Link-building campaigns are a key tenant of every successful SEO strategy. To build authority and earn the respect of search engines, your website needs high-quality links from high-quality websites.
After all, links are still the currency of the internet, and link equity is a big part of what makes them valuable. But what exactly is link equity? And why do some links offer more benefits than others?
This article details the basics of link equity, how it has evolved, and how it is currently calculated. To craft a content development process and an effective outreach campaign that generates powerful links, be sure to master these principles of link equity for a scaleable content development program.
What is link equity?
Link equity is a measure of the value that a link passes from one webpage to another. Sometimes referred to as "link juice" or "link authority," link equity is determined by several factors, including:
- The quality of the linking website
- The relevancy of the link to the destination page
- The location of the link
Understanding the flow of equity and authority between websites is important for link-building and driving blog traffic. To improve your backlink profile and help your website rank higher in search results, optimize your links for all 11 link equity factors listed below.
Importance of the PageRank algorithm
The original PageRank algorithm was developed in 1998, and named after Google co-founder Larry Page (Page Rank is also named for a "web page"). The iterative approach to determining the value of a webpage relied on two key factors:
- First, a page was deemed important if it was widely linked to by other pages.
- Second, the network of links between pages passed link equity through the system, similar to the way water flows downstream through pipes or rivers.
PageRank scores webpages on a scale from 0 to 10, and initially, this information was publicly available in the Google Toolbar. However, the underlying data was no longer updated publicly after 2012, and the public availability of the metric was discontinued entirely in 2016. Google still uses PageRank, but as part of a large suite of factors.
To combat the prevalence of link spamming in blog comments, directories, and link farms, Google has repeatedly updated its link-valuation algorithm to become more sophisticated. Unfortunately, these days the importance of a webpage is more complex to calculate.
SEO strategy has evolved and link equity has shifted from a simple link-counting exercise to a much more nuanced system that considers many different factors. In short, link equity is more about link quality than link quantity.
11 ways Google link equity is calculated
To determine the quality of a link, Google and other search engines look at several link equity factors. Here are 11 link equity factors that are known to influence the value that a link passes to another page:
External vs. internal
External links from other websites offer more link equity than internal links from your own website. That's because external links are a sign of trust and authority, while internal links are viewed as a way to navigate website content.
That being said, internal linking strategies are still crucial for optimizing the flow of value. By carefully linking to related pages, you can ensure that link equity is spread throughout your entire website. However, without any external validation, it is much more difficult to build organic visibility.
Interior page vs. home page
Home pages are the most linked-to pages on the internet, giving them an edge in passing on link equity. For receiving link equity, on the other hand, it is best to earn links to interior pages that still need to receive a lot of link love.
To get the most link equity from an incoming link, link to a deep page on your website rather than your home page. This will help avoid your website being too "top heavy."
In general, links from websites with high domain authority pass more link equity than links from low-authority websites. Similarly, links from web pages with high URL authority are more valuable than links from low-authority pages.
Domain authority is a metric that measures the link strength of an entire website, while URL authority measures link strength at an individual webpage level. These scores range from 0 to 100 and are used to predict how well a website will rank in search results.
URL rating and domain rating are determined by:
- The backlink profile
- Content quality
- Domain age
- Website size
To check the authority of a linking website, you can use Ahrefs, Moz, Semrush, and other SEO software providers that monitor for Google updates. But remember that these estimates will vary from tool to tool because they are only a proxy for the internal calculation used by search engines.
Search engines recognize that every website has a different sphere of influence. In order to lend this credibility to your website, the linking content should be relevant to your niche.
For example, a link from a marketing website should pass link equity to an SEO company. But a link from a travel blog may not provide much value to a financial services business. In this case, the travel blog has not established the reputation necessary to move the needle in the world of finance.
Earning a link from an all-new domain is more valuable than receiving a link from a website you already have a link from. That's because each link from a new domain expands your link network, giving your website more link equity.
For this reason, it is often helpful to keep an eye on not just the number of backlinks you build but also the number of unique referring domains linking to your target website. Fortunately, there are a ton of AI SEO tools that help you keep track of this. Of course, link quality is still more important than link quantity. But all else equal, it is best to continue diversifying your link relationships.
Anchor text is the clickable phrase used to link one page to another. While heavily debated in the SEO community, according to Google representatives, anchor text does offer helpful context when link building.
