How does the flow of link equity work these days, and how can you harness its potential to help improve your rankings? Whether you’re in need of a refresher or you’ve always wanted a firmer grasp of the concept, this week’s Whiteboard Friday is required watching. Rand covers the basic principles of link equity, outlines common flow issues your site might be encountering, and provides a series of action items to ensure your site is riding the right currents.
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Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about understanding and harnessing link equity flow, primarily internal link equity flow, so that you can get better rankings and execute on your SEO. A big thank you to William Chou, @WChouWMX on Twitter, for suggesting this topic. If you have a topic or something that you would like to see on Whiteboard Friday, tweet at me. We’ll add it to the list.
Principles of link equity
So some principles of link equity first to be aware of before we dive into some examples.
1. External links generally give more ranking value and potential ranking boosts than internal links.
That is not to say, though, that internal links provide no link equity, and in fact, many pages that earn few or no external links can still rank well if a domain itself is well linked to and that page is on that site and has links from other good, important pages on the domain. But if a page is orphaned or if a domain has no links at all, extremely difficult to rank.
2. Well-linked-to pages, both internal and external, pass more link equity than those that are poorly linked to.
I think this makes intuitive sense to all of us who have understood the concept of PageRank over the years. Basically, if a page accrues many links, especially from other important pages, that page’s ability to pass its link equity to other pages, to give a boost in ranking ability is stronger than if a page is very poorly linked to or not linked to at all.
3. Pages with fewer links tend to pass more equity to their targets than pages with more links.
Again, going off the old concept of PageRank, if you have a page with hundreds or thousands of links on it, each of those receives a much more fractional, smaller amount of the link equity that could be passed to it than if you have a page with only a few links on it. This is not universally… well, I just want to say this doesn’t scale perfectly. So it’s not the case that if you were to trim down your high link earning pages to having only one link and point to this particular page on your site, then you suddenly get tremendously more benefit than if you had your normal navigation on that page and you link to your homepage and About page and products page. That’s not really the case. But if you had a page that had hundreds of links in a row and you instead made that page have only a few links to the most important, most valuable places, you’ll get more equity out of that, more rank boosting ability.
4. Hacks and tricks like “nofollow” are often ineffective at shaping the flow of link equity.
5. Redirects and canonicalization lose a small amount of link equity. Non-ideal ones like 302s, JS redirects, etc. may lose more than 301, rel=canonical, etc.
So keeping in mind these principles, let’s talk through three of the most common link equity flow issues that we see websites facing.
Common link equity flow issues
A. A few pages on a large site get all the external links:
You have a relatively large site, let’s say thousands to tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of pages, and only a few of those pages are earning any substantial quantity of external links. I have highlighted those in pink. So these pages are pointing to these pink ones. But on this website you have other pages, pages like these purple ones, where you essentially are wanting to earn link equity, because you know that you need to rank for these terms and pages that these purple ones are targeting, but they’re not getting the external links that these pink pages are. In these cases, it’s important to try a few things.
We want to identify the most important non-link earning pages, these purple ones. We’ve got to figure out what these actually are. What are the pages that you wish would rank that are not yet ranking for their terms and phrases that they’re targeting?
We want to optimize our internal links from these pink pages to these purple ones. So in an ideal world, we would say, “Aha, these pages are very strong. They’ve earned a lot of link equity.” You could use Open Site Explorer and look at Top Pages, or Ahrefs or any of our other competitors and look at your pages, the ones that have earned the most links and the most link equity. Then you could say, “Hey, can I find some relevance between these two or some user stories where someone who reaches this page needs something over here, and thus I’m going to create a link to and from there?” That’s a great way to pass equity.
Retrofitting and republishing. So what I mean by this is essentially I’m going to take these pages, these purple ones that I want to be earning links, that are not doing well yet, and consider reworking their content, taking the lessons that I have learned from the pink pages, the ones that have earned link equity, that have earned external links and saying, “What did these guys do right that we haven’t done right on these guys, and what could we do to fix that situation?” Then I’m going to republish and restart a marketing, a link building campaign to try and get those links.
