Like any good investment, when it comes to backlinks, the goal is always to maximize value.
Strong, valuable links are a key component of any modern SEO strategy. Not only will they help you rank well in search results and drive organic web traffic, but they will work wonders for improving the domain authority of your site.
Long gone are the days of the quantity over quality link spamming so popular just a few short years ago.
Today, if you want to improve the quality of your links and rank higher on Google, you need to turn your attention to one thing - link equity.
What is Link Equity?
Link equity - also commonly referred to as "link juice" - is a search engine ranking factor based on the idea that specific links will pass value and authority from one page to another.
While the value of a link depends on several factors that we will soon explore, for now, it is important to remember that you can pass link value between web pages via two types of equity links - internal and external links.
4 Important Principles of Link Equity
Before we dive into the specifics of how Google and other search engines determine link equity and ways you can improve it, there are a few foundational principles that you need to know.
1. External Links Pass More Equity Than Internal Links
First, you need to understand that external links (i.e., from other websites) will provide you with more ranking value and equity over the long haul than internal links (i.e., from the same website).
Now, this doesn't mean that internal links are not important. In fact, a page can still rank pretty well with minimal external links if 1) your domain has a high level of authority and 2) the page in question has internal links from other high-value pages.
And yet, if Google does not consider your domain to be authoritative and your page has zero external links, it will be very hard for you to acquire organic visibility. As a general rule, you should look first to acquire link equity from external sources.
2. Well-Linked-To Pages Pass On More Equity Than Poorly-Linked-To Pages
Second, you need to keep in mind that well-linked-to pages (both external and internal) will be better positioned to pass on link equity than pages that are poorly-linked-to.
Essentially, if one of your pages builds up a robust link profile (especially from other high-value and important pages), that page will have an easier time passing on link equity than a page that has a weaker link profile.
3. Link Quality Matters More Than Link Quantity
Third, the quality of your links is more important than the overall amount of links. Generally speaking, a page with a few value-driven links will pass on more link equity than a page with hundreds or thousands of links. As such, link equity demands that you hone your focus on linking to only the most important, valuable, and relevant pieces of content.
4. The Diminishing Influence of Google's PageRank Algorithm
Finally, it is important to highlight the diminishing role of Google's first ranking algorithm, PageRank.
Named after Google founder Larry Page, the PageRank algorithm ordered search results by measuring a website's backlink profile, weighing both the number and value of links on each page. As PageRank placed a heavy focus on the total quantity of links, it was rather easy for SEOs to improve search engine rankings by simply spamming links to their web pages.
Today, the concept of PageRank has evolved to focus on link equity. While the assumption used to be that the most relevant and valuable websites were those receiving the highest number of links from other sites, Google now measures a number of other important factors such as link relevance, authority and trust, and link placement.
How Do You Determine the Value of a Link?
Understanding that not every link is a good link, the list below contains a few components that you need to keep in mind as you look to maximize your link equity.
The first factor you need to recognize is that backlinks must be relevant.
For example, if you link to a page about gardening from an article that focuses on mountain bikes, there's a good chance that Google will see the link as irrelevant. In modern SEO, irrelevance does not provide authority, and it certainly does not provide value. Look to limit your links to pages that are relevant to the topic at hand.
As we have already mentioned, link quality is weighed more heavily than link quantity when it comes to link juice. While there is no absolute rule governing how many links you should include on a page, it's best to keep it minimal and avoid running the risk of losing visibility to your most valuable and relevant links.
As we previously discussed in our overview of topical relevance, anchor texts play a key role in link building.
An exact match anchor text with your target keyword/keywords that clearly describes the particular page on the other side of a link is one of the best ways to help Google more easily determine the relationship between the two pages. If your anchor text is relevant, it will work wonders in improving your link equity and page rankings. Remember, words matter!
The Authority of the Linking Site
Another important factor to note is domain authority. Links from a trusted site with a high degree of authority will pass on more link juice than links from a new site with minimal authority. As it takes time for a new site to build authority, a backlink profile consisting of trusted and authoritative sites should always be a top priority.
The Location of the Link on the Page
Link visibility is essential when looking to pass on link juice.
Links obscured in the footer or sidebar of your site are typically valued less by Google than links placed in the body of a webpage's content (i.e., "contextual" links). Your site architecture goes a long way in helping Google determine which content really matters. As such, be strategic when placing your footer links and aim for visibility.
