What are external links, and what value do they provide to my site ranking?
January 21, 2009 12:07 PM   Subscribe

What are external links, and what value do they provide to my site ranking? Are they important?

What are external links, and what value do they provide to my site ranking? Are they important? I understand the basics of external linking, but I'd like to know a more in depth explanation. Thanks a lot in advance! =)
posted by Nixie Pixel to Computers & Internet (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"external link" isn't really a formal term of art. Generally it's used to me "you link to other people and they link to you".

Who you link to doesn't seem to affect your site ranking to any significant degree. Who links to you is the primary way that most of the search engines decide on what your rank should be, but not all incoming links are treated equally. If someone with a high rank links to you, your ranking rises. If someone with a low rank links to you, it can make your rank drop.

Which is to say that "Lots of incoming links" doesn't mean "high rank".

There's been an ongoing war between the people running the search engines and "SEO" spammers trying to game them. What the people at Google and Yahoo and so on are trying to do is to figure out an algorithmic way of deciding what lpeople who are searching are most likely to want to find, and to put those links at the top. That's because if someone doing a search sees nothing but irrelevant crap, they're likely to go use another search engine. This is probably the most important way that the different search engines compete, and one of the reasons Google won is that they're extremely good at it.

The spammers, meanwhile, want to get their results as high as possible (ideally in the top 5) even if people who are searching don't want to find them, because it amounts to free advertising.

The exact algorithms used to determine page ranks are corporate secrets, and they change constantly. Occasionally some SEO ("Search Engine Optimization") spammer figures out how to beat the system, and eventually the search engine people noticed that they've been gamed, look to see what the spammers did, and then adjust their algorithm to prevent it. As time has gone on, this has gotten more and more elaborate on both sides. It's a classic arms race.

The ranking algorithms will remain secret, because if they were public it would be easier for the SEO spammers to beat them. So no one can tell you precisely how to optimize your ranking, because only Google (and Yahoo etc) knows and they ain't talking.

In general terms, the following things are good:

1. Incoming links from sites which are themselves ranked highly.
2. Regular updates
3. Getting new links on a regular basis
4. Longevity

In general terms, the following things are bad:

1. Link farming. (A link farm is an isolated group of sites which heavily cross link each other, which have little in the way of incoming links from outside.)
2. Being linked by a link farm or by a site which for other reasons has an abysmally low site rank.

If you've received an email from someone that appears to be a form-letter that offers a link-swap, odds are that accepting it would lower your site rank. It's likely that the site in question has a low site rank, and anyone who is linked by it will be treated as a proto-spammer as well.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:22 PM on January 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for all your information! I guess I've been frustrated only because I know that many reputable sites have linked to me.. yet it doesn't show up in my External links and they said they didn't do a "nofollow" or anything. It's so confusing! =p
posted by Nixie Pixel at 11:50 PM on January 28, 2009

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