I am often asked what role incoming links to your web site play in determining where your site ranks on search engine results pages. The question was recently asked again of me thusly:
From what I have been reading, it improves our Google ranking if we have more
external sites linked back to us. My question is: Does it matter which site
links back to us?
I thought it might be helpful to share my answer:
The short answer is yes, it does matter.
Incoming links are a major factor by which Google (I’ll use Google as a proxy for all the major search engines because Google was the first to implement the idea of examining link relationships) decides how to list your site on their search engine results pages.
First of all, do not buy links from anyone. Google is on the lookout for such practices and could penalize or even ban a site that does so. There are sites called â€œlink farmsâ€ whose sole purpose is to sell links that allegedly boost Google rankings. Google keeps track of these â€œbad neighborhoodsâ€ and penalizes sites that appear to be buying links from them.
Google gives more weight to some links that it does to others. Sites that Google considers authoritative have more influence than those that Google considers less of an authority. For instance, Google gives much more weight to a link from the New York Times than it does to a link from the Star Tribune and gives more weight to a link from the Star Tribune than it does to a link from the New Brighton Bulletin.
Likewise, links that come from sites that appear to be neutral are given more weight; so links from .gov, .mil and .edu domains generally have more weight than those coming from .com, .net, or .org domains.
Links that are topical are more valuable than links that are not; so, for instance, if your organization is a charity, links from other charity sites and/or blogs count for more than links from a site devoted to, say, automobiles.
Links with keywords that are relevant to the page to which it is linking are more valuable than those that have unrelated keywords. So a link that includes the keyword â€œcharityâ€ is more valuable than a link that uses the word â€œresources,â€ for example. However, if Google detects a pattern of inbound links using the exact same wording in the link text, the linked-to site may be penalized for a concerted effort to â€œgameâ€ Google by trying to artificially boost the siteâ€™s rankings.
Placement of the inbound links is also a likely factor that influences search engine rankings. Links coming from a front page of a site are more valuable than links from a â€œLinksâ€ page, for example. Links coming from within the body copy of an article are more valuable than links placed on the side bar of a page, such as a blogroll. This is why links from blogs are so valuable; they often link within the body text of their blog post.
The volume of links matters most when the incoming links satisfy many, or all, of the preceding criteria. A lot of links from a handful of sites with little authority tends not to have that much of an effect on search rankings.
Google is always looking for indicators of â€œnaturalâ€ popularity while also being vigilant about efforts to deceive the search engine. Keep in mind that Google and other search enginesâ€™ first priority is quality search results. There is very little user lock-in for search engines so it is easy to switch to another if the one youâ€™re using does not satisfy your needs. The search engines canâ€™t sell the advertising they thrive upon if they do not have the audiences advertisers seek.
If you think in terms of honestly helping Google identify your quality content, you should be all right. Provide quality content that others will want to link to and is a â€œvalue addedâ€ resource to external sites, and then let people know about it.