Google counting only the first link to a domain – rebunked

July 3, 2008 – 10:06 pm

OK, so not so long ago Rand put out a post saying that Google will count only one link to a URL from any given page. This is a phenomenon that was originally noticed by Michael VanDeMar but many an eyebrow was risen at both posts. That particular facial hair elevation trend has seemingly culminated by David Eaves’ post which supposedly debunks the theory. However, some problems were found in the way David has conducted his research (starting with the fact that it was done in which seems to behave like Yahoo did 10 years ago). Since we love to solve dilemmas around here and since argument from personal incredulity is not terribly popular in my neighborhood, I decided to conduct a separate test which will cover most of the questions raised in and around the above mentioned posts. (BTW the initial discussion is covered at SERoundtable, as usual)

So, in order to test the theory, i picked two sites that sometimes double as my furry lab animals and set them up so that site A links to site B with two links using different anchor texts. The phrases appeared only on a site A, they were not to be found anywhere on site B and if that site was to rank for any of those two phrases, it would be only due to the anchor text of the links pointing from the site A.

The testing process went like this:

  1. Setup the sites like described above and wait for Google indexing. After the links are indexed, check the rankings of the site B for the two phrases.Result: Site B ranked for the first phrase and not for the second phrase. The below image describes the situation:
  2. Switch between the position of links to site B. Now the previously second phrase appears above the previously first phrase on site A. Wait for Google to index the change and check the locations of B for the new phrases.Result: Site B dissapeared from the SERPs for the new second phrase (previously first) and appears for the new first phrase (previously second), like in the image below:
  3. Revert the situation to the initial state: Switch back between the phrases, wait for indexing and check the rankingsResult: Site B reappeared for the initially first phrase and dissapeared again for the initially second phrase, like in the image below:

OK, so to me this is a pretty solid data supporting Michael’s and Rand’s claims. The fact that the SERPs reacted to my changes in the order of links back and forth is kind of hard to debunk.

However, one question that kept popping up is whether nofollowing the first link will cause Google to index the second link even though it is placed lower in the code. So i performed an identical test to the one described above, just with the first link nofollowed throughout the test. The results are pretty interesting – Google did not change its behavior due to the nofollow attribute applied on the top link.

Even when i switched between the first and the second link (preserving the state where the top link is nofollowed), Google still counted only the top link and not the bottom one.

Besides the fact that nofollowing the top link will not get you around the Google ignoring the second link, it is interesting to see that Google will still count the top link even though it is nofollowed. Maybe it was due to the fact that the nofollowed link was the only link on the web using that phrase as an anchor text ? Who knows… sounds like a theory worth testing.

As for the general settings of the experiment, the keywords I have used belong to the “semi-promiscuous” kind, meaning that they are made up of words that mean something but as a combination are not commonly used. The phrase #1 had about 40 results and the phrase #2 had about 270 results in Google SERPS. It took about two to three weeks for Google to index each of the changes, meaning that each set of results persisted for that time. It also means that the testing for this post took about a month and a half. Hence the posting frequency :(

As i write in every post describing an experiment, the conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt, Google is a black box that cannot be 100% scientifically tested (I am not talking about you Matt), i was not wearing my lucky underwear when performing the tests, etc.

PS. In the course of the described experiments, i did come up with a method that can help circumvent the described situation and force Google count all the links from a single page to a target domain. It was even independently confirmed by an SEO who knows what he is talking about (unlike me) and is being successfully used on some of our sites. However, I was asked not to blog about it, so if you want to know more and I know who you are, either personally or from Sphinn/Twitter/Plurk/etc., contact me through the form and I’ll drop you a hint ;)

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  1. 117 Responses to “Google counting only the first link to a domain – rebunked”

  2. Interesting results, I think this shows exactly the direction google is going with links.

    By David Heine on Jul 3, 2008

  3. Your test is about cross-domain links, but now I’m wondering about multiple internal links, too. I haven’t rigorously tested for this, but it seems like different anchor text in the content area (coming after the menu area links in the source code) can have an effect – it apparently can trigger negative ranking adjustments for keyword stuffing, going back as far as the Florida update.

