I know that the graph looks very mathematical but I promise you there will be no maths at all in this post!
I posted a few days back about the Penguin, asking “is it a penalty or a devaluation of links” and in it I promised to talk about an idea I’ve been mulling over for a while now, I’ve decided to call it “Website tuning” (or maybe it should be “link tuning” or “SEO tuning”?) since I got the idea from my background in electronics.
Basically it’s a theory about how Google might look at links to your website and assign a value to them, in other words it’s about how they rank websites and how they decide who goes to the no.1 spot.
So let me explain. Suppose that there’s a page on a website somewhere that’s linking to your website as well as 3 other websites.
If we imagine that the page containing the links is a PR4 page (we’ll use Page Rank as the value although I don’t think Page Rank is a good measure – I’ll do a post on that later this week [here it is]), then we assume that the “juice” from this page will be passed equally between the 4 links – so for the sake of simplicity your website would get a PR1, and the other 3 sites would also get a PR1 from their links.
But what if Google do not assign the value from the page equally between the links, but rather share it depending on how well matched your website is to the link, or in other words how well tuned your website is to the link (or the page giving the link), or maybe even how well trusted your website is by Google.
So you could get the scenario where one of the 4 links takes 90% of the value, another 2 take 5% each, and the 4th one gets nothing.
It might sound unlikely, but this is similar in nature to an algorithm that Google bought called the “Hilltop Algorithm” which calculates a score for links from authority sites depending on how relevant they are to the content of the (giving) page.
My theory is slightly different in that it isn’t just about relevance of the page giving the link, but also about the “value” assigned to the receiving website and covering those words that Matt Cutts keeps repeating, words like “authority”, “trust”, and “reputation”, plus I’ve been thinking about how all of this might tie into the Google Penguin.
To picture this better you might think of your website as a bit like a radio, with a bunch of dials and knobs on the front that represent various attributes that Google deems important.
If you want to pick up a transmission from a particular radio station then you adjust the knobs until you can hear the music (in other words you tune it!), if you get it exactly right you get a nice clear and loud signal, but if your tuning is off then you hear crackling and hissing as you’re not getting a full strength signal.
If you’re completely detuned then you hear nothing at all.
So, imagine a scenario where you have a website that’s doing well, it’s ranking on Google and everything is fine until one day Google run their Penguin update, find you’ve done something they don’t like, and suddenly your website is nowhere to be seen.
It doesn’t have to mean that they have devalued all of your links, or that they’ve penalised your website, but rather they’ve just adjusted the knobs and de-tuned your website so that the links that you do have all pass far less power than they did before.
I would imagine in this situation that the knobs that Google would turn down would be the ones marked “trust” and maybe “reputation”, and so unless you can convince Google to turn those dials back up again it doesn’t matter how many links you build, how many new posts you add to your website, or how many other things you try – they just won’t work.
Of course there may be other dials like “relevance”, “content quality”, etc which might have varying degrees of importance, but the bottom line is that if you have no trust you have pretty much nothing at all.
And ironically of course the thing that’s probably caused your website to be detuned is… bad links!
The only way to recover from this would be to apply to Radio Google’s disavow team after cleaning up your links and seeing if you can regain their trust again, although it’s doubtful they’d turn the trust dial back up to where it was before.
Conversely to this then consider a situation where you have a website with X number of links already pointing to it, and where you manage to do something to improve your trust, reputation, etc.
Now when Google looks at a page linking to your website, it sees that your website is really well tuned, far better than any of the other sites getting a link from that page, and so you get most of the link juice – all of those existing links would now pass far more juice and you’d rank higher.
If this is right-ish and you consider trust, reputation, etc to be integral parts of a website’s optimisation, then this aspect of on-site SEO is possibly the most important factor that you need to consider.
Think about respected authority sites like CNN, the BBC, or other “big” sites within any given niche who add a story about some topic to their website, and they automatically rank at or near the top of page 1 immediately – with no external backlinks at all.
So the main question that you need to answer then is what do you need to do to increase the trust, reputation, authority, etc dials on your website, because in doing so you ensure that any and all existing and future links to your website will do far more for your rankings, and if you can get those dials turned up far enough you might even be able to rank with no backlinks at all.
The answer is simple isn’t it?