SEO Juice: A Messy Metaphor? [UPDATE]
You’ve no doubt heard of the concept of SEO Juice, right? Your PageRank potential is likened to juice, and your site, re-imagined as a juice carton. Inbound links (aka backlinks) are thus viewed as yummy rivers of SEO juice flowing into your website, nourishing your PR potential with all it needs to grow into a strong and healthy site (read: strong PR stature). But beware! Outbound links can cause your site to “leak,” and your PR potential can dribble out of your cyber carton if you’re not vigilant. Enter a compelling image of a carton or water pail with band-aids plugging leaky holes, and you’ve got the concept mastered.
[UPDATE: MARCH 2016 ~ New irrefutable research referenced below]
The popular metaphor is used widely and by most top-drawer SEO thinkers. The highly-respected team at Moz use the metaphor frequently. I use it too, but while it may be useful, it has some limitations. In fact, it’s most limited on the very topic where it’s allude to the most. So much so that it too often discourages an important SEO practice.
SEO Juice: Where the Metaphor Works
Thinking of inbound links as rivers of SEO juice is an apt way to view it. That said, Google is now making webmasters responsible for their incoming links. So, not every river is an inlet for in-rushing crystal, clear goodness. Yes, some are foul, septic streams that could pollute your site, too. Still, the metaphor serves us.
Your XML sitemap tells Google the priority of the pages on your website. Your home page has typically the highest priority; pages like your contact page, the lowest. (That is, you want Google to know you have a contact page, but it need not be crawled every time.) However, your internal linking structure goes a long way to confirming your priority pages. And here again, the juice metaphor may prove helpful. Your website, a juice carton in this illustration, should be tipped towards your priority pages to ensure that your SEO juice flows more readily into your main pages. So, the metaphor works for inbound backlinks and internal links.
SEO Juice: Where the Metaphor Bursts Open
Where the SEO juice metaphor is most mentioned concerns the threat of your site “leaking.” And this is where the metaphor not only gets messy, but it has also created a reluctance in many to add outbound (external) links to their content. “Won’t I lose PageRank if I add outbound links?” “I only add at most one outbound link because I don’t want my PR to leak out.” These are commonly held notions.
A better metaphor here exposes the juice illustration. “Popularity,” or a site’s coolness-factor (yeah, think high school all over again), is another way to view inbound and outbound links. If you get a whole lot of love from incoming links to your site it is impossible to lose anything by passing the love on to other sites via outbound links. Being stingy and hoarding all the love, what Jonathan Hochman calls a link miser, in fact works against you.
Mr. Google (aka Matt Cutts) said: “In the same way that Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods, parts of our system encourage links to good sites.”
Yeah. I too wish he’d be clearer, but then again, Cutts/Google is seldom clear. However, what is emphatic is this: Google’s system encourages links to good sites. (And while the Hilltop Algorithm is well over a decade old, it remains a factor.)
Brian Dean from Banklinko went as far as to say, “Outbound links to related pages is a relevancy signal that helps Google figure out your page’s topic. It also shows Google that your page is a hub of quality info … Not linking out might be the number one on-page SEO mistake that I see people make. I usually link out 2 to 4 times per 1000 words. That’s a good rule of thumb for most sites.”
Good outbound links to “authority” websites endorses your content. By linking to sites that authenticate your product and services (brand names from whom you source or buy), sites that verify your facts and claims (research-based sites), sites that confirm your topical views and news (news sites), and sites that validate your credentials (government and educations sites, for instance), you’re strengthening your own content. Two to four outbound links to authority sites per 1,000 words strikes a good balance.
And again, the popularity metaphor works well. If you hang out with the uncool kids, via outbound links, you can tarnish your reputation. In a twist on what The Book teaches: “Bad online company corrupts good PR.”
Your site doesn’t “leak;” your credibility takes a dive. The answer is not to refrain from adding outbound links to your content. The answer is to proactively reference solid, authoritative sites.
NEW DEFINITIVE RESEARCH
Reboot Online have just conducted some ground-breaking research that proves conclusively the value of linking to authority websites. They say,
We [have] disproved the old myth of Pagerank retention which in my opinion has done nothing but harm to the internet as a whole as webmasters try to keep the ‘link juice’ in house slowly eroding the building blocks of the web.”
Do yourself a favour, and read the study for yourself.
Build Trust: Link to Authority Sites
The co-founder of Moz, Rand Fishkin, said: “No matter how great a website you build, you can never be all things to all people, nor contain all the relevant information and value a user might be seeking on your given topic. As such, it makes great sense to leverage the power of the web—the power of links—to create an easy, scalable path to making your site’s experience better and more rewarding for those who visit … Use that same power on your own site and you, too, can become a reference resource in your niche.”
And with “authority” and “trust” becoming increasingly important terms in SEO circles, adding outbound links to strong, authoritative websites is very much a part of building your own site’s authority/trust coefficient.
Consider this article. In a little over 1,000 words, I’ve linked to seven outbound sites (just so you don’t make Dean’s guideline your straitjacket). Without the outbound links, this article is merely an opinion piece, waffle without research, fluff without validation. You’d be right to chalk it off as mere ramblings if I wasn’t in good company making these points. And this is one reason Google approves so highly of outbound links.
And for those looking for a few more tips: Yes, I’ve made sure that the outbound links open in new tabs (so I don’t lose my audience). Plus, I’ve included a few inbound links (and added them early and in the closing paragraphs) to keep you hanging around. You know, “bounce rate” and “dwell time” and all 🙂
Bottom line? While the SEO juice metaphor is helpful, don’t let it dissuade you from adding outbound links to good sites.
And by the way, there are some good tools around that help you manage and monitor your backlink profile. Linkio is one such tool. It’s SEO management software that helps you plan and deliver backlinks more effectively.