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Link Builders Take Note – Google Is Smarter Than You Think!.

The author

Andy Heaps

Group Operations Director

While Google have literally thousands of patents granted and pending, one that was granted yesterday will be of particular interest to the SEO industry. Described in detail by Bill Slawaski over at SEO By The Sea (even more detail is available via the actual patent), it looks at what factors can impact the ‘juice’ passed by any given link. Links are a high priority for Google and SEO’ers alike, and the granting of this patent has perhaps given us a rare insight into some of the off-site algorithmic factors that come into play in ranking web pages.

I highly recommend you read Bill’s full post for a more detailed list of the kind of factors considered in the patent – some are obvious, some not so obvious. The stand-outs for me – those that every link builder in the land should be taking note of – are:

  • Prominence of a link – We already know Google are able to assign different weight to links based on page segmentation / block level analysis (i.e. contextual ‘body’ links being more valuable than footer / sidebar type links) but I think few will have considered factors such as font size and colour versus the rest of the page’s content and the aspect ratio of images used as links. The important takeaway here, which is in line with the fundamentals of PageRank, is that links which are more likely to be clicked will pass more PageRank.
  • The website associated with the linked-to page – This is very subtle but very important and is likely to factor in multiple elements. I envisage these being at least:
    • Is the target page in line with the overall theme of the website
    • How obvious is that theme – i.e. is the website as a whole optimised well
    • How well integrated into the website is the target page
    • The authority of a website could impact the weight passed by links to it

The last point may be a bit dubious and would potentially lead to the ‘rich getting richer’ but I can certainly see it being applicable where websites have some sort of Google ‘black mark’ against them. It’s also fairly common to see large, authoritative websites needing minimal external links to a deep page for that page to rank - because the overall site authority amplifies link power.

  • User interaction with a link – While this is related to the prominence of a link it’s interesting to see the frequency that a link is clicked (relative to other links on the page) and factors such as ‘interests of the users’ are stated. The latter for me implies that personalised search comes into play – i.e. how relevant is a link to recent searches that have been performed. For me this says links need to be very tightly targeted (i.e. topically relevant) and must also entice a click - ‘sell themselves’ - to ensure as high a quantity of clicks as possible.

Smart link builders will inherently be doing much of this anyway - high quality links should be topically relevant and should be placed with direct traffic as well as rankings in mind – and so should be prominent. What we don’t know is how many of these factors are already in play. With the original patent filed in 2004 it’s safe to say Google has had the technology to do this for a while and have probably been factoring in at least some of the listed features for years. It’s also safe to say that there are probably many more factors being taken into consideration, or at least tested, since this patent was filed. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how (if at all) link building strategies alter now this information has been brought to the attention of the community!