Something I have been pondering over recently has been the subject of link quality. As we all know, Google has cracked down on poor quality links with a second large algorithm change, named “Penguin”. However, there is no mention of the quality of a link being defined by how long the link has been in place.
There are two separate arguments I would like to put forward here; the first being “the older the link, the MORE relevant it becomes”, the second being “the older the link, the LESS relevant it becomes”. In my opinion, link age may be a ranking factor but performing some research, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of discussion on the subject.
MORE argument: The older a link the MORE relevant it becomes
- If a link has been present for a long period of time, it could be interpreted as a relevant link that has not been removed, e.g. after a payment term has expired
- Search engines currently use the domain age to understand trust, so they may use link age as a factor too
- A link present for a long period of time demonstrates a long-term trust between one site and another
- An older link might be another factor that indicates an established website that has been present and “linked to” for a long period of time
- Search engines are recommending that webmasters go back and update old links to more relevant web pages and, in some cases, remove spammy links. If these links were not important, why would they be advising us to do this?
LESS argument: The older a link the LESS relevant it becomes
- Newer links are recent “trust signals” from one site to another, showing the website is still active, still important and, crucially, still trusted
- Many older links become broken and cause redirects, which will reduce/remove link juice, therefore it may not be practical to offer more ranking power to old links. How often do you click on an old blog post link that returns a 404?
- The Google Freshness update demonstrates that search engines are placing great importance on recent content, indicating that “new = good”
- If older links engendered more trust, newly formed companies or those only recently investing in SEO will not have as much opportunity to outrank older companies, regardless of which company is more relevant (although the same could be said of using domain age as a ranking factor)
- Social media links would not have been in place a few years ago. Search engines have acknowledged that social signals are out there but not that they are a definite ranking factor (just yet)
I did find that wiep.com conducted a review and asked a few search professionals their thoughts. These were the results (click image to enlarge):
(source: WIEP.net )
From reviewing the arguments, I take the position that a mixture of both types makes for the most successful link profile, but I am leaning towards the belief that newer links are being given slightly more weight than older ones. The reason I have come to this conclusion is because of the “freshness” element and the incorporation of social media. Specifically, Google have many posts on the importance of the “freshness update”. While we don’t yet have any solid evidence that social signals have affected organic positions, it is my belief that if they don’t currently have a large effect, they soon will do (mini search prediction).
I also believe that the marketing strategy of the website where the link is found plays an important part. If the link sits on an old blog post, buried 18 clicks from the homepage, on a website which is no longer updated, that’s bound to affect the power. On the other hand, the host site may be heavily involved in an effective online digital strategy, providing relevant unique content and therefore the power from the link would be much greater.