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May 27, 2008

Linking Practices – Part 4 of 3: The Unconfirmed

Here in part four of “Linking Practices” we will cover how to maximise the benefits of those links we discussed previously (check out part 1: “Links Defined“, part 2: “Links Applied” and part 3: “Link Tricks“).

Okay, so you’ve already noticed that this is part 3 of 4 (you did notice, didn’t you?). After all it is commonly known that the best trilogies come in fours. These are unconfirmed ideas. I don’t think anything can really be classed as a myth or truth in SEO simply because what holds true today may not hold true tomorrow or vice versa. That’s why I refer to these as ideas and not myths. I guess that’s what makes it all so very exciting.

Link Juice:

Ah, link juice. What exactly is it? How much does a page have? How is it lost? It is suggested that the total link juice that each page has is a result of the number of links going into a page. Of course if you wanted to be able to measure that one accurately you would need a base page to work from. So for now we will simply say that a page with many links has a lot more link juice than a page with few links (assuming all links are equal). I don’t believe that link juice can be lost. It simply becomes more diluted at more links are added. Sometimes some of this juice can be given up by having too many links. Imagine a page with 1000 links; do you think that Google will actually follow each of those? I doubt it. I would venture to guess that when encountering a page with an excessive number of links our friend the Google Bot would simply ignore the whole page.

PageRank Shaping:

“Nofollowing your internals can affect your ranking in Google” – Matt Cutts. Okay so purposefully nofollowing your own pages is a confirmed way of promoting some pages of your website a little more than others. After all, who would want to rank for the phrase “contact me” when you are trying to sell kites? This brings us back to the first topic, “Link Juice”. Each page has X amount of juice or link love to spend. This is relative to many different factors, but we’ll just say that it’s due to just inbound links at this point. Each link from that page shares some of that X. If you only have 2 links from a page, each link is worth ½ of X. If you have 4 links then each link is worth ¼ of X and so on. Internal PageRank can be shaped by nofollowing some of the pages you don’t desire or need to rank – the privacy policy or terms and conditions come to mind here. By nofollowing these pages you don’t have to share the juice. In this case the pages that do get the juice will be getting more.

Think of it as follows, you and 5 friends (that’s 6 of you) share a six pack and you each get a beer. But if three of your friends are teetotallers, then those of you that do indulge in alcohol each get 2 beers, getting you just that little bit drunker in the process. By nofollowing you can do exactly the same thing to each of your pages. Although I would suggest that you don’t drink while writing your copy.

Buying/Selling Links:

While Google have come right out and said “do not buy text links” (for PageRank purposes that is). However it can be very difficult at times to spot a paid link. While many publishers mark their “sponsored” links accordingly there are no doubt a few that won’t. While the PageRank craze does seem to be dying down a little many still believe that any page’s worth is proportional to the toolbar PageRank – something that we know is inaccurate at best. I would bet that if you had a site or page with a high PageRank you wouldn’t have to look too long or hard to find a willing buyer for a link to two. Will Google ever find out? Who knows just how good they are at detecting bought links? And regardless of how good they are there will always be a few that manage to get away with it. So far it would seem that the only real penalty for buying or selling links is a decrease in toolbar PageRank – is that really so bad?

While there are many ways to try and cheat the system by weighting some links, negating others and even blatant cheating (by buying links) sooner or later you will get caught or worse you may end up nofollowing your more important pages by accident. It is vital to remember that the darker the hat you are wearing the shorter your success periods tend to be.

After all the changes in algorithm, the war on paid links… the list really does go on. There will never be a substitute for a well designed site with unique content as this will gain links naturally.

Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant in South Africa for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development.