Links were the first major “Off-The-Page” ranking factor used by search engines. Google wasn’t the first search engine to count links as “votes,” but it was the first search engine to rely heavily on link analysis (or the Link Graph) as a way to improve relevancy.
Despite the chatter around other signals, links remain the most important external signal for search rankings. But as you’ll find, some links are more valuable than others.
Lq: Link Quality
If you were sick, which would you trust more? The advice from five doctors or from fifty random people who offered their advice as you walked down the street?
Unless you’ve had a really bad experience with doctors, you’d probably trust the advice from the doctors. Even though you’re getting fewer opinions, you’re getting those opinions from experts. The quality of their opinions carries more weight.
It works the same way with search engines. They’ll count all the links pointing at websites (except those blocked using nofollow or other methods), but they don’t count them all equally. They give more weight to the links that are considered to be of better quality.
What’s a quality link? It’s one of those “you’ll know it when you see it” types of things in many cases. But a link from any large, respectable site is going to be higher on the quality scale than a link you might get from commenting on a blog. In addition, links from those in your “neighborhood”, sites that are topically relevant to your site, may also count more.
Lt: Link Text / Anchor Text
Amazon has millions of links pointing at it. Yet, it doesn’t rank for “boats.” It does rank for “books.” Why? Many of those links pointing at Amazon say the word “books” within the links while relatively few say “boats,” since Amazon doesn’t sell boats.
The words within a link — the link text or “anchor text” — are seen by search engines as the way one website is describing another. It’s as if someone’s pointing at you in real life and saying “books” and declaring you an expert on that topic.
You often can’t control the words people use to link to you, so capitalize on your opportunities to influence anchor text, within reason.
Ln: Number Of Links
Plenty of sites have found that getting a whole lot of links can add up to SEO success. Even more so if you’re getting a lot of links from many different sites. All things being equal, 1000 links from one site will mean far less than 1000 links from 1000 sites.
Long ago, the sheer number of links used to be a far more important, but has decreased steadily as search engines learn how to better evaluate the quality of links.
Tactics such as viral linkbaiting campaigns, badges and widgets can all be effective at securing large numbers of links and something even search engine representatives have suggested.
But in your quest for links, don’t fire up automated software and begin spamming blogs. That’s a bad thing, in many ways, as we’ll explore later in this guide.
For more information about links and link building, please see the following categories:
Link Week Column
How to: Links