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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?

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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?


Inbound links are a ranking signal that can vary greatly in terms of how they’re weighted by Google.

One of the key attributes 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’s thought to have a greater impact on rankings than a link randomly inserted within unrelated text.

Is there any bearing to that claim?

Let’s dive deeper into what has been said about contextual links as a ranking factor to see whether there’s any evidence to support those claims.

The Claim: Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor

A “contextual link” refers to an inbound link pointing to a URL that’s relevant to the content in which the link appears.

When an article links to a source to provide additional context for the reader, for example, that’s a contextual link.

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Contextual links add value rather than being a distraction.

They should flow naturally with the content, giving the reader some clues about the page they’re being directed to.

Not to be confused with anchor text, which refers to the clickable part of a link, a contextual link is defined by the surrounding text.

A link’s anchor text could be related to the webpage it’s pointing to, but if it’s surrounded by content that’s otherwise irrelevant then it doesn’t qualify as a contextual link.

Contextual links are said to be a Google ranking factor, with claims that they’re weighted higher by the search engine than other types of links.

One of the reasons why Google might care about context when it comes to links is because of the experience it creates for users.

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When a user clicks a link and lands on a page related to what they were previously looking at, it’s a better experience than getting directed to a webpage they aren’t interested in.

Modern guides to link building all recommend getting links from relevant URLs, as opposed to going out and placing links anywhere that will take them.

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There’s now a greater emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to link building, and a link is considered higher quality when its placement makes sense in context.

One high quality contextual link can, in theory, be worth more than multiple lower quality links.

That’s why experts advise site owners to gain at least a few contextual links, as that will get them further than building dozens of random links.

If Google weights the quality of links higher or lower based on context, it would mean Google’s crawlers can understand webpages and assess how closely they relate to other URLs on the web.

Is there any evidence to support this?

The Evidence For Contextual Links As A Ranking Factor

Evidence in support of contextual links as a ranking factor can be traced back to 2012 with the launch of the Penguin algorithm update.

Google’s original algorithm, PageRank, was built entirely on links. The more links pointing to a website, the more authority it was considered to have.

Websites could catapult their site up to the top of Google’s search results by building as many links as possible. It didn’t matter if the links were contextual or arbitrary.

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Google’s PageRank algorithm wasn’t as selective about which links it valued (or devalued) over others until it was augmented with the Penguin update.

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Penguin brought a number of changes to Google’s algorithm that made it more difficult to manipulate search rankings through spammy link building practices.

In Google’s announcement of the launch of Penguin, former search engineer Matt Cutts highlighted a specific example of the link spam it’s designed to target.

This example depicts the exact opposite of a contextual link, with Cutts saying:

“Here’s an example of a site with unusual linking patterns that is also affected by this change. Notice that if you try to read the text aloud you’ll discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact, the page text has been “spun” beyond recognition.”

A contextual link, on the other hand, looks like the one a few paragraphs above linking to Google’s blog post.

Links with context share the following characteristics:

  • Placement fits in naturally with the content.
  • Linked URL is relevant to the article.
  • Reader knows where they’re going when they click on it.

All of the documentation Google has published about Penguin over the years is the strongest evidence available in support of contextual links as a ranking factor.

See: A Complete Guide to the Google Penguin Algorithm Update

Google will never outright say “contextual link building is a ranking factor,” however, because the company discourages any deliberate link building at all.

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As Cutts adds at the end of his Penguin announcement, Google would prefer to see webpages acquire links organically:

“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”

Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Contextual links are probably a Google ranking factor.

A link is weighted higher when it’s used in context than if it’s randomly placed within unrelated content.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean links without context will negatively impact a site’s rankings.

External links are largely outside a site owner’s control.

If a website links to you out of context it’s not a cause for concern, because Google is capable of ignoring low value links.

On the other hand, if Google detects a pattern of unnatural links, then that could count against a site’s rankings.

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If you have actively engaged in non-contextual link building in the past, it may be wise to consider using the disavow tool.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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How Data Is Reshaping The SEO & Digital Marketer’s Landscape

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How Data Is Reshaping The SEO & Digital Marketer's Landscape

There is a new data revolution happening, and it’s sweeping across the industry so quickly that many SEO and digital marketers are struggling to make sense of the insights and intelligence at their disposal.

To utilize this opportunity, marketers need to evolve their mindsets and use technology to analyze multiple data formats and understand the new opportunities it can bring.

SEO marketers of today and digital marketers of tomorrow will need to extract, structure quickly, and manipulate data to drive the most critical business outcomes.

Data has always been mission-critical to digital decision-making.

The Economist, back in 2017, declared it the world’s most valuable resource.

Fast forward to today and the future, and we can see that the exponential growth of data fuelling this revolution is staggering.

