In the world of SEO backlinks are a big deal. But is a link from The American Journal of Medicine better than a link from your web design company? Are links from “high authority” specialized sites really better than a link from a generic site?
Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller got hit with a similar question right off the bat in a recent Google Webmaster hangout session. His point of view was that when it comes to backlinks context is a key factor.
Context Helps Establish Site Relevance
Google uses over 200 signals for ranking webpages, and backlinks are one of the top items on that long list. The Google team takes a hard look at your backlinks before assigning a page’s rank for a few reasons.
As John explained, Google’s primary goal is to try to understand the context of web pages in order to deliver up the most relevant search results. One way Google does that is by looking at the links. They’ll take a look at the backlink’s anchor text and comb through the linking site’s content to determine what it’s all about.
When the backlink comes from a webpage with a similar topic that’s a really good thing. It helps to reinforce the context of your own website.
For example, if you have a dog grooming company and an authoritative directory that features the nation’s top groomers links to your website, that’s awesome. The context is spot on, which makes it easy for Google to connect your company’s website with dog grooming. However, if the backlink were to come from a gardening site, just for the sake of getting a link, Google may get confused.
Links from sites in your industry are great, but you don’t necessarily have to have a certain number of them to move up in the rankings. And links from reputable generic sites are ok, especially if they cover a topic that relates to your website.
The main takeaway is the closer the context of the backlink to your content, the better.
Links That Speak the Right Language
Backlinks from sites in another language are an interesting situation. In some regards the language of the linking site doesn’t matter much because Google can figure out what it’s about. Google is known for their translation tools after all.
But things can get a little hairy on the anchor text side of things. For example, if your site has many links with Russian anchor text pointing to it, Google will likely show your site to users searching for those Russian terms.
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By Michael Ramirez
Michael Ramirez is the Founder of SearchRPM, an Austin, TX based search marketing company that’s well-versed in Search Engine Optimization best practices. You can follow Michael Ramirez on Twitter @openmic0323 or on Google+ to see what he’s up to next.