    By tedster on Jul 4, 2008

  4. So that’s the secret, I need to wear my lucky underwear when performing my SEO test. It always felt fresh without any. *LOL*

    By Bubsy SEO Challenge on Jul 4, 2008

  5. What were the time frames of the tests between changes in page content? What are the crawl frequencies and cache update frequencies of the pages involved? Did you put control links on the page to show that all the links were being processed?

    As described, your test is no more valid than the others.

    By Michael Martinez on Jul 4, 2008

  6. Definitely an experiment sheding a few more rays of light onto that phenomenon. Now, if you’d only know me enough to send me said hint :(

    By Bert on Jul 4, 2008

  7. thanks for all the response

    @tedster thanks for stopping by. i am not sure i understand th internal linking test. You get penalized AS IF you were doing keyword stuffing or it expedites the keyword stuffing penalty if you already are keyword stuffing ? In any case it is definitely interesting to see the difference in behaviour between the cross-domain vs. internal linking.
    @michael – the time frames are stated in the article – 2 to 3 weeks between each cache update – crawling happened every 2-3 days. I did indeed put control links and control text to verify that links were processed and that the site is ranking for the control text. As for your last sentence, I guess that there is only one way to conduct a valid test – being Michael Martinez. Some of the people can be wrong all the time and all the people can be wrong for some time, but can all the people be wrong all the time ?

    @bert I am sorry dude, but it has happened more than once that techniques were abused and their benefit taken away by Google. however with some experimenting and creative thinking, I’m sure you’ll get on to it…

    By Neyne on Jul 4, 2008

  8. I did an experiment with an orphaned page on my site.

    The page was completely isolated apart from half a dozen blog posts on nofollow blogs, using unique anchor text. The test is 3 months down the line and Google still hasnt indexed the page and the page will not come up for the anchor text used in said links.

    That was enough proof for me (and a recent google declaration) that nofollow links were completely discarded from the site link profile.

    Your test contradicts mine! Which is a pain in the a**!

    By matt inertia on Jul 4, 2008

  9. @matt hey, don’t take the nofollow conclusion as a done deal. In order to test that, I have to design a specific test with that in mind, trying to isolate nofollow as the sole difference between two links. My “conclusion” about nofollow is a byproduct of this test and should serve only as a question for further testing. There was a difference between your test and my test – i nofollowed a link to a page that previously had a followed link to it. It is also an offpage link and you are testing internal links, it is possible that nofollow is treated differently in these two cases…. anyways you get the idea…

    By Neyne on Jul 4, 2008

  10. Neyne – as to MM, ignore him, it’s safe to do so 9 times out of 10, and the times he’s not speaking out his ass it’s been said elsewhere anyways.

    As to the nofollow, I think you’ll find that if you leave the links in place with the nofollow intact, Google will drop the destination page from that search shortly. I tested that exact thing 3 weeks later (search for [brogginoodle] to see the post I mean), and I can tell you that starting from scratch, if the first link is nofollowed then none of them have any effect, and that if a followed link points to the destination page and is then removed, there is a slight delay before Google drops that page from that search. It was an unintended side effect I ran into when MyBlogLog click tracking caused a followed link using that anchor text to get indexed after the post went popular. About a week after those followed links disappeared the page stopped ranking again.

    By Michael VanDeMar on Jul 5, 2008

  11. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for stopping by. That is what i thought also and i debated whether to write about it in this post or to wait some more and then make a new post out of it. The truth is that this situation persists now for 3 weeks, but it is possible that due to different crawling rate, this will change soon. i am keeping my eye on it anyways…

    What is really interesting is the fact that after i switched the links around, the ranking status also changed, even though the first link was nofollowed. So when i elevated the second link above the first one, removed the nofollow from the first (now second) link and applied nofollow to the second (now first) link, the ranking dissappeared for the followed and reappeared for the nofollowed link. I think that there is more to this than just the time factor…

    By Neyne on Jul 5, 2008

  12. Great work as always, Neyne!

    We’ve been experimenting with ways to circumvent this as well, but I would love to hear more.

    If I had a vote, I would crown you best up-and-coming SEO!

