A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to explain to a friend why links from high PageRank sites is often overrated. When he then insisted that I was contradicting advice I had given him earlier, I was confused for a moment, until he gave me a concrete example.
“Didn’t you say that a link from a high PageRank site like HubPages or Squidoo was better than a link from a low PR site?”
I finally understood his confusion. It wasn’t what I said, but what he heard. Whenever I talk about “web pages”, people hear “web sites” and assume the two are synonymous. You might think that going over this distinction (which I’ve alluded to in earlier posts) is splitting hairs, but it actually does matter for link building and content development.
Pages Matter More Than Sites
Links point to individual web pages, not sites. Google results list individual web pages, not sites. Occasionally, Google will list a site’s home page as a search result, but the result itself is for that page specifically, not a referral to the site as a whole. These facts are pretty obvious when stated plainly, but they’re easy to lose site of when listening to some SEO theorists.
Consider a commonly stated piece of advice: that half of any backlinks you create in your article marketing and guest posts should point to your home page, while the other half should point to the post you’re trying to promote. In other words, if you’ve written an Ezine article to promote your post about Acme Flea Collars on your site, Catluvers, one of your Ezine article resource links should link to the catluvers.com home page and the other link should point to catluvers.com/acme-flea-collars.htm.
Using one of your allotted Ezine links isn’t necessarily harmful, but it does have an opportunity cost. You would probably get more leverage from the article if you pointed the link toward another post that needs some love from the search engines. If your site has any reputation or authority, other bloggers will link to your home page without any prompting from you. This would typically appear in the form of “Catluvers has a great article on Acme Flea Collars”, but getting them to deep link (i.e. link to a specific post within your site) with the appropriate anchor text (e.g. “Acme Flea Collars”) is much harder, even if you have an authority site. Unfortunately, most bloggers aren’t keyword savvy when it comes to choosing anchor text.
When people talk about a “site” being PageRank 6, what they really mean is that its home page is PageRank 6. This is usually because most of the links to an authority site are directed to the home page, as mentioned above. Home pages are what show up in blogrolls, which are sitewide links that appear on every page of the blogs containing them. So a site’s home page gets a disproportionate amount of link juice.
What needs to be understood is that this disproportion of link distribution is the only reason the home page matters more to search engines than other pages. Strictly speaking, the home page is just one more page in a site with no inherent significance beyond its navigational value to users. If you have the Google Toolbar installed, or use an extension link SearchStatus for Firefox, you can go to the home page of WorkAwesome and compare its PageRank to pages for individual posts. The WorkAwesome home page is currently PR6, but most individual posts will fall somewhere between 0 and 4.
Why The Distinction Matters
When I told my friend that links from high PageRank sites were overrated, the reason is that those same sites get the highest volume of submissions (because everyone else believes that high PR sites result in stronger links), resulting in a higher turnover rate.
Consider Postrunner, the guest posting system I mentioned in a recent post. Until recently, Postrunner listed the PageRanks of each site in its network, so the vast majority of users would submit their posts to sites with the highest PageRank (i.e. the sites whose home pages had the highest PageRank). So the low-PR sites never received any new content, while the high-PR sites would only feature a new post on the home page briefly before being pushed into the archive by newer posts.
In other words, a new post to a PR5 site would stay on the home page for less than a day. During that time it would benefit from that page’s link juice, then would eventually be relegated to a page of its own. The only way such a post would retain any link juice would be to either get linked from the home page in the sidebar (e.g. “Recent Posts”), or to get links from other sites.
For posts on your own sites, you can help them out somewhat with some internal linking. Determined the keyword you want your posts to rank for, then search Google for the pages within your site that already rank highest for that keyword: e.g. “site:catluvers.com acme flea collars”. Then, go into a few of the top pages and edit them to include a link to the target page with the proper anchor text (“Many cat owners claim that Acme Flea Collars offer exceptional protection”, which “Acme Flea Collars” links to catluvers.com/acme-flea-collars.htm).
Domain Name Relevance
Another aspect of pages mattering more than sites involves the keyword congruence between an individual post and the domain name of the site on which it is published. Like high PageRank, domain name relevance is overrated — if you build links to the post you’re trying to promote. All things being equal, I would rather have 10 links to a post on cat flea collars on RockClimbing.com than no links to the same post on Catluvers.com.
The one exception would be for an exact match domain name: CatFleaCollars.com would probably outperform RockClimbing.com with no links — but the advantage is relative. In highly competitive niches, like weight loss or payday loans, link building activity is so aggressive that it would be naive to rely on an exact match domain to give you a boost in the search engines without doing a comparable amount of link building yourself.
The Bottom Line
Simply put, if you have a post that you want to get on the first page in Google, you can’t rely on home page traffic or domain name relevance. You need links — period.
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