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. This article is absolutely beautiful.
    Welcome to my RSS.
    Not just IGoogle RSS. Deskyop RSS.

    By SlightlyShadySEO on Feb 2, 2008

  3. *desktop(sorry!)

    By SlightlyShadySEO on Feb 2, 2008

  4. Great analysis of link equity divided by link velocity. I too have seen this phenomenon more frequently as of late.

    Supposedly, Google’s “fresh factor” is based on your sites current authority and the number of inbound links is assumes your page will garner. Instead of the old way, having to start from beyond 100 and move up, it puts you close to the neighborhood in advance, then if your factors prove worthy, it hangs or dips in the SERPS (the A vs. B factor. Tim Nash had a great post recently at his site about this.

    By SEO Design Solutions on Feb 2, 2008

  5. Definitely made my RSS feed with this post too. Excellent piece!

    By Jeff Quipp on Feb 2, 2008

  6. Great post, neatly written and highly informative.

    Also added to my RSS feed. :)

    By nsm-seo on Feb 2, 2008

  7. This is good stuff, and I certainly agree with the concept of link value changing over time. The only thing I’d add is that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so the drop in rankings from one month to the next can’t be solely attributed to the idea of a fresh link finally being calculated for it’s real value. Other sites are acquiring links and doing other things at the same time, and all of this factors into any ranking changes.

    By Matt McGee on Feb 3, 2008

  8. There aren’t many people who would even think to ask the questions you were asking let alone formulating a way to answer them. Nicely done!

    By Marios Alexandrou on Feb 3, 2008

  9. I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in my rankings, so this confirms my suspicions. Nice Article.

    By Dito on Feb 3, 2008

  10. Not only is this a great post, but you’re making me jealous because I was thinking of branding the name “SEO Scientist”. Oh well, back to the drawing board, and like Shady, I’ve added you to my RSS list!

    I would, however, point out that there are several other variables that would affect the “B” score.

    For example, if the link comes from blog or newspaper, the value of said link would taper off as the link gradually moves into the site’s archive.

    Another major factor is the fluctuation in rank and/or authority of the site that is giving the link. Just as your site’s rank is affected by a new inbound link, the site in question is also undergoing similar fluctuations, which in turn, affect the “B” value that said link exerts on your own rankings.

    Still this is a great blog post with some great research and great insights.

    The part I agree with most relates to spacing out new link acquisitions for the purpose of gauging their success. This is especially useful if you still engage in buying links or reciprocating.

    By Hugo Guzman on Feb 3, 2008

  11. Another explanation for the initial peak: Google assumes newsworthyness for a certain period after the injection of the links and phases it out afterwards.

    By Akquise Ideen on Feb 3, 2008

  12. What a brilliant post! Amidst the sea of speculation, rants, and raves, this post was certainly a breath of fresh air. Agreed with Shady and Hugo, I’m subscribing to your RSS too!

    — Dev

    By seo toronto - dev basu on Feb 3, 2008

  13. Excellent post.
    I have noticed the same in the past but wasn’t sure if it’s me or them.
    Well Done!

    By Yair Bar-On on Feb 4, 2008

  14. Very interesting post. I have just recently experienced this. Great contribution to SEO, thanks.

    By PPC Management on Feb 4, 2008

  15. Excellent article…….I do agree with you concerning your link attribute theory

    By Vectorpedia (Rick) on Feb 4, 2008

  16. Great article but — along the lines of Akquise Ideen’s comment — perhaps your incoming link initially appeared highly on that link page or in the blog comment thread. As more links/comments are added above yours, they push your link lower in the list (seemingly lower in importance). It would be interesting to know what changes happened on the pages where your incoming links appeared. Thanks for sharing this fabulous insight.

    By Sites That Work on Feb 4, 2008

  17. Very nice post indeed. I have been running something similar and am continuing to do so for a n annual period.

    I would have to say the age of the site is an important factor in this. Older sites will not get such a dramatic rise in serps as perhaps a new website would.

    Great diagram too <- subscribed

    By Matt Ridout on Feb 4, 2008

  18. “As can be seen on the above graph, every addition of a link (or number of links), resulted in a location increase,”

    I wish it were that simple. You’re assuming cause-and-effect without showing anything.

    By Michael Martinez on Feb 4, 2008

  19. @Michael: As I wrote on Sphinn Discussion, if it was a single case, your remark would be 100% valid. Since this was observed on several websites (an apparently by plenty of people), it can be safely assumed that the addition of a link (or number of links) has caused an increase in rankings. Seeing cause-and-effect in many unrelated cases, makes the assumption valid.

    By Neyne on Feb 4, 2008

  20. Why are you sure that google ‘guesses’ the PR? Why wouldn’t it just ignore those new links until it has made the calculation – especially if we’re just talking about a handful of links, and therefore hard to think of any time critical benefits to search results that might be gained?

    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.

    This would make more sense to me, as a page with authorative content on it would not only have a large pool of links associated with it, but would also be generating additional links all the time… when it stops generating additional links, that would probably be a good indicator that the information there is either no longer as authorative as it once was, or it has reached it’s maximum threshold and will stay relatively current in the rankings until such time as another page catches up, or its lack of additional new links spans enough time to start applying negative values.

