In Part 2 of this series, we discussed backlinks and why they're so important when it comes to getting your website ranked in the search engines. I showed you what backlinks are and then explained how Google's business model and their desire to provide "relevant" search results has made backlinks so incredibly important.
Starting in this third part, I'm going to explain how to get these all-important backlinks. This is an incredibly in-depth topic, however, so I'm going to break this up into several parts.
We'll start with the basics, but today, it's important to understand a very important concept.
Not all backlinks are created equal
There are literally thousands of different methods to build backlinks, but no two methods will result in the same benefit. First, let's remember that the entire purpose of building backlinks is to get your website ranked at the top of the search engines. Second, let me use a dramatically simplified example to explain the idea that all backlinks have different values in helping you acheive this goal of getting ranked…
Let's say you're currently ranked #30 for the keyword "Cincinnati Landscapers." Then, one day you build a single backlink using one of the methods we'll discuss later. Depending on the link, your rank may rise to #29, or it could rise all the way to #5, or it could actually drop to #50. I'm just making these numbers up for the sake of demonstration. The point is, Google views each and every backlink differently depending on certain characteristics. In order to understand why backlinks are treated differently and how to recognize good backlinks, we need to understand what those characteristics are.
Anchor text is the actual text found within the link. Here's a screenshot of a snippet of a random article I found online with a link in it:
It should be obvious that the blue, underlined text is the link. In this case, the anchor text is "Freebase, a service that Google Owns." Likewise, here's a screenshot from a comment on that same article:
In this case, the anchor text is "http://Imgtfy.com/?q=http%3A%2…". So, the anchor text can be any text at all…in fact, anchor text can even be an image, in which case the term "anchor text" is a little misleading and the term "link anchor" would more appropriately apply (the logo at the top of this email links to our site…that's a perfect example of a link with an image anchor).
So what's so special about anchor text? Well, Google uses the anchor text to determine what keywords you should rank for. So, in the example above where the anchor text is "Freebase, a service that Google owns," that anchor text will help the linked web page rank for the exact phrase "Freebase, a service that Google owns." It will also help the linked site rank for any terms contained within the anchor text, but to a lesser extend. So, the linked site above would rank a bit higher for "Freebase" or "Google" as well as the full phrase.
So, to summarize, the important things to remember about anchor text are:
- Google uses the anchor text to determine what keywords you should rank for
- A link with the anchor text "Cincinnati Landscapers" will help you rank for any searches for "Cincinnati Landscapers."
- That same link will help you rank for the term "Cincinnati" and the term "Landscapers," but both to a lesser extent then the exact phrase "Cincinnati Landscapers."
So, the goal when building links to your site is to get the anchor text to match the keyword you want to rank for exactly. The closer it matches, the more that link will push you up the rankings for that term.
PageRank is a number Google assigns to all pages it reviews (PageRank is abbreviated "PR"). Remember in Part 2 when we discussed how Google looks at links as "votes" for a website? Well, Google also adds up the relative values of all those links and the resulting number is called the PageRank. It's on a scale of 0 – 10 and is a measure of the overall importance of a particular web page; the higher the number, the more "votes" that site has, and the more important Google thinks that site is. Facebook, for example, has a PageRank 10, CNN.com has a PageRank 9, our site has a PageRank 6, and a new site has a PageRank 0. The vast majority of websites on the internet have PageRank in the range of 0 to 3.
So why does PageRank (PR) matter? Because a link from a PR 10 website is significantly more valuable than a link from a PR 0 website; the higher the PR of the site where your backlink is, the more that link will push you up the search results. In fact, a single link from a PR 6 website, with exact-match anchor text, can be enough to get you to the first page for a particular keyword if there isn't too much competition. It may take 200 links from PR 0 websites to have the same effect.
Incidentally, PR can be checked using a browser addon. If you're using Firefox, try this. And if you're using Chrome, try this. If you're using another browser, just do a Google search for a PageRank browser addon for your web browser…they're available for most browsers.
So, the goal when building links to your site is to get the anchor text to match the keyword you want to rank for, AND to get links on the web pages with the highest PageRank you can.
This tends to be the trickiest part for most link builders. The reason being, sites with high PageRank know their links are extremely valuable and don't just give them away willy-nilly. It generally takes a lot of work to get even a single link on a high PR site. We've developed a few tricks over the years to make it much easier, but this is no doubt a challenging thing to do for most people.
Do-Follow / No-Follow
This is another important characteristic Google considers when determining that value of a link. In the code of a web page, a link looks like this: <a href="http://some-site.com">Some anchor</a>. In this case, the link is pointing to "some-site.com" with the anchor text "Some anchor." However, because Google puts so much weight on backlinks, people started gaming the system and writing software to automate the creation of backlinks en masse. To combat this, Google announced it would start looking for a particular bit of code in the link that the website owner could use to tell Google whether or not it should pay attention to that link or mostly just ignore it altogether. That bit of code is called the nofollow attribute and is in use on most big sites that allow users to post links.
Here's what that link above looks like with the nofollow attribute added: <a href="http://some-site.com" rel="nofollow">Some anchor</a>. What this does is tell Google to, for the most part, ignore that link when determining search engine rankings (it's a little more complicated than that but that's the gist of it).
Like I mentioned, many of the bigger sites that allow users to post links make use of the nofollow attribute; Twitter and Facebook are just a few examples of such sites. Here's a screenshot of a link someone posted on Twitter:
Wow, obviously links can include quite a lot of information and be really complicated, but I outlined the important part in red that says 'rel="nofollow"'. That little, seemingly insignificant bit of code means that this link will not help the target site rank at all.
So, the goal when building links to your site is to 1) get the anchor text to match the keyword you want to rank for, 2) get links on web pages with the highest PageRank you can, AND 3) get links that DO NOT have the nofollow attribute (also known as "dofollow" links).
So these are the 3 major characteristics that determine a link's value. It's important to remember that this topic is significantly more involved than I've detailed here; in fact there are quite a few books written on the subject. There are also quite a few more link characteristics Google considers, but these are the most important.
Obviously, link building is a complex subject. In addition to everything we've discussed here, Google is constantly adding, removing, and tweaking the weight of all the factors that make up it's ranking algorithms so it takes a lot of expertise to be able to build links most effectively.
We took a bit of a sidebar in this part to cover the 3 major link characteristics Google looks at, but it's important that you understand these ideas before we continue in Part 4 to introduce the different methods to build links.
This was the third part in our series educating businesses about internet marketing. If you have any questions or would like to discuss how RLM can help you generate more business online, feel free request a quote or give us a call at 513-549-7355.