It's a controversial term among SEOs.
Mainly because it tends to get overused or over-emphasized. Perhaps you've gotten cold emails promising backlinks with plenty of 'juice', or maybe you saw a tool emphasizing 'juicy links' in one of their tools.
We're here to set the story straight about link juice, and its place in link building and SEO.
Link juice is an important concept and one to keep in your back pocket as you dive deeper into SEO, but not obsess over.
Thirsty? Let's dive in.
Link juice is a slang term in SEO that refers to how much authority a site passes on through a backlink.
We covered backlinks in depth so if you're newer to them check out the post and head back here. To provide a summary: a backlink is simply a link that directs back to your website from another website, and they can have a serious impact on your ranking.
Backlinks matter a lot to Google, so the more you have the better your chances at ranking are.
Google was built by grad students who had the crazy idea that how websites related to each other and cited each other mattered when it came to assessing the quality of those websites. They modeled this off of the way academic papers cited each other. The most popular/best papers were cited the most, papers of lesser quality earned fewer citations.
It's the same with backlinks.
Another way to think about backlinks as votes. The more websites linking to you the more votes your website has. Suppose you have two websites, A and B, with pretty equal content. As you can see, website A has more sites linking to it which will end up being the deciding factor in it outranking website B.
Where link juice comes into play here is imagine these websites are cups (juice, of course!). More juice gets transferred to website A, so it has more equity (or votes) and ranks higher.
It gets a bit more complicated than that though because where those citations come from matters. Before Google, search engines just looked at the most visited pages and how many times keywords appeared on the page, so this was pretty revolutionary stuff back in the late 90s-early 2000s.
Not all links are the same though. Some links have more weight than others (or more votes), and that's where link juice comes into play. Link juice is an attempt to qualify how many 'votes' a backlink will give your site and improve your rank.
Link juice is important for building SEO simply because having links to your website is important for SEO.
Link juice is not the goal in of itself.
It helps as a way to pseudo-quantify backlinks to predict how well they will benefit your website, but the real goal should be to create quality content and earn links to it.
Quality content means following the EAT principle. EAT is an acronym that stands for Expertise, Trustworthiness, and Authority and it plays a huge role in how Google sees your site. It also affects how likely people will want to link to you as a resource.
Google has a seriously in-depth content quality handbook, as they take their search results seriously. Meeting those guidelines is the ultimate goal, as is building up your presence as an authority and forming good relationships with popular websites to earn links.
Obviously, if you are getting tons of backlinks but they provide no link juice then the impact will be minimal (it's not none as you'll still get referral traffic, but you won't get a rankings boost).
How is link juice calculated? Let's dive in further.
Link juice as a metric is not so important as much as the fundamentals behind it are.
In other words, don't worry so much about calculating link juice exactly as much as you worry about creating authoritative content that gets high-quality links.
There are some factors that determine just how beneficial a backlink is, they are:
This one is pretty basic - who is linking to you?
Are they a website that consistently ranks, or a site that sits on the fringe of your industry? If they're a high-quality source linking to you not only will it provide a ton of referral traffic, but Google will also begin to recognize you as a major player in the industry and worthy of a rankings boost.
Moz's Domain Authority metric is a popular one for SEOs to use here as it can help you assess whether or not a site linking to you is 'all that'.
Similar to the quality of the site linking to you, what is the page about?
Is it even relevant to the content of your page? If it's not, say if you've got a blog post about the best pet food for large breed dogs and a website that sells custom made baseball bats links to you, the link equity that gets transferred is going to be minimal to none.
Personally, I've seen plenty of spam sites linking to me which end up being extremely low-quality links.
This is where things get a bit technical, a link back to your site could be a do-follow link or a no-follow link. What does this mean?
Google's crawlers are scanning the web constantly. Every time they hit a site they analyze all its content, which includes any links to other websites.
Do-follow links signal to search engines that they should crawl the linked page when their page gets scanned.
No-follow links do the opposite: they tell search engines not to follow the link to the resulting page. While you'll still benefit from getting referral traffic by virtue of getting a link, you won't get any link juice, or link equity, from a no-follow link.
A do-follow link would be a standard html link, while a no follow link would be modified to look like this:
<a href=”http://www.website.com/”rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>
Why would such a thing exist?
In the earlier days of the web, spammers were able to take advantage of Google's PageRank algorithm by leaving comments with links back to their sites on blogs across the web. In response, blogging platforms automatically set submitted links as 'no follow' links to ensure that the spammers got no credit for their "hard work."
Is the link to your site one of 5 or one of 50?
That plays a role in how much link equity is transferred over to your website. There's no hard and fast rule, though it has been demonstrated that the more links on a page the less PageRank it passes on. This isn't necessarily something to stress over, though it's something to be aware of when you are requesting a backlink.
The position of the link matters too. Is it towards the top of the page? Or buried in the footer? The higher up on the page the link is/the closer it is to the main content the better. A link towards the bottom of the page, where most people won't even see it, just doesn't pass as much referral traffic or link equity as one higher up.
Once again, don't stress this so much. The primary goal should be to be creating great content and building relationships within your area of expertise to earn links.
Link juice isn't exclusive to external sites, it can come from linking internally too!
While marketers continue their relentless quest for more backlinks they're forgetting they have a goldmine of links readily available on their own website.
Hopefully each of your pages/articles is associated with a topic/keyword. For example, we've got a post on 'what are backlinks', and another on 'what are serps?'. We write blog posts that answer questions and use a keyword/topic that we want to rank for.
This gives us a wealth of content available to link to as we continue to write on our blog. Note how we linked to a post on backlinks, and another post on the EAT principle.
It's important to link internally to content where it's relevant as it builds link juice within the site and helps Google understand what each piece of content is about.
A website that does this really well is Copyblogger and I admire them a lot for it. Each of their blog posts links to another piece of content which leads you deeper into their website and it builds a great internal link structure for Google and gives them an SEO boost.
To summarize, link juice is a helpful slang term to try and quantify the impact a backlink will have on your website. Some people might try to get fancy and put a number on it, but all that really matters is:
And that's about it. Where it all starts is creating high-quality content on your website. If you aren't creating content regularly then there is no better time to start than now. We've written a free ebook as an introduction to SEO that covers keyword research in depth to help build an effective content strategy, fill out the form below to download it and get to writing!
Get the same strategy framework we teach every single client. Follow these 4 steps to outsmart your competitors on Google and rank your website higher than ever.