    By Hugo on Jul 5, 2008

  13. You might be able to use javascript, iframes, or some other wizardry to tell Google that the first link is not to be crawled… if that’s necessary. I’d be interested to hear which particular wizardry is working for you. Probably would get more links/sphinns if you drop it into the post :) or at least the hint.

    One thing I can say is I can’t imagine Google venturing to include more than one link to a domain in its link graph. Deciding which link is the best, least keyword stuff, most descriptive link is hard to do algorithmically.

    I imagine as well that domain relevance could possibly shift the decision in one way or another, beyond a threshold of Google’s choosing. Let’s ask them. Google I mean…

    By just fred on Jul 6, 2008

  14. sorry, meant to say “more than one link [per page] to a domain in its link graph”

    By just fred on Jul 6, 2008

  15. @michael martinez
    1. You have posted a comment in a wrong blog post. Since moving it involves running several SQL queries on the database, I will first copy your comment here and then respond in a new comment:

    For what it’s worth, I dropped a couple of links onto the front page of Xenite.Org pointing to the SEO Theory blog. Both links appear to be passing anchor text, although for the first link I get a full listing for SEO Theory whereas for the second link I get a URL-only listing for SEO Theory.

    This is not a formal test, but both sites’ main pages are recrawled and recached often and I’m reasonably sure both pages are in the Main Web Index in Google.

    The search results for the first link on Saturday evening (less than 48 hours after I posted the links) are visible in this query:

    The search results on Saturday evening for the second link are visible in this query:

    Anyone else clicking on those links may or may not see both sites listed. I have no intention of leaving the links permanently in place but I’ll keep them up for a few days.

    Google typically jumbles its search results over the weekend and come Monday morning (U.S. time) either query or both may show entirely different results.

    Nonetheless, for at least a brief time frame you CAN get two links from one page to pass anchor text to another page — at least where you can be fairly certain that both pages are included in the Main Web Index, where the links are dropped just prior to a weekend update, and where both pages are crawled frequently.

    There is insufficient evidence to show that this effect would occur for most sites/pages.

    By Neyne on Jul 6, 2008

  16. OK, so now to my response:

    – the queries as you entered them (with hyphens) do not give results in Google. I assume you meant without hyphens or possibly in quotes.

    – when searching for either of the phrases in quotes, Google shows zero results and suggests to search without the quotes. So I am going to deal with unquoted queries

    – when searching for [seo theories galore], Google gives two results from your blog, grouped at #1 and #2. Neither of those results are your homepage – the page you have linked to from Furthermore, both of those pages seem to have text which is relevant for the query, they have the word [galore], and there is the expression [seo theory] in the name of your blog, where [theory] is associated with [theories] and is marked in Google SERPs accordingly. Furthermore, none of your pages appear in SERPs for [seo tests galore]. Even when performing the above queries with the site: operator on your site, there are only those two pages showing for [seo theories galore] and none for [seo tests galore].

    Now I am not sure what you were trying to prove here, but the results of your “test” show that Google will rank pages from your site that are relevant to your query and will not rank pages from your site that are not relevant to the other query. The page that you linked to does not appear in SERPs for either of the queries, so another finding is that Google does not consider anchor text when ranking pages ?

    Besides the obvious conclusions that the test has helped us reach, there is another one I would like to point out: when performing anchor text tests, I suggest you do it for keyphrases that do not appear on the site that you are testing. Messes up with the sterility of the test.

    I was expecting from someone that constantly looks down upon others to bring a bit more to the table, but as they say “the size of a disappointment is proportional to the size of an expectation”


    By Neyne on Jul 6, 2008

  17. Great to finally see some strong data on this instead of relying on theory. Great post.

    By Paul @ Webdistortion on Jul 6, 2008

  18. “the queries as you entered them (with hyphens) do not give results in Google. I assume you meant without hyphens or possibly in quotes.”

    No, I provided the queries as I used them and when I click on the links I see results. I cannot guarantee that you will see results as Google is not very consistent.

    “- when searching for either of the phrases in quotes, Google shows zero results and suggests to search without the quotes. So I am going to deal with unquoted queries”

    That is because Google has not finished fully indexing everything. The indexing process is sort of staggered.

