Google Changes How It Determines Link Values

February was a busy month for Google.

Legal maneuvering and privacy policy issues aside, the company announced nearly 40 search updates to its platform in addition to the rollout of Panda 3.3 update, and one of the biggest changes for search engine optimization (SEO) specialists and other Web professionals is Google’s retooling of how it determines link values.

New link analysis and evaluation could impact the way an entire Web page is ranked, but as is often the case with these types of updates, Google is not revealing too many details about what it has changed or how much the change could influence search engine results pages (SERPs).

Google’s brief statement regarding the change indicates the company is “turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years.” Needless to say, this leaves a lot of room for speculation into what the change could have been.

There’s really no definitive way of knowing, but experts have made several guesses. SEO expert Bill Slawski offered a dozen possibilities, from eliminating a step the process of calculating PageRank to a modification of link evaluation based on its location on the page. The vagueness of Google’s statement means it hard to know what was “turned off” – whether it was as simple as the statement suggests, or if it was a combination of things to create a single effect.

Top guesses for what the change may be according to various polls include changes to title tags, PageRank, the age of the link, the position of the link, surrounding/anchor text and HTML signals. An apparent favorite based on user comments may be HTML signals, which many have found easy to manipulate as a way to influence SERPs in the past, and so worthwhile to modify by Google.

SEO experts in the field have not reported any notice of significant changes based on revised link analysis and evaluation, but it’s possible those reporting are not impacted or simply that the change is hard to notice.

That Google has remained so tight-lipped about what has been removed may in itself be an indicator of the significance of the change. It is no surprise that it would not be specific, because the assumed goal is to prevent page designers and Web writers from gaming the system, but if people are left unaware of how a system is “improved” it makes it difficult for Web professionals to know what they can do to make things better to meet legitimate goals.

James Madeiros writes for Sparkplug Digital, a Seattle SEO company that provides SEO audits and linkbuilding for tech companies and startups.

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