Market through 'link analysis' to improve popularity, quality

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You may have recently heard the phrase "link popularity" bandied about. Link popularity is the latest technique that the majority of search engines are using to help rank sites for searchers.

Put simply, link popularity is a measure of the number of Web sites that have links on them to your site.

What does this have to do with search results? Search engines assume that sites with more links to them must be valuable, because if they weren't, why would so many other sites be linking to them? Links equal good content.

This actually is a pretty good technique for using off-site data to determine relevancy of a site for a particular search term.

For years now, Web marketers have been trying to trick search engines into ranking them higher for certain search terms. Search engine manipulation is rampant because the engines used to look at only HTML on the sites they were ranking. There was no off-site method for ranking pages, until recently.

A search engine's main function is to take a user's search request and provide the most relevant results it can. Until now, search engines pretty much trusted that site builders would accurately describe their content, so the engines used a site's tags, HTML text and a mixture of algorithms--although some said voodoo--to determine a site's relevancy to a particular search term.

Alta Vista is the first major search engine to institute off-page criteria in its ranking of algorithms. The actual algorithms are closely guarded secrets, but they are now using what is called "link analysis" when ranking sites for users.

Analyze these

Link analysis has several components:

• Link popularity. If you have ever done a reverse link search ( at Alta Vista, you know what link popularity, or penetration, is. A reverse link search is asking a search engine, "How many Web sites are linked to mine?"

• Link quality. For many reasons, link permeation by itself is not the best way to make a decision about the quality of a site. Another off-page criterion that can be examined is link quality.

Link quality is based on the fact that not all links are created equal. This part of the algorithm examines who is linking to the sites that link to you. A link from Yahoo! is given a high rating, while a link from Billy Bob's Link-o-Rama is given a low or no ranking.

This means if you have hundreds of links but all on free-for-all pages, those links won't help you much.

• Topical cross-linking. Sites that focus on the same vertical, or narrow, topic tend to link to each other. This cross-linking was the basis for the World Wide Web. If your site focuses on a certain topic, it is important that you have a link to your site from others in this area.

Build traffic

What's the NetSense in all this? Your online marketing efforts should include:

• Trading links with sites that have subject matter similar to yours.

• Listing your site in topical portals, search engines and directories.

• Using reverse link searches to track your progress.

These marketing techniques will prove helpful regardless of whether search engines continue to use off-site methods for determining relevancy.

Rather than depending on search engines for traffic, you will be building a large network of inbound links that will be there every day. If this helps your search rankings, great. But even if it doesn't, the network of links itself will bring you traffic.

Eric Ward is a consultant, speaker and writer who launched the Web's first awareness-building service for Web sites in 1994. Reach him at [email protected].

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