To investigate the impact of anchor text on keyword ranking, Ahrefs conducted a study of nearly 400,000 web pages. While you can read the entire blog post for more context, the conclusion showed that there is a weak, marginally positive correlation between exact anchor text matches and rankings.
Combining this empirical evidence with Google's guidance indicates that using descriptive anchor text may offer some benefits. However, it is best not to manipulate or over-optimize for exact keyword matches. In fact, this could even introduce risk by raising flags about your link-building tactics.
Follow vs. nofollow
Nofollow links are hyperlinks with a rel="NoFollow" tag added to the link HTML. This attribute tells search engines not to pass equity through the link. In other words, no-follow links do not help a website's SEO.
Conversely, "follow" links do not have this tag and do contribute to SEO by passing link equity. That said, the lack of a no-follow tag is only one signal that Google uses to rank websites in search results. So even if a link is do-follow, it does not necessarily offer SEO benefits. And even if a link is no-follow, it can offer value beyond SEO in the way of brand awareness and traffic.
Search engines can be directed not to crawl and index certain pages via a robots.txt file. When this is the case, all of the page's links are ignored and referred to as dead. Dead links do not pass link equity to your website.
To check if a link is live and crawlable, you can use a link checker like Dead Link Checker or Sitechecker.pro. These tools will help you surface any potential link equity from dead links so that you can take action to reclaim them. Creating a sitemap and removing any “NoIndex” tags will help you rank better if the links on your own site are not indexed.
Google maintains that all 300 redirects retain their link equity, including redirects from HTTP to HTTPS. However, it is not clear that all search engines have followed Google's lead. Further, redirecting irrelevant links from a purchased domain to your home page is still unlikely to offer any link equity benefit.
The location of a link on a webpage can also be a factor in how much link equity is passed. For instance, a link in the footer or sidebar of a page is often less valuable than a link in the main body content.
These links tend to be less visible to users, and as a result, they are less likely to be clicked on. This reduced link interaction can limit the link's ability to pass link equity.
Because of the same reasoning, links higher up in the content are often more valuable than links lower down or in an author bio. This is why it can be helpful to link to your target website early on in an article or blog post.
Number of links
The number of links on a webpage and from a domain also plays a crucial role in link equity. The total available "link juice" from a page is effectively split among the links on that page. This is why link-building tactics like link farms, where hundreds or thousands of links are added to a webpage, are not effective.
Surprisingly, the same is true for highly authoritative social media websites. Because these domains have billions of outgoing links, the link equity from a single link is effectively zero, even if it is technically do-follow.
Link equity is a complex part of SEO, and unfortunately, its calculation is somewhat opaque. However, by understanding the link factors that influence link equity, you can make better decisions about link building and link placement.
It's also important to look at the evolution of link equity, from its initial PageRank days to the current landscape. When you consider the trajectory of Google updates, including its most recent helpful content update, it's clear that websites should focus on people-first content.
Search engine algorithms will continue to strive to better serve their users. Rather than exploiting temporary loopholes, it's always best to focus on building a link profile that will stand the test of time. By creating genuinely valuable content and linking in natural ways, your website will maximize its link equity and longevity.
Link Equity FAQs
How do you increase link equity?
To increase link equity, create an outreach campaign that targets authoritative websites in your industry that have not linked to you before. Also, leverage internal links to pass equity from your strongest pages to your weaker ones.
Can you measure link juice?
While you cannot measure link juice directly, many SEO software tools can estimate domain and page authority. Semrush, Ahrefs, Moz, and other SEO reporting tools all offer a range of metrics that can give you an idea of how much link equity a page has to offer.
How do you avoid losing link equity?
To avoid losing link equity, set up redirects when pages are removed from your website and use a link-checking tool to monitor your backlinks for any that have been lost. Also, avoid duplicate content which can occur as a result of link canonicalization issues.
What is link velocity?
Link velocity is the rate at which a website is acquiring new backlinks. An unnaturally high link velocity can be a sign of link manipulation and spamming, which may result in a penalty from Google. To avoid this, focus on building quality links consistently over time. As long as your linking efforts are white-hat and organic, you should be in the clear.
What is link bait?
Link bait is a piece of content that is created for the sole purpose of generating inbound links to a website. Many SEO experts recommend using the skyscraper technique, which calls for creating content that is significantly better than anything else that exists on the web. This will naturally encourage other websites to link to your content, and can even allow you to "steal" links from inferior web pages.