    I’ll post some screen captures on SEO Theory.

    By Michael Martinez on Jul 6, 2008

  19. Okay, I have now posted the screen captures and explanation of what I did here.

    By Michael Martinez on Jul 6, 2008

  20. As I responded here, my opinion is that your test is fundamentally flawed. It does not prove your claim and it does not disprove mine. I stand by my result (which continues to be valid even now) that Google will not pass a second anchor. My testing sites pass all of the “supplemental page” conditions as you have defined them, even though I have not personally tested the difference between pages that are crawled less frequently, so i cannot even support your statement that there is a difference between the two or that there even is still such thing as supplemental index. In any case, you have not disproved my findings, and there is no new information you are providing, so we will finish this discussion. Thanks for your input, which was, although flawed, thought provoking.

    By Neyne on Jul 7, 2008

  21. Branko, this is very interesting, I like your method!

    I wish you could perform more experiments faster, lol

    By eric shannon on Jul 7, 2008

  22. Other than “rebunked” not being a word (debunked is) the information you provided is solid evidence that Google does, include links, beyond the first one.

    By Matt Keegan on Jul 7, 2008

  23. What if the links are linked to different pages on Domain B?

    Link one from Domain A: link to “page 1″ on Domain B

    Link two from Domain A: link to “page 2″ on Domain B

    If these are relevant, deep links, would they both carry value?

    By Scott Thomas on Jul 7, 2008

  24. Very nice write up. I would be interested in the same question that Thomas asked regarding different pages. We seem to have good results from something similar but have not conducted any real research.

    By Arnie on Jul 8, 2008

  25. @Matt Keegan – the English language completely mutates 66% every one thousands years quite consistently. New words have to start somewhere, there is no committee that controls their formation. :P

    @Scott Thomas – yes, they both carry value in that case. No reason why they shouldn’t.

    By Michael VanDeMar on Jul 8, 2008

  26. This makes a lot of sense as google may see this as link overkill therefore it disregards the next link. It still probably counts on Yahoo and MSN. Easy solution is just to link to a different page on the second link

    By search machine on Jul 8, 2008

  27. Just yesterday i reviewed a website which had a second ranking position for a keyword. I mentioned the keyword in the post and used a nofollow on the site’s link.Today it has the first position for this keyword, this made me a bit confused about the “nofollow” value.
    Great test by the way, one step towards resolving G’s secrets.

    By edwinsdesignlab on Jul 8, 2008

  28. Awesome experiment and test Branko – thanks for sharing this one with us! Interesting to see how the nofollow was treated too.

    By Gab Goldenberg on Jul 9, 2008

  29. Did you test what happens if the first link is a completely useless phrase like a “.” or a word like “here”, “click here” etc. ?

    By Web Marketing Tourism on Jul 9, 2008

  30. Last year I was checking the competition of a client.
    I taped one phrase on Google, I found a website A that was Ranking on the first page but this website A has not the keyfrase on its content but there were many others website that were linking to website A with anchor text of the keyfrase i was checking.

    Before I did not undertand it but now I do.

    Thanks for your experimente.

    By Rafael Montilla on Jul 14, 2008

  31. Interesting test I was thinking about this the other day. When you say links to the same domain do you mean different pages on the same domain, or the same URL on the same domain?

    By Dave on Jul 15, 2008

  32. Great post, I would also like to know about internal links compared to external links.

    By Bill Ross on Aug 20, 2008

  33. Hello,

    As this experiment was of great interest to me and i was still not 100% sure of its resutls – I conducted my own test, and can confirm that indeed only the 1st key phrase counts on google.

    Check out for more details.

    By Ahoy on Aug 24, 2008

  34. Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

    By James on Sep 19, 2008

  35. Great post. Does this matter for links coming from external sites also, as far as only counting the first link that goes off site to a specific domain? And is it page specific or domain specific?

    By questions on Sep 26, 2008

  36. This is a great post. This is one of the few posts that tries to back up an opinion with some real evidence. Based on what I’ve read across about two dozen different sources, there’s more evidence that supports the idea that only the first link is counted.

