First Link Priority – Is Stompernet Wrong?

Don’t just take the word of your favorite SEO blogger, learn to test ranking factors yourself.

When discussion took place about first link priority last year, there was certainly some disagreement, and also mention of a few “exceptions” to the rules.

My brain is wired to think of exceptions as things which can occur less frequently, or work-arounds that can be used to negate an otherwise common effect.

Prior Knowledge & Non-disclosure

Over the last few years a significant part of what I have written about on this blog has been about SEO – I try to be original, cutting-edge, providing a different perspective.

I don’t attend conferences, so what I write about isn’t something I have overheard at the bar, told in confidence, heard from a speaker on stage or anything else.

Recommending SEO products or courses is a little like tightrope walking – I don’t join any program that suggests either in the sales materials or legalese that it might be proprietary – I know tons of people treat proprietary knowledge casually – rip off other marketers etc.

I don’t

If information comes out in public that is from a notable source, and it has significant ramifications – thats worth blogging about, especially if I can offer perspective.

There are people I trust as sources, or whose opinion I value, even when they challenge my own view of the SEO world, and one of those is Halfdeck who occasionally blogs at SEO 4 Fun – last blog post a year ago. Better to catch Halfdeck on Twitter.

So I take stuff like this seriously…

Twitter conversation with Halfdeck on First Link Priority

Twitter conversation with Halfdeck on First Link Priority

What Halfdeck is saying, is that if I use some crazy anchor text such as “Thisiscrazy Anchortextthat doesn’texistanywhere” to do some testing, and that anchor text doesn’t exist anywhere else on the web, Google have stated (somewhere?) that they will count the anchor text even if it is nofollowed.

Sounds great for creating random long-tail phrases and comment spamming, but I digress.

As the tests I have seen used unique to the web anchor text, based upon what Halfdeck is saying, that is why the anchor text for the nofollowed links were used, and the second followed links were ignored for the anchor text.

Thus in theory, as a “Home” link is common as anchor text, if you nofollow it, Google will ignore it… totally.

Fortunately as part of their 7 Deadly SEO Mistakes Series, Stompernet have conveniently included a 23 minute 10 second video by Dan Thies designed to give you actionable training on creating your own SEO experiments.

Dan Thies Explains The Common Enemy in SEO & It Is Not Google

Dan Ties Explains The Common Enemy in SEO & It Is Not Google

Testing First Link Priority

Based on what Halfdeck has stated, we need to use anchor text that already exists elsewhere on the web, not necessarily on the same domain, though a test purely on the same domain could potentially be just as valid.

Keyword Priming

First priority is to get what ever keyword we plan to test with “out there” on the web, being used as anchor text pointing to various pages that whilst they don’t contain the whole phrase, contain at least one of the words to retain some continuity.

So rather than use “WordPress SEO Themes” we might borrow a word from Dan and use “Groovy WordPress SEO Themes” and a number of other phrases, and ensure enough juice flows to get everything indexed.

Whilst the purest of the pure SEOs will disavow anyone who suggests it is good to have lots of sites out in the ether, plus convenient social media and forum profiles, one of the benefits is they are useful for running obscure SEO tests.


Set Up Keywords or Keyword Priming

Set Up Keywords or Keyword Priming


Actual Tests

We now just need to test various link configurations using the same primed keywords, but to totally different pages.

Testing First Link Priority With Multiple Pages & Multiple Primed Keywords

Testing First Link Priority With Multiple Pages & Multiple Primed Keywords

Just Nofollowed Links

What Halfdeck pointed out only potentially invalidates the nofollowed link, but not how home pages and archives on WordPress blogs use the entry title for the first link, which often tends to be sub-optimal.

There are all kinds of solutions to handle the top navigation, including removing it totally, various javascript solutions, onclick, ajax etc.

Invalidating Other Tests

Google using nofollowed anchor text if the anchor text is unique could potentially also invalidate other tests.

As an example, in the 3rd video in the current Stompernet series Dan Thies demonstrates a simple test for whether alt tags in image links pass keyword reputation, but in that simple test he used a totally unique phrase.

What if Google only use alt text if the alt text is totally unique?

What if an image link is nofollowed? Is it treated different to a text link?

I only wish if Google have made a statement regarding treatment of nofollow anchor text that is unique, that is was a little more conspicuous.

Time to do more testing


Last year there was also an interesting conversation when Debra Mastaler called Matt Cutts to the “batphone” over multiple links on the same page.

Matt replied twice, the second time to clarify what was being misinterpreted

Dudibob, no, I confirmed the converse: if the anchortext is the same, we’ll typically drop the second link.

