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Link Popularity and PageRank
By Jill Whalen - September 28, 2001 (From the Rank Write Roundtable Newsletter)

~~~Search Engine Optimization~~~

From: Todd Wold

Hello Ladies,

After attending the SEO conference 2001 in SF, I felt that the importance of link popularity is currently really picking up speed but recently not talked about much. I have recently searched the Web for articles backing the point and have found that most are over a year old, including ones you two have written, and simply say that it can help but don't put too much time and effort into it.

One of your articles stated that we should concentrate on our directory listings, instead. While I do believe that directory listing are key, many of us are most likely already stuck with the directory listings we have. Thus, we are left with having to find other ways to improve our online visibility and SE rankings. Also, many of us have optimized our sites as much as we can at the moment, so our SE rankings are somewhat just at the mercy of the ever-changing SE algorithms.

With that in mind, and the fact that the likes of Google and Direct Hit are both putting heavy weight to link popularity, do you have any feelings that the futures of SEO and SE algorithms are possibly moving more towards link popularity as a proper measurement of a site's relevance to searched on terms?

Besides link popularity, are there other off the page attributes to work on?

Thanks for any response,
Todd Wold | Internet Strategies Manager
Young & Roehr Group |

~~~Jill's Response~~~

Hey Todd! Thanks for your question. I think it's a great idea to revisit the topic of link popularity, as it has been awhile since we discussed it. In order to keep up with the ever-changing world of search engine optimization, I've been studying link popularity lately, and will be happy to share what I've learned with everyone.

Regarding your comments on directory listings, there are two separate issues to look at. It's true that you want a "good" listing in the directories so that you'll get traffic from the directories themselves. However, the other issue is how directory listings effect your link popularity. Having your site listed in the major directories such as Yahoo, LookSmart and DMOZ can go a long way towards increasing your link popularity, regardless of whether or not you have a "good" listing or a "bad" one. Simply having a listing in an appropriate category from these important resources is what's crucial for link popularity. Links from these "hubs" count a lot more than links from less important places, such as "Cup-O-Joe's Directory."

However, you are correct that we also need to look beyond directories for our link popularity needs. Seeking relevant links from like-minded sites has never been more critical. I'll illustrate what I'm talking about, by using Google as an example.

Recently, I installed Google's Toolbar add-on for the IE browser, and have been having a grand 'ol time checking out the "PageRank" and "backwards links" of all the sites that I run across. For those who are not familiar with the Google Toolbar, you can learn more about it, and download it here: From a searcher's perspective, it embeds a nice little Google search box right into your browser. If you do a lot of Google searches, you can perform them directly from your browser. From a search engine optimizer's perspective, it has some other, even cooler features such as the PageRank bar graph and "backward links" checker.

So just what are "PageRank" and "backward links"? Well, you can get an exact definition of PageRank from Google itself at: In plain English, PageRank is a calculation of the number and quality of sites that point to your site; kind of like what link popularity is said to be. The toolbar has a little green bar graph that shows up for each individual page. PageRank can go up to 10 (Yahoo's main page has a PageRank of 10), but most sites tend to have PageRanks in the 4 - 8 range. I've also noticed that the main front page of a site will tend to have a higher PageRank than the inner pages. PageRank also seems to correspond with the directory level of the page in question. For example, the Rank Write main front page (at the root directory level) has a PR of 8 and pages branching off of that page such as our articles main page have a PR of 7, while each individual article branching off of that page, have a PR of 6. This tells me that PageRank is not simply a question of the outside links that point to a site. I'm sure that many of our inner pages don't have any outside links pointing to them at all. Therefore, it appears that the links from within the Rank Write site itself must also count when calculating our PageRank.

Which leads us to explain what "backward links" are. These are simply other pages on the Web that link to your site. The Google Toolbar enables you to quickly and easily check the backward links to any site you're at, with a quick click of the mouse. When checking Rank Write's, I found that many of the links that Google considers backward links to it, are indeed other pages of the Rank Write site itself, confirming my suspicions about how PageRank is calculated. Of course, Rank Write also has tons of links from other relevant, high quality sites, which explains why it has a PR of 8 (equal to Search Engine Watch...oh yeah!). A quick look at other sites on the Web using the toolbar shows that 8's are fairly rare animals in the PageRank jungle! (Which once again proves that content is King, or perhaps Queen in our case?)

Given how much emphasis everyone seems to think PageRank has on Google's search engine results, one would expect Rank Write to be number 1 for its optimized keyphrases. As previously noted in past newsletters, I never originally bothered to optimize Rank Write for any particular keyphrases. However, just for fun a few months ago I decided to see how well I could do with the highly coveted keyphrase, "search engine optimization" and made a few changes to the main page accordingly. It wasn't long before I noticed that we were starting to come up in the top 20 on some of the search engines. This of course fueled my competitive fires and made me want to see if I could go even higher! (Hmm...sounds a bit like Yertle the Turtle!) So a few weeks ago, I made even more changes. Because we have that PR of 8, it appears that Google tends to respider our site more often than some other sites, so the very next day I saw us move up a few places in the results. The weird thing is, every other page in the top 20 has a lower PR than we do, except for the two Search Engine Watch pages that are in the top ten. Some of the top 20 results don't even appear to be optimized for the keyphrase "search engine optimization" and yet, they rank above us. So what gives?

Well, one thing my research uncovered (and you may have already heard this elsewhere), it appears that the words used in hyperlinks leading to your site from other sites, can have a BIG effect on how you rank with certain keyphrases. For instance, if all those sites out there that have a link to Rank Write used the words "search engine optimization" to describe it in the descriptive text around the link (or better yet, in the actual hyperlink itself), we just might see our rankings increase even more. Since we did not request most of our links, our off site links currently describe our site in a variety of ways.

It appears that external links are given more relevance than internal links. However, since internal links do seem to have some relevance, I changed some of the links on Rank Write so that the words "search engine optimization" are used more often when pointing to our main page. I'm sure it would be even more helpful to request that the sites linking to us do the same thing, however, that would be quite the undertaking. (Hint, hint to all of you who have a link to the Rank Write site; feel free to change your links accordingly!)

While the above comments refer to Google, all of the major search engines are starting to use similar criteria in their ranking algorithms. PageRank is very similar in nature to link popularity, and all of the engines claim that they base much of their algorithms on off the page criteria such as this.

For more information on helpful ways to build link popularity (and thus improve your PageRank), please read my article, "Link Popularity and its Effect on Search Engine Rankings".


~~~Send Us Your Questions~~~

If you have questions about online copywriting or search engine optimization (or both!), just zip us an email to We've had some folks ask if their question was "too basic" to be printed - and you don't have to worry about that! There are no "stupid" search engine optimization or copywriting questions, so ask away!