First Link Priority – Does Google Only Count the First Link?
One of my favorite things about search engine optimization, or SEO, is the constant experiments that must be done to try and figure out exactly how the algorithms of the search engines work. Google has stated publicly before that there are over 200+ factors that are in the algorithm to determine a website’s ranking, but they keep the actual algorithm secret. They also constantly test and make tweaks to their algorithms so what works today may not work tomorrow. That’s why SEO professionals have to stay on top of the latest changes in order to not be left behind.
One of the most important factors that Google uses is the anchor text of text links pointing to a specific URL. Every link is counted as a”vote” for that website, and if a certain webpage has a ton of links pointing to it with the same specific keywords in the anchor text, Google assumes that “huh, all of these other websites are linking to this page for “keyword whatever” so that must mean it’s relevant for that keyword phrase and thus should be ranked higher in the search engine rankings.” This seems somewhat obvious nowadays but this shift to focusing on links from other sites rather than actual keywords appearing on a page is how Google separated themselves from the other primitive and spam-ridden search engines in the early years. Anchor text in links is still extremely, extremely important but the search engines are always looking for other signals to consider since putting too much importance on just anchor text in links is an easy way for webmasters to manipulate their search engine rankings.
Even though links from external sites are more important than internal links, internal linking is still a very important piece of any SEO strategy. What I mean by internal linking is simply using optimized text in your text links that point to other pages on your same site. So instead of using “click here” to visit a page about electric guitars, that link text should say “electric guitars” instead. This helps the search engines determine what that page the link is pointing to is about and “electric guitars” obviously makes a lot more sense than “click here” does.
But what happens if you have more than one link pointing to the same URL on a webpage? For example, if you wrote a blog post about guitars and the first link you used to link to a specific URL was “guitars” and then in the next paragraph you linked to that same URL with “electric guitars” and then in the last paragraph you used “click here to view our wide selection of guitars and guitar accessories.” You would think that because you had 3 links in your blog post, that you would be giving 3 “votes” to that URL to rank for all three of those keyword phrases. However, this is apparently not the case, at least not in Google. There have been plenty of experiments done by other SEO professionals and most of them have come to the same conclusion – Google only counts the first link that appears on that webpage and more specifically, the first link that appears in the source code. Which means Google completely ignores the other two links. This has come to be known as First Link Priority.
Now you might not think this is a big deal, but it definitely is, especially in ultra competitive industries. Oftentimes a seemingly small factor like this is what separates 1st place and 2nd place, when all else is equal. And in these ultra competitive and lucrative industries, ranking #1 instead of #2 or lower can mean millions of dollars in revenue every year.
One of the most commonly neglected areas of a website is its navigation. Most of the time the navigation shows up at the top of a website or on the lefthand side, and because this is the case, most of the time the navigation shows up first in the HTML source code of a webpage. You might not think twice about linking to your homepage with the text “Home” instead of “Electric Guitars Online” but now that you know that Google only counts the first link, then you’ll probably want to reconsider how you link to your internal pages. You can have the sexiest webpage design and the best content on the web, but if the search engines are only counting the first time you link to your internal pages then your SEO results may be limited.
Don’t believe me? Fine, here are some links to some of the experiments that other people have done to test out the First Link Priority hypothesis:
and a nifty tool to check your links for First Link Priority – http://www.firstlinkchecker.com/
Client poaching is running rampant in the SEO industry. I do a lot of search engine optimization and search engine marketing work for several different clients and have achieved much success for them over the years. Hence the reason why the same clients keep paying us each month. They realize the tremendous value of ranking well in the search engines for relevant and targeted keywords and thus are willing to pay us a premium to keep us working for them, rather than for their competitors. They’re happy so I’m happy. Everyone wins.
However, I cannot stand all of the shoddy so-called SEO companies that spam every contact form they come across with promises of “top rankings in all major search engines within 30 days” or “a free SEO analysis” for a fraction of the cost of what we charge for our services. It is certainly nothing new and if you’ve got a good relationship with your client, oftentimes the client is already aware that these kinds of inquiries are a dime a dozen and are often just straight up scams. But even if you do have a solid longstanding relationship with a client and they’ve been happy with the results you’ve gotten for them over the years, there is a point where they’ve gotten so many of these unsolicited emails from all of these different SEO companies who all promise the world to them at a fraction of what they have already been paying that perhaps they’ll think to themselves that maybe, just maybe, these offers may be worth considering.
I agree that some of these solicitations, albeit few and far between, can be awfully convincing and may warrant a second glance. I don’t blame the clients at all for considering their options. That’s the beauty of competition and capitalism.
My beef is solely with the never ending outright poaching attempts that bush league SEO shops constantly do. It’s sleazy, it’s slimy, and most importantly, it is what is giving the SEO industry such a bad rap as “snake oil salesmen.” Bottom line – Any reputable SEO firm worth their salt does not have to resort to bombarding contact forms and email addresses with unsolicited offers practically begging to steal clients away from other SEO companies.
(And to be honest, I’ve never lost a client to these so-called “client poachers” so it’s not like I’m writing this because I’m bitter. I’m confident enough in my ability to help businesses succeed online and I’ve got the track record to prove it. And if a client wants to try out some of these offers, then I’m not going to stop them. I’m just annoyed with getting these inquiries every single day!)
It would really be helpful if Yahoo! included a date for cached pages in its index, like Google and Bing do. Is that too much to ask? The official Yahoo explanation mentions nothing about a cache date, but merely a “snapshot” in case the original one was somehow unavailable. http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/search/basics/basics-09.html. Oh well, it won’t be long before Bing takes over Yahoo. And so we wait.
It looks like Yahoo! is using anchor text from the first link found on the page in place of the designated TITLE tag. I just noticed it today on two separate sites so I am not sure how long it has been going on and whether or not it will be a permanent change. At first I thought it might be pulling the TITLE from a Yahoo! Directory listing or DMOZ listing, but neither site is listed in either directory. So I dug a little deeper and realized it was the anchor text of the first link on the page pointed back to that page.
Not sure if I am explaining this clearly or not so here’s an example. Let’s make up a fake site about dogs called DoggyExampleSite.com.
The keywords you want to target are “dogs for sale” so you put it in the TITLE tag.
<TITLE>Dogs for Sale | Doggy Example Site</TITLE>
The first link found in the source code of the page is a link to DoggyExampleSite.com with the anchor text “Doggy Example Site.”
Let’s say your site has come up number 1 on Yahoo! for years for the keyword “dogs for sale.” When somebody searched for it, your site would come up first with the “Dogs for Sale | Doggy Example Site” as the title in the SERPs and everybody was happy.
But if today’s findings are going to be permanent, your site would now display “Doggy Example Site” as the title in the SERPs instead of your desired keywords. It’s yet to be determined if the actual ranking of the site will drop, but I imagine that the CTR would decrease as the searcher may opt to click through to the 2nd result that might have “Dogs for sale” in their title.
So basically this could become a problem when it comes to SEO for Yahoo! I will definitely keep my eye on it in the next few weeks.
Here’s a sweet keyword research tool from Wordtracker. Plug in a keyword for a list of the most frequently searched questions containing your keyword.