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July 8, 2011

SEO – A Link Is A Link?

A few years ago to combat blog comment spam, the search engines implemented no follow backlinks. These changes wreaked havoc for big business and small business SEO.

These no follow backlinks were suspected of having no SEO value because they don’t pass PageRank from the linking site. It now appears that although they may no pass PR, they do have value.

In the recent SEOMoz Search Engine Ranking Factors report, a correlation exists between ranking and the presence of no follow links.The ratio of no follow to do follow links appears to be a search engine ranking factor. If do follow links greatly outnumber no follow links, the site or page link profile may seem unnatural. The search engines expect that in the normal course of link getting, links from both do follow and no follow sites are normal.

If your site link profile has a very high ratio of do follow links, you may need to get more no follow links from social media sites, no follow blogs and other sources to balance your profile.

What About Authority?

It’s probably true that PR is not passed with a no follow link. That statement may not be completely true, but let’s assume it is. My question has been for some time now, even if no PageRank is passed, is a link from an authority site related to the linked-to site valuable?

Some SEO teachers and specialist have been saying for awhile to ignore no follow and just get the link. They say that in their testing it didn’t seem to matter. I’m wondering out loud, if link juice is not passed through PR, are other signals being used to determine authority and relevance.

The Search Algorithm

For a lot of reasons, search engines are designed and tweaked to provide the best result for search queries. The algorithms look at off page and on page factors. Let’s look at factors from off page. A link from a site provides a vote to the destination site. If the link is no follow, the PageRank (PR) is gone, but I’m thinking other signals in the algorithm are present that make the link from an authority site valuable.

Google says there are over 200 factors in the algorithm, others say it’s more, why wouldn’t they be including the relevance of the link in relevance factors.

Let’s look at an example. Two sites have on page content and factors that are exactly the same. There’s nothing to choose between them. Based on on page factors, it’s a dead heat. Still, one ranks higher than the other. Why?

On site factors are the same, so the ranking must be based on off site factors. Let’s say now that both of these sites have the same PR profiles. Each has 1,000 links with the same distribution of PR, the same anchor text distribution and the same distribution of no follow and do follow links.

I am submitting that where the links come from is an overlooked factor. If the first site’s links are mostly from sites related to the content, while the second site get its links from general or non-related sites, the first site will rank higher. Few would argue this point, but it appears that no follow links may be passing relevance and authority signals even if there’s no PR value.

A New Life for No Follow Links?

So, just maybe, no follow links have value after all. I don’t know how valuable these links are, but if search engines are not ignoring these links completely (there not), no follow links must be passing signals for some reason. There appears to be link profile signals. Are there one or more relevance signals for no follow links as well? While I won’t advise ignoring the follow tag, in an SEO or local SEO program it now appears that those no follow links are more valuable than we thought.

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