Link Juice: Definition & Theory

Blog, Link Building, Link Equity August 25th, 2017

What is Link Juice?

Table of Contents

1. Link Equity (Link Juice) explained in the age of penguin

2. How does link juice work?

3. How do I get link juice?

4. How do you calculate link equity?

5. Do nofollow links pass link juice?

6. Link equity relativity

7. Link juice from authoritative websites

8. Anchor text of a link matters (a lot)

9. What is good anchor text for a backlink?

10. How to distribute link equity on your site?

11. Are internal links good for SEO?

12. 301 redirects

13. Properly leveraging 301’s

14. 404 pages & link juice

15. Give me some link juice (please)

Link Equity (Link Juice) Explained in the Age of Penguin

What is link juice?:

Link juice is a term in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) that refers to the amount of authority or value that one backlink passes to the website it connects with. In the SEO industry, link juice is also called “link equity”. Backlinks from websites with higher authority and relevance on a topic will generate more link juice and help a page rank better on the search engine results page (SERP).

In general, the more link juice (link equity) your page has, the better chance it has of ranking for its target keywords in Google and other search engines. There are several important factors that go into calculating a page’s rank. Link juice through strong backlinks is just one (very important) piece of the puzzle.

Link juice is also commonly confused with PageRank, which is Google’s actual calculation of how authoritative a page is. (PageRank has officially been “sunsetted” by Google but most SEO’s are confident that Google still uses something to determine a page’s value that influences its ability to rank.) Link equity is the “value” of how a page’s PageRank is transferred via each individual backlink.

However, Not all links generate the almighty link juice. Websites with more authority are viewed as trustworthy in Google’s eyes and their links pass more juice.

There is also a physical link juice that we made for digital marketers. Send us your email address (email form at the end of our What is Link Juice? article) and we will mail you a can of our link juice.

Transcription: So, the first question that people often ask is “What is link juice?” Well, link juice is the value or authority that one link passes to the page that it connects with. Now, this can be done in two ways. The first is through an external site linking to you or your page. The second is internally from one page on your site to another.

How Does Link Juice Work?

Link juice helps your page rank better in search engines

It is not the only ranking factor, but it is consistently cited as one of the top ranking signals. Link juice flowing to a page can also spread throughout your website via internal linking. There are numerous studies that correlate internal linking with better rankings. For the purpose of this article, it is important to know that when link juice comes to a page it is possible to send it to other parts of your site and help other pages rank well. If you’d like to learn more on this concept, our post on DA vs PA will be helpful for you.

Here is a great and simplified example of how link juice works from Woo Rank:

The more good links you have, the more link juice you get.

How Do I Get Link Juice?

Link juice comes from external links (also known as hyperlinks or backlinks) to your website. You can earn more backlinks through the following methods:

    • Make authoritative content and become the number one place for information on a topic
    • Position your site or content as a resource
    • Write actual blog posts for other websites in your industry
    • Join industry groups and make partnerships
    • Get quoted on other websites through PR efforts
    • Fix links with link reclamation tactics!

There are of course more ideas and tactics that work. For an in-depth overview on how to get more link juice, check out our post on what is link building and how it works.

Give us your email and we will send you some link juice.

You can also get some link juice by giving us your email address. We will literally send you a can of it.

How Do You Calculate Link Equity?

Link equity (a.k.a. link juice), is highly dependent on a number of factors:

  • The HTML of the link
  • The website linking to the content
  • The anchor text used
  • The relevance to the topic

There are also tools for calculating website authority, including Moz Domain Authority (DA), Majestic Citation Flow, Majestic Trust Flow (TF), and Semrush authority score. There are other tools but these are the most reputable in the industry.

If you want to learn what this all means, keep reading. If you already know everything and just want some free link juice. Scroll down and get your link juice free desk piece. You can either drink it for energy or just look at it all day and feel happy.

Let’s start by looking at the HTML of the link. In general, there are two types of links: dofollow and nofollow.

Do nofollow links pass link juice?

After the first Penguin algorithm was released, Google announced that they were sick of people paying for links and wanted to find a way to understand if a link was legitimately a natural connection between two websites. So they introduced the nofollow tag.

A nofollow link tells the search engine bots not to go to, or follow, the link destination. This ultimately tells the search engine that they can’t confirm if the source of the link can be trusted. In 2019 Google rolled out two additional tag directives, sponsored and UGC. These tag directives were created so that webmasters could indicate if link placements were paid for (sponsored) and user-generated content (UGC). There is some speculation that with these new tag directives, Google may be taking some link equity from nofollow tags but there are no conclusive studies yet.

