Website Optimization: First Link Priority

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Today I want to show you an easy way to solve a common problem that causes many sites to fail to rank as well as they should.

The problem is that web developers are unaware of the principle of First Link Priority. The bad news is that many sites, especially those with a large number of pages, don’t get the rankings they should because they don’t handle first link priority properly.

The good news is that once you’re aware of the problem, it’s very easy to fix and avoid in the future.

First Link Prioritisation occurs when Google looks at a webpage and analyses its outbound links.

The First Link Priority rule states that when a page links more than once to the same target page, Google will completely ignore all links after the first, often with negative SEO consequences.

Take a look at this example diagram below.

First Link Priority

In our example, Page A links to Page B twice. The first link is a graphical link, (in this case a banner image at the top of the page), whilst the second link is in the navigation bar and is a keyword-rich link with optimised anchor text.

The second link is put there for SEO value, and is what we want Google to see, (the anchor text in the link infers meaning), however, Google will completely ignore it. Instead Google only sees the graphical link (which contains no anchor text). The keyword rich link is of no value :-(

(And no, for the curious, putting an “Alt” tag on the image link won’t serve as a substitute to anchor text).

The result is that the target page gets the PageRank “juice” passed to it, but not anchor text relevance, which is a valuable source of optimisation, so rankings suffer.

Now, at this point, I should clarify that when Google evaluates the links pointing to a page, it will count links from any page in its index, including both links from other pages on your website (internal links) and links from pages around the Internet at large (external links).

The links you get from around the Internet are often harder to control and in most cases don’t repeat on a page (so first link priority doesn’t become an issue). But, it’s actually very common within a web page to link to a target page twice, so generally, First Link priority problems occur within your website. This is great, because internal linking structure is pretty easy to control.

This video shows two very common examples of sites breaking the first link priority; and how to use a free FireFox plugin to identify the problem . Solving this problem is surprisingly simple, and there are several ways you can go about it.

In the video below I will take you through the two step process of eliminating First Link Priority issues:

1. Identifying pages with the issue

2. Applying the simple fix

YouTube Preview Image

If you want to use the simple code templates the video mentions, you can find them here:

First Link Priority Templates (Personally I just use the first method, but Aaron, our CSS guru wanted to show off and give a few options. For technical readers, .htaccess redirects can also do the job)

By becoming familiar with First Link Priority and implementing the simple solution across your sites you can potentially benefit from a large chunk of previously untapped SEO value.

Cheers, Ben

P.S. To give appropriate credit, I didn’t discover this, but learned it from the Godfather of SEO, Leslie Rohde

P.P.S. Yes, I’m a geek, but fixing this problem is normally very easy. We’ve seen big wins on home page or theme keywords. Imagine a 1000 page website where every page in the site links to home using a banner. That’s 1000 partially wasted links that can be fixed with a simple template update. If you’ve got a big site and can see First Link Priority problems, please implement a fix, let the site re-index and drop me a note in the comments to let me know how you went, hey?

Post Update – a little about Word Press and First Link Priority.

There’s been a number of questions in the comments about Word Press, and whilst I’m not a WP specialist, I’ll attempt to provide a high level answer. The questions group into two general categories:

a) How does Word Press handle First Link Priority?
The answer is generally it does a pretty good job. It all comes down to the specific theme you’re using, so I can’t give a hard and fast answer. If we assume the common FLP problem where every page on a site links home using just a graphic (e.g. a logo),  most of the WP themes I checked out use a text based link inside a h1 as is the first link on the page and link back to the home page with this link. For example, look at this page, which is a sub page of a demo blog using the standard WordPress 2010 theme. If you run the analysis in the video (e.g. disable CSS), you’ll see the link to home is on the keyword “Twenty Ten”, not on the header image. If “Twenty Ten” were replaced in WP admin with “Homepage Keyword Phrase” or “Homepage Keyword Phrase & Business Name” (a diluted version), you’d be set to go.

Some third party themes can use graphics alone to link home but you generally wouldn’t be implementing these types of themes if you did not know some HTML anyway. In either case, the video shows how to spot the problem pretty quickly, so hopefully I’ve done a reasonable job and you can now know if the issue exists on a site of yours.

b) How do I fix my WordPress site if I identify that it’s not setup correctly?
If you use the services of a developer, obviously just direct them back to this post to see the techniques that can be applied, and if you’re a ‘do it yourself-er’, there are heaps of online guides to customising wordpress templates.