In recent years there’s been plenty of speculation around the power of links. A key feature of Google’s algorithm from day dot, link metrics continue to have significant influence over ranking, and while many question the future authority of links vs. other factors (including click through rate and bounce rate), the truth of it is, no SEO strategy will be successful without developing an inbound link profile.
This ranking factor demonstrates the authority of your site through quality features and citations, ie. links. They are identified and analysed by PageRank, a calculation designed with the intention of assessing authority based on third party opinion. This opinion could be judged from links, with a great website receiving plenty from its peers, and a below par site earning less (or none at all!).
PageRank identifies the quantity of links that point to a site, determining authority from the results. This doesn’t mean that a site with plenty of links can always outrank a competitor with less, however – PageRank also takes into consideration the quality of all features, recognizing the power of a link from a particularly authoritative site.
Let’s say Site 1 has fifty links pointing to it, Site 2 has twenty, and Sites 3 and 4 have five or fewer. Site 1 will most likely rank highest, with Site 2 sitting behind it, and the others tailing down below. A new site is now thrown into the mix – Site 5 – which also has around five links. However, one of these links derives from Site 1, the most powerful and authoritative of the five. Though Site 5’s link profile is small, it has a great chance of ranking closely with Site 2, its authority owed to the link from Site 1.
When PageRank first came about, savvy SEOs quickly jumped at the chance of manipulating the system. They began acquiring dodgy links through techniques like link wheels, cloaking and paid links. Of course, Google soon cracked down on the black-hat link builders, and an ever-improving algorithm is now able to fish out the manipulative, unnatural links from the authentic ones. The fundamental of PageRank still exists, but it’s all the more sophisticated.
Authentic links can be earned both manually and naturally. While identical in their results, the techniques differ slightly; manual link building generally refers to reaching out to sources in order to gain a link, while natural link earning describes the process of creating and sharing effective content, which will naturally gain a link. Of course, since any link building method may be considered a calculated effort to ‘manipulate’ page rank, Google makes best practice for remaining within the guidelines very clear. This includes ensuring all content is well-researched, informative and unique, while all links should be topical and valuable for the audience.
Google admits there’s still a lot of noise around links, with plenty of spam slipping through the net, however link metrics are still the most effective method to ensure relevant results.
And while links aren’t the be all and end all of SEO (a site can make marked ranking improvements through valuable content, usability and responsiveness), they still have huge sway on the overall authority of your site. That’s why no matter how many user-centric factors Google introduces and refines – such as social signals and time on site – links will always remain a powerful feature of your SEO strategy.
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