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Looking At Links: Paint A Rainbow Across The Web
Posted 03 April 2006 - 12:52 PM
My feeling is that Google's index reflects something I describe as a Strong Linkage/Weak Linkage concept. That doesn't mean they have a StrongRank or a WeakRank. That just means that you can sort of eyeball a Web page's inbound links and judge how effective that linkage is.
About half the content from my primary domain is not showing up in the Google index. So far as I can determine, meaning that I am seeing preferred pages come up for targeted searches, it appears that Google has dropped secondary pages which have little inbound linkage. These are old custom news and feature articles that normally had only 1 or 2 links (almost always internal from my own domain) pointing to them.
Since I know people will be curious about what I mean by these terms, I'll define them here. These are working definitions and are subject to change. They only describe linkage in a broad sense. So far as I know, they do not reflect any actual algorithmic processing at any search engine.
Strong linkage - A variety of links from multiple domains with a broad selection of topics. Links are not based on relevance, relationship, or category. Most strong links are probably found on trusted sites or sites with large numbers of links from trusted sites.
Weak linkage - Includes links from the same domain, links from directories, and links from untrusted sites. Most reciprocal links would be weak links.
Link base - The page where a link comes from, including the domain (insofar as the domain may be Trusted, Accepted, or Untrusted).
Trusted domain - A domain that is considered to be trustworthy by the search engines. Trusted domains are probably used as the base for initiation new crawls of the Web.
Accepted domain - A domain that is considered to be acceptable, insofar as it has not triggered any filters. An accepted domain simply doesn't have Trusted status.
Untrusted domain - A domain that has tripped one or more filters. It may be penalized or banned or it may only have tripped some triggers (individual pages may be penalized).
Although I speak of strong linkage, it does not follow that any given link would be a strong link. In evaluating strong linkage and weak linkage, I hold the view that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts".
That is, any given link could be part of page A's strong linkage and part of page B's weak linkage. The difference is not so much in the individual links themselves (although some links clearly don't work) as in the community of links as they are mapped out.
If they all come from similar sources, then they may be weak. If they come from a variety of sources, they may be strong.
There is no definitive way to measure strong and weak linkage. It's more of a "you know it when you see it" kind of thing. But I think that as more people start to look at links in new critical ways, some metrics will be developed that indicate strength of linkage.
ON REPOSTING: It seems to me I probably should not have simply said "most reciprocal links would be weak links".
Rather, what I was thinking was that most reciprocal links probably fall into weak link groups, but that doesn't mean they are bad links. Let me try to illustrate.
Let's say that today I look at a Web site and it has 50 inbound links, with maybe 40 of them from directories. I would regard that to be weak linkage simply because most of the links come from directories.
By the same token, if those 40 links come from reciprocal link pages (and are true reciprocals), I would also regard that as weak linkage.
But suppose a year from now I look at the same site and it still has those 50 links, but it has acquired 150 more links, none of them from any particular type of site. They come from across the board. I would regard that to be strong linkage. Same links, different link groups.
As I was going to lunch, it struck me that the best link groups can be described as being as varied as the colors of the rainbow. And that is what you want to do with your inbound links: paint a rainbow across the Web.
It's okay to start out with many similar links, as those will usually be the easiest to get. But your link group, your linkage itself, will be weak until you spread out and get some variety.
Think about all the sites that are popular and important: Yahoo!, Google, CNN, Weather.com, WhiteHouse.gov (yes, it's popular), et. al. They all have links coming from a broad selection of Web sites.
I am concerned when I see people posting in forums that they are only seeking links from "relevant sites". I'm not sure what everyone means by "relevant sites", but back when I used to suggest that people get links from similar sites, I did it for an entirely different reason.
I don't care if a search engine is looking at what a page's topic is when it evaluates the link to my page. What I care about is whether that page has the capacity to send me traffic. If you have a Web site about dog grooming, odds are better that you'll get interested, pre-qualified visitors from other sites about dog grooming than from sites about pastry baking. But it's the visitors you should be wanting.
All too often, people think of links as a means of getting to the top of search engine query results. Links are the lifeblood of the World Wide Web. I'll take a link that sends me traffic over a link that may boost my rankings any day.
You can rank on content. But your highrankings don't guarantee you the kind of traffic you're looking for.
So, if it's important to have inbound links from similar sites, then why should we branch out and paint a rainbow across the Web?
Because it's not all about relevance. It's also about interest and visibility. If a high-profile site like CNN features a story about dog grooming, and you sell puppies, they may still contact you for your opinion and they may still give you a link. In which case, you have a link from a site to your puppy store that is embedded in a dog grooming article. That's not as relevant as a dog grooming article would be, but would you turn it down?
