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/
SEO for Developers – While it is ideal to incorporate search engine optimization practices at the beginning of a new web development project, that rarely seems to be the case, especially with large projects and multiple departments getting a say in how the website should be built. Often times, SEO falls by the wayside and is considered a lower priority and something that can be done after the site is launched. However, that could be further from the truth when you’re dealing with huge, complex and dynamic websites. Other issues seem to pop up and take higher priority over the SEO, and thus the site will never rank in the search engines.
I will put together a longer post in the near future but here’s a good starting point – The Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet.