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.
PageRank 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
How Does Link Popularity Work?
Here's an example of how I believe link popularity works:
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 In?
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
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.
Should 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 will bring.
How To Get Linked Without Even Trying
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
This has worked for me on my HighRankings.com site for many years.
Without actively requesting any links (other than a few major
directories), hundreds of highly relevant sites have added
HighRankings.com to their list of recommended sites related to SEO.
Some people link to my home page, others to the main newsletter page,
and still others to my forum. Some will link directly to an article
or newsletter they've enjoyed, and some will ask if they can republish
some on their site, while also including a link.
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 again!
August 24, 2004
CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE,
a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.
High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.
Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing
about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such
publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The
Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and
online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing
Report, ClickZ, WorkZ, Inc.com, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business,
WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online
and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show,
SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.