How often do you hear, SEO is all about linking (aside from good content of course). I hear this all the time from clients, they understand they need links to their site, but do they know why? Furthermore, what role will links play when if search engines fully adopt the social graph? I for one am not very fond of the “act” of link building. I find it to be tedious, stressful and mind-numbing. But, I do not think it will go away completely.
Let’s talk about links. Without technical jargon (or as little as possible), the original purpose for following the link graph system was for the search engines to understand what a site was about, as well as use them as a reputation gauge. Anchor text became so important because it said, “hey Google, if Googlebot follows this link they will be visiting a site that provides information about the best hot dogs in Chicago”…or whatever the anchor text might say. Googlebot would then use the reputation of that site to determine whether or not to take their word for it that it is the best hot dog in all of Chicago. If coming from a reputable source, this anchor text would be much better than “visit them here”, because that text essentially provides little value. Hopefully after Googlebot crawls the link and the content on the site correlates to the anchor text. This is how a link is used to provide some background of the website to Googlebot or a user before/as they visit it.
In terms of reputation, search engines would take into consideration how many websites were linking to a specific website while taking into consideration the reputation of those websites as well. To put this in an everyday scenario: a bunch of people are always recommending Josh Curcio for some reason or another. Ambassadors, Deans of Universities, reputable people within the SEO industry, and some guy that has been following Phish around for the last 15 years. While the recommendations from the ambassadors and deans would provide some clout, ultimately the recommendations from reputable people within my industry would go a much further if the recommendation is related to SEO. The guy following Phish around for the last several years may be saying wonderful things about me, but everyone knows he says that about everyone and is not the most trustworthy source; therefore, his recommendation is taken with a grain of salt.
Linking is the same way. Yes, it is important to have various links, but ultimately the highest quality and most relevant links will provide the most benefit. Links from unrelated and/or unreliable sources that are linked to every site the webmaster comes across will provide little or no weight and could even harm your ranking (Link Farms).
That covers how a search engine uses the anchor text of a link as well as the volume, reputation and relevancy of inbound links to aid in your search engine visibility. In part 2 I will discuss how adopting the social graph could change our focus on link building.