It's a fairly common SEO belief that acquiring links from authoritative websites relevant to yours is one of the best ways to achieve results. And it makes sense. After all, why wouldn't search engines want to consider the relevancy of a site to the sites it links to?
But what if the belief that site relevancy is an important SEO factor is wrong? According to SEO consultant Richard Baxter, that may just be the case.
Using data he collected from Yahoo Site Explorer and Linkscape, Baxter performed a little test for a website he's working on. After analyzing his data, he came to the conclusion that relevant links are overvalued:
Sites are ranking regardless of how “relevant” this test percieves their inbound link profiles to be. The top ranking sites in the test had consistently low relevant link counts. Instead, authority factors such as value (mR) passed via relevant anchors and anchor text term distribution percentages seem to play a strong influencing role in final ranking position.
The potential implication if Baxter is right:
As long you’ve built links on reasonably trusted, authoritative domains, and you’ve thrown in some (sometimes over) optimised anchor text for good measure, you can still rank.
Needless to say, I wouldn't change up your SEO strategy just yet. For understandable reasons, Baxter doesn't reveal the website he's working to build up or the keywords he's targeting. In theory, this could make all the difference and I wouldn't assume that the dynamic he's seeing in one circumstance is necessarily reflective of a global dynamic.
Additionally, Baxter admits that he'd like to refine how he evaluated 'relevancy'. Specifically, he would like to include "mentions of the key phrase in the body content on the linked-from page", something that was excluded but that could potentially be important.
Regardless of this, I think Baxter's observations are interesting if for no other reason than that they highlight the importance of performing critical analyses of your efforts. Whether it's SEO or paid advertising, there's a wealth of data you can collect that can be analyzed in potentially interesting ways to answer important questions. If you're link building, for instance, and are finding it difficult to acquire links from authoritative websites relevant to yours, setting out like to answer the question of whether or not relevancy is really delivering much additional value could be a lifesaver.
So are links from relevant websites overvalued? In SEO, there are very few 'yes' and 'no' answers because there are so many factors that are specific to industries, sites and even keywords. In some cases, they might be. In other cases, they might not be. Until you analyze your data to come to a conclusion you believe in, you won't know. But your competitors might.
Photo credit: kjarrett via Flickr.