According to the IDC, the amount of digital data created over the next five years will be greater than twice the amount of data made since the advent of digital storage.

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Think about that for a second!

Flash drives, for example, were introduced in 2000.

This means that in the next five years, marketers will have to analyze and make sense of 2x the data created in the last 22 years!

The Data Revolution Means More Sources & Complexity For SEO

The data revolution has gone on for some time now, and it’s changed our concept of what counts as “data,” rightfully so.

In the past, we thought only numbers mattered.

But, in this new digital world where everything is converted into ones and zeros, data is broader and contains text, audio, and visual information – all bits waiting to be processed!

  • Machine-based and human-generated data are growing at a rate of 10x faster than conventional business data.
  • Machine-created data is increasing exponentially at a 50x the growth rate. This data revolution is primarily marketing-driven and consumer-oriented who are “always on.”
  • In just the last 18 months, the volume of site processing data we have been generating at BrightEdge has increased by 11x!
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As a result of these increasingly demanding trends, SEO and digital marketers need to adapt and become more like data analysts and scientists in approaching the extraction of structured data insights and business intelligence – without adding more manual work.

Fortunately, SEO is well-positioned to take advantage of this new data revolution.

  • Increasing your keyword universe – More keywords mean more data points to look at with reporting and fuelling insights. While focusing on conversion rate metrics is very important, it wouldn’t be possible without opening the scope of your audience and getting more people in the door. SEO has drifted away from writing for a primary dedicated keyword and is now way more advanced with advancements in search engines like Google’s understanding of intent of searches through RankBrain and BERT.
  • Increasing your search footprint – will also help you discover unexplored of informing your future content strategy or ideate new keyword ideas. However, sometimes you might miss the boat, like the transition of Content Management Systems slowly turning into “Experience Platforms” as they offer more functionality to meet the needs of today’s webmaster or marketer.

Read More On SEJ

Data Is The Currency Of An Accelerated SEO & Digital Age

By 2025, Worldwide data will reach 175 zettabytes.

But unfortunately, the human brain can’t process, structure, and analyze all that data.

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So technology engines have to help, and digital marketers should be the driver.

There is a massive opportunity for companies that can utilize data to create more engaging experiences.

A recent study showed that 95% of business leaders recognize this as their biggest growth lever over the next three years, which means there’s plenty at stake here!

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Robust data analysis ensures decisions are evidence-based and have more accountability.

Drawing on existing and new data sources to fully integrate business acumen and analytical skills into decision making, sourcing, managing, and analyzing large amounts of unstructured data will ensure continued use and success.

SEO began with data and has evolved.

From the introduction of real-time SEO in 2019 and Page Experience Updates in 2021, SEO’s future lies again with data and the creation of intelligent systems. Here marketers can leverage combined data sources that structures data for them.

As a result, they can achieve business objectives and stay ahead during all data and digital transformation stages.

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Technology & AI Are Helping SEO Evolve

Advancements in technology and, in particular, AI and Natural Language Processing has meant that SEO and digital marketers can become data analysts without having to become an actual data scientist.

This is key to unlocking structured insights from your company’s big data to make more precise predictions about what is coming next based on existing information.

Digital marketers can evolve, understand key trends, and learn in new areas such as:

  • Predictive modeling of future trends and forecasting based on multiple types of data.
  • Real-time identification of opportunities and intelligence.
  • Digital research at scale with both historical and real-time data.
  • Leveraging automated visualizations for various stakeholders.
  • Improved data security and compliance.
  • Market and business intelligence at a macro level.
  • Consumer behavior at the most granular level.

SEO and digital marketers can learn critical skills such as statistics, data analysis, data visualization, and strategy.

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AI, NLP, and machine learning are helping them do this without needing expertise in computer programming and software applications.

What digital marketers must do is combine their communication skills and analytics skills with stakeholders who cannot think outside of the advertising box.

Read More On SEJ

Data Analysis & Intelligence As Competitive Advantage

The application of technology will be the driving force behind the next generation of data analysis technology.

Therefore, SEO and digital marketers of today should learn how to better utilize insights from data analysis.

It’s becoming more apparent that the marketing platforms of tomorrow will require the capabilities of data analysis and science infrastructure at their core.

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The future of marketing will blend technological know-how, business sense, and an understanding of data analysis.

The next generation of SEO will touch all components of marketing, from video, email, and voice, to digital performance of content.

SEO and data science will converge into one evolved discipline that drives omnichannel acquisition and democratizes data.

Marketers who embrace this new era of SEO will be well-positioned to succeed in the years to come.

Data is reconfirming its role as the new competitive advantage, and as SEO and digital marketers, you must evolve if you want to be part of the future.

More resources:


Featured Image: ra2 studio/Shutterstock

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