How about if MSNBC does an article on Internet marketing, and they contact you because you sell jewelry over the Web. Now, are you going to agonize over the fact that your link is coming from an irrelevant page that has nothing to do with jewelry, or are you going to take the referral?
Look at other sites the same way. If you have an opportunity to increase your visibility and get a referral from someone with a captive audience, why in the world would you not want to take that link?
In the grand scheme of things, a mature Web site should indeed have a rainbow collage of backlinks. It should have achieved visibility and prominence even if only in scattered niche markets. You cannot really be successful on the Web if you are isolated from the general Web community (adult entertainment excluded, of course).
If your site is going to be around for a long time, you're not going to make it to the top and stay there by counting on cheap, easy directory links, reciprocal links, article links, etc. Whatever juice those kinds of links have dies quickly. In fact, all link juice dies off eventually. You need to capture a broad variety of link sources so that you have a constantly evolving Web profile.
Posted 03 April 2006 - 02:19 PM
A link orginates from a PAGE that happens to exist on a domain.
Strong linkage to me is a link from a page that is revelant to the page being linked to - regardless of what the site may cover in its breadth of pages.
Example: A Cruise travel site goal is to sell crusies.
A single page out of hundreds on its site has a page on trave photography tips that links to several photo sites about what cameras to take on a trip and other travel photo tips, ideas etc.
That page is revelant to travel photography, linking to other photography pages. It happens to exist on a cruise specific selling site, but the page itself stands alone on merit to the serach engines. The links to similar page topics would make it a strong link since its topic relates to other similar linked topics pages.
Posted 03 April 2006 - 03:44 PM
I know you were just using that as a quick example, but to expand, let's say I am a dog groomer. (FTR, I am not, but work with me here. ) Would links from other dog groomers be useful? Well, if they operated outside my geographical service area, and they were recommending me to people in their area as the dog groomer to go to if you need dog grooming services while you're traveling in my geographic area, then, sure -- I'd like those links.
How about from sites that are about dog grooming, but maybe don't offer the service themselves -- niche directories, review sites, etc. Those are all pretty specifically related to dog grooming, so the chances that their audience might be interested in what I'm selling would presumably be reasonably high.
Of course, if they're worldwide (or even just national-oriented) sites, the chances that any particular visitor to the site would also be located in my specific geographic area might also be fairly low. So while they might be good for the link love, I don't know how much truly useful traffic they would really send me. (I'm willing to be surprised, so I'm not going to turn down a link from a site like that... )
You know what I'd really love, though? I'd love to get links from the local kennel clubs. From area veterinarians. From local pet shops and dog breeders. From the Chamber of Commerce. From community bulletin board sites. From the area Visitor's Bureau. From any "pet-friendly" local hotels/B&B's. From dog fancier associations.
I might have to join some of these groups to get a link from their site, so I might test it for a year to see if the traffic they send offsets the cost of membership -- treat it like paid advertising. If it gets good ROI, keep with it. Otherwise, try something else.
Maybe I'd even barter some links: donate grooming services to a local animal shelter in return for a link from their site. (And I'd issue a press release to alert the local media about how I'm helping the shelter dogs look better to increase their chances of adoption; see if I could get a mention and maybe a link in their online edition.)
And so forth.
They're all relevant, but they're not from similar sites (neither similar to my site, nor similar to each other).
I agree it's important to get links from a "rainbow" of other sites (or pages, as the case may be ). Not just for ranking, but for attracting potential customers. If you only get links from sites that are "like yours" in the idea this is what "relevant" means, you're missing out on a huge part of the traffic stream.
The problem I see is that too many webmasters think in too narrow terms. As you say, Michael, think of sites that have a good chance of sending you useful traffic. Once you really commit to that line of thought, your focus almost automatically widens and you start seeing opportunities for relevant, useful links in all sorts of places.
Posted 03 April 2006 - 04:53 PM
That's a great list to start with. But I would add to it links from blogs (blech!) where people talk about their dogs -- preferably main text links, rather than comment links (I doubt most people trust them any more).
And feature articles on the care and grooming of pets (yes, local news organizations occasionally write articles where they mention local businesses).
And newsletter articles from some of those "member-only" organizations.
And personal Web sites from friends and family (hey, if they'll link to their favorite television show entertainment news site, they shouldn't mind linking to your business site -- especially if they like your business).
I'd even consider creating or sponsoring an event where other companies and organizations provide free links and publicity. It happens all the time. Do you have dinner with dog-walkers? Do you go to dog-parks? Connect with people who have a passion for dogs and find out who has Web sites and what they put on those Web sites. They may offer to link to your business Web site without your having to ask.
Relevance isn't always measured by keywords. In fact, most of the time I would say it's not measured by keywords.
If you have a brick-and-mortar business, you are relevant to your community in some way. If you only operate an Internet business, you can still be relevant to a broader community than just the people you want to sell goods and services to.
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