Link Equity (Link Juice) Explained in the Age of Penguin
Definition of Link Juice:
Link juice is a term in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) that references 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 in the search engines.
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 the other search engines. There are several important factors that go into calculating a page’s rank and 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. Link equity is the “value” of how a page’s PageRank is transferred via each individual backlink.
Not all links generate the almighty link juice, however. 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.
What Does Link Juice Do?
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 be spread around your website through internal linking. There are numerous studies that correlate internal linking with better rankings. For the purposes 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.
Here is a great (basic) example of how link juice works from Woo Rank:
How Do I Get More Backlinks?
Link juice comes from external links (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) page 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
There are of course more ideas and tactics that work. If you need more reading material on backlink generation, check out this guide from Point Blank SEO. We also have a guide with more information about high-quality backlinks that you can find here.
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
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.
Dofollow Links vs. Nofollow Links
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 the link is either paid for or is a shady, untrustworthy location.
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 mighty 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. However, the jury is still out on this one. Further reading on the topic can be found here from Moz.
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 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 juice.
Resources are another great example of relative links. Users need resource pages to learn more about stuff. SEOs also love a natural link on a resource page. However, if the link is not helpful, chances are it won’t be passing any 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 with high 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 have a high standing and those that do not. If the New York Times links to your website, for example, you can bet some fancy link juice will be coming your way.
One often overlooked fact is that non-authoritative websites that are relative to a specific industry can also 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 both Google and other studies.
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.
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:
- 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. You may have to use the disavow tool so Google knows not to count it.
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
- 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 Pagerank 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, SEW suggestions that 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 get nofollowed.
- Unnatural Internal Linking
Internal linking is extremely important to not only help users navigate your site better, but also show 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 the 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.
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 do not lose page rank. This means that SEOs should not have to worry about link juice getting lost in a 301 redirect right?
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 indicate 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 going to a specific, similar 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. (tweet this)
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”.
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.