How Google Evaluates Links

by David Naylor
See Dave Speak SMX London

Google recently announced “40 changes for February” but the big one from an SEO’s point of view was the Link evaluation

Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.

If this didn’t send a small giggle or a large shudder though the SEO industry not sure what will..

Links have been the cornerstone of Google even since Larry Page came up with PageRank, but Links have been the easiest part of the algorithm to game and it’s got to end sometime :)

So let’s try and break down what Google said “We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page”,

What are the characteristics of links?

Anchor text

Well it does have the feeling that anchor text would be the prime suspect to be discounted towards the topic of a page, I guess that would stop Google bowling or bombing like the terms terrorist sympathizer

Or could it be other characteristics

Pagerank

Google’s scoring algorithm of links, named after Larry Page and used by Google forever, it basically assigns a numerical value at page level which is calculated by how many links Google can find pointing to the linked page. The quick fix for this would be just turnoff Toolbar PageRank

Content Proximity

Was it ever a bigger factor? Incontent links have always felt more weighty and natural.
As an example: David Naylor a well known and respected SEO gave a very informative speech at the recent SES Search conference with other leading SEO’s Richard Baxter of SeoGadget and Neil Walker of Just Search. There is a good round up here

the text surrounding “respected seo” and “here” relates to SES www.searchenginestrategies.com, a SEO related conference and it’s in close proximity to two other SEO companies so it could be said that the text “here” could be assigned the same anchor text related values has the “Respected Seo”

Page Proximity

Where on the page the link is actually placed

If you take my site it’s easy to see the structure we opted for

1) Header : site navigation links
2) Side links : to external sites, Bronco and Becky Naylor
3) Content : internal links
4) Side bar : recent blog links
5) Promo area : links to my tools
6) Footer : call to action links and repeat header links

Now my site is clean and doesn’t sell links, but if I did, the promo area (5) would be the first place for a nice juicy one off link, then the sidebar(4) and footer(6) areas would be the next places for site wides, easily detectable by Google and most probably already is ;)

Nofollow

I just can’t feel this one at all, NoFollow was brought in by the major Search engine to fight Link Spam I can’t see them removing it for everyone now

Link attributes : Title,Type and Rel

again not a strong signal but could have a slight score, but with Google pushing rel-author it would seem unlikely that they would stop looking at the attributes:

<a href=”album.html”>My Pictures</a>
<a href=”../images/me.jpg”>Picture of me</a>
<a accesskey=”A” type=”audio/midi” href=”/sounds/singing.mid”>Dave singing (MIDI)</a>
<a title=”How Google evaluates links – part 2 ” href=”section2.html” rel=”next”>part 2</a>
<a title=”Feedback on my blog” href=”mailto:me@davidnaylor.co.uk”>me@davidnaylor.co.uk</a>
<a href=”http://www.bronco.co.uk/”>Web Design</a>
<a href=”index.html.de” hreflang=”de”>German version</a>

But, the big thing here is “we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years” not “we have turned off a method of link analysis that we used for several years” whatever Google are doing I don’t think it’s rolled out just yet!

Update :

After thinking a little more on this last night I wanted to add some more ideas on what type of links it could be that Google are going to start discounting..

Affiliate Links : this would make sense. I know we have seen a dampening over the years but maybe a straight out cull in in the offing. This would affect some big players like Amazon and Ebay I guess. If you check out the Visibility of Amazon today in the US

Not sure if this is the case or something totally different that Amazon has done.

301 redirected pages

This is where a page of content is pushed out on to the web then links built into that page only for it to be 301'd into another site. Again this plays out a little in the affiliate link scenario but maybe more of an attack at SEO's rather than affiliates, but I have seen this method work well when you 301 the content into a Merchant with your Affiliate ID (Just saying)
or what about links into your old pages that you 301 into other pages of your site?

Short urls

can these be really trusted, I have seen the old flip flop on these :

Shorturl – pointing at NEWS story
Then the news article is pushed out everyone starts using the short url.
Shorturl – then swapped to fake news site

Age of links

this keeps coming up. If a link has been on the web forever should the equity keep on building or should it have a shelf life? I always felt that Google could have easily looked at links in a 6 month window only, I feel this plays into the hands of the link builders though. Age of links also plays into the 301 redirected target page, as you see the more we think about this the more it twists and turns..

My thoughts

And my second to final thought … what if Google actually wants to remove the LINK part of the algorithm? Surely they would start off by nibbling at little sections of the LINK analysis part of the algorithm, then test in sectors that we aren't looking at until they are happy and can roll out to the masses, I don't think we have seen this in the UK yet.

Final thought…if it's Anchor Text this time but the rest will follow and this is why we need to look at how and what panda stands for, it's a content identifier it tells Google many things:

a) This is content thin
b) This is Affiliate led content
c) This content is about this subject
d) This content can be trusted
e) People like this content

If the content was all about Logitech as an example, then surely any links on that URL stub should lead to Keyboards, Mice, Speaker it shouldn't lead to Russian brides, Search Engine optimisation or even website design, and therefore killing sidebar links and footer links and even dodgy in-content links. But then again could Panda categorise your site not only into good or bad, but in industry, and your links cross industry count more than links out of your sector. Panda could say you're a trusted news site but not trusted for product reviews due to affiliate links, it's endless really but that's why we love this industry and if this has been rolled out in the UK… Keep Calm and Carry on

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