Don’t forget about how backlinks play a role in content audits!

Here is an example of a nofollow link:

A dofollow link is essentially the opposite as it tells the robot to go to the end destination. This ultimately helps the link “count” and will pass the almighty link juice. There are other examples of nofollow directives, this post, from Shout Me Loud, is a great resource for further reading.

Google has taken further steps to reduce link spam by introducing a final Penguin 4.0 algorithm update that can supposedly understand if a dofollow link is spammy, essentially removing the need for nofollow tags and disavows.

Wahooo, I have a link from a website. Give me that juice!

Not so fast.

Link Equity is Relative

Link equity is highly dependent upon the context in which the backlink is given. This means that the topic of a website’s page that is linking to your content must be related to what your page is about. Consider these two linking scenarios:

In scenario 1, the page about cricket is linking to a website about flowers. This doesn’t make any sense because there are no flowers on a normal cricket field and is, for our purposes, a link that will not pass significant equity.

In scenario 2, the same cricket article is linking to a piece on the evolution of cricket positioning and helmets over the years. This link adds value and is helping the user better understand the content. This link is awarded some link equity.

Resources are another great example of relative links. Users need resource pages to learn more about a given topic. SEOs also love a natural link on a resource page. However, if the link is not helpful, chances are it won’t be passing a significant amount of that precious holy link water.

See if you can spot the unnatural link:

Scenario 3 is a resource page about plants linking to a piece on the different types of pots for plants. This is much better than a page about cricket bats linking a page about potted plants.

Link Juice from Authoritative Websites

When it comes to the website linking to your content, there are two important factors:

    • Website authority
    • Industry relevance

Essentially, websites in good standing that are trustworthy, pass link juice if the link is relevant to the content on the page. There are several tools that “calculate” authority. These include Moz DA, Ahrefs Domain Rating, and Majestic Trustflow. All of these scores are generally calculated to help decide what pages are in good standing and those that are not. If the New York Times links to your website, for example, you can bet some fancy link juice will be coming your way.

Authoritative link equity comes from sites with high authority.

One often overlooked fact is that non-authoritative websites that are relative to a specific industry can still pass authoritative link juice.

These industry sites are often authoritative for their specific industry, but not in the traditional sense as outlined by the “authority” tools mentioned above.

While these sites may have a low DA, they often can pass more link juice than high authority, non-relative sites. For example, a piece on the best above ground pool maintenance that gets backlinks from several small pool companies will earn a lot of link juice, even if the pool websites are not that authoritative.

Amazing! I just got a link to my piece on competitive hot dog eating with the anchor text:

Hot Dog Eating Techniques, The Best Hot Dog Eating Techniques”

I should have like 5 cans worth of link juice, right? Wrong.

Anchor Text of a Link Matters (A Lot)

Anchor text helps Googlebot and other search engines understand what the destination page is about. However, there are many rules and regulations on anchor text that have come from Google and other studies. These are a result of SEO’s attempting to manipulate the search algorithms. This is an example of why it’s important to engage in best practices. As SEO’s find ways to try and trick the algorithm, Google will continue rolling out updates to prevent these tactics from increasing SERP (search engine results page) rankings.

Bad, or dangerous, anchor text has these characteristics:

    • Stuffed with keywords
    • Extremely long
    • Not relevant to the end destination

Check out this resource on finding the best cricket bats.

If you actually looked at the link, you will see it takes you to a Wikihow article on keeping spiders as pets.

Not cool.

This link will not pass link juice, nor is it a good link for Wikihow. However, they have such a high number of links already (18.9 Million according to Ahrefs.com), I doubt they will care about this one.

What is Good Anchor Text for a Backlink?

Good anchor text for a backlink has the following characteristics:

    • Natural
    • Relative
    • Short
    • Adds value to the user

If you find a backlink to your site with a potentially dangerous anchor text, reach out to the webmaster and ask to change it. If they are unwilling to make the change, there is no concern as Google and other search engines will likely just ignore it.

How to Spread Link Juice Around Your Website

Transcription: The next question people often ask is “How do you spread link juice around your site?” Now, there are several ways to do this. Once you have a page that has a high page rank, you can spread the link juice by internally linking to other pages that you want to essentially grow in value. Now, there are several internal linking tactics that we talk about below, but the most common are internal links in the page, in the body of the text, internal links in the sidebar, internal links in the navigation, or internal links as a source or a “view next”.

    • Internal links in the page
    • In the body of the text
    • Internal links in the sidebar
    • Internal links in the navigation,
    • Internal links as a source or a “view next”

Link Equity Manipulation

Over the years, there has been a lot of talk about “link equity manipulation”. The term “manipulation” has negative undertones so a lot of people tend to see it as a bad thing.

