Even though it’s a state-of-the-art search engine, Google is nonetheless a computer — a machine incapable of expressing subjective opinions.
So when you initiate a search and Google responds with thousands of web sites that apparently match your request, how does the search engine know which ones to "recommend"? In other words, how does Google choose which web sites appear on the all-important first two pages of the search engine results?
The answer has two parts. First Google objectively measures a site’s "content." And then it measures the site’s "link popularity."
How Google Ranks A Site
To measure a site’s content, Google basically counts the recurrence of certain key words and phrases. If the words "large blue umbrella" appear prominently, then Google assumes the page must contain useful information about large blue umbrellas. (We discuss key words in greater depth in the article "And Then Along Came A Spider.")
Then Google searches its own database to determine how many other web pages contain links to the "large blue umbrella" page. Google essentially considers each inbound link a "vote" for the large blue umbrella page. And the pages with the most votes move to the top of the list.
Consider The Source
But not just any link will do. Google uses a complex formula to determine the relative value of each inbound link to your site. Links from relevant sites have good value. And links from relevant pages with good "PageRank" (explained below) have great value. Links from unrelated sites are essentially worthless.
In short, to increase its link popularity, our "large blue umbrella" site needs links from other umbrella or weather-related sites.
After considering both the quantity and the quality of a page’s incoming links, Google assigns a value rating or "PageRank." And you guessed it — web pages with the highest PageRank rise to the top of the search engine results.
Make Your Site Link-Worthy
Your goal is to build your own private referral network of highly relevant web sites linking to yours. It’s a time-consuming process, accomplished one link at a time. But it’s something that web site owners can do themselves, without professional help.
Before you begin, take a long, hard look at your own site. Is it the kind of site that others will want to link to? Does it offer valuable information? How-to articles, tips, travel guides and maps, for instance. If it doesn’t, consider adding one or more pages of linkable content. In addition to helping you recruit links, good informative content will add quality and depth to your web site.
The Key To Link Popularity Is Relevance
To reiterate, when developing your web of inbound links, concentrate on web sites that have something in common with your business.
You may know of companies that share your target market but are not direct competitors. For example, an accommodations business and an attractions business may advertise entirely different services to the same tourist market.
Even other businesses in your town offer a small degree of relevance by virtue of the common location. The way Google sees it, if your neighbor recommends your site, it must have some value.
Some Techniques For Identifying Link Partners
A great way to identify potential linking candidates is to learn who links to your high-ranking competitors. Begin with a Yahoo search using the key word phrases you’ve chosen for your site. After reviewing the results, do a "back-link" search on each of the high-ranking sites.
Here’s how: To find out who links to any web site, go to SiteExplorer.search.yahoo.com and enter the URL of the website you wish to "explore". Choose "inlinks" and "Except from this domain."
Ask.. and Expect Rejection
When you identify a good link candidate, simply write the webmaster an email note requesting the link. It helps to offer a good reason for giving you the link, such as suggesting how their readers might benefit from the added information your site offers.
But be prepared — many sites will not want to give you a link. In fact, you’ll be rejected more often than not.
Of those that do agree to give you a link, most will ask for a reciprocal link in return. This, of course, is a reasonable request since they’re trying to build link popularity too!
Reciprocal Links Are A Two-Edged Sword
As mentioned before, many webmasters do not grant link requests. And there are a variety of reasons. Some feel that outbound links detract from the focus of their web site and dilute their sales message. Others feel that outbound links encourage visitors to leave their web site prematurely.
These are all valid arguments. And you may feel the same way. Certainly, it’s an issue you should consider before granting reciprocal links.
Add A Links Page
If you do decide to grant reciprocal links, you might consider adding a separate page of "recommended sites." Just be sure it’s included in your web site’s navigation system so the search engine spiders will find it. If you have textual navigation links at the bottom of your pages, you can include a link to your "recommended sites" page there. It doesn’t have to be in your main navigation bar.
Not All Links Are Created Equal
If you practice Search Engine Optimization and each of your pages is optimized for two or three key word phrases, you should also do the following: when requesting a link, ask the webmaster to include one of your key word phrases in the link’s anchor text (the underlined words that are hot-linked to your web page). This will automatically increase the value of that link.
Directory Links Are Not Reciprocal. And That's Good.
Other great sources of links are the Internet directories. These are essentially massive collections of links organized by subject. And the links don’t have to be reciprocal.
Being included in a directory is valuable both for increasing your link popularity rating and for referring visitors to your web site.
However, getting your site included in a directory is not all that easy. First you must determine which subject category is the most relevant for your business. Then you must submit a formal application for consideration by the human editor of that category. But heed this word of caution: Editors show little compassion for applicants who have not read and thoroughly followed the rules for submission.
The Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.org) appears on a large number of "partner" portal sites, including the Google Directory. Submission is free, but there’s still no guarantee of inclusion.
Other online directories you might consider are Yahoo ($$) (www.yahoo.com), GoGuides (www.goguides.org) and Gimpsy (www.gimpsy.com). Again, take the time to carefully read their policies and submission guidelines.
Don’t Forget The Smaller Directories
Is your site listed in your local Chamber of Commerce web site? Do any of your industry organizations or associations have membership directories with web site links?
And what about your industry’s commercial directories? Bed and breakfast owners, for example, can list their inn with as many bed and breakfast directories as they want (there are dozens). While some may be a bit expensive, many offer a listing and a link for as little as $10 or $20 a year. Even though many of these offer little promise of visitor referrals, they may contribute to link popularity.
Links or SPAM?
Finally, if you’ve ever been tempted by one of those ads promising to register your site with thousands of search engines and sites for $50, don’t do it. Just three search engines — Google, Yahoo, and Bing — account for virtually all searches. The rest have little significance and will do nothing for your link popularity.
Many of these services are in existence for one purpose — to capture email addresses. And they will greatly increase the volume of SPAM you receive. Believe me.
Building good link popularity will do wonders for your ranking on the search engine results pages. But it’s only part of the battle. Your site must also be optimized with the search engine phrases that will bring you visitors from your target audience, as we explain in our article "And Then Along Came A Spider."
Want To Learn More?
A great source of information is Jill Whalen's High Rankings forum, a very active online discussion among professional webmasters.
If all this is more than you want to take on, give us a call at Deep Creek Arts. We can help you optimize your present web site or build a new one from the ground up. At Deep Creek Arts, we create web sites with salesmanship. And we deliver those sites to target audiences through effective search engine optimization and promotion.