Since the very beginning, the backlinks leading to a website have represented one of the most valuable currencies of the Web.
Way back in the beginning, Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page built certain assumptions about links into the core research that eventually became the Google we know and love.
One of the biggest assumptions was that a link from one website to another was something like an editorial vote: It vouched for the quality of the website being linked to.
This assumption made a lot of sense at the time. Only a relatively small group of people had the resources and skills to create websites, so it was easy to imagine they would only endorse the best content on the Web. Total number of links could then act as a “score” for each site.
Of course, things have changed a lot since then.
Backlinks are still the biggest factor of all when it comes to climbing Google search rankings. However, the Web has gotten a lot more crowded and the underlying assumptions have become more complex. Link authority is now a leading consideration in long-term ranking success.
Drink Up: What Link Juice is and How it Works
Link authority – or just link juice – is how search engine optimization experts and other Web pros look at the effects of a given backlink on a site’s overall ranking for particular keywords. When one site links to another, link juice flows from the linker to the link-ee.
Back in the day (think 2000), links were on a pretty flat playing field. Sites with .edu and .org domain names were generally considered more desirable than the rest, but there were few other recognizable differences from one site to the next.
The more sites linked to yours, the more link juice you had, and the better you ranked. The major factor was link anchor text, which helped early Google understand the topic of an outbound link.
In today’s post-Panda SEO world, though, things are radically different. Links from authoritative sites are much more powerful than links from just any site. And though there are different factors that make a site authoritative, such as its overall domain age, quality content stands above the rest.
Juicy: How a Site Becomes More Authoritative (and Gets More Link Juice)
When you’re building your own link portfolio, you’ll save a lot of time and aggravation if you focus on the most authoritative link partners. At the same time, cultivating the authority of your own site will help you attract links passively and get more attention for your content.
There are a few key ways to build authority:
Create Useful, Helpful, and Informative Content
The most consistent way you can generate authority for your site is by making sure it provides valuable content for your visitors. Good content furnishes a robust base of targeted and “long tail” keywords for your website to potentially rank for.
It also gets shares and other engagement, demonstrating your site’s worth. Plus, it can drive email subscribes and other conversions.
Align With User Experience Best Practices
Google has gotten increasingly strict about making sure sites that rank well for tough keywords go the extra mile to provide the best user experience.
That includes things like making sure you have a responsive, mobile-friendly design, accelerating page load times, and even making sure you don’t use advertising techniques Google deems contrary to its mission.
Drive Engagement With Social Media
Not so long ago, one of the best (and only) ways to signal Google that your website was worth watching was by updating it frequently. Back then, more updates would cause a site to be indexed more regularly.
Now, you have a whole spectrum of options: One of the best of these is to use social sharing and embedded social media features to create site-wide interactivity with visitors.
Link to (and From) Other Authoritative Sites
The current outlook on link juice has a significant side effect: The best sites on the Web are often self-segregating, linking to and accepting links from only other quality sites ... and preferably, only those in a similar topic area.
The debut of Google’s disavow links tool shows that Big G expects webmasters will be willing to manually prune low-quality links out of their portfolio.
Do You Need to Measure Link Juice to Succeed in SEO?
Google used to publicize its PageRank calculations, making it much easier for the average (and not so average!) webmaster to figure out how much link juice a potential link partner would offer. PageRank is no longer accessible, though many SEO tools claim to estimate it or something like it.
One of these is Moz, which offers its own proprietary MozRank calculations.
While public PageRank scores were good while they lasted, savvy Web marketers can make the right choices about links without any such scores.
Spending some time on a site, reviewing its content, and getting a sense for what experience it offers its visitors will go a long way.
Of course, you should still be using tools like Google Analytics to make sure total backlinks and other metrics are always trending in the right direction. Links should always be increasing – and if you notice spammy or automated links, bust out the disavow tool to keep things streamlined.
All this raises an essential question. Does linking to other sites harm yours?
Typically, the answer is no, but there’s one caveat: You should link only to sites that will complement your own and add value for your site visitors. This not only makes your links more potent from a technical perspective, but also from an editorial perspective: The rarer they are, the more coveted they’ll be by the sites that can benefit from them.
That will translate to how your site is regarded and how endorsements (as links or otherwise) from you are treated. Link authority is a factor in real industry authority, so always use it wisely.