Understanding Link Popularity

Written By: Stephen Scott
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The theory of link popularity goes something like this: Search engines give more weight and authority to websites that have lots of other websites linking to them. Therefore, if your website has tons of inbound links, it deserves a boost in rankings. Actually, this make good sense. If someone links to your site it's essentially a vote in popularity for your site. Why shouldn't that result in a boost in search engine ranking?

However, many SEO experts differ on the value of inbound links to a websites search engine ranking. That's because link popularity constitutes only a portion of most search engines' ranking algorithms.

Of the major search engines, Google places the most emphasis on the value of inbound links. As I stated earlier, just how much these actually boost a site's ranking is debatable and depends on the site. It also depends on the anchor text used in the inbound links. Believe it or not, some sites have achieved very high rankings with just a few highly relevant inbound links with strong and relevant anchor text.

In many SEO articles, the terms "link popularity" and "Google PageRank" have been used interchangeably. However, the definition of link popularity and how it differs from PageRank (PR), as well as how much effect these actually have on search engine rankings, is often misunderstood.

#1 - Link Popularity Does Not Equal PageRank

Do not make the mistake of equating link popularity with Google PageRank. PageRank is actually determined (in part) by link popularity. Link popularity, which looks at the 'quality' of inbound links, is a more complex analysis than PageRank. Unfortunately, many people (including so called SEO experts) use the terms interchangeably, which has lead to much confusion.

Although I've referenced Google in discussing link popularity and PageRank, all major search engines give link popularity some weight in their ranking algorithms.

#2 - Link Popularity In Action

Perhaps the best way to explain how link popularity works is by example.

Let's say Jill's Handbags website has a link to Mary's Clothing website. If the link on Jill's Handbags website uses the keywords "women's clothing store" as anchor text, I will boost Mary's link popularity for those keywords. However, Mary's site would benefit more if the same link had come from another clothing store website. While the anchor text of the inbound link is important, so to is the content on the website sending the link.

A more valuable and higher-quality link for Mary might be from "America Clothing Store Directory", which list information and URL's for multiple clothing stores. These types of links (highly targeted and relevant) are given the most weight toward link popularity. Remember, having similar content on the sending and receiving websites is key.

#3 - What About Reciprocal Links

Reciprocal links (e.g. "you link to me and I'll link to you") are great when done right, but not a necessity for link popularity. Today, many people think the fastest way to get tons of inbound links is via link exchange. That's why there are so many programs for sale in the internet promoting link exchanges. On the other hand, some SEO experts feel that reciprocal links have little to no real value.

The truth is, there is no right answer when it comes to reciprocal linking. You don't 'need' reciprocal links to achieve good search engine rankings, but if you can get them then by all means do so. Always remember, it's inbound links (links pointing TO your website) that are important and helpful. Outbound links (links pointing FROM your website) are great if they provide the user access to additional and relevant information. Bottom line - the user experience comes first. Don't mislead them!

#4 - Do I Need To Worry About Link Popularity?

Most websites should not over obsess about link popularity. It is important and can improve the "link worthiness" of your website however, keep in mind that link popularity constitutes only a portion of most search engine ranking algorithms. Link popularity should be part of your "overall" linking strategy.

If the success of your website requires high levels of traffic using very competitive keywords, you will want to be a bit more proactive in seeking out inbound links from websites with similar and relevant content. Websites that already have a high PageRank would be the best candidates because their PageRank is, in part, passed on to your website.

Lastly, DO NOT use programs to automate your reciprocal link request. Most webmasters are put off by this tactic and consider it spam. Sending a personal email might be the best way to go, and you'll want to include some kind words about their website ... it helps. Keep in mind, very often these links from relevant sites will bring more traffic to your site than a high search engine ranking will bring.

#5 - Check Your Link Popularity

To check the popularity of your links I recommend using GoRank Link Popularity Check - it's Free!

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