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Using link popularity

November 19, 2003

If you want your web site to be placed highly in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), you need to understand how link popularity works and how to make the best use of it on your web site. In this article, we will explain the ins and outs of link popularity and the results that can be achieved if used correctly.

How to use link popularity to your best advantage
First, in real life, here is a day-to-day example of how link popularity works: we will use the White Widgets Company web site as our prime case study. It has a link pointing to the Green Widgets Company web site. This might not help the White Widgets link popularity for the keywords "white widgets", however if both web sites are both located in New York City and if your average person searches for "widgets in New York City", then the quality and importance of that link has gone up a few notches.

In this particular instance, there would now be a defined subject (widgets) and a specific location (New York City) between the sites. This might not help people searching for your common widget, but would help a lot if they're searching specifically for widgets stores in New York City.

Definition of link popularity
Look at link popularity as a voting system, similar to everyday life when there is an election of some sort. Link popularity is based on something similar to this: if other web sites are linking directly to your site (inbound, one-way link), it is probably because it has valuable, well-written content worth linking to. In such a case, if all else is equal, it would deserve an increase in its rankings. Companies and individuals will link to sites that have content that their own users will appreciate and will be of value to them.

In our practical day-to-day world, many search engines are believed to put a certain importance on link popularity in their ranking algorithms. One great example of this is Google. Many people now believe that the number of web sites pointing to your site is what will actually determine your link popularity, and, in essence, its Page Rank. The belief is, the higher the number of links there is, the higher your search rankings will be. In real life, that theory is only partly true.

Today, most major search engines are fairly powerful and will deliver certainly good results, given the strong programming tools they were given. Additionally, they are more and more programmed to catch search engine spammers trying to trick their way in getting high rankings, but in the wrong, unacceptable fashion.

As a direct result of all this, search engines today are not just calculating the number of links that point to a given web site, but they place more and more emphasis on the quality of those links. In link popularity, quality is everything and is much better than just quantity.

Two types of links
After careful observation, there would appear to be 2 exact types of links that actually get calculated into the link popularity equation of search engines. The first would be hyperlinks from relevant categories in some industry-specific web sites or from search directories. You should definitely avoid the so-called link farms or directories that claim to submit to thousands of search engines. Additionally, try to avoid linking to web sites that are totally irrelevant to your sites topic.

The second type of link that gets calculated in the link popularity equation would be hyperlinks from other web sites that focus on similar keywords and key phrases your actual web site focuses on. In fact, these are some of the most powerful.

Should we lose sleep over link popularity?
Generally speaking, there is no need for the average site owner or webmaster to make an obsession over a subject such as link popularity. Contrary to what many people believe, link popularity actually constitutes a small percentage of most major search engines' ranking algorithms and in the way they calculate the whole process. The extent to which it actually increases a web site's ranking is in fact a subject of common debate in many search forums.

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Time has taught us that it is best to have a site listed in the major search directories such as DMOZ (Open Directory Project), Yahoo, Look Smart and GoGuides. Being listed in these major search directories can in fact be more important than having many average links pointing at a given site. For web sites that are trying to rank high with very competitive keywords and key phrases, it would actually help to search for links from other but relevant sites.

Look for web sites that use the same keywords that your site actually uses. Experience has actually shown us that industry-specific informational portals and similar directories are quite powerful in delivering higher rankings.

The real value of great content
Since the beginning, we have always said that, if a web site is well written, has great content and provides a lot of useful information to all its users and visitors, one may not even have to search for links at all. We see it everyday, as other web sites will link to yours on their own free will. When done correctly, even some important sites might be able to benefit from this practice. If more and more sites add content and if the content is useful and unique, other sites will probably want to link to it too.

When it comes to link popularity, these are the real things you need to worry about. Depending on the exact theme or subject of your web site, if you can make it one of the best in its category or field of expertise, other sites will be happy to link to yours, without even asking them!

Important reading:
In this rare paper, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page explain the anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual web search engine and its main functions.


Article written by Serge Thibodeau,
President & CEO,
Rank for $ales
Copyright (c) Serge Thibodeau 2003

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