Links and Age as Search Engine Ranking Factors

In this second part of a five-part series on the factors that cause web sites to rank in the search engines, we’re going to take a close look at links and the age of the domain. We’re also going to touch on the rate at which new pages are added, the rate at which new links are added, and hopefully torpedo once and for all the belief that toolbar page rank has anything to do with how high you rank on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Topical Relationship of Linking Site

If the domain is trusted and the page you link is on is relevant, it can be enough to pass link power. Links from less relevant but powerful domains are still counted.

Getting a link from a niche website on your topic can help you with Google’s Topic Sensitive Trust Rank and Topic Sensitive Page Rank, which require “community” links. Community links are links from websites in a specific topical community. If you can get a link from a niche website, even a new one, go for it.

Topical Relationship of Linking Page

Many websites have multiple themes, sometimes completely unrelated. Links from those websites are still highly valuable, but to have the greatest effect they must come from a topical page relevant to yours. For example, the New York Times covers just about everything. A link to an SEO site from the politics section is not going to be as helpful as one from the “Internet” or “marketing” sections.

Google has made multiple updates to diffuse page rank manipulation problems. Page rank in its simplest form did not consider topical relationships of sites, hence any high PR links with targeted anchor text were enough to get top spots. Google changed this with Hilltop and other algorithms. Links from somewhat related pages and high PR pages are still important, so by no means ignore them.

Link Popularity of a Linking Site

Page rank is a measure of link popularity, but link popularity can be different for two sites of equal page rank. One PR7 site may have 1000 links while another boasts 7000. I believe the link from the one that has 7000 is more valuable.

It’s impossible to measure link popularity with Google’s toolbar PR, so link analysis must come into play. Yahoo Site Explorer, Linkscape and Majestic SEO are good applications to help you learn the number of links a website has. It’s possible that Google may discount half or more of the links that those tools show, so use this as a relative measure.

Link Popularity of the Site on other Topic-Related Websites

Google is moving in this direction. If you don’t have any links in your topical community, it’s going to be a lot harder to rank. If many websites of the same topic link to another website, it is a good indicator that the site is related to the topic.

Page rank flows internally, just as it does from outside websites. If internal page A has links from 100 internal pages, and page B has 20 links from internal pages, than A is considered more important. If pages A and B link to X, then a link from page A is weighted more than one from B.

Many SEOs claim this one move helped some pages rank high in search results. I have not seen this happen, but be sure to link to the pages you want to rank, from your most heavily inner-linked pages. It’s also important to vary anchor text and appear more natural.

Toolbar PageRank – TBPR

This is what SEO experts from SEOMoz’s ranking factors have to say about toolbar page rank:

  • My feelings about Pagerank are well known. Ignore it. – Eric Ward

  • Page rank published in the google toolbar is for entertainment purposes only, and is not the real pagerank. – Michael Gray

  • The toolbar is perpetually outdated, but Google uses PageRank values to help set crawling priorities and to determine if a document should go in the regular or supplemental index. – Aaron Wall

  • Lots of people will say "no" but it is still a good measure of connectivity and says something about the site. – EGOL

  • TBPR is not true PR. – Rae Hoffman

Google has admitted that Toolbar page rank updates are at least three months behind the real page rank.  Toolbar page rank is also very relative.

When Google declared link buying black hat, it lowered toolbar page rank for all sites it was aware of that bought and sold links. Their rankings on the search engine results pages and traffic stayed intact, so this only proves that toolbar PR is not real.

Use link analysis and other authority indicators to determine value of pages.

The age of a website is a very important factor for both search engine rankings and links.

Old domains costs a lot more than new ones, starting at around $100 and going up to $10,000 and more. Google and other search engine are well aware of this, hence they make an assumption that anyone who can invest several hundred bucks or several thousand bucks in a domain is not going to use that domain for spam.

Spammers buy domains in bulk because they need volume. It’s too expensive to buy old domains, hence Google loves grandfathered web addresses. I also suspect that Google would try to learn the price paid for domain and then include it in the trust computation. This is only a guess, but it makes sense to do it. No spammer is going to pay $500,000 or more for a web address.

It’s easier to rank for any term if a website is aged. Older sites may also get away with more than new ones.

Inbound links play a major role in the age factor. Old domains tend to have many aged links, which is good for Google algorithms.

New websites need to earn their trust, kind of like new friends and employees. They can’t just say it, they need to show it with links and content. If the domain is less than one year old, expect it to be in the supplemental index for some time. The shortest path to earning trust with a new domain is by getting links from aged and trusted domains.

You can see the domain age factor in the search results. There are many “crappy” looking sites parked on old domains that rank very high for very competitive terms.

Rate of New Pages

This is not a big factor with which to be concerned. News websites add thousands of pages per day; it is an expected pattern. If you add 100 or even 1000 pages, Google will be cool with it. Problems come if all of a sudden you add 800,000 pages (or equivalent). This can flag the site and new pages for manual audit.

The rate of new page additions can be an indicator of spam for Google. If sites in various industries go over a specific threshold or act too weird, it can be a sign.

If you’re not spamming Google, though, don’t worry about this one.

Rate of New Links Added 

The rate of new links added might be used as a cue by Google concerning a website. If all of a sudden a site gets 100,000 links in a week, a valid question to ask is – why? Is it due to super-hot stories, increased search volume, a super killer application or some other valid factor? The rate of new links added can indicate that a website should get a “trusted” score or get penalized. The rate can also indicate paid links, which Google despises.

Too many crappy links in a short period of time is usually bad, but if you get many natural or quality links, the search engines will be happy. A burst of quality links can help a site break though the “sandbox.”

This is one of the most important factors. The more links a site has from around the web, the more authoritative it is. Once authority is in place, a site can rank relatively crappy documents based only on domain trust.

Clickthroughs, Bookmarks, RSS and other behavioral factors

Click through data and time spent on site definitely get attention from search engines. If 8 out of 10 visitors click on the first result, spend 30 seconds there, click back, go to the second result and spend five minutes there, – it’s a good indicator that number 2 is more relevant than 1.

Google also has Reader, Toolbar and Chrome, which can all collect behavioral data about users. If (for example) 1000 users with similar Reader subscriptions and search patterns start spending a lot of time on a specific site, it gives Google more information about that site. 

Google has most of this data, and they’re already using it in “personalized search.” I believe they are still in the process of analyzing, developing algorithms, testing and tweaking. It’s definitely going to be a big factor in the next several years.

Direct Searches For Domain/Brand

If people want something, it gives Google good information about a website. Over time, combined with link growth and other trust factors, this can help rankings.

There are thousands of people who see no difference between a search box and an address bar, typing:… If you spell the address right, Google will even direct you to it without showing search results, acting like an address bar.

It makes sense to use a little of this data.

In the next article we will continue covering: query and site relationship, manual authority, keyword in domain and tags, type of link, location of link, reciprocals, target page, source, outbounds and more.

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