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SEO 101 - Part 14: Everything You Need to Know About Link Anatomy


The following series is pulled from a presentation I gave to a group of beauty bloggers hosted by L'Oreal in New York. Most of the presentation is geared toward how to make a blog more search engine and user-friendly, however I will expand many of the concepts here to include tips and strategies for sites selling products or services across all industries.
Link Analysis Progression
Link Anatomy
I said in my last post that each link is essentially a vote for the page that's being linked to. That, essentially, was the original link analysis factors. Things have come a long way since then. Today's link analysis factors are far more complex.
Over the years what gets analyzed as part of the link has changed in order to provide better search results to web users.
The search engines started out looking at sheer link volume. He who gets the most links wins. This created link farms, link trades, link pages and so on. Before Google changed the game in link analysis people did everythign they could to create mad quantities of links to their site. Relevance of the linking page to the linked content didn't matter. While sheer link quantity continues to play a role, it is no longer the only factor in link analysis.
Then Google came a long and started analyzing link text. The words in the link started to matter. The words spoke about the page it was linking to and therefore when the words match up with the text on the page the more relevant your page became for those keywords.
Next, search engines started looking at the quality of each link. Does it come from a low authority website or a high authority website? The higher the site's authority linking out the more link value was passed.
Link age became a factor as it was assumed that the longer a link stayed in place the more "serious" the linker was about the site. If the links came and went then that might say somethign about the quality of the site being linked to, or if the link was an ad purchased under the radar.
As link buying became more and more prominent, the search engines started fighting back. It's impossible for the search engines to determine with 100% accuracy whether a link was purchased or not but there are some signals that they have learned to detect.
The Anatomy of a Link
Link Anatomy
There is more to a link that meets the eye. As the progression of link analysis has changed, that means we need to pay attention to our links in order to make sure that we are getting the most value out of each. Lets break down the link into its core components as relevant to the search engines.
Anchor Text: As noted earlier link text factors pretty heavily in the search engine rankings. Any clues the search engines can get about the content of the page from external sources weighs heavily. It not only tells them what the page is about, but that someone else found it as a valuable resource for what it is. That last part is important. Linking to a site is one thing. Linking to a site giving your readers context to what they'll find on that site is another thing altogether.
Links you give (and receive) should be keyword rich. Instead of linking out using the name of the website you are linking to, use keywords relevant to that site. Don't say "you can find a good used Honda Accord atJoe's Dealership." Instead, say "you can find a good used Honda Accord at Joe's Dealership."
Where it Appears: Where the link appears on the page tells the search engines a great deal about the link itself. Search engines try to determine the value of the link by its placement on the page. Links in navigation are weighted one way, editorial links are considered more relevant and links in ad spaces are generally ignored.
Editorial links (those linked in the the midst of the page's primary content) are deemed most valuable. These are generally links that are there not because they were purchased (though clearly that can be manipulated) but because the writer of the content finds it relevant to the readers.
Type of Link: There are a lot of different types of links and each carry their own weight. Many people will tell you that reciprocal links are worthless, but that's not entirely true. Context matters a great deal. The same is true for whether the link is a one-way (non-reciprocated) link pointed to the site but not returned. Known purchased links have the least value (none), but can still be useful for driving traffic and getting an audience which can also produce natural links.
Link Style: Text vs. Images. Linking actual text (words) gives the search engines more information as to what the destination site is about. It adds to the page's keyword focus from an external site. Image links don't do that as well. Images can use the ALT text which can be factored in but likely aren't weighted with the same value as a pure text link.
Link Age: How old a link is and how long it's been in place can effect the overall value of that link. In general terms the longer the link remains in place the more power it sends to the linked page. This isn't true in all cases, for example I believe blog links give out some immediate value that then fades back into the normal aging process after a few months. News links likely fade over time rather than build strength. But with these (and possibly a few other) exceptions, the link gains value over time.
Linking Site: The site that links out plays a strong role in the value of the link itself. The higher authority the linking site is, the more link value is passed. The page the link is on is also considered. A low authority page on a high-authority site may not have as much value as a lower authority site linking out from its home page, or the reverse may be true.. The topic of the page, how relevant it is to the topic site, can also be factored into how much relevance and weight the link sends out.
There are other factors as well, and I'm sure Google is always looking at ways to improve their link analysis algorithms. Links from Twitter and Facebook profiles can factor in as can links from other social media sites.
Whether you're buying a link, asking for one, or looking for exposure in social circles, the key is to get as many quality links from quality sites as possible.

(Author: Stoney deGeyter)