Is it a Google ranking factor?

Link stability and its link to search rankings have been in question since a patent describing “link unsubscribe” surfaced in 2006.

Some believe that a website’s link stability, or the length of time that links remain active on a page without being changed, generates signals that are used by Google’s algorithms.

Let’s take a look at the claims about the stability of links as a ranking factor, where they came from, and whether there is any evidence to support them.

The claim: link stability is a ranking factor

A link is described as stable when it remains on a web page for an extended period of time without any modification – changes that could disturb the stability of a link include exchanging the URL and changing the anchor text.

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A website is said to have a high unsubscribe rate when it frequently changes the outgoing links of its web pages.

Google filed a patent in 2005 describing a possible update to its search algorithm where churn rate would be used as a ranking factor.

Here are extracts from the patent since its discovery in 2006:

  • The method of claim 54 further comprising: determining a link unsubscribe indication for a link document providing the link data; and based on the unsubscribe rate of the links, adjusting the ranking of the linked document.
  • The method of claim 61, wherein the indication of link attrition is calculated based on a measure in which one or more links provided by the link document change over time.
  • The method of claim 62, wherein adjusting the ranking includes penalizing the ranking if the churn rate is greater than a threshold. “

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These are the three points above simplified:

  • Updating the algorithm will assess a website’s link churn rate. This evaluation will be used to adjust the weight given to outgoing links.
  • The link unsubscribe rate is calculated based on how often links and / or anchor text change on a particular website.
  • Google can penalize websites if their unsubscribe rate exceeds a certain threshold.

Since this patent surfaced, there have been claims that maintaining link stability is a factor for search rankings.

Based on these claims, should you be hesitant to adjust outbound links for fear of this alleged negative signal?

Are there any reasons to be concerned about the churn rate and link stability?

Here’s what the evidence says.

Evidence of link stability as a ranking factor

Google’s patent referral link unsubscribe rate was filed in 2005. An archive is still available on the Web, but it has since been revised several times.

The version of the patent that exists today makes no reference to the churn rate or anything similar. It’s a strong indicator that if link stability was a ranking factor then it hasn’t been relevant for years.

Moreover, a patent is only a patent. Companies are filing patents all the time with ideas that never make it to the market.

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Google sometimes has to remind us that not everything it patents is used in search results.

Link stability as a ranking factor: our verdict

There is no conclusive evidence that Google measures the speed at which websites change their outbound links.

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Additionally, there is no evidence that modifying outbound links can create a negative signal known as link unsubscribe.

Based on the available evidence, we are confident to say that link stability is an unlikely ranking factor.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita / Search Engine Journal

Harry D. Gonzalez