If you’ve ever heard someone talk about “link juice” then that is essentially the former, more casual term for sharing link authority. Throughout this blog, we will be using the newer more specific term “link equity”. Let’s look into this in more detail.
What is Link Equity Anyway?
Search engine algorithms can use this, among many other signals, to help calculate page rankings which in turn determines where pages are shown in SERPs.
Put simply, it is the notion that links can pass authority from one page to another. How much value is passed on depends on the authority of the linking page, the relevance of the topics on both pages, their HTTP status, and much more.
So to explain this further, we can say that if an authoritative page includes a followed link to an article on a smaller website, search engines can see this as a vote of confidence for the smaller site, and some authority will be passed from the authoritative page to the smaller website through the followed link. The same principal applies to pages on your own website.
So Can I Just Add More Links to My Website?
Not exactly. It doesn’t quite work that way. There are a few significant factors that determine whether or not equity will be passed from link to link, and how much. These include:
1. Relevancy – Google knows what each page is about so will only pass value if the pages are relevant to each other. So, don’t link from a page about vacuum cleaners to a page about how to make the perfect apple crumble!
2. Crawlability – If your robots.txt file blocks crawlers on a page, then the crawler will ignore this page and no value will be passed. Your crawl ability could be affected too.
3. Authority – Links from websites / pages with more authority will pass more equity than links from websites / pages that are new and have little-to-no authority.
4. Followed vs No-Follow – No-follow links tell crawlers to ignore that link so no link equity will be passed on.
5. Amount of links – It is much better to have a link from a page with fewer links than it is to have a link from a page which also links to hundreds of other pages.
6. HTTP Status – If a page has a 200 or permanent 301 status then it will retain its equity.
7. Location on the page – Links from within footers or sidebars don’t have as much weight as those that are within the main body of the page.
The Power of No-Follow
We touched briefly on how no-follow links affect link equity, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
On the help section of Google Search Console, they write: “In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links.”
Notice how that sentence begins with “in general”? So while most of the time the links are not followed and no equity is transferred, it seems there are exceptions to the rule. We already know there are lengthy decision-tree processes to Google’s algorithm, so it’s plausible they have something similar which dictates if, when, and how much equity gets passes in these situations.
It could be that in some cases, even when a no-follow link is used, some diminished link equity is passed.
The Effect of a Redirect
Redirects are important. If a 404 HTTP status is found, then there is no link to follow and as such no equity is passed.
Enter the faithful redirect!
With redirects, we can ensure that equity is not lost and continues to be passed from link to link. It used to be the case that a diminished amount of link equity was transferred from a redirect, even as much as 15%, but as of February 2016, it was confirmed that that would no longer be the case.
But there are different versions of 30X redirects that can be used.
301 HTTP status mean that the URL has been moved permanently.
302 HTTP status means that the URL temporarily resides at a different location.
The good news gets better, Google also confirmed that it no longer matters what redirection method is used for this, and that equity will be passed whether you use a 301, 302, or even a 307 redirect!
How Much Can the Equity Flow?
Equity continues to flow though the different levels on your website and will continue to do so through subfolders but a depreciated rate each time.
For example, if your homepage has the most link equity, a given amount of that can be passed to your category pages. Then in turn, a percentage of that can be passed to any subfolders and again some equity could also be passed on to any specific pages. This could be a subfolder structure similar to : /clothing/womens/dresses/.
This is of course providing that these pages are all interlinked.
If you’re unsure about subfolders, this is a great place to start.
Making the Most of Internal Links
We’ve mentioned that well-linked-to pages, whether they are internal or external to your website, will pass more equity from page to page than those that are poorly linked to. It’s true that external links provide more value, but that doesn’t mean that internal links are value-less.
Did you know that many pages that earn a fewer amount, or even next to no external links, can still rank well for it’s significant keywords if a domain itself is well linked to? Good right? This is especially true if that page on the domain has links from other influential pages on its domain too.
The caveat here is that if your page is orphaned or if a domain has no link to it at all, then it will be extremely difficult for it to rank.
It is possible to use rel=“no follow” to begin to sculpt your equity but some (a.k.a. Rank Fishkin) consider this to be a waste of time and it is possible that Google is aware of similar hacks and ignores them. But there is a smarter and more logical solution.
Identify your most important non-link-earning pages and optimise your internal links from higher equity pages to point to them. You can’t go adding links willy-nilly though, they must be logical links that will make sense to visitors and provide a good user experience.
Also, if you have pages that are doing particularly well compared to others, why not re-work the content of your lesser-equity-pages and edit the content and apply the principles of the former so that it should start to naturally rank higher. You can also establish a genuine reason to add an internal links and pass equity between the two.
On top of this, consider leveraging your top level navigation to add link to the less equity pages, or where that is not possible you could create new top level pages which are specifically designed to allow equity to flow better.
There we have it, you should now be well-armed to harness your link equity and make the most of your external links.
To round-off, here are some key takeaways:
External links from relevant and influential websites have a higher impact than internal links.
Links from unique domains are more important than links from those that have previously linked to you.
Links which have relevant anchor text can pass more keyword-focused equity-weight.
Links from inside the main body of content pass more value than links found inside the footer or sidebar. They are even more valuable if you have links from within the main pages of the site, as opposed to the blogroll.
If a page which has a high number of links also links to you, then this will pass less equity per link than a page which has a lesser amount of links.