Why is Google so coy about links?

  • 0
  • October 10, 2008

Ask any decent SEO consultant what the secret to ranking highly on Google is and they will say “Get lots and lots of quality, relevant links to your site. Ideally with keywords in the anchor text”. Sure you need to have your site optimised as well but even the most optimised site won’t rank in a moderately competitive niche without links.

The really tough bit is getting the links – so why is Google so coy about it?

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines make very little mention of links, their latest blog post Good times with inbound links is also pretty vague and certainly doesn’t give webmasters the information they need.

What Google Says:

Inbound links can bring new users to your site, and when the links are merit-based and freely-volunteered as an editorial choice, they’re also one of the positive signals to Google about your site’s importance. Other signals include things like our analysis of your site’s content, its relevance to a geographic location, etc. As many of you know, relevant, quality inbound links can affect your PageRank (one of many factors in our ranking algorithm).

Let’s say I have a site, example.com, that offers users a variety of unique website templates and design tips. One of the strongest ranking factors is my site’s content. Additionally, perhaps my site is also linked from three sources — however, one inbound link is from a spammy site. As far as Google is concerned, we want only the two quality inbound links to contribute to the PageRank signal in our ranking.


Why is Google so worried about telling webmasters the truth about how to rank? It almost seems like they are embarrassed about their algorithm and want to phase out the link based part in favour of on-site signals.

The end result of this is lots of sites who have no idea why their website with perfect on-site SEO is stuck on page 6.

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • http://www.juretic.com Vinay

    Google thinks Inbound Links = Recommendation and they are really really obsessed about it! Can’t help! 😉 … The more people recommend you, the more Google trust you and provides you with fancy PR? And yea.. the page that recommends you should also be from a trustable domain .. making the cycle of “inbound links” repetitive..!! Now why does it bring the PR Game into its blog post…?

    Now, what makes google show .biz domains are Spammy? They could have somespammysite.com and pointed as spammy domain 😉 lol!

  • http://blog.craigkillick.co.uk Craig Killick

    Surely Google is a tool for the searcher, not for the marketer?

    The key to their diagram is the bit a webmaster can honestly control. Make Quality, Unique, Compelling Content.

    Getting links should, in a natural world, be a bi-product of being worthy?

  • http://www.headland.co.uk Headland Email Marketing

    Google seems to want to spread the perception that good on-site optimisation will create enough value to attract incoming links. Sites that attract natural links will be inherently valuable, hence the emphasis on on-site optimisation. Of course, this is true to some extent, but this is what Google wants to promote since it wants to keep links as true representations of online “votes”.

  • Andy

    One big flaw – getting natural citations isn’t enough when others are out-linking you considerably with paid links.

  • http://twitter.com/jwesley John Wesley

    Because inbound links are the weak spot of the algo and the best way to manipulate it? I guess there are a few people out there who still don’t know this :) Google is probably scared they’ll find and any try to buy their way to the top with paid links…oh wait that’s already happened.

  • http://twitter.com/tripleox Mark

    Getting links should, in a natural world, be a bi-product of being worthy?

    This natural by-product would be impossible without actual hyperlinks. Unless of course it’s just a textual unlinked mention. But Google is also factoring mentions in content as well as links, isn’t it? Just look at how quick Google Alerts spots your phrase!

  • Pingback: Recapped: Google’s Link Week | Wiep.net()

  • http://www.willswarez.info Free Online Games Here

    Been working with sites for years and I dont think I will ever understand 100% how linkage works when increasing page rank…More popular=Bigger page rank – Guess thats the basics

  • http://www.manifest-passive-income.com Kim McGinnis

    I used to think Google was evil…the truth is I was bitter. It’s a lot of work to optimize the right way –building hundreds of relevant pages that people will actually be interested in reading. And, in doing so, raising interest in other worthy sites to link to you.

    Thank you Google…for showing me the error of my ways!!

  • http://www.gencia.co.uk Gencia – Manchester Design Agency

    I think it is an awkward area for Google with regards AdWords

    On the one hand, they could tell you that you shouldn’t concentrate on paid linking services and go for natural links, but this would contradict their adwords/adsense services.

    On the other hand they could encourage the use of paid services to gain more exposure for your website, but in doing so, may open people’s eyes to services other than the ones they offer, which would not be in their interests.

    Perhaps in Google’s ideal world, the big players will dominate the natural rankings and the rest of us will use adwords to get visitors to our site. Or perhaps that’s just a cynical view on things.

  • http://www.gencia.co.uk Gencia – Manchester Design Agency

    Looking into this further, I came across this article entitled Google Reveals More Linking Secrets To Webmasters.

    I was initially intrigued by the title, but further reading would suggest that in fact no secrets are revealed at all and Google only tell us what we know already. The interesting point that article makes is that it says:

    “What has confused things lately is all the “link buying” which Google greatly discourages and has shown its displeasure by de-ranking many paid directories”

    If this is the case, then perhaps this would support the idea that they are coy about links because if they make it clear and do state explicitly what you should and should not do, then people may well not bother with AdWords, as many may well consider this to be “link buying”, or at the very least, it would make Google appear hypocritical.

  • http://www.beauty-salon-marketing.co.uk/ Jon

    I think it’s important to remember Google’s intended audience for its Webmaster Guidelines. I’d guess they are aimed mostly at newbie webmasters – a kind of Beginner’s Guide to Building a Good Website. They are aiming to promote best practice to a mass audience, not to tell SEO-savvy marketers how to rank better

    Cheers, Jon

  • http://www.christopher-roberts.co.uk Christopher

    I think Google is going crazy about all the seo stuff, i think it needs to judge a website by how good it is, and not how seo friendly it is.

    Comment by

Like what you see? Talk to an Expert