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New Google patent: the reasonable surfer and your links

on 23 Jun  Posted by Admin  Category: Search Engines  
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Last month, Google was granted a patent that states that the different links on a linking page have a different effect on the linked pages. How does this affect your website and what do you have to do to secure your rankings? What is the patent about?

The patent describes that the value of a link seems to be based on the probability that a web surfer would click on the link. Here's the summary from the patent application:

"Systems and methods consistent with the principles of the invention may provide a reasonable surfer model that indicates that when a surfer accesses a document with a set of links, the surfer will follow some of the links with higher probability than others. This reasonable surfer model reflects the fact that not all of the links associated with a document are equally likely to be followed. [...]

Examples of unlikely followed links may include 'Terms of Service' links, banner advertisements, and links unrelated to the document."

When Google finds links on a web page, it classifies the links. Some links on the indexed page have more value than others.

How does Google classify the links?

To determine the value of a link, Google analyzes several things:

  • Features of the link: color and size of the anchor text, link position, number of words, how commercial the text is, length of the linked URL, link type (image or text), context of words
  • Features of the linking page: URL of the page, number of links on the page, presence of other words on the page, match between the topic of the link text and the other words on the page
  • Features of the linked page: URL of the page, associated websites, words in the URL, length of the URL
  • User behavior data: language and interests of the user, used search query terms, frequency of link selection, navigational actions (forms completed, links selected, etc.)

Where does Google get the user behavior data from?

To get the user behavior data, Google can use the Google toolbar. According to the patent description:

"[Google's toolbar] may record data concerning the documents accessed by the user and the links within the documents (if any) the user selected.

[...] may record data concerning the language of the user, which may be determined in a number of ways that are known in the art, such as by analyzing documents accessed by the user.

[...] may record data concerning interests of the user, which may be determined, for example, from the favorites or bookmark list of the user, topics associated with documents accessed by the user, or in other ways that are known in the art.

[...] may record data concerning query terms entered by the user. The web browser or browser assistant may send this data for storage in repository 430."

There's quite a lot of things that Google records when you surf the web with the Google's toolbar installed.

How can you improve the links that point to your website?

Of course, you cannot influence all links that point to your website. If you can, you should consider the following things:

1. Your link should be in the regular text of the linking page. It should not be in the footer or another navigational elements. If possible, the link should be "above the fold".

2. The anchor text should contain words that are related to your website. Use the keywords for which you want to get high rankings. The link texts should be natural. Anything that looks like manipulation might devalue the link.

3. Avoid commercial words in your links. Terms like "buy now" and similar commercial phrases might devalue the link.

4. The link should be on a related page. If you sell shoes then a link from a web page that deals with shoes will have a higher impact on your search engine rankings than a link from an unrelated website that links to all kind of web pages.

The Google patent confirms that not all links are created equal. Although the patent has been granted to Google last month, they filed it several years ago. That means that the methods described in the patent might have been used by Google for years.

If you want to know which ranking algorithm Google uses today and if your website is compliant to Google's latest ranking algorithm, analyze your page with IBP's Top 10 Optimizer. The Top 10 Optimizer will tell you in plain English if the links to your website are okay and it will also tell you what exactly you have to change.

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