Tapping into Unconventional Link Attributes

February 2, 2008 – 4:31 pm

When we analyze incoming links, we tend to focus on more or less the same set of link parameters: PageRank, anchor text, relative position in linking document, surrounding text, etc. However, sometimes looking beyond the regular, can provide the opportunity to not only succeed in link building, but even dominate the niche you are competing in. One of these uncommon parameters is the link freshness factor.

The whole issue of temporal aspect to links is a few years old. It has first appeared in official Google writing in this patent, signed, among others, by Matt Cutts, which makes it even more interesting to the SEO community. The whole patent itself is an interesting read and revisiting it can produce a worthy blog post, but I would like to focus on a very specific aspect of it I have recently noticed with several of our websites.

Some of our sites were enjoying top locations for their main targeted phrases in the past few months. While that is primarily good for the company’s bank account, it also gives us some freedom as to how we spend our time and how we divide the work priorities with that specific site. So, in the framework of secondary-phrase optimization stage, I have decided to drastically slow down the link acquirement process so I can try and gauge the relative value of each of the linking resources I was using at the time. Basically what I’ve done is instead of just throwing all the weight on several link acquirement techniques at once, I decided to use one, wait for the increase in rankings and then use the next one and compare. It is hardly a sterile experimenting environment but I thought it is a decent start…

While the comparison of impact of different link sources produced some interesting data by itself, plotting the change in locations over the time and marking the addition of links to different sources on the graph, provided me with a bit more interesting information (click on the below image to enlarge):

As can be seen on the above graph, every addition of a link (or number of links), resulted in a location increase, followed by the gradual slippage to a lower position (albeit higher than the starting one). This phenomena took place after several link additions from different sources and on different sites in different niches, so I believe it is not an isolated occurrence.

So what do we have here ? From the above graph, it can be theorized that there are at least two different scores that a link can pass to a page it is pointing to:

  1. A “fresh link” score. Since this is a new link, Google does not yet know the amount of link-juice this link should pass on. Even if this was the only link added to a linking page at the time of the observation, the number of outgoing links has changed and the proportion of PR this link (and other links on that page) should send on, must change. Since even Google cannot calculate all that on the fly, an “artificial” value is added to the link. From the above graph it can be concluded that this “artificial” value can be higher than…
  2. … a “real” link score. This score kicks in after Google reiterates all the PR calculations and assigns an objective value to that link.

In the above graph, I have marked the “fresh link” score with an A and the “real” score with the B. It is obvious that in the above case A > B which means that when the real value comes into account, the links are worth a bit less, the webpage’s ranking score is adjusted accordingly and the site slips in SERP’s.

Based on this analysis, we can have three possible relations between A and B:

  1. A > B – as in the example above, when the “real” link score is lower than the “fresh” link score – usually happens in case of crappy comment / forum signature / reciprocal / unrelated links.
  2. A B – when the two link values are approximately equal. We will usually not see a significant change in locations due to the switch between these two values.
  3. A < B – when the “real” link value is actually higher than the “fresh” link score. This usually happens with the high-quality links from on-topic / authoritative website. The result of this would be for a site to get an initial boost in rankings, stagnate for a while and then further improve.

So, what can we do with this information? Well, if you have a large pool of authoritative websites that can give you on-topic incoming links, then you should remember that (more often than not) your initial improvement in locations, due to that link addition, is only temporal and is bound to improve even more. When the link addition is considered through this scenario, it is easy to see how a phenomena dubbed “inbound link sandbox” came into existence. The situation where it takes quality links a while to affect the rankings can be explained by the fact that the A value of those links is not high enough to overcome the ranking score of competing websites so there is no improvement in locations. When (higher) B value kicks in, the score gap between the two sites is overcome and the locations improve.

However if you belong to the majority of people that have only less sophisticated link pool to dip into, you may want to add links at such rate that the “unknown” link score just keeps adding to the previous link’s “unknown” score and thus continuously improve the locations.

Obviously that rate will change from niche to niche and from link to link. Furthermore, you should be careful not to overdo it and raise some red flags due to extensive link addition rate, but some trial and error in each niche should outline the playfield rules for that particular niche.

As for the methods of reproducing the “unknown link” score over and over again, well, that is a completely different hat color… 😉

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  1. 81 Responses to “Tapping into Unconventional Link Attributes”

  2. good post. thanks.

    By architect on Mar 16, 2008

  3. Hey, I’ve used your graph locally in my article about your findings. (link with pingback included) If this violates any terms of use you may have on the article image, please let me know and I will remove the image locally and rather link to the same image on your domain.

    By bza on Mar 17, 2008

  4. great article. I bookmarked this weeks ago and only found it again today. doh.

