Links are king when it comes to SEO. Search engines view links as votes for a site and the higher the quantity and quality of links your site has, the better your chances of ranking for related keywords in the search results (Google, Yahoo, Bing). If you know anything about SEO, you’re probably sitting there saying, “no duh”.
The problem is that not all links count for SEO purposes, and if they do, it’s always in varying degrees. Just because you see blue underlined text in your browser doesn’t mean that Google will pass over the SEO link value to the site being linked to. In fact, some links may be completely invisible to the search engines. In other cases, Google may choose to discount the value of links for whatever reason.
How do you know whether or not a link on a certain page passes SEO value? What are the cases in which links don’t count?
If you’re engaging in any sort of link building or online advertising campaign, these are important questions to ask and get clear answers to. You need to prevent yourself from wasting precious time building worthless links that have no impact and instead understand which links have the greatest effect for your SEO rankings in order to maximize ROI. We’ll go into everything about SEO link value in this post.
Links that count for SEO – 2 requirements of all SEO links
In order for a link to pass SEO link value, there are 2 main conditions that need to be met.
2. The page that the link resides on must be indexed in Google. After all, a link can only pass value as long as Google knows about it. You can check whether or not a page is indexed by using the “site:” operator in the Google search box followed by the URL in question. Remember that new pages usually take at least a few days to be crawled and indexed.
Links that DON’T count for SEO, technically speaking
Although the two conditions above are prerequisites for a link to count for SEO, they don’t automatically infer that a link passes value. What do I mean? Below are some technical exceptions that lead to a link NOT counting in the eyes of Google.
1. Nofollow tag
If a link uses the rel=”nofollow” tag, Google ignores the link and does not pass any value (or they say they don’t anyway). This tag is used in the comments section of many blog platforms (to prevent spamming) and is also required by Google on any advertisements or links that are paid for (a hole in Google’s algorithm).
2. Robots nofollow
Similar to the nofollow tag, the meta robots nofollow tag found in the header of a page, leads to all links on that page to be nofollowed. You can easily check for any nofollows on links by using the SEO for Firefox tool.
3. Redirect links
Any time a link goes through an intermediary page to track ad clicks or sales or to put up a disclaimer page, the link will not pass value to the resulting page unless a 301 permanent redirect is used (as opposed to a temporary 302 redirect). You can check for this by using the Check Server Headers Tool.
For example, all banners ads here on Winning the Web go through a OIOPublisher tracking URL (e.g. http://www.winningtheweb.com/wp-content/plugins/oiopub-direct/modules/ tracker/go.php?id=36). If you plug that URL into the header checker tool, you’ll see that it uses a 301 redirect to the advertiser site. This link would normally pass value, but in this case I’m using nofollow as well so it doesn’t.
Symptoms and signs of devalued links
Okay, so say that the links pointing to your site are technically sound and are supposed to pass SEO value. Does that mean they do? Not necessarily. Below are some symptoms and signs that Google has devalued a link.
1. Strangely low PageRank
Although toolbar PageRank isn’t all that reliable of a metric, it can still point to problem areas on a site where links are devalued. For example, if a site sells obvious paid links, Google will often whack its PR and stop the flow of link value from the site.
2. Slow crawl rate, old cache date
I’ve said before that crawl rate is the new PageRank. If Google trusts a page and considers it important, the bots are going to visit and index it often. Check the cache date of the page your links are hosted on by clicking on the Cache link next to the search listing. If it’s over a month old, that’s a sign that the page is not trusted (bad neighborhood, low authority, etc.) and the links don’t pass value as a result.
3. Link location
Furthermore, sitewide links in the footer or sidebar of pages can be devalued because they are often used as advertisements to manipulate the search results. Google loves editorial links within the content of the page and will usually give the most weight to these links. Location matters.
How to check if a link passes SEO value
Is there a way to check whether or not a particular link passes SEO value? Yes, but it’s not always easy.
What you do is you create a link on the target location with anchor text containing a unique modifier. For example, if I was placing a link to Winning the Web from some random location I was testing, I might try adding a link that says “jibberjab internet marketing”, an obscure but somewhat related keyword that’s not found on any of my pages. If after a short while, the Winning the Web page being linked to ranked for that term, I’d know for certain that it was a result of that particular link passing value. Get the idea?
Let’s try a live example and link to an iPhone blog (iPhoneNuts.com) I run using the link iPhonerific. After a few days, try doing a search in Google for iphonerific. If you see that the iPhoneNuts.com page ranks anywhere on the first few pages, then you know that this article passes link value.
Do you know how to build links that pass SEO value? What are some other considerations that you think are important? Share your stories in the comments section below!
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