Thursday, April 07, 2005

To Link OR Not To Link...?

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March 30, 2005

To Link OR Not To Link...?
by Ed Duvall

Sometimes it's hard to tell a good idea online from a bad one.

Take for instance the idea of search engines adding in the factor of link popularity to their relevancy ratings. Sounded great at its inception, and still sounds good today.

However, if you look at the way most people approach developing link popularity for their web site, it's kind of similar to playing blackjack in a Vegas casino. The dealer deals everyone at the table a hand. He then asks if you want another card or to stand. If you want another card you tell him "Hit Me". You get another card in the hopes that it's the one you need to win. You don't win every time, but sooner or later you'll get the right card and win a hand.

Website owners trying to get their link placed on other sites in a true reciprocal link fashion seem to approach the matter in much the same way. They know the cards they're holding (description of their website) but don't seem to use that information, they tend to just randomly try to take another hit (usually some useless measure such as adding link farms,etc.) to build on what they have. Generally speaking it doesn't work.

If you've never played blackjack in Vegas that may not have made much sense, but anyway.

All of the search engines are factoring link popularity into their algorithms and using a more sophisticated approach to analyzing it. Including the page the link comes from, the page content and the page it points to.

For all intents and purposes Google has become the leader and premier search engine for a lot of changes including link popularity. Although recently page rankings in Google seem to have gone out the window as they re-organize and initiate their new algorithim for this year (they seem to do this about once a year and it seems to disrupt an otherwise effective system), but we'll wait and see what's going to happen next.

You might want to note that Google uses recoprocal linking as one of its most important factors' in ranking pages for now. There is however, like everything else, an upside and a downside as to how they proceed to use link relevance in their rating of a web page.

First and foremost you must understand that link popularity is only a small but growing part of the overall rating of your website. Most all of the major search engines include other factors such as title, keyword relevancy, description, meta tag optimization and directory listings.

Good, relevant reciprocal link popularity can dramatically increase your search engine positioning as well as traffic to your site. Notice I said "relevant" reciprocal linking. In the initial formulation of the link popularity factor you could use almost anything to create links to and from your site, including using FFA sites, link farms, cloaking, etc, and have it affect your positioning.

If you're a website whose main focus is on vacation information and a lot of your links are to construction sites I think that would drop your relevancy for reciprocal links to zero. If it doesn't compliment your site or is not presented in a fashion that compliments your site a link won't do you much good - at least not from google's perspective.

If you're not familiar with the methods above, they are web pages that create hundreds if not thousands of links for your site by creating copies of the same page. However most of the links you create will never be looked at because the basic reason they were created was to give the appearance of link popularity, more or less an early model of linking that's gone by the wayside. Now most of them are looked at by the engines as spam that does nothing more than create extra indexing for them.

The same thing goes for cloaking, hidden text links and invisible graphics with alt tags containing invisible links are viewed as spamming and trying to fool the search engines. In other words, if it doesn't get looked at by another human being how could it be relevant to your site?

By today's standards you can now, and most likely will be in the near future, penalized and possibly have your website completely removed from the search engine, for using those kinds of tactics mentioned above. And now-a-days with the tie ins of a lot of search engine indexes to one another, that could be disastrous for your online business.

My, how things change.

Just what are the search engines looking for in link popularity anyway? Just as your desktop PC (Personal Confuser) is a wonderful machine, it is just that, a machine and it has limits. So, all search engines also have limitations. It's a program using a mathematical algorithm to determine what it sees. And what it sees are similar words, content and websites with similar interest linking to your site to determine if it is worthwhile.

Basically a search engine uses various criteria to see and weight the information contained on a webpage. It feeds different information into different analyzers to come up with a relevancy for the page. And as you may know, search engines can change criteria by which they analyze data with absolutely no warning to you.

A very simple explanation of how google determines relevancy for reciprocal or link popularity, is by using the enormous link structure of the web as an indication of the a pages' value. It looks at a link located on a page as a vote for that particular page it leads to. So a link on your web page tells Google that it's an OK page in your estimation.

Sounds like the more links (votes) the higher your search engine position. Not exactly because the next thing it looks at is the page that the link is located on. That's right, it's going to analyze the content of the page in order to determine its relevance to the page. If it decides its relevant to it, then your ranking should increase.

Hey, that sounds great. But what makes a page relevant to a link? That's a tough question - for which Google doesn't provide a very clear answer. But it does point to the quality of links and not sheer quantity of links as the important factor. The main thing is relevance and the more sites you can link to and receive a link back from that are related to yours in some manner, the better your chances are of improving your search engine positioning with reciprocal links.

Ed Duvall owns and operates and Two sites loaded with inside information to promote your website, increase visitors and ezine subscribers.

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