    I’m encountering this on a site I’m examining right now. It appears that its ranking is suffering due internal run-of-the-site links in a site-wide menu that uses poor anchor text. While I don’t have the liberty to run tests on this site, what I did find interesting is that pages that are not part of the menu are: 1) ranking better for their keywords and 2) have internal links with good anchor text elsewhere on the site.

    By web designer on Oct 24, 2008

  37. This is the best post on your site! I wonder if you link to different pages on the target site if both links will then be counted?

    By Beauty on Nov 3, 2008

  38. Ha! We did our own tests similar (exactly) to what you did when this whole thing surfaced and we came to the same results as you did. Except for the nofollow thing, we got very different results as I had speculated and as was noted by someone else I know. Google has an order of operations when crawling a page. First it crawls and removes links to the same URLs (for obvious crawling efficiency reasons), then it goes through and removes nofollowed links. So that being said, if you nofollow the first link in your code then none of the other duplicate links will get crawled.

    Plus I also know about the work around and was advised by a commenter at SEOmoz to have my comment manually edited out of Rand’s post on this topic and to not let too many people on to it. It does work great and I have talked about it at a few local speaking engagements.

    By Organic SEO Guy on Nov 18, 2008

  39. Awsome post on this one. i love your illustrations! thanks for this addition.

    By webdesign on Nov 26, 2008

  40. You would figure that they would remove any value of other anchors on one page to the same target page, as that would be considered spam in my book.

    At first, the nofollow part in the article was a little confusing to me. I figured by nofollowing the duplicate first link, it would just skip to the next one, but that was not the case. After seeing what Organic SEO Guy wrote about the behavior of the Googlebot, it made more sense as to why the other link was potentially not counted.

    I am really starting to like these experiments :D Keep them coming!

    By wvo conversion on Dec 3, 2008

  41. This post is one of the best posts I have read all year, no honest, however as I stated on a comment on another post you really should post more often. I take it you are 2 busy to write SEO articles which I can relate to, more soon!

    By search engine optimisation on Dec 18, 2008

  42. Great post. Thanks for sharing!
    I also have something about SEO to share. Check out at my website please.879

    By SEO on Dec 27, 2008

  43. Thanks. It will stop spamming.

    By seo on Jan 22, 2009

  44. I was wondering about this myself. I was working on the assumption that they only count one, glad to of found this article.

    Very scientific ;)

    By banner exchange on Feb 5, 2009

  45. I love it when people do some research before posting. Thanks for the info. Keep it up

    By Eric on Feb 11, 2009

  46. im changed language of my site
    of asp to html
    waiting to actualization

    By transportadora on Feb 12, 2009

  47. Good post, I tested it as well, and you are correct: only the first link entry is counted for!

    By Day Two Webdesign on Feb 15, 2009

  48. Yes, Only first link one count but Google show all links from domain on Webmasters tool – Hemang

    By SEO Company Singapore on Mar 20, 2009

  49. This is an excellent article. You rarely see testing this thorough.

    By Pozycje on Mar 25, 2009

  50. Tny for tip.

    By Handyzubehör on Apr 1, 2009

  51. I have some doubts about Google only follow the first link of a domain in a page.
    Maybe if you use a same anchor, Google can only follow one link, but I think if you set diferent anchors it will follow all links.

    Great article, intersting view!

    By otimização seo on Apr 3, 2009

  52. Very interesting experiment about something I’ve been wondering about for a while now. I’ve been experimenting with Squidoo and have been narked to see that every lens I create has got 100 or so links in addition to the 2 or 3 I’ve created. I’ve wondered whether to create several links to each of the pages I’m targetting just to increase the percentage of links going to my site. By the results of your experiment, I guess Google would still ignore all of my duplicate links?

    By John on Apr 6, 2009

  53. This is really a great Information about seo . Thanks for such a good information.

    By website design on Apr 24, 2009

  54. Thanks for the information on website links, but does the same apply if the link destination remains the same while the link text is varied?

    By website builders on May 9, 2009

  55. nice to see some science, and not just spam and black hat.

