The foundation of Google’s success in providing relevant search results has been its ability to evaluate links. They consider each link to your site to be a vote towards how relevant and important your web pages are. These votes add up and contribute to how well you rank in the search results. Each vote, however, is not considered equal.
A Vote Counted vs. A Vote Ignored
Google’s ideal link situation occurs when a web page with great content is published, then people who are authorities on a topic notice its value and decide to link to it from their websites because it will be helpful to their readers. Google would consider this a good-quality, natural link. The challenge for Google is evaluating every link on the Internet, and their solution is to program their automated system to recognize if:
- a link is good quality and would work well as a vote towards authority, or
- a link is of such low quality that it should be ignored in terms of conveying SEO benefit.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Google’s algorithm looks for clues.
Clue #1 – The Topics of Focus are Relevant
When a website has a topic of focus,and they link to one of your web pages which features either the same topic or a related topic, this sends a clear signal to Google that this link should count as a vote. Think of a fashion blogger linking to an up-and-coming clothing designer. Alternatively, if there’s no relationship in topics, this would signal that this link should either have an extremely weak vote or totally nullified vote.
Clue #2 – The Quality of the Source
Google’s system judges the importance of the website that’s linking to you, primarily by examining their inbound links. If they are deemed to be authoritative, their link to you will be considered a strong vote. A link from a fashion blogger who’s very popular will be regarded as a much stronger vote than a link from someone who’s just started their blog.
Clue #3 – How Natural the Link Appears To Be
Google examines the linking website for clues that indicate that links are for sale. If this is suspected, that website’s outgoing links will, in all likelihood, not be counted as votes. Same goes for links that can be generated by website visitors, such as links in comments sections. Google also examines the link itself. Their algorithm has developed an eye for:
- links that look natural, such as linking to a website by using the company name, product name or the URL, or even saying “hey check this out”. This is how normal, unsolicited links tend to look.
- links that look unnatural, such as linking to a website by using that company’s most desirable keyword. For example “cheap medications online”.
Focus on Quality
Link building remains a very important part of ranking well in the search results. Creating great content alone will only get you so far. Getting noticed by the right websites, and getting links from them is essential. Invest your link-building efforts towards quality links from quality websites because a few strong votes will far outweigh a multitude of low quality votes that are either extremely weak, or that don’t count for anything at all.