However, manipulating your link equity is not always a bad thing. In fact, if leveraged properly, it can be used to benefit both your SEO and your user experience.

First, let’s define Link Equity Manipulation:

    • The process of leveraging link equity to help improve the ranking signals to other parts of your website.

There are basically two types of link equity manipulation, good and bad.

Bad Link Equity Manipulation

  1. Nefarious External Linking

This is the process of linking out to other sites in a way that is unnatural with the purpose of improving your authority or site relevance. This can be done in a number of ways:

    • Dofollow links to affiliate products
    • Dofollow links to products or services that you get paid to promote
    • Unnatural links to other sites

There have been many studies that show a benefit from external links. We talked about it early in this blog post. However, if you link to a site too many times it becomes unnatural. A great example of this is site-wide links. Search Engine Watch has a great article on site-wide links here.

In general, site-wide links look extremely unnatural and should be removed. However, if the link is natural and you do not have a history of purchasing blogroll links or other spammy site-wide links, there is generally nothing to worry about. In our opinion, site-wide links are something people do when they get paid or have a sponsor and these should be nofollowed.

  1. Are internal links good for SEO?

Internal linking is extremely important to not only help users navigate your site better, but also shows the robots how pages are connected. Link equity can be spread throughout pages through internal linking. However, this practice can actually hurt your site, if not completed properly.

Moz has an awesome whiteboard Friday on internal linking. You can find it here.

For purposes of this article, the “bad” internal linking practices are:

    • Stuffing anchor text in internal links
    • Too much of the same anchor text to a specific page
    • Too many internal links (outside of navigation, shoot for 2-3 per page)
    • Giant footer navigation

Good Link Equity Manipulation

Good link equity manipulation is essentially the practice of connecting your site in a way that makes it easy for the bots and users to understand. When you notice that your site has a ton of solid links coming to a page, you can safely leverage that page to improve other pages on your site.

This is the concept of spreading the link juice around your site. You can accomplish this in a few ways:

    • Find pages with a lot of link juice and add internal links to other important SEO pages (in natural ways).
    • Create an internal link map that groups your pages in a logical way.

What about 301 Redirects?

The 301 redirect is a tool that many SEO professionals enjoy leveraging to manipulate link equity. This is the practice of taking pages with a lot of link juice and 301ing them to a page that needs a bit more “umph” to rank well. Some will even redirect entire domains to earn more link equity.

man directing traffic

Like everything in SEO there are good and bad ways to implement 301s. It is important to note that Google has announced that 301 redirects pass along most of the original authority. This means that SEOs should not have to worry about link equity getting lost in a 301 redirect right?

Not quite.

Google knows the difference between a 301 that is helpful and one that is trying to manipulate link equity and will treat irrelevant 301s as soft 404s and essentially kill any link juice. In fact, GSQI has completed studies that indicates this to be a fact. A good SEO audit can help determine if your site needs additional 301 support.

How Can I Properly Leverage 301s?

Great question! Here is your answer: Ensure that your 301s are relevant and pointing to a specific and relevant page.

Anchor text matters here as well. If the old destination page is one about cricket bats, do not redirect to a page about flowers, redirect to one about cricket bats. If you acquire another domain, redirecting everything to your homepage is helpful, but you will likely lose a lot of link juice. Instead, complete a full 301 project to ensure all URLs get redirected to the proper page.

Check out this great 301 graphic from Moz:

In our opinion, this is a great visual representation of how to leverage 301s to manipulate link juice. However, it is important to note that unless a page redirect is temporary, there is really no need to use anything other than a 301.

404 Pages & Link Juice

Here is one of the most actionable tips in the entire article (outside of getting a can of link juice from us):

For instant link equity, find 404 pages with backlinks and write 301s to a similar page.

Boom! Instant link equity. If you do not have a similar page, create one, write the 301, and pass the link equity to another page via an internal link. The bottom line here is that link equity manipulation can be helpful if done in a way that is good for the user and is not “unnatural”.

If you aren’t able to create a new page to 301 the 404 page to, retain the link equity via outreach. This can apply to soft 404’s as well, like sold out product pages. Simply identify the 3rd party site linking to your 404 page and ask if they can update the page to a working URL. This approach assumes the replacement page you are pitching makes some sense contextually.

So there you have it. A guide to link juice that will earn you literal link juice.

Give Me Some Link Juice (Please)

Fill in your email and the first 100 branded email addresses will receive our first edition link juice. #Yum.

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