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As the saying goes, tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are. You’re probably wondering what it has to do with the search engines and SEO? Well, since we’re still living in an era when AI still has a long way to go before it deserves being called intellect, search engines cannot really determine relevance of a web page by just looking at the content. They have to examine external factors in order to rank a webpage. By external factors I mean what other pages link to it or in other words in what neighborhood your page stands.
Suppose you run a sports related website. How does Google know the topic of your site? Sure it can decipher the theme of your site from the content on your webpages. But then again there are millions of sites with similar content (I mean they all are about sports). So how does the search engine determine which ones are most relevant to a users query? Right, it looks at what other sites link to it.
Now if you’re linked to from sports related websites, especially the ones that are considered authority in the niche, you’ll score more ‘relevance points’ and will rank higher in the search engines for specific keywords. To be more exact you’ll rank well for the keywords used in the anchor texts of incoming links pointing at your site. If a lot of websites link to you with ‘football news’ in the anchor text you’ll rank high for ‘football news’, if there are a lot of links with ‘baseball teams’ you’ll rank for that keyword as well.
Although it’s an oversimplified interpretation and search engine algorithms are much more complicated, basically this is how the whole thing works. The more links you get the higher you rank as long as the sites linking to you are relevant to your niche. If you start getting links from gambling or adult sites this is where the search engines raise a red flag.
That’s what link neighbourhood is all about. If the sites linking to you are related quality resources you get a boost in your rankings. If you’re linked to from dubious resources this may hurt your rankings. Obviously you can’t prevent websites from linking to you if they want to, but you can at least stay away from bad neighborhoods when building links.
The other side of your linking neighborhood is the sites that you link out to from your web pages. This is also taken into account by the search engines and if you link out to quality established resources this should give you some weight in the search results. This is an arguable point like many other things in SEO but it makes perfect sense from a purely logical point of view. Anyway whether you decide to link out to your niche authorities or not you should certainly avoid linking to poor quality or unrelated websites or sites that are themselves linked to or from dubious resources. This way you’ll avoid trouble from Google bans and penalties and will ensure good standing and high search engine rankings of your website.