HTTP Status of Linked Page
Only links with an HTTP status code in the 200s or as permanent 301 redirects will preserve their link equity.
While Google has stated that all redirects (including non-ideal redirects) will pass on link equity, you should tread carefully. Not all search engines are likely to follow Google's lead, and it's best to develop your link building strategy with a "better safe than sorry" mindset.
Crawability and "Nofollow" Attributes
If one of your pages contains a robots.txt file, you are telling Google not to crawl or index your page. Search engines crawlers will ignore your page and, in turn, any potential link equity.
Similarly, an "index, nofollow" or "noindex, nofollow" attribute will direct Google to ignore the relationship between the two webpages in question and your links will not pass link equity. As a best practice, you should replace "nofollow" links with "followed" links.
4 Strategies for Quickly Building Link Equity
There are several strategies you can implement today to help you improve your link building efforts, capture more link equity, and improve your rankings. While the list below is by no means exhaustive, it's a great place to start for those organizations new to the concept of link building.
1. Monitor Internal and External Links With a Link Analysis Tool
If you are not ranking well, the first strategy you should look to implement is to use an online SEO or keyword tool.
There are many SEO tools available that can help you estimate link authority and relevance. One of our favorite tools - and the one we use to help develop our SEO optimized content - is Ahrefs. Taking into account a wide range of link metrics, Ahrefs provides you with a complete overview of your backlink profiles through the following metrics:
- Ahrefs Rank - i.e., the strength of backlinks compared to all of the websites in the world.
- URL Rating (UR) - i.e., the strength of a target website’s backlinks on a scale from 0 to 100 (page level)
- Domain Rating (DR) - i.e., the strength of a target website’s backlinks on a scale from 0 to 100 (domain level)
- Backlinks - i.e., the total number of links from other websites pointing to your target
- Referring Domains - i.e., the total number of unique domains linking to your target
Ahrefs proves highly effective in not only painting a very accurate picture of the current state of your page links, but the tool also provides a robust historical snapshot of all your links - both dead and alive.
While we would likely need a 4,000-word blog post to take a deep dive on how you should analyze each metric, Ahrefs has done the heavy lifting for us and put together a great training resource for backlinking. You will not only learn how to analyze your website's backlink profile but how to research and engage in a backlink analysis of competitors as well.
Other tools and research resources to check out include Moz and SEMrush.
2. Check Pages for Untapped Backlinks
With a tool like Ahrefs in hand, you should look to engage in a site audit and check for unexploited backlink potential. This is especially important if, even though you have a large site, only a few of your pages are earning quality equity links.
For example, you can focus on adjusting and improving the following pages:
- About page
- Home page
- Terms of service/privacy policies
- Contact page
Although Google does not consider all of these pages "power pages," they are filled with backlink potential.
Look to rework the content to build relevancy between topics, insert bulleted lists (with links) below the fold, optimize internal linking, and include target keywords within the anchor text of your links. Although often overlooked, these adjustments are certain to help you pass link equity.
3. Create Topic Clusters
Another great strategy for improving link juice is to create topic clusters. A topic cluster is a group of interlinked web pages that you can build by 1) developing a piece of pillar content that targets a broad theme and 2) internally linking out that pillar topic to other related content or blog posts (i.e., your "cluster" topics).
Relevant links from your cluster content to your pillar page will indicate to Google which page is the most important of the group (i.e., the pillar). So long as the content is related and relevant, your internal links from your pillar page to your cluster content will pass value across the entire cluster, thereby benefiting each page.
4. Improve Your Website's Information Architecture
Finally, you need to efficiently organize your website's information architecture and content structure with strong linking between related and relevant pages. Pages that link to unrelated content will take a hit on their relevance score, thereby resulting in a loss of link juice.
With a lower relevance score, your pages will have less value to pass on to other pages. In addition to relevant internal linking, look to focus on establishing logical categories for site navigation, as well as eliminating duplicate and low-quality content.
Link Equity: Driving Organic Traffic One Link at a Time
In the quest to build organic traffic, improve authority, and rank higher for the pages that truly matter, link equity is the secret sauce of any modern SEO action plan. With a little bit of patience and persistence, the tips, tricks, and resources outlined in this article should have you swimming in link juice in no time.
What are some of your best practices for building link equity? Let us know in the comments below!