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The Importance of Links in SEO

Although Google looks at many factors when ranking web pages, the single most important factor currently seems to be the number and type of in-bound links to that page. Please note I mention “type” here – as we shall see, the page from which the link comes can make a big difference in where a web page appears in the search engine rankings.

Link popularity first became important with the rise of Google and its PageRank system of ranking web pages, although some search engines had used link popularity as a factor in their rankings before this. Put very simply, Google’s PageRank, and other similar search engine algorithms, assumes that a web page that is linked from another web page is more relevant than a web page with no other page linked to it, and so will rank that first web page higher than the second one. The belief was that the more pages that were linked to a particular page, the more relevance that page had.

Google took this a stage further. Instead of just looking at a single set of links in isolation, Google would also look at the web page from which the link came, and calculate how many links were made to that page. Then it would look at those web pages and calculate…and so on. In this way a hierarchy of web pages could be constructed.

This approach worked well for a while, but began to break down. The problem came from web sites trying to manipulate the rankings by setting up so-called link farms. These were sites that consisted almost solely of links to other web sites, boosting the rankings of those sites artificially.

To fix this problem, Google changed their algorithm, so that now it will only look at links that it considers have some relevance to the web page to which that link points. All other links are considered to be unimportant, and do not count in any measure towards the ranking of a web page. In fact, they may even count against you – if your site is linked from too many irrelevant links, especially from known link farms, you may find your site will be banned from the search engine results.

Let’s look at an example to see how this works. Let’s say that you are the designer of a web site for a store selling wine. You want the site to appear highly in search engine rankings, so you look for web sites that will link to your site. In order to be considered relevant, then, the sort of web site you need will have some relationship with the subject of wine. It would do you no good at all to be linked from a site selling, say, designer clothing, as Google will ignore that link completely. However, links from other sites that discuss wine will help. The more relevant the link, the bigger the effect on your site ranking.

So, where do we stand today? That’s a fairly simple question to answer, actually. Links are just as important as they were when Google first started, however nowadays the links must be relevant to have any effect. Get some good, relevant, quality links in to your web site, and watch your rankings improve. How do you get those links? That’s for another article.

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