It all began with Google and now most major search engines use link popularity as an important ranking criterion. At Google, they call it PageRank (PR), which has been its hallmark since 1998. PR evaluates Web structure through link analysis to determine relevancy. It's an algorithm factor that gives higher rankings to sites with many strong, quality links leading to their pages. Such sites are deemed to be highly relevant because of all the incoming links.

To quote Google software engineer Matt Cutts, "Google's PageRank search technology works by first identifying the link structure of the entire Web, then ranking individual pages based on the number and importance of pages linked to them." Note that the popularity and relevance of the backlinks are more critical than their number.

Linking no sooner became the rage than people began to look for short-cuts to link popularity. But there's a right and a wrong way to create backlinks, and short-cuts can get you in trouble. One of these short-cuts was the creation of link farm services that provide hundreds of irrelevant links. Google calls this spamming and will remove sites associated with link farms from its index. Other engines also hate spamming and will do the same.

How do you define a link farm? It's a network of sites that link to other sites for the sole purpose of increasing their PR score or link popularity. You get hundreds of links to your site from totally unrelated sites and in return, you must link to hundreds of other unrelated sites. This is counterproductive because you need to link to related information to provide value to your customers. In fact, if they're sent to unrelated topics they'll probably abandon your site because this is frustrating.

So how can you build link popularity the right way? You need to link to information that expands your customers' knowledge in topics related to your business and of interest to them. There's no short-cut for doing this, it takes due diligence. Below are five tips for getting started on the road to link popularity.

Five Tips for Improving Link Popularity

  1. Directory Listings: Ensure your site is listed in ODP (free) and also include Yahoo! Business Express ($299 yearly) and LookSmart Express Submit ($299) or Basic Submit ($149). Directory listings boost link popularity because they rely on human editors, known to result in relevant content. There are many lesser-known directories that might be advantageous to be listed in. You can find many industry-specific and smaller directories in Search Engine Guide's Search Engines Directory.

  2. Request Links: When looking for possible link candidates, start by visiting a search engine and typing in your most important strategic keywords. You'll see a lot of competitors, but look for non-competing, complimentary sites. Screen those sites, selecting only the ones that might be receptive to your link request. Give them a compelling reason to link to your site and be sure to suggest where a link might be appropriate. A good strategy is to link to them first and point this out, which might help get a link back.

    Another way to do this is to identify a well-established site with good content that targets the same audience you want to reach (non-competitive, of course). Then perform a link analysis from that site, noting the incoming links and soliciting those sites.

  3. Promote Linkability Within Your Site: There are many ways to do this. Basically, you want to provide quality resources and outgoing links as appropriate. This can include links to search engines, news hubs, weather reports, industry resources, industry professional groups and so forth. Outgoing links can be important in two ways: they provide incentive for other quality sites to link to you when you're already linked to them, and if internal linkage is done properly, it can improve your PR score. For technical information on PR see the white paper by Chris Ridings "PageRank Explained."

  4. Publish Articles: Get the experts in your company to write informative articles your audience is interested in, then submit these articles to appropriate online publications in your industry. Provide a brief bio containing your Web site URL and make it a condition for publication that the article must appear with a bio containing your company URL. This can generate a lot of links, but it takes time and editorial skills.

  5. Testimonials: It can be worthwhile to start a testimonial page of products and services you find useful. Say you admire certain marketing sites or publishing sites. Contact the company, telling them why you value their services or find their products effective. Be earnest and concise. The company may respond asking for permission to display your comments on their Web site. Grant them permission provided they agree to link to your site. Sometimes it helps if you post the testimonial on your site first and refer them to that page.

In conclusion, this is an important SEO strategy and one of the best ways to improve your visibility and rankings. So you want to do it the right way.

April 16, 2002

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > The Right Way to Improve Link Popularity