The structure of the World Wide Web is compared to a bow tie in a study released last month by AltaVista Co., Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. The study indicates that if a Web site isn't located in the "knot" of the bow tie, with incoming and outgoing links, traffic--the lifeblood of e-commerce--could be choked off.
"This bow-tie structure is not simply an academic debate," said Frederick Marckini, CEO of search engine positioning firm iProspect.com. "The stakes couldn't be higher."
The new study contradicts previous mappings of the Web, which painted the Internet as a group of completely interconnected sites. After examining more than 500 million Web pages, the study found they fall into four basic categories:
30% are at the Web's "core," or the bow tie's knot. These pages are connected via incoming and outgoing links.
24% are "origination pages," with links to the core but no links from it.
24% are "destination pages," with links from the core but no links back to it.
22% are largely disconnected from the core.These disconnected pages are the black holes of cyberspace. Unless a visitor already knows the URL, these sites are virtually invisible. Nlight from a search engine ever shines on them.
B-to-b marketers planning to move into e-commerce should be very afraid if their Web pages fall into this disconnected category, experts say. "If you haven't considered search engines in building your Web site, you're probably making a terrible mistake," said Danny Sullivan, editor of "SearchEngine Watch.com."
"There are two things you have to do [to get noticed on the Web]," said Amanda Watlington, iProspect.com director of research. "You have to be found in major search engines, and you have to link back to the core."
Being found on a search engine and having links back to the core are interrelated. Newer search engines, such as Google.com, have pioneered the use of complex algorithms that analyze a Web page's links to and from other pages to gauge how useful or popular a site is.
Many b-to-b sites have been reluctant to link to other sites, because once they have visitors, they want the viewers to remain on the marketer's site. But Detlev Johnson, head of Outrider.com's search engine optimization department, said the key is not to keep visitors but to have a constant stream of them. "You want to try to connect to the center of the bow tie with links going both ways," he said.
Sullivan recommends that b-to-b marketers not focus solely on their own products but strive to be a clearinghouse for industry information. "You don't want brochureware," he said. "You want to provide as much value-added information as possible."
Otherwise, Marckini warned, "Your Web site is a billboard in the woods. No one will find it."