This is the sort of thing where people can run experiments to see whether different anchortexts flow in various ways.

Matt Cutts – July 11th, 2008 at 9:29 am

This doesn’t tell us a whole lot… other than place an emphasis to do some testing.

Ultimately Stompernet have the resources and a team of wizards who thrive on creating statistical seo tests, so you don’t necessarily have to.

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  1. says

    Hi Andy,

    Actually in my”Second link doesn’t count -rebunked” article you linked to the other day, I did the whole “nofollow” scenario. The first link was nofollowed and it had a rather rare anchor text and the site that the link targeted was still ranked for that keyphrase, while the second link didn’t count.

    Send me a mail and I will be glad to discuss details with you


    • Writers-$1000/Daily says

      I have to agree with the whole SEO business. SEO is fickle, and while one thing might work for others, it may not work for another website. All i know is the more backlinks you get from a high page rank dofollow source, the more your website will rank in a certain amount of time. Now, Google has starting banning sites who gain backlinks to quickly. They have also banned other websites for helping contribute to the spammnig problem like Squidoo and Go articles.

  2. says

    @Andy: Great discussion. Wasn’t the ‘unique anchor text’ / ‘single result for a query’ called google whacking?

    Does that mean I can simply prefix ‘random adjectives’ on my anchor text to ensure link juice is passed? I should test this out with one of my domains.

  3. says

    I’ve had several pages on my site indexed that were only linked to with nofollow, I thought that pages needed a certain amount of PR to get indexed? In any case I’d be happy if the first link priority theory was proved wrong, then I don’t have to figure out how to fix it.

  4. says

    Hey Andy,

    I recall Rand also doing a similar experient awhile back, regarding which anchor text link counts, also referred to the anchor text link counted, while the 2nd duplicate is ignored. I’ve only seen a handfull of websites that use CSS effectively to keep navigation in the code below content (heck, still amazed that some designers still use inline styling still today)

    With your point on the nofollowing of links, sure Google crawls and indexes, but would nofollowing not simply also mean for them not to count the “vote”? while still indexing the page/content, which would result in “unique” anchor text appearing for those unique searches?

  5. Niche says

    Just some clarification on the first link thing. If I find some really obscure keyword phrase that has never before been used as an anchor link and use it to my benefits, what is the benefit of this. If the term is so obscure as an anchor link, what are the chances that ranking for this in the search engines getting a ton of searches

  6. Business Search -Guy says

    I have noticed that Google does follow some rel=”nofollow” tags and follows, and even in some cases indexed the nofollow pages, So why not nofollow links. I don’t know if the same alt text in images on the same page drops the second image link or not but I always put unique alt text on every image link anyway, always have. I also not waste my time on nofollow comments for link building and only comment on a blog with nofollow if I have an interest in the post and I have something to say about it. It’s a waist of time to comment just to build links anyway. If you like a post and it’s a dofollow blog and you add a comment and a URL all the better.

  7. says

    just another idea or article about it

    I had a hard time understanding this

    “As the tests I have seen used unique to the web anchor text, based upon what Halfdeck is saying, that is why the anchor text for the nofollowed links were used, and the second followed links were ignored for the anchor text.

    Thus in theory, as a “Home” link is common as anchor text, if you nofollow it, Google will ignore it… totally.”

    First statement states that even if you nofollow the Home link they are still used.
    2nd statement states if you nofollow the Home link that Google will ignore it totally.

    This is good info to know if Google uses the first link/anchortext combination they find whether it’s nofollow or not. My article was about Google ignoring it because it’s nofollow.

  8. says

    After just going through the 10 or so hours of Stomping the Search Engines 2.0, I’ve been desperately searching for more info on the first link priority theory, but its limited obviously. There are some interesting points brought up in the post.. which has left me more undecided in which direction to take :/

    Thanks for the the Dan Ties video, hadn’t come seen that one yet.

  9. lexington law review says

    We actually just tested this by nofollowing our “home” link and then linking to the home page with our #1 keyword phrase. We moved up 7 spots in google from this.

    • says

      Well it looks lie you nofollowed the link with useful anchor text, and let the “home” link which appears first without a nofollow – totally illogical

      In addition this isn’t a useful test as there are too many external and factors.

      Adding the link with a nofollow in this comment so people can see, but it is really bad SEO practice.

  10. Vitaly says

    That Stompernet video does a great job of giving some basics on how to test and (as they intended) makes clear that for most of us it’s not worth our time. As they point out as well one question in your testing is, is the result “useful.” Most of the pagerank sculpting and other internal nofollow tricks strike me as dancing for today and may very well wind up being a big hassle to change yet again in the future.