    By Martin on Feb 5, 2008

  21. I have experience a similar spike in rankings after new links. I never correlated the corresponding drop in rankings to this type of link ‘revaluing’ however. Great article and analysis!

    By San Diego SEO on Feb 5, 2008

  22. What a refreshing post, I will throw my hat in the ring with the other comments and say that you have made my RSS with this post, great work!

    I have been aware of this effect for a while now but what you need to divulge exactly where your links are coming from to add validity to your post.

    Because I can tell you that this effect is probably the result of blog links/sponsored posts. Because what happens is that the blog post starts out on tne homepage fo the blog and gets cached as (let’s say a PR 5) then moves to an internal page on the blog after more posts get put up. Therefore, your link juice will be significantly increased initially and once the blog links move to their own PR 0 pages off of the homepage.

    So we need to really understand exactly what kind of link were acquired for this test.

    I do a large amount of due diligence when buying links on sites. I take a look at the rankings of other sites buying links on the site for their given anchor text, the overall rankings of the site selling the text link and I check if the sites already buying links on the site are getting the link picked up in their Yahoo Site Explorer backlink profile.

    By Organic SEO consultant on Feb 6, 2008

  23. “Seeing cause-and-effect in many unrelated cases, makes the assumption valid.”

    Neyne, while I’m not sure I can agree with that sentence, it doesn’t take away from the absolute awesomeness that is this post :P

    By Burgo on Feb 6, 2008

  24. Thanks again for an interesting post/view.

    I can’t wait for a new post that starts like this:

    “The comparison of impact of different link sources produced some interesting data by itself, ..”

    By supaswag on Feb 6, 2008

  25. You are all wrong. There is no sandbox. In fact we have a smelly dungeon where we keep all suspicious sites to torture them with PR reduction or bouncing SERPs.

    By Matt Cutts on Feb 6, 2008

  26. this cold be why orphaned links such us url injections etc that spammers use only work for a small period of time…

    By seo london on Feb 6, 2008

  27. @everyone: thanks for the amazing response. I have tried blogging in the past but never managed to find my voice. Your incredible feedback has helped tremendously and there are already several big projects on the way which i intend to cover here. I hope we will all come out of it a bit smarter than we went in.

    @Martin: I really cannot say I am sure of anything. In science (to whose principles I try to adhere) nothing is final and 100% proven. It is merely assumed correct until proven otherwise. Now as to your comment, just try to keep in mind that I have seen this over a number of niches and for different sites. Tha majority of the links coming into those sites were not blog or news links. Sometimes those were site wide links (and in this case your remark can provide a great explanation, and sometimes it is just a single link from an authority site (in which case your remark about rate of incoming links is not relevant). As I will probably cover in one of the upcoming posts, this phenomena is most strongly observed in niches that are not very competitive – the majority of the locations do not change over several weeks and sometimes even months, which would imply very little fluctuation in the number / rate of incoming links. This goes without saying for the websites I was monitoring, since I was the only one adding links to it…

    By Neyne on Feb 7, 2008

  28. It’s a shame you did not have more time during your presentation at Sphinncon Israel to go into more details regarding the phenomenon you describe in this post. Only now when I read the post I can truly appreciate the issues you addressed in your presentation.

    Great post!

    By SEO Israel on Feb 11, 2008

  29. Hi Oren, I am glad you stopped by.

    Yeah, I kind of decided to take it out at the last minute, since I tried to stick by the 10 minute cap we decided should be for each presentation.

    By Neyne on Feb 12, 2008

  30. Excellent post. I’ll join the club of new RSS readers. Your post backs up some of the data we’ve been seeing. Keep up the great work!

    By Shycon on Mar 2, 2008

  31. Nice catch. Would explain the reasons behind why blog links often deliver intial gains in rank that drops off slightly later on. Am going to have to go out and test this theory.
    Keep up the good work

    By Michael on Mar 4, 2008

  32. Very interesting observations. Your strategy of playing with the freshness factor by constantly adding new juice seems to be worth considering, especially for some niches. Greetings!

    By meditations on Mar 5, 2008

  33. Certainly much of the findings we are seeing would suggest your thoughts above are spot on, particularly as someone above mentioned where particular niche exist.

    By E-Gain SEO UK on Mar 14, 2008

  34. Very Intresting.
    Thank you

    By Yossi on Mar 16, 2008

  35. good post. thanks.

    By architect on Mar 16, 2008

  36. 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

  37. 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

  38. 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

  39. 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

  40. butt lovin’

    By Matt Cutts on May 30, 2008

  41. 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

  42. 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

  43. 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

  44. 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

  45. 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

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

    By prestamos rapidos on Sep 9, 2008

  47. 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

  48. hanks for the confirmation.

    By toplist on Oct 28, 2008

  49. 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

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

    By Apple noticias on Dec 2, 2008

  51. 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

  52. 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

  53. 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

  54. Thank you for the information your provide.

    By sesli on Apr 19, 2010

  55. 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

  56. 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

  57. 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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