    I think everyone including all your seo celeb readership above have used up all the superlatives already, but that diagram & analysis is so exactly right, have visualised this but never seen it drawn before.

    signed another subscriber.

    By seoibiza on May 2, 2008

  5. This is a very informative article, very useful for explaining link relevancy and the importance of links to managers and clients. This will give them an idea that it takes time to see the effect of link building and hopefully they would understand that Rome is not built in a day.


    By Toronto SEO on May 6, 2008

  6. I also experienced this. A rise and fall of rankings with a surge of links. Thanks for the confirmation. One of the more interesting articles I’ve read in a while. Way to keep it “fresh”.

    By wholesalers on May 17, 2008

  7. butt lovin’

    By Matt Cutts on May 30, 2008

  8. I run several websites and I noticed similar pattern as described in this article. What I try to do is not to add all links at once, but divide them into portions added gradually. This would minimize the threat of dropping SERPS when links age.

    By Sytru on Jul 8, 2008

  9. This is a really great piece of analysis… whilst you were doing this it probably would have been helpful to also take the competition around your terms and also analyse them to see whether they were responding to your improvements and how their link building was also operating. Do you also considor this an important factor?

    By London Sightseeing Tours on Jul 25, 2008

  10. This is an excellent post! I will use this as a helpful resource for our SEO team and for clients as well…thanks so much!

    By Nick Stamoulis on Jul 30, 2008

  11. Very good article and assuming that you have a high knowledge on this topic, I am going to ask something. In this PR update one of my site had got PR5 from N/A. At first I was happy but curious that how this can happen. I hadn’t even work on it in links way. Then I came to know about forged PR. I think the script which I have installed on the site did something wrong. How to cure? or what should I do now?

    By Passive Harry on Jul 31, 2008

  12. Very interesting. So when you get a new link from a new page on an established site, you get an estimate of pagerank? Or was this test on a new link from a new site? Nice post anyway!

    By SEO-PRO on Aug 21, 2008

  13. @seo-pro, you get an estimated value that depends of the page, domain and outgoing links

    By prestamos rapidos on Sep 9, 2008

  14. I run a couple of websites that seem to be behaving exactly the way you described. When I add a bunch of new links to the promoted website on them, the site jumps in indexes quite rapidly to stabilize on a lower position later on.

    By Andy Base on Oct 8, 2008

  15. hanks for the confirmation.

    By toplist on Oct 28, 2008

  16. Great Article.
    However I’m wondering what means the peak of the bouncing. In other words, how Google calculates the first wave?

    By Idan on Nov 24, 2008

  17. Nice post, great contribution to SEO, thanks.

    By Apple noticias on Dec 2, 2008

  18. Great explanation. I have been trying to explain this phenomenon of temporary boosts in listings to my clients and they have never understood me. Now I have a little graph to show them 🙂 Thanks for the great post.

    By Drupal Website Optimization on Dec 2, 2008

  19. Wouldn’t another possible explanation be that google could give more weight to the rate at which links are coming to a page (in combination with the total number of links that page has). When you get a new link, the rolling average over the past X days will be at it’s highest, and that rate will gradually decrease over the next few days, giving the data you are seeing.

    By Pregnancy on Dec 11, 2008

  20. Amazing article!
    Your conclusions are great.
    Generally there is always a small fall after gain better placement positions after success in building links. We need to review the quality of links that we are getting, because according to the results, if the links were from good quality pages, it should rise in the rankings.

    By otimização de sites seo on Aug 11, 2009

  21. Thank you for the information your provide.

    By sesli on Apr 19, 2010

  22. very, very, very good this post, congratulations
    I enjoyed this very content rich SEO
    hugs to all

    =) @seobrandup

    By Otimização de Sites SEO on May 23, 2010

  23. A long time has passed since you wrote this article and I wonder about if you still tackle this phenomenon and support the way of getting links at the time and stopping to try and estimate they equity addition. This surely could raise the red flag as Google algorithm gets smarter…

    Some factors that are worth considering are about the link location itself as mentioned in other comments- Blog post links tend to lose their value as posts move out of the blog’s main page and into the archives. Forum signature links lose their value too as the link to the users profile move down the list of users as well.
    I would only bet on getting more and more relevant links from relevant content at an increasing rate….

    By WAO SEO on Nov 18, 2010

  24. I encountered this phenomenon many times but never managed to explain it better and easy as you’ve explained the article!
    I have to agree with you on this issue because I encountered it so many times and only after a connection I could make the simplest Slkishurim have a temporary value and give first jump placement ratio after injecting a large amount of links.
    I was pleased to read the article I enjoyed very much Thanks a lot!

    By wsd on Nov 18, 2010

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