Referral Traffic Does Not Affect Link Equity
Link equity – also known as “link juice” – is a search engine ranking factor that comes from the idea that links pass authority and value from one page to another. This value depends on various factors, including topical relevance, the linking page’s authority, HTTP status, and more. Google and other search engines use link equity as one of the many signals to rank pages in the search results.
However, when Google evaluates link equity, it doesn’t consider referral traffic or whether or not users click on the link.
Referral traffic refers to Google’s way of reporting visits to a website from sources outside its search engine. Suppose a user clicks on a hyperlink and gets redirected to a new page on a different website. Analytics would track the click as a referral visit to the second website. The original website is the “referrer” because it refers traffic from one site to the next.
Referral traffic is just one of the three statistics that Google Analytics tracks. The other two types of traffic are Search traffic – which are visits from a search engine – and Direct traffic to a domain.
In a Google Search Central SEO hangout on 17 September 2021, Google’s John Mueller discussed how referral traffic isn’t relevant to link equity.
A person asked Mueller about link equity and whether or not it increases depending on the amount of traffic the link sends from one website to another.
Mueller replied that Google does not use traffic, nor does it consider the probability of users clicking on a link when evaluating its value. He also explained that click-through rate and referral traffic do not increase link equity because they treat backlinks as just a reference.
Users do not click on every link they see in an article, and site owners and publishers only add them to their content as citations.
For instance, let’s say that someone is linking to a website, saying that they are linking because an expert told them to do so. Then users will not click on that link and will always look at the website and double-check if what was written is true. But the readers will perceive it almost like a reference. If they want to get more information about the discussed topic, they can click on the link, but they don’t need to.
From this point of view, Google would not consider referral traffic when evaluating a link’s value.
Next, Mueller brought up PageRank to give an example of how Google passes link equity. He said PageRank works differently nowadays, considering that Google’s algorithm has evolved as years went by.
However, a link’s weight is still determined by the equity that was passed from one site to another. Generally, PageRank allows one to set up value for the individual pages, then pass a fragment of the value to the other links. If it sees the page as very high value, Google’s system will treat its links with more weight compared to random online content.
Link Equity And PageRank
Many people believe there is a strong connection between link equity and PageRank.
PageRank was the first algorithmic calculation that Google used to determine how it should rank a website based on the site’s backlink profile. Today, the search engine does not solely rely on PageRank anymore as its main determinant for ranking websites. PageRank’s role in SEO has become less important these days.
How Is Link Equity Determined?
Both internal and external links can pass link equity in SEO linkbuilding. There are several factors to consider when determining whether a link will pass equity:
- Irrelevant links will not provide pages with much authority or value. For instance, one should not link to a page about fixing cars from an article about dish recipes.
- Links from trustworthy and authoritative websites pass more link equity than those from newly-launched sites.
- Followed links
- Using a no-follow tells search engines to ignore the links, and they will most likely have no link equity. But just because a link is no-followed does not necessarily mean that it does not have other value.
- Crawlable links
- Pages with a robots.txt file might block crawlers, and this would tell search engines to ignore the link, which would not pass value.
- Number of links on the page
- If the link to the website is just one of many hundreds or thousands, Google will not see it as valuable. There are no rules about limiting oneself to using a specific number of links on a page. However, if the link is buried among other links, it is unlikely that the user will easily see it and click it.
- HTTP status
- Pages with 200s or permanent 301 redirects will retain their link equity. Although Google confirmed that all types of redirects, including 302s, pass PageRank, some search engines may not treat them the same way. Moreover, there are many other factors that one should consider when planning a ranking strategy.
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