B. Only the homepage of a smaller site gets any external links.
This time we’re dealing with a small site, a very, very small site, 5 pages, 10 pages, maybe even up to 50 pages, but generally a very small site. Often a lot of small businesses, a lot of local businesses have this type of presence, and only the homepage gets any link equity at all. So what do we do in those cases? There’s not a whole lot to spread around. The homepage can only link to so many places. We have to serve users first. If we don’t, we’re definitely going to fall in the search engine rankings.
So in this case, where the pink link earner is the homepage, there are two things we can do:
Make sure that the homepage is targeting and serves the most critical keyword targets. So we have some keyword targets that we know we want to go after. If there’s one phrase in particular that’s very important, rather than having the homepage target our brand, we could consider having the homepage target that specific query. Many times small businesses and small websites will make this mistake where they say, “Oh, our most important keyword, we’ll make that this page. We’ll try and rank it. We’ll link to it from the homepage.” That is generally not nearly as effective as making a homepage target that searcher intent. If it can fit with the user journey as well, that’s one of the best ways you can go.
Consider some new pages for content, like essentially saying, “Hey, I recognize that these other pages, maybe they’re About and my Terms of Service and some of my products and services and whatnot, and they’re just not that link-worthy. They don’t deserve links. They’re not the type of pages that would naturally earn links.” So we might need to consider what are two or three types of pages or pages that we could produce, pieces of content that could earn those links, and think about it this way. You know who the people who are already linking to you are. It’s these folks. I have just made up some domains here. But the folks who are already linking to your homepage, those are likely to be the kinds of people who will link to your internal pages as well. So I would think about them as link targets and say, “What would I be pretty confident that they would link to, if only they knew that it existed on our website?” That’s going to give you a lot of success. Then I would check out some of our link building sections here on Whiteboard Friday and across the Moz Blog for more tips.
C. Mid-long tail KW-targeting pages are hidden or minimized by the site’s nav/IA.
So this is essentially where I have a large site, and I have pages that are targeting keywords that don’t get a ton of volume, but they’re still important. They could really boost the value that we get from our website, because they’re hyper-targeted to good customers for us. In this case, one of the challenges is they’re hidden by your information architecture. So your top-level navigation and maybe even your secondary-level navigation just doesn’t link to them. So they’re just buried deep down in the website, under a whole bunch of other stuff. In these cases, there are some really good solutions.
Find semantic and user intent relationships. So semantic is these words appeared on those pages. Let’s say one of these pages here is targeting the word “toothpaste,” for example, and I find that, oh, you know what, this page over here, which is well linked to in our navigation, mentions the word “toothpaste,” but it doesn’t link over here yet. I’m going to go create those links. That’s a semantic relationship. A user intent relationship would be, hey, this page over here talks about oral health. Well, oral health and toothpaste are actually pretty relevant. Let me make sure that I can create that user journey, because I know that people who’ve read about oral health on our website probably also later want to read about toothpaste, at least some of them. So let’s make that relationship also happen between those two pages. That would be a user intent type of relationship. You’re going find those between your highly linked to external pages and your well-linked-to internal pages and these long tail pages that you’re trying to target. Then you’re going to create those new links.
Try and leverage the top-level category pages that you already have. If you have a top-level navigation and it links to whatever it is — home, products, services, About Us, Contact, the usual types of things — it’s those pages that are extremely well linked to already internally where you can add in content links to those long-tail pages and potentially benefit.
Consider new top-level or second-level pages. If you’re having trouble adding them to these pages, they already have too many links, there’s no user story that make good sense here, it’s too weird to jam them in, maybe engineering or your web dev team thinks that that’s ridiculous to try and jam those in there, consider creating new top-level pages. So essentially saying, “Hey, I want to add a page to our top-level navigation that is called whatever it is, Additional Resources or Resources for the Curious or whatever.” In this case in my oral health and dentistry example, potentially I want an oral health page that is linked to from the top-level navigation. Then you get to use that new top-level page to link down and flow the link equity to all these different pages that you care about and currently are getting buried in your navigation system.
All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. Give us your tips in the comments for how you’ve seen link equity flow, the benefits or drawbacks that you’ve seen to try and controlling and optimizing that flow. We’ll see again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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