Engine Marketing Issues: Link Popularity
For years, "link popularity" and
"Google PageRank" have been the talk of the town in the search
engine optimization community. However, the definition of link popularity and
how it differs from PageRank (PR), as well as how much effect these actually
have on search engine rankings, is often misunderstood.
What is Link Popularity?
The theory goes something like this: The search
engine Powers That Be have decided that if other sites are linking to your
site, it must be a winner; therefore, it deserves a boost in rankings (when
all else is equal). If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. People
link to good sites, not bad ones.
Does Not Equal Link Popularity
It's important to note that Google
PageRank is not the same thing as link popularity. PR is actually a subset of
link popularity. Whereas PR focuses strictly on the quantity and popularity of
links, link popularity adds a "quality factor" into the equation.
Unfortunately, many people mistakenly use the terms "link
popularity" and "PageRank " interchangeably, which has served
to confuse the issue further.
All major search engines place some
emphasis on link popularity in their ranking algorithms. There appear to be 2
main types of links that work best to increase your link popularity: links
from other sites that focus on the same keyword phrases your site focuses on,
and links from relevant categories in major directories and industry-specific
portals. "Free-for-all" (FFA) sites do not constitute quality links,
so don't waste your $24.95 submitting your site to 500 of them. Links from
sites that focus on topics that have nothing to do with your site probably
won't help you win any link popularity contests, either (although they may
temporarily boost your PR).
How Does Link Popularity Work?
Here's an example of how I believe link
Let's say that Bob's Pizza Palace
Website has a link to Joe's Men's Clothing store site. If the link uses the
keywords "men's clothing store" in the anchor text (the clickable
part), it may help Joe's link popularity a little bit for those keywords.
However, Joe would benefit a lot more if the same link came from a site that
was more related to Joe's site than a pizza palace. For instance, a more
related link might be from a woman's clothing store, a men's shoe store or any
other type of store that relates to clothing in some way.
An even higher-quality link for Joe
might be from "Sam's Clothing Store Directory," which lists a whole
bunch of clothing stores that can be found on the Internet. That is exactly
the kind of link that the search engines would want to credit toward link
popularity. Again, the key is in having that common thread between the sites.
Where Do Reciprocal Links Come
The other popular misconception
floating around is in regards to reciprocal linking. Since so many people
think that exchanging links with sites is the easiest way to get them (it may
or may not be), new people learning about link popularity are under the
mistaken belief that they *must* have links that are reciprocated on their
site (e.g., "you-link-to-me-and-I'll-link-to-you"-type links). Still
others are saying that reciprocal links are dead and you won't gain *any*
benefit from them.
Both camps are wrong. You certainly
don't *need* to get reciprocal links, but you can if you want to. Remember,
it's links pointing TO your site that are the helpful ones. Links pointing
FROM your site to other sites are wonderful to have because they help your
visitors find related stuff, but if your site doesn't lend itself to linking
to other sites, then by all means, don't do it. You need to do what's right
for your company and your site visitors, first and foremost.
I Care About Link Popularity?
In general, there's no need for the
average site to obsess over link popularity. Yes, you'll want to keep it in
mind, and yes you should make sure that your site is what I like to call
"link-worthy." However, from my experience (and contrary to popular
belief), link popularity constitutes only a portion of most search engines'
ranking algorithms. Arguably, Google places more emphasis than most other
engines on incoming links at this point in time. How much these actually boost
a site's ranking is debatable and truly depends on the site. It also depends
on the words that are placed in the anchor text. I have found that just a few
highly relevant links with strong anchor text can go a long way towards link
popularity for many sites.
For sites that want to take it to the
next level and are trying to rank highly with extremely competitive keywords,
it may be necessary to actively seek out links from other relevant Websites.
This doesn't mean you should go out and create a whole bunch of domains
yourself and link them all together because it sounds easier than getting
others to link to you. (Yes, that trick has been tried before!) It simply
means you should look for sites that are related to your site in some way, and
see if they might be interested in promoting your site to their users.
Whatever you do, do not send
automatically generated link requests to any site. Most Webmasters consider
them a nuisance at best and sp@m at worst. Certainly, a personal email may be
welcome, and it also doesn't hurt to pick up the phone and begin a dialogue
with a potential link partner. Remember, very often these links from relevant
sites will bring more traffic to your site than a high search engine ranking
How To Get Linked Without Even
My favorite way to get links (but the
most time-consuming) is to simply have the best site on the Internet in your
specific niche. Interestingly enough, if your site is well written, provides
tons of useful information and is constantly updated, you often won't have to
seek out links at all. Other sites will link to yours of their own volition.
This is the ideal, and not every site
is going to have the time or inclination to get to this stage. However, I
firmly believe that any kind of site in any type of business can use this
method if they are willing to work at it. I know of no other method that can
even bring links from direct competitors! Personally, I'd rather spend my time
creating a link-worthy site than sending out repetitive reciprocal link
exchange requests...but maybe that's just me!
Your homework for this week is to think
about how you can make your site so good that others will be only too willing
to link to it -- without your even having to ask for it. If you can figure it
out and actually spend the time implementing the strategy, eventually you
won't have to worry about link popularity, reciprocal links or PageRank ever
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