By Michael Beauregard
Before I get into how links can help your site’s SEO, I’d like to begin with a question.
Is the internet really more deceitful and nefarious now compared to the internet of 10 years ago?
According to my local news station and most mass media outlets, the answer would be a unanimous yes. I’m constantly hearing stories of how some online predator stalked/violated/assaulted some innocent victim, or how a hapless internet-user lost all of their life’s savings via identity fraud. But are these stories really a product of the internet becoming inherently more antagonistic towards users? Or is it simply a result of the fact that nowadays news media outlets deem the happenings of the internet newsworthy? Thus making conspicuous in our minds these unfortunate (but unlikely to happen to the average user) occurrences.
In my experience, I don’t think this is the case. Sure people can still post completely false information with no accountability whatsoever but you could do that ten years ago too. Now as then, there also exist sites and users which/whose sole purpose is to steal the personal information of other users in order to benefit monetarily. Both of these facts about the internet are really sort of moot points due to modern malware protection software and search engines. It is actually the improvement of search engines, I would argue, that has made the internet a less deceitful place in the last ten years.
In the early days of the internet, search engines worked by making a copy of every website on the internet and caching that copy in the servers of the respective search engine. When a user searched a term, the search engine would then sift through all of the websites in their servers, and, based upon a number of features of the page (keywords, tags, text, etc.), it would produce a list to users of the most relevant pages according to these criteria. This proved a very effective method for searching the internet at first. But as webmasters (users who manage websites) became savier, many realized there were ways to “game” these engines, and get their websites to the top of search queries without necessarily having content relevant to the keyword for which they ranked highly. It was in response to this that Larry Page and Sergey Brin created a new algorithm for determining the relevance of a web-page in relation to a given keyword, known as the Page Rank. What made Page Rank different from any of the other search algorithms at the time was that it factored off-page data as well as on-page content into its assessment of the relevance of a given site.
In 1998, Larry and Sergey began the search engine Google by applying this algorithm to search queries. The site quickly became one of the most popular search engines on the internet due to the high quality search queries their algorithm yielded. One of the most important off-page factors which Page RAank values highly is links. Specifically, relevant and credible sites (which tend to have high page ranks of their own) that link to another website will pass what is referred to as “link juice” along to the site to which it links. When a site has many relevant low-page rank sites, or a few relevant high-page rank sites linking to it, then it has a lot of link juice and thus its page rank will increase, increasing its chances of being found in a search query for the keyword which the site is trying to be found. The belief behind including links in the search algorithm criteria was that people share genuinely good content. As you can see though, there are some qualifications to the kinds of links that can help your site, as there are many types of links which can actually hurt your site’s SEO.
So what kind of links can hurt your site?
- links from untrustworthy sites: sites with low page rank or poor content
- links from unrelated sites: often occurs when one puts links in article directories
- cheap links: can include but not limited to links in comments that are non-pertinent to the page they’re on, a link at the bottom of a page that is just the URL, or a URL link in the middle of text
- Most paid links: I say most because sometimes these may for a time appear to search engines as legitimate links, but a high number of low-page rank links (which is what these services often yield) cannot possibly help you
In short, links have been given an elevated status in the calculations of most search engine algorithms as a means of sifting out some of the more nefarious webmasters. Thus, if you want your site to rank in searches, it is highly worthwhile to make sure there are trusted and reliable sites linking to your own. I hope this post has provided you with, at least, a brief overview of why links matter in SEO.