The Flow of Link Juice
What is Link Juice?
Link juice is a colloquial term in the SEO world that refers to the power or equity passed to a site via links from external or internal sources. This power is interpreted as a vote of recommendation toward your site and is one of the most important factors in determining your site’s search ranking (and PageRank).
There are many ways to earn links from the web through direct and indirect efforts. Direct effort refers to link building strategies, such as social bookmarking, blog commenting, guest posting, social media marketing, press release publishing, forum commenting, document sharing and so on. The indirect effort is gained from presenting excellent content on your site that causes readers to share it around the web, linking the pages naturally. The link equity that passes from these sites to your site is the link juice, and this link juice differs in its authority depending on the sites linking to you.
How Does Link Juice Flow?
Suppose you have sites A and B. If all other ranking factors are constant and site A has one link while site B has no links, site A will rank higher in search results due to the link juice it receives from the external site linking to it. What happens if site B also gains one link? This depends on the amount of juice each link passes. Look at the diagram below. Site A receives links from four sites while B receives links from two sites. All the linking sites receive link juice from other sites too. Since A receives links from more sites, there is more link juice being transferred to A and consequently A is likely to rank higher than B in search results. Note: These results assume the sites linking to A and B have a similar authority.
Another factor to consider is that passing link juice happens in both directions. So, now let us say that the sites linking to site A all also link to other sites too (represented by the grey arrows in the diagram below), whereas the sites linking to site B exclusively link to B. In this case the percentage of link juice that B receives is higher than the percentage of link juice site A receives. This increases site B’s chance at ranking higher than site A.
It used to be the case that the nofollow attribute could be used to preserve the loss of link juice. This process was known as PageRank sculpting. This was done to manipulate link juice such that it concentrates onto certain pages of a site rather than spreading evenly over all the pages. Refer to the diagrams below for a representation of this concept.
In the first diagram, you will see that with dofollow links (links that are not nofollowed) the transfer of link juice is equally distributed to all the outgoing links from a website. PageRank sculpting was possible when a webmaster added a nofollow attribute to one of the outgoing links, which meant that the link juice would not transfer to the page that is nofollowed but would be distributed to the other links. This is demonstrated in the second diagram. This is no longer true. Now link juice is passed the normal way no matter whether you use a nofollow or not. You can see in the third diagram that the site distributes its link juice to all three sites equally, the difference is that the nofollowed link does not receive it.
Since this is the case, you may be worried about the dilution or leaking of link juice from your home page to nofollow links on your footer or sidebar. If the link is not necessary it is advisable to remove it rather than nofollowing it. An example of such a link is a Twitter feed plugin which contains many outgoing links. On the other hand, if these links contain important user information it is better to keep the link and the dofollow, even if you are not aiming to get the linked page shown in SERPs. Examples of such pages are privacy policies, or terms and conditions.
A good and commonly used practice is to stop the flow of link juice to spam comments and links posted on blogs with a nofollow attribute. On the contrary, when it comes to internal links on a site, it is a good practice to allow a natural flow of link juice rather than controlling it with nofollow attributes. The link juice obtained and distributed within your site keeps your inner pages popular on the web as well as your home page. This collectively enhances the PageRank of your home page.
Link juice passing to your site is effective when it is from:
- Pages that have content relevant to your site.
- Pages that have a high PageRank.
- Pages that have relatively few outbound links.
- Pages that contain quality content.
- Pages that appear high in SERPs.
- Pages that have user-generated content.
- Pages that are popular with social media audiences, i.e. they are mentioned often in social media.
- Pages that have keyword-optimized anchor text that matches your target keywords.
Link juice passing to your site is ineffective when it is from:
- Pages that have nofollowed the link to your site.
- Pages with irrelevant content.
- Pages that have a lot of links; for example, ad links or site-wide links.
- Pages that are not indexed in search.
- Paid links.
- Links obtained in a link exchange scheme. This is where you link to someone’s site in return for a link to your site, which essentially cancels the impact.
- Links from unranked sites with no content.
Let us know in the comments if this has helped you understand how link juice flows!