Link Power: A Guide to a Determining Factor in Google’s Ranking Algorithm

Google uses its algorithm to determine how to rank sites within its search results. And while keywords in content and title tags help your website perform better, another factor that’s perhaps just as important is one that’s been around since the inception of the Internet: Links. Yes, Google takes into account what websites are linking to your own site when determining how high you rank.

In other words, the idea is that the more high quality websites that link to you, the better you’ll do in search results — but remember, it’s all about quality over quantity nowadays.

WHAT WOULD AN ALGORITHM THAT DOESN’T TAKE BACKLINKS INTO ACCOUNT LOOK LIKE?

The continued power of backlinks can most recently be evidenced through remarks made by Google webspam team lead Matt Cutts. Specifically, in a Q&A YouTube video, Mr. Cutts was asked if Google had a version of its algorithm that didn’t take backlinks into account. It was a question Matt answered no, but he did admit Google had run some experiments and that the quality looked “much, much worse” without backlinks. “It turns out backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really, really big win in terms of quality for search results,” Cutts went on to say.

THE TYPES OF LINKS GOOGLE DOESN’T LIKE…

Some would argue that the value of links has diminished. It’s true to some extent, but this doesn’t encompass all links. In fact, it just covers links that are added to a site in a manner that Google considers spammy — something the company has been getting better at detecting. While getting the following types of links may have helped your rankings 5 years ago, today they likely provide no benefit — as Google’s algorithm has evolved considerably:

  • Low quality general directory websites
  • Keyword rich anchor text links on forums
  • Those resulting from link exchanges
  • Purchased links
  • Guest posts on sites that rely on low quality mass user-generated content

Not only do these types of links provide no rankings benefits, they can actually hurt your site’s performance, or even lead to a manual penalty — something you’ll want to fix ASAP if you’re facing one.

WHAT KIND OF CONTENT GETS LINKED TO?

We’ve talked about the kinds of links we don’t want — so where do we find value? It’s all about creating quality content and publishing it to the web. Here are some qualities of highly shared content:

  • It says something new: You can talk about your industry all you want, but if it’s information that’s already been said over and over again, it’s less likely that people are going to want to share it.
  • It’s unbiased: This doesn’t have to be the case all the time, but the most shareable content tends to be impartial. In other words, we want to list the cold-hard facts and discuss what they mean for our industry in particular. We’re not saying to hold back from being opinionated, but if your content comes off as too self-gloating, it’s not going to go over well with who you’re trying to share it with.
  • It can be utilized for a purpose: Not only should people learn something new from reading your content, they should also be able to utilize your information for a purpose. This doesn’t mean giving your secrets away to the competition, instead it means providing some information for the general betterment of your industry as a whole (I.E. providing educational resources to college students who want a career in your industry).

OUTREACH

Once you’ve got that content published to your website, you can’t always just sit back and expect people to find and share it on their own time — you have to perform outreach. Find other sites on the web with resource pages or news stories where they’ll actually want to cite the information you’re providing. Whether you achieve this through email outreach, over the phone, or in-person, it’s all about building and sustaining relationships that allow you to market your content over the web to those who find it most useful. The websites that you’ll want to go after likely share these qualities:

  • They’re relevant to your industry.
  • They’re high quality.
  • They’re informative and provide unique content.
  • They’re frequently updated.

FUTURE

Links are a pivotal part of the web and provide a roadmap of the Internet — showcasing the interconnectedness of all websites. For that sole reason, we can anticipate that they’ll remain an integral part of Google’s algorithm for years to come.