A lot of information floating around the search engine optimization world is either old news. A lot of the so-called accepted wisdom is based on flimsy, or even non-existent, research. And, much of the search ranking conventional wisdom repeated, again, and again, on websites and blogs isn’t actually relevant to the most common scenarios.
So, when a disagreement between colleagues regarding the importance of relevant backlinks versus backlinks from sites that are not relevant arose, we looked around at trusted resources and found that they all said the same thing. In order for links to be worth counting toward a website or page’s Google PageRank or toward its search engine ranking, they had to come from relevant sites. However, we realized that, oftentimes, this bit of information came coupled with SEO strategies and tips that we knew were no longer true; if they were ever true.
Thus, the question remains. Does it matter that a page’s incoming links come from other websites or webpages that are related to the subject matter that they are linking about?
Google Search Ranking Algorithm
To understand why this question matters, and to be able to use the data found in the answer, it is important to have a basic understanding of Google’s search algorithm that ranks those results you see listed on the page after doing a Google search.
The search results page, or more specifically, the order that links are displayed on the search results page is sometimes known by the acronym SERP or Search Engine Ranking Page. The order those links are displayed in can be very important depending upon what is being searched for, and what the goal of the website on the other end of that search link is. Microsoft’s Bing Search Engine’s blog says that in researching how people use search, they found out that people stopped looking in much detail at the results after #5, and in many cases, after looking at just the top 3 results.
In the online advertising world, Internet marketers claim that the #1 position on a Google search can be worth anywhere from three times as much, to ten times as much traffic as the #2 position. They will also tell you that anything below #10 isn’t worth having, since it won’t be on the first page.
Whether any of this is true or not, is irrelevant to out question here. However, what is important is to know that the results that appear on any given SERP are not listed at random, nor are the listed alphabetically, nor by date, or any other non-discriminatory method. Rather, pages are listed in order based on how well they match up with the term entered into the search box on Google’s home page. These terms are known as keywords, even when they are actually a key phrase.
More accurately, the webpages listed high on Google search results pages are ranked based on how well they score on a secret algorithm that Google uses. The intention of that algorithm is to determine which one of all the webpages that match the query is most likely to provide what the searcher wanted to find. The reality is that a very small number of easily manipulated parameters determine the order from top to bottom of every Google search query.
One of the most important of these parameters is how many links point to a given website using the exact words entered into the search. This is by no means the only criteria, but it is very important.
Obviously, this evaluation can be very easily gamed. A determined webmaster or online ad salesman, need only create a million links on a dozen of his own websites to earn the #1 ranking over more legitimate websites.
Fortunately, the raw number of incoming links, or backlinks, is not the way rankings are scored. In fact, since the paper with the original ranking strategy that led to the found of the Google company and its famous search engine, much time and resources have been devoted toward determining which links should not count, which links should count more, which links should count less, and so on.
Thus, our million link creating Internet Marketer will get nowhere with his strategy.
However, the core of every search ranking improvement effort, or SEM engagement is building more links. They just can’t all come from your own websites, or from just two or three websites, or all from the same article.
Theoretically, one of the criteria for determining how much a link should count for is how much the site providing the link is related to the site receiving the link. The idea is that a website about Credit Cards would be more likely to provide "good" links on topics related to credit cards, like banking, loans, credit scores, and credit card reward programs. On the other hand, a website about plumbing would not be a good source to get information about financial topics.
Whether or not this concept is valid is open for debate. However, virtually any SEO consultant or SEM consultant (or whatever else they call themselves) will tell you that Google believes it, and thus related backlinks count for more than unrelated backlinks.
Do Related Links Count More Than Unrelated Links?
It is technically impossible to ever say with 100% certainty that something does or does not count at all in the Google ranking algorithm. However, what can be demonstrated is what features have so little value that they are easily pushed off of what determines the rankings of webpages under real world conditions.
In this case, it seems that whether or not a link comes from a related webpage or website is of so little value that its affect cannot be replicated in the real world! Instead, a host of other factors carry so much more weight that restricting oneself to only related backlinks is foolish.
That is not to say that getting links from spammy or MFA (Made For AdSense) sites is good. These sites can pass some of their negative marks on to your site, especially when they form a large number of your incoming links. However, a link to your home mortgages website from a legitimate site about Mickey Mouse collectibles will end up being worth every bit as much to your website’s PageRank and search engine rankings, that you shouldn’t bother finding related sites. Instead, just collect all the links you can.
Add those incoming links up with your other SEO optimization efforts, and your site’s rank will increase faster. Soon your website could be a high-ranking Google search result.