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Does Google "Age" Your Backlinks?



4:11 am on Jul 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I was at a conference last week and this topic came up - with disagreement among SEOs who have significant experience. The question is this: Does Google "age" backlinks - those that point to another domain?

If the answer is yes, do they age like a fine wine, getting better and better as time goes on? Or do backlinks age more like bread, getting moldy and finally becoming so decrepit and stale that they are no good at all. There are a few possibilities, and some of them are hinted at in various patents.
  1. One is that as months go by and a backlink stays in place, then it potentially gets a bit of a boost - because it's more trusted as it proves that it's stable.

  2. Another possibility is that as a linking page ages and show no further life, no change, and gathering no further backlinks of its own, then the links it offers to target pages have less and less value.

  3. And yet another is that a new fresh backlink is at its most powerful when first found - part of the "freshness" obsession.

  4. And then there's still another point of view - that the patents don't mean very much and that a backlink's value will only change as the linking page's own value goes up or down, or the number of links on the page changes.

I do have my own viewpoint on this, but it's pretty much based on a feeling built up over time, rather than coming from a disciplined test. Has anyone here done some testing? Or seen an example that lines up with one of the ideas I listed? Maybe there's another possibility in play?

[edited by: tedster at 3:07 pm (utc) on Jul 26, 2010]


6:08 am on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'm inclined to believe that if they don't get better with age, they certainly don't get much worse. I've seen far too many sites that haven't gotten any new links in awhile and still dominate the SERPs. I think the best evidence is to look at most results. You'll rarely find newer sites with fresh backlinks ranking over established sites with old links.

My guess is that a link doesn't reach it's full potential till maybe a year. It can help you, but not in it's fullest. Probably a way to combat text link purchasing. I think sites that haven't been getting links for awhile don't lose their stature, I just think other sites that are gaining links are getting stronger.


6:32 am on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

My sense is that link value can be any of the above.

On some types of websites, links can lose value over time even if the pages doesn't fall to the archives because of the type of resource in classification.

Just as Google classifies particular websites and organizes search results returned around specific query "types", I believe it too values links based on this.

Therefore, I suggest that an aged University page with the theoretical same number and quality of backlinks as a particular post on a blog would in fact pass more value over time, whereas news related items might pass value faster due to the freshness factor we have seen demonstrated in the SERPs

The idea of building links to a link is sound. This is a principle I have used to great effect especially when you are able to secure a wide range of very high end authority links for an unlimited amount of time, that are exclusive to you through an arrangement or partnership (or respect) :)


12:52 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

monitor for new backlinks for your best backlinks. If their page starts to go stale, then build THEM a backlink or two.

Whoa. That's one for the strategy arsenal.


2:11 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Every now and again, someone mentions a "trick" that I cannot believe is being discussed in a public forum.

Honestly people, if you've noted it, just let it pass.


3:02 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

As previously noted, getting hard data on this sort of thing is very difficult as there are too many variables in the "wild" to control.

However, I think there is some value in people's "gut feelings" when they have a lot of experience watching complex data patterns. Humans are very good pattern matchers -- too good, sometimes, as we often see patterns in genuine chaos.

I have long felt that there is hysteresis in the system. Rankings feel like they have velocity and momentum. This can be seen fairly clearly with your own internal link structure: two very similar pages with the same internal backlink profile seem to have very different ranking potential depending on how long the page has been up. There are several possible ways this could arise, but historical re-evaluation of backlinks would definitely explain it.

So my feeling is that historical data is probably being considered, and that it is probably highly context-dependant.

Generally, it feels like Google is taking into account the overall shape of the link graph, including its temporal variation, in a manner that is probably fairly simple mathematically but to a human observer with limited information it would be very difficult to predict.

Is that actionable? Well, sort of, but it probably just means what we already pretty much know -- that the best links are those that genuinely constitute an editorial endorsement from an authoratative source, because Google is getting better and better at determining algorithmically exactly what that means.

Every now and again, someone mentions a "trick" that I cannot believe is being discussed in a public forum.

I think that depends on your attitude. If you are paranoid and insular, yeah, talking about such things is foolish. I tend to think that symbiosis is the most effective evolutionary strategy, and thus sharing of information can be generally beneficial. Anyway, I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that promoting those who promote you is probably a good idea -- symbiosis again.


