Link popularity is the single most influential factor for determining how well a web site will perform in search engine rankings. A web site's link popularity is computed from the number and more importantly, the quality of links pointing to a web site.
Link Popularity history
To gain a better understanding of link popularity it is useful to know why it became so crucial for search engine rankings. In the past a web page's ranking was determined, amongst other factors, by the number of keyword occurences within 'on-page' elements i.e. in page text, META tags, title tag. When web developers learned that they could trick a search engine to return their web pages by cramming keywords into their pages the search engines had to get a bit smarter. They were using 'on-page' elements to determine relevance so it was only natural that they would look to elements out of direct control of the web page creator i.e. 'off-page' elements. Search engines made the assumption that the greater the number of links from other sites pointing to a web site, the more popular the web site is and therefore a more quality resource. This worked nicely in theory but in practice it was also to be abused.
Web site owners figured out many ways to get links pointing to their web sites one example of which was through the use of link farms, pages the contained nothing more than a collection of links, Quantity of links was being abused so the search engines made use of the old saying "quality not quantity" and began to assign a quality factor to each of the links pointing to a web site. Now web sites that had a higher number of high quality links were looked upon favourably by the search engines. Building link popularity became a science in itself and today is still the most time-consuming and frustrating activity for a search engine optimizer.
Main classes of links
Note: In the following examples SiteA is our web site and SiteB is an outside site (i.e. a web site under a different domain name than SiteA).
Inbound links to a web site are links that originate from an outside web site . An example would be a link on SiteB pointing into a page on SiteA.
There are two further classifications of links:
An example of a reciprocal link is when SiteA links to SiteB AND SiteB links to SiteA, the link is reciprocated by both parties.
SiteA -----> SiteB
To achieve a high link popularity the type of links to build are inbound one-way links. This simulates how natural links are created i.e. links that people create to point to your site because they found it worth linking to.
For outbound links it is natural to assume that they might decrease link popularity of a web site but this is not true. You do not give away your link popularity when you link to another site. They do not add to your link popularity though.
Reciprocal links can add to your link popularity if the web site that you exchange links with has a higher link popularity than your site. However they are not as powerful as inbound, one-way links as they are quite artificial in nature i.e. most probably created by communication between the owners of both sites.
How to build link popularity
So it is quite obvious that to help build up a nice link popularity many inbound, one-way links need to be created. This can be achieved in a number of different (and most importantly, legal) ways:
Directories are categorized listings of links from around the web. Many, many directories exist and vary in their methods of getting your link posted on them. They provide a great source of quality inbound, one-way links. Getting listed in quality directories such as DMOZ or Yahoo can be more beneficial for your link popularity than a lot of links from smaller, newer directories.
Great site content:
The most powerful way to get inbound, one-way links is to have great site content that other web sites will want to link to. This allows you to get links from sites other than directories, which can definitely be better. The best thing about this is that it requires no communication on your part, it just happens naturally. If your site has poor content then others sites may not link, including the directories. Most of the top ranking web sites today got to the top because of great content. Writing interesting and informative articles for your web site is a good way of getting these kind of links.
Emailing web site owners:
If you come across a listing of links on a web site other than a directory e.g. a links page on a somebody's personal web site, it can do no harm to write the web site owner a polite email requesting a link to your site from their page. They may request a reciprocal link in return but sometimes they do not and you can get a quality inbound, one-way link for your efforts. I have got many links in the past using this method. In my email I always ask them to visit my site first before making a decision to link and I personalise each email with a comment or two about their site.
The best and most effective way of increasing your search engine rankings is working to improve your web site's link popularity. This can be achieved by getting as many inbound, one-way links as you can from quality sites such as directories. Other ways to get these links are having great content on your site and requesting a link to your site from other web sites.
Increasing link popularity is a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process but is definitely worth the time and effort when you see a dramatic increase in traffic.
Frank Kilkelly is a Search Engine Optimization expert based in Ireland.
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