    By mirus seo on May 23, 2009

  56. In my opinion the position of the link is even more important than whether it’s followed or nofollowed for SEO too. Recently Google made it clear that even if links are nofollowed, we will still be losing PR as if it was a normal followed link.

    What is prominent for a user, will be given same weight for search engine :P

    By SEO Malta on Jul 24, 2009

  57. Good post, and well tested, for the problem of the first link on a page probably being the menu so not having good text in the link. Gives me a good idea… thanks

    By Lynn Brown on Aug 18, 2009

  58. Does the location of links carry weight? If there were multiple links clumped together, do they have less value?

    By Alaska Web Design on Sep 11, 2009

  59. Have these tests been re-performed in 2009, things have probably changed in a year?

    By Best Cables on Sep 25, 2009

  60. I like the fact that you tested it, not just came with some info you where thinking was right. To many no brains post shit. This is top knowledge thanks.

    By rki lån on Oct 13, 2009

  61. Wow really interesting experimental, I never thought of such issue can really happen. Hmm it still hard to believe that google is not smart enough to give same value to backlink in lower part of html? it means that we have to take this into consideration when doing link building placement :)

    By link dropping douche on Oct 29, 2009

  62. What’s up? Been lurking for a while and decided to sign up and post.

    Umm so like does anyone know how to browse just about any site easily while at school?

    By screamerct on Nov 7, 2009

  63. Have you run these tests again ? If yes, have you noticed any change recently ?

    By Blog seo on Nov 12, 2009

  64. We are a real estate company that posts current market report by town. Each report contains links to the condo landing page and the real estate page as well as other landing pages in the site. The information contained in this post and comments seem to indicated that Google may only read and count the first link even though 2-8 are different anchor text to specific pages in the site. I think the links provide value to the consumer even though we may not get link value.

    By Fred Doleac on Dec 13, 2009

  65. nice information u gave…..i wanna to ask a question that what is defference between link and link domain?????

    By dev on Jan 25, 2010

  66. really nice post, thanks for taking the time to put that one together. adding this to my RSS!

    By Paul Phifer on Feb 28, 2010

  67. great study. Didn’t know if you knew this, but David Naylor did a similar study. His study also showed SEOmoz (rand) to be wrong about the first link.

    A caveat I think some tests fail to consider it the main navigtion links. If you main nav is the first link then your are actually testin link 2 and link 3 with your anchor text.

    By Kevin Pike on May 14, 2010

  68. Great work as always, Neyne!

    We’ve been experimenting with ways to circumvent this as well, but I would love to hear more.

    By Otimização de site on Jun 2, 2010

  69. really nice post, thanks for taking the time to put that one together. adding this to my RSS!

    By Criar site on Oct 6, 2010

  70. Definitely an experiment shedding a few more rays of light onto that phenomenon. Now, if you’d only know me enough to send me said hint, cheers Alex

    By Alex N. Wells on Oct 25, 2010

  71. Have you made another test, to check if this is still true or if Google has change his algorythm ?

    By Daniel (Wordpress SeoMix) on Nov 15, 2010

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  39. Feb 27, 2010: Wasted Links on Your Pages : Search Engine Seduction Strategies
  40. Mar 1, 2010: Exclusivitatea primului link in SEO | Web Copywriter
  41. Apr 23, 2010: Advanced Blog & WordPress SEO: 30 Points Most Bloggers Overlook | SEOptimise
  42. Apr 30, 2010: Advanced Blog & WordPress SEO: 30 Points Most Bloggers Overlook « qeqnes | Designing. jQuery, Ajax, PHP, MySQL and Templates
  43. Apr 30, 2010: Boosting Your Site’s Ranking Through Secondary Links | Send SPAM E-mail to Us
  44. May 13, 2010: SEO ROI » How Do I Make The Logo The “Second Link”?
  45. Apr 21, 2011: Only First Link on a Page Passes Anchor Text? A Small Test - Paddy Moogan Blog
  46. Jun 3, 2011: What Most Blogger Forget in WordPress
  47. Jul 18, 2011: How to Optimize 3 Important Internal Link Structures | ukGRADUATE
  48. Oct 3, 2011: How NOT to improve your website ranking in search engines

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