Link Echoes and Link Ghosts: How Do They Affect Your SEO?

So many factors contribute to your search engine page rank that sometimes it’s difficult to put your finger on just what is giving your site a boost. Google’s algorithms consider many different factors when ranking your site. One that is well known and understood are inbound links to your site from outside sources. Certain links are a positive ranking signal that helps boost your page’s rank—but sometimes links are deleted or moved. That doesn’t mean the power of the link to improve your search engine page rank evaporates.

What Are Link Ghosts?

Link ghosts are links to your site that have been removed or deleted. Sites remove or delete links for many reasons. Updating a webpage to include new information may delete the content that included your original link. An inbound link may be deleted after a period of time. For example, if a link was mentioned as part of a contest, the contest expiration may cause the page to be removed.

Some websites close down permanently or take themselves offline to update. That can also cause a link ghost. Google knows there was a link pointing to your website. The link is dead now, but it still causes an impact on your rankings. Since one of the major benefits of a good link profile is your search engine ranking, this means that temporary links may offer more benefit than is usually assumed.

What Are Link Echoes?

Link echoes are the same thing as link ghosts. The terms can be used interchangeably. One reason the term link echoes is used is that the ranking signal of the link echoes, continuing to affect your site’s rank even after the original source of that signal is gone. Rand Fishkin says he actually finds the term link echoes to be a better name than link ghosts.

How Do We Know Link Echoes Affect Rankings?

Rand Fishkin’s team at Moz saw the effects of link echoes while working on a project to determine the effects of anchor text.

The links pointing to the pages they were testing bumped up the page rank of those pages. They moved to higher positions in the targeted searches. In the course of the test, Fishkin’s team removed those links and then, to their surprise, found that the pages either retained the same rank or just dropped a bit.

Once they removed the links and Google indexed the pages again, it would be normal to assume the boost from the links would disappear. However, that wasn’t the case.

The positive effects of the inbound links remained.

Almost five months after the initial test, the sites were still significantly higher in the rankings than they were before the test. The pages were indexed by Google multiple times and didn’t see new links that Fishkin was aware of, though he admits that it’s possible that links from outside sources had been created since the original test.

But in every test with eight different pages, the results remained the same. Link echoes improved the position of the page in search results.


Why Does SERP Matter?

SERP matters because your rank determines how many visitors you get from the search engine. Studies have repeatedly shown that the first Google search result gets the most clicks. The second gets less, but more than the third. Eventually, the click rate drops off and the lower you’re ranked, the less likely you are to get traffic.

Results on the second page of Google are massively unlikely to get a click than results on the first page.

When you improve your SERP, you improve your chances of getting a new visitor. That person may become a follower of your site, recommend it to friends, or use products or services you provide. Since SERP is so essential for your business, it’s important to take the steps to improve your SEO.

Link Echoes and SEO

Link echoes are an exciting thing for people interested in improving their search engine optimization.

When you’re working to increase your SERP, your focus on SEO matters. The way your page is displayed and promoted has a major effect on where it falls in the rankings. Promoting your page includes getting links from other sites. These links show Google that your site is reputable and useful, among other things.

Improving your link profile is an essential part of SEO. Multiple options for links that have a positive ranking signal can affect your SEO strategy. A lot of SEO experts focus on retaining links over the long-term. They look for links that won’t be removed. But there are reasons to accept links that won’t last forever, too. Good search engine optimization aims to improve your SERP in a way that remains even as Google tweaks its algorithm to remove low-quality sites. Having some temporary links is natural and may benefit your site more than you think.

There are a lot of ways for you to get positive links that improve your SEO. Since link echoes retain value, you can include links that will only be available temporarily as part of your link building strategy.

Why Do Link Echoes Retain Value?

No one knows for sure why link echoes still have a positive effect on rankings. Fishkin has a few theories about why Google still gives value to links that are gone.

Website Performance

It’s possible that Google considers the website’s performance in search results. If it does well and doesn’t send searchers back to the results, Google might allow it to keep the rank. Search engine ranking positions are all about offering value to searchers. If your page offers that value, Google doesn’t have a lot of reason to bump it down in rankings. Good links from reputable sources are a positive signal to Google that your site deserves a higher SERP. So link echoes, positive ranking factors, and searcher reactions to your site may combine to keep your site in a good ranking position.

SERP Factors

Link profiles aren’t the only thing that contributes to a site’s SERP. Other factors play key roles as well and since Google doesn’t publish its ranking algorithm, it’s difficult to know which are in effect. Having those links pointing at your site in the first place creates a change in your SEO. It may cause other unseen changes that still resonate enough to maintain the rank. Fishkin doubts this theory, because of the repeated results of his tests. But it’s still a possibility that he put forth.

Link Echo Ranking Factor

Fishkin says it’s possible that Google actually does consider link echoes as their own signal. The things about inbound links that are positive, like the reputation of the linking site, for example, don’t disappear just because a page updates and the link is removed. Google knows that certain types of links and in of themselves are a signal that your page has value. Those links being gone doesn’t mean that the value was never there to begin with.

No definite answer exists to explain why link echoes have such a positive effect on your rank, but these theories might hold the answer.

What Do Link Echoes Mean for Me?

Link echoes retaining their ranking value means that even temporary links can help boost your SERP in the long term. While conventional wisdom suggests that focusing on permanent links is a better strategy, link echoes show that may not be true. Since you can get value from link echoes, temporary links should also be sought.

Keep in mind that as your site rises on Google, you’re more likely to get links from organic sources. A person who sees your site when its SERP improves might link to it from his blog, for example. So even if the value of a link declines until it doesn’t matter in a year or two, that temporary boost can pay dividends.

One thing to consider is that it’s still important to keep your SEO strategy as white hat as possible. Google eventually adapts to remove sites that use black hat tactics to improve their page rank. If you use clean strategies that improve the quality of your site and your reputation, you’ll come out of these algorithm changes without losing major rank overnight.

When you’re working to improve your search engine ranking position, link echoes are beneficial. They ensure that links you’re getting today continue to help improve your search rank tomorrow. Since you can’t guarantee that inbound links will last forever, it’s nice to know they can still provide value after their gone. As you work to improve your link profile, you don’t have to focus only on links that will remain on a webpage forever. Instead, place links where they fit best and enjoy the boost as it lifts your site to a higher rank on Google.

8 thoughts on “Link Echoes and Link Ghosts: How Do They Affect Your SEO?

  1. Hello Laurel,
    Very informative post…! This post is useful for each newbie who has started their career in SEO… Thanks for sharing the post…

    1. Thank you, Rahul! I appreciate that. I find Rand really informative and interesting, too!

  2. Hi Laurel,

    Nice Post!

    If we move a page up in rankings by pointing links to it, and then remove those links, the bump in rankings often remains.

    1. This is a proof on how Google keeps all historical data of links. You made the test with links that provide ranking benefits, but also think in terms of toxic links and their long lasting ghost effect. I wonder if Black Hats already use that technique.

    2. Google may have a historical data of all anchor text variations of a given link (and this could be a ranking factor as well, for example if anchor text is regularly adjusted may result in a penalty). And I guess this historical data lasts a lot more than 6 months.

    3. In terms of disavowing links – maybe it will be a good idea regarding Penguin to disavow ghost links as well (or the complete domains) just in case, even if those links were removed.

    I will tweet your post.

    Thanks a lot for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Manish. I appreciate your comment. It’s so interesting to see how Google treats link ghosts and echoes. It’s good to know that the hard work of getting strong links doesn’t disappear when a page updates or changes.

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