Inbound links are a ranking signal that can vary greatly in how they are weighted by Google.
One of the main characteristics that experts say can separate a high-value link from a low-value link is the context in which it appears.
When a link is placed within relevant content, it is believed to have a greater impact on ratings than a link randomly inserted into unrelated text.
Is there any bearing on this claim?
Let’s dig deeper into what has been said about contextual links as a ranking factor to see if there is any evidence to support these claims.
Claim: Contextual links are a ranking factor
A contextual link refers to an inbound link that points to a URL relevant to the content in which the link appears.
When an article links to a source to provide more Context For the reader, for example, this is a contextual link.
Contextual links add value rather than being a distraction.
They should flow naturally with the content, giving the reader some clues about which page they are directed to.
Not to be confused with anchor text, which refers to the clickable part of a link, contextual linking is determined by Ocean text.
A link’s anchor text can be related to the web page it points to, but if it is surrounded by otherwise irrelevant content, it is not considered a contextual link.
Contextual links are said to be a ranking factor in Google, with claims that the search engine weights them higher than other types of links.
One of the reasons Google cares about context when it comes to links is because of the experience they create for users.
When a user clicks on a link and lands on a page related to what they were looking at earlier, it’s a better experience than directing them to a web page they didn’t care about.
All recent guides to link building recommend getting links from relevant URLs, rather than going out and putting links wherever it takes them.
There is now a greater emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to link building, and a link is considered to be of higher quality when its placement makes sense in context.
In theory, one high-quality contextual link can be more valuable than several low-quality links.
This is why experts advise site owners to get at least a few contextual links, because that will lead them further than building dozens of random links.
If Google considers link quality to be higher or lower based on context, it means that Google’s crawlers can understand web pages and evaluate how they link to other URLs on the web.
Is there any evidence to support this?
Evidence for contextual links as a ranking factor
Evidence supporting contextual links as a ranking factor can be traced back to 2012 with the release of the Penguin algorithm update.
Google’s original algorithm, PageRank, is built entirely on links. The more links pointing to a website, the higher its authority.
Websites can push their site to the top of Google search results by building as many links as possible. It doesn’t matter if the links are contextual or random.
Google’s PageRank algorithm wasn’t selective about which links it values (or depreciates) compared to others until it was increased with the Penguin update.
Penguin made a number of changes to Google’s algorithm that made it difficult to manipulate search rankings through spammy link building practices.
in a Google announces the launch of Penguinformer research engineer Matt Cutts highlighted a specific example of the spam link it was designed to target.
This example depicts the exact opposite of a contextual link, Katz says:
“Here is an example of a site with unusual link patterns that is also affected by this change. Note that if you try to read the text out loud, you will discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact, the text of the page has been ‘woven’ beyond recognition.”
On the other hand, a contextual link looks like the link a few paragraphs above that links to a Google blog.
Contextual links share the following characteristics:
- Placement fits naturally with content.
- The linked URL is relevant for the article.
- The reader knows where to go when they click on it.
Of all the documentation Google has published about Penguin over the years is the strongest evidence available to support contextual links as a ranking factor.
See: Complete Guide to Google Penguin Algorithm Update
Google won’t explicitly say “contextual link building is a ranking factor,” though, because the company doesn’t encourage any intentional link building whatsoever.
As Katz added at the end of his Penguin announcement, Google would prefer you see webpages get links naturally:
“We want the people who do white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on building amazing and compelling websites.”
Contextual links are the ranking factor: our judgment
Contextual links are likely to be one of the ranking factors in Google.
A link is weighted when used in a larger context than if it is placed randomly within unrelated content.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that links without context will negatively affect a site’s rankings.
External links are largely outside the control of the site owner.
If a website is linking to you out of context, don’t worry, because Google is able to ignore low-value links.
On the other hand, if Google detects a pattern of unnatural links, this may count against the site’s rankings.
If you have been actively involved in non-contextual link building in the past, it might be wise to consider using the disavow tool.
Featured Image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Magazine