Topical SEO: 7 Concepts of Link Relevance & Google Rankings
Links matter for SEO. A lot.
Most marketers realize that links to websites count as “votes” on the web. Google — and other search engines — use these votes to rank webpages searching results. The more votes a page accumulates, the better that page’s likelihood of ranking searching results.
This is actually the popularity element of Google’s algorithm, described in the initial PageRank patent. But Google doesn’t stop at using links for popularity. They’ve invented numerous clever ways to utilize links to ascertain relevance and authority — i.e. what’s this page about and can it be a dependable answer for the user’s search query?
To rank in Google, it’s not merely how many votes you receive from popular pages, but the relevance and authority of those links as well.
The principals Google may use grow complex quickly, but we’ve included numerous simple approaches to leverage these strategies for more relevant rankings at the bottom of the post.
1. Anchor text
Initially, there was the initial PageRank patent, which changed the way in which search engines worked. It talked about anchor text a whole lot:
“Thus, even though the writing of the document itself may not match the search terms, if the document is cited by documents whose titles or backlink anchor text match the search terms, the document will be described as a match.”
In a nutshell, if a page links for your requirements utilising the anchor text “hipster pizza,” there exists a good chance your page is approximately pizza — and maybe hipsters.
If many pages link for your requirements using variations of “pizza”— i.e. pizza restaurant, pizza delivery, Seattle pizza — then Google can easily see this as a strong ranking signal.
(In fact, so powerful is this effect, that should you search Google for “hipster pizza” within Seattle, you’ll see our target for the link above ranking on the first page.)
How exactly to leverage Anchor Text for SEO:
Volumes could possibly be written with this topic. Google’s own SEO Starter Guide recommends numerous anchor text best practices, one of them:
- Use (and seek) descriptive anchor text that describes what your page is approximately
- Avoid generic anchor text, off-topic anchor text
- Keep anchor text concise – no higher than a few words
While some Google patents discuss ignoring links with irrelevant anchor text, other Google patents propose taking a look at the writing surrounding the anchor text for additional context, so keep that in mind.
A phrase of caution: While optimizing your anchor text is good, many SEOs through the years have observed that too much of a good thing can hurt you. Natural anchor text on the internet is naturally varied.
Browse the number of anchor text to Moz’s page on Domain Authority, illustrated here using Link Explorer.
Over-optimization can signal manipulation to Google, and many SEOs recommend a method of anchor text variety for better rankings.
2. Hub and authority pages
In the first days of Google, shortly after Larry Page figured out how to rank pages predicated on popularity, the Hilltop algorithm worked out how to rank pages on authority. It accomplished this by looking for “expert” pages linking to them.
A professional page is a record that links to many other topically relevant pages. If a page is linked to from several expert pages, then it is considered an authority on that topic and may rank higher.
An identical concept using “hub” and “authority” pages was put forth by Jon Kleinberg, a Cornell professor with grants from Google and other search engines. Kleinberg explains:
“…a good hub is a page that points to many good authorities; a good authority is a page that is pointed to by many good hubs.”
– Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment (PDF)
While we can’t know their education to which these concepts are utilized today, Google acquired the Hilltop algorithm in 2003.
How exactly to leverage Authority Pages for SEO:
A typical practice of link builders today is to get links from “Resource Pages.” They’re basically Hub/Expert pages that link out to helpful sites around a topic. Scoring links on these pages can often allow you to a ton.
Additional Resources: Resource Page Link Building
3. Reasonable Surfer
All links are not created equal.
The concept behind Google’s Reasonable Surfer patent is that certain links on a page are far more important than others, and thus assigned increase weight. Samples of more important links include:
- Prominent links, higher up in the HTML
- Topically relevant links, related to both the origin document and the target document.