5:29 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'm a firm believer that link age is an integral part of the Google algo. In fact, I think age carries too much weight in the current algo. I have only indirect evidence and speculation as proof with as conducting a test in the long term requires holding too many variables constant (including making Google not change the algo while we test). My take:

An inordinate amount of old sites -by "old" I mean sites that were launched pre-Google dominance when links were given more freely- have strong rankings in competitive verticals despite below par content and no evidence of proactive link development. Why do they rank competitively then? Because they obtained good links 10 years ago when links didn't matter for search rankings. These links have gained value over time and make these sites seemingly impossible to dislodge in the serps. I have obtained some first hand knowledge having participated in acquisition discussions with "old site" owners. During due diligence it became wildly apparent that the site owners had little clue about link development. Their content wasn't unique or even particularly good so they weren't attracting new links (except maybe by ranking high in the serps, the best link bait you can have). Since they weren't proactively securing new links, why did they rank? The only conclusion I can ascertain is that Google values a link incrementally more with each passing day.

This begs the question though, why would Google value a link incrementally more with each passing day?

My theories:

1. The longer a link stays in place the more of a sign it is to Google that the link must be legitimate. The counter argument is, of course, that the link could just be stale. However a stale link is likely to rest on a stale page. A stale page should lose inbound links over time, reducing it's PR passing power. So age and staleness are likely independent variables, or at least not co-dependent. An aged link on a page that isn't losing PR is thus a sign to Google of quality.
2. Google using age as a positive variable is, IMO, the single biggest weapon they have in fighting paid links. Here's why: Once a site starts buying links for search purposes they can never stop. If you stop paying for a link, the link goes away and all your money is down the drain. In my view, the purchasing of links for SEO purposes is the biggest gripe Google has with the SEO world. Reason being is it is the most difficult for Google to detect and police. Given this, if Google wants to fend off the attack of paid links on their algo, the best way to do so is to hit the offenders where it hurts the most: their wallet. By making age a valued variable in the algo it forces buyers of paid links to throw cash at links for a longer period of time to derive full value of the paid link.

At this point I am pretty convinced the algo favors age and that it favors it too much, to the extent that I actually feel Google is broken. The best content is not being served up. Instead we see old sites and the sites with the deepest pockets.


5:36 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I suspect links are weighted by actual traffic they deliver, measured via the toolbar and analytics. This moves away from a random-walk definition of PR and emphasizes a combination of user experience metrics, and the prominence of both the referring page and its link. Along this line of thinking, pages getting more traffic via links will rank better; pages that have traffic spikes will bounce up in the serps short-term, creating fresh competition to outrank older prominent pages with higher-performing new material-- but not if the older page beats it in the competition for new links and referral traffic.


9:03 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I suspect links are weighted by actual traffic they deliver, measured via the toolbar and analytics.

They might be using clickthrough in the SERPS. Many have suspected that, though it has not been demonstrated to my knowledge.

It is unlikely they are using toolbar and analytics data as anything more than a cross-check, the data would be too limited for general ranking purposes.


9:05 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

On the other hand, it's pretty well established that UI-related factors such as the position of the link matter a lot -- not because of clickthrough, but just because of position and other factors that Google can measure directly.


9:06 pm on Jul 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Google using age as a positive variable is, IMO, the single biggest weapon they have in fighting paid links.

I like that idea very much - never thought that way about old links before.


5:35 pm on Jul 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

My data on this is more anecdotal than specific but from what I've seen on my sites, there is an initial boost from a fresh link, particularly when that link comes from a "social" source. Social sources seem to have a greater "freshness" weighting than more static sites. Links in content areas of pages more stable than social sites seem to need to age a bit. My impression is that they can take a couple of months to start passing some real value and several more to pass their full value. I think they age more like a white wine than a red. It takes a while to reach their full potential but at some point, all other factors about the linking page being equal, the potential levels out and stops increasing. Again, these are my impressions from doing numerous waves of link building and assessing the results but I have no hard data to definitively back up my interpretation.


7:18 pm on Jul 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Links value is based on the value of the page value the link is on.

In short: you can't pinpoint an exact scenario or patent because all 4 mentioned make prefect sense and can very well be (or are) a part of equation that determines the value of a linking page and a power a link passes over to the linked page/site.

Also, #2 falls under #4, so basically there is no #2.

You can't really pinpoint a certain ranking factor, because it's a mix of them that counts more than a single one.


9:07 pm on Jul 30, 2010 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

My sense is that if the linking page goes stale, then the links get devalued. I even think there may be periodic sweeps through the entire webgraph to downgrade links from very old and stale pages.

Ted, this is why I continually backlink to existing pages with each new page of content that is added. It is impossible, of course, to cover all pages as you create more content, but I've viewed it as a way of telling google "here it is, don't forget about this one, it's still important too". I think it helps to keep the flow of pagerank a fresh and clean stream versus something that's stale and muddied. And the constant inclusion of backlinks on new pages hammers home the relevance factor for the linking page and the linking target.
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