Blog Post

How to Explain Links in Terms that Anyone Can Understand

By: Shannon Delaney

“What is link juice? Sounds sketchy.”

Link juice is a name for that thing that hyperlinks bring to a website when they’re invited over for dinner. It’s a confusing but necessary aspect of search engine optimization, because it has a major effect on how well a page is ranking.

To be precise, as a web developer and/or business owner, you need to pay attention to the backlinks that bring in that link juice to your website. Although you can’t control how much juice is contained in each link (since that depends on the domain authority of each page), you can control a portion of how your website interacts with other websites through hyperlinks.

Think of link interactions as friendships that you had in middle school. In this metaphor, each student represents a different link and the “coolness” of each person represents the domain authority of a webpage (and, consequently, the link juice it can provide).

If you become friends with the Coolest Kid in school, you’re doing great because you get a small bit of that coolness, just by association. If you can get other super-cool friends to transfer some of their coolness to you on a regular basis, you eventually become one of the most popular kids.

This is sorta what happens when a big-name website, like The Huffington Post, provides a link back to a smaller, lesser-known website... let’s call it, Website IDK. If The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal also decide to get in on the action, Website IDK suddenly shoots way up in the search rankings, maybe even to the top, with all this link juice power.

When you have a backlink to your website, you get more authority based on the amount of authority that link carries. This is sometimes also called an inbound link, because it’s bringing link juice into your website.

Now sometimes, when you’re the Cool Kid, you decide to use your Cool Kid benevolence and bring in a less-cool kid. But does that really benefit you at all? Probably not—unless this friend ends up becoming a Cool Kid as well, in which case the popularity just bounces back and forth, making the other kids jealous and ultimately increasing your Cool Power, and your rankings.

Now think about what happens when you put link on your website that leads to someone else’s website—this is an outbound link. If you already have tons of link juice, your own Website IDK link juice will help the other website. It’s also a nice, legal way to provide credit if you re-post or reference something. But this link really doesn’t increase your own website authority.

To find out where you stand in terms of how you’re using the backlinks you have, there are services available that function as backlink analyzers. A backlink analyzer will give you details about how many links you have, how many unique domains there are, tons of info about the anchor text and URL keywords, new links that are created, and how much juice each link is giving you.

This cup o’ juice ain’t refilling itself! It’s up to you to know where you stand in terms of linking and link juice, and to keep earning links from the Coolest Kids you can find.

UPDATE TO THIS POST: On 1/19/2016, we switched from Moz to A h r e f s for domain metrics in the dashboard. Please see our Moz to A h r e f s system update post.