same industry sector is mandatory now. Sure, some people might get links from unrelated sites every now and then, but who would believe that a travel site that has links from hundreds of different insurance sites has a natural linking profile?
It’s amazing how many factors go into determining if a link is good and if a profile is natural. While it’s definitely true that on the surface, related sites seem best and often are, it’s also true that when content goes viral it may get picked up from sites you might not have guessed would be interested. I think if you unleash brilliant content and it takes on a life of it’s own, that’s OK, even not all links are related.
You are certainly right about that; Google must have a system that helps them identify a viral content piece. Also, it’s quite clear that having links that come only from related sites is unnatural.
I love how you put-up and analyze your data. This is a a great guide for someone to conduct link analysis.
Lisa, glad it helps! Thanks for the comment.
It’s important to not over optimize your anchors. You can get all your link metrics and anchor analysis using tools like Linkody.
You said it sir! 🙂 Good tip.