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Link Popularity: Influencing Factors & Strategy.

What is Link Popularity?
In simple terms, it refers to the “weighted value” of the combined number of inbound links received by a particular web page from other web pages as an indicator of page importance. A web page is deemed more important when many other pages link to it. In a sense, a link is a “vote” cast by a page for another page. But votes are not equal. A vote from a page that itself enjoys “high link popularity” transfers a greater weighted value than a page with lower link popularity.

It is a component of search engine ranking algorithms that when combined with on-page optimization factors will influence ranking position in the search results. When links are reinforced with prominence to the user and relevant relationship to the receiving page, they have a greater influence on ranking potential.

In detailed concept, link popularity is measured by a complex set of mathematical calculations to determine weighted values of incoming links that are not only based upon “page importance” but “link reputation” as well which is the contextual relationship of the linked pages. This particular article deals primarily with the practical implementation of linking factors that impact higher search engine ranking potential.

The content of this article represents my own opinion and interpretation of the link popularity concept. However it is based upon objective discovery and the assumption that link popularity is primarily a relevancy-driven concept knowing that all search engine ranking criteria is premised upon satisfying relevant results to a particular search query.

Importance of Link Reputation
“Link reputation” refers to the relevant relationship of a linking page to the receiving page. What a web page says about another page is more important than the link itself. Assuming that relevancy is the pillar foundation of search engine ranking criteria, a relevant link would more strongly influence ranking potential versus a non-relevant link.

Theory is that search engines compute a “relevancy score” based upon measurement of specific on-page factors. That score is combined with link popularity to determine what I call “relevant popularity”. It is likely that the two scores are multiplied rather than added, otherwise non-relevant links could provide greater influence than relevant links. On that premise, relevance would be rewarded more than link popularity itself.

Relevancy is measured by comparing words at strategic locations including html content, page title tags, meta descriptions, alt-tags and words used in “anchor text” which is the linking point. Keywords that support mutual relevancy between the linking page and the receiving page become the comparative value. Always remember: the stronger the relationship, the greater the value.

Relevant Popularity:
To introduce a new term, “relevant popularity”. It represents the combined effect that link popularity, link reputation and on-page relevancy has on determining ranking position to a search query. Although search engines employ many, many algorithmic components, those three areas have the greatest impact on search engine positioning.
All are intertwined and are measured against all pages in a particular search engine’s index that compete for a similar set of targeted keywords. Link popularity relates to page importance. Link reputation is more about what a web page says about another. On-page context is what a page says about itself. And relevancy is at the center-core of the evaluation factors. This is where we get the term, “relevant popularity”.

Many SEOs disagree on the level of influence that link popularity has on ranking. In my opinion, it depends on the degree of competitiveness of particular search words. But generally all SEOs agree that keywords contained within “anchor text” have a profound effect on ranking position. However, anchor text transfer value cannot exist without an incoming link. Therefore whether link popularity is a meaningful factor or not, links are essential to establishing link reputation.

A general pattern of search engine results indicates that link popularity carries a greater role when targeting high competitive keywords. And the more competitive keywords become, the more crucial link reputation becomes. This gives greater ranking value to areas that are more difficult for a webmaster to control such as the easy path of overzealous repetition of keywords within on-page factors.

Link Popularity Weighting Factors:
Every indexed web page is given a link popularity score that can continue to enlarge as links are accumulated. No matter how marginal, almost any link will transfer some degree of value. But there are additional weighting factors that make some links substantially more influential.

The visibility and prominence of a link to a user adds influence since it implies that a user clicks on links with purpose and interest. Links within text that leads a user to additional related information would carry greater value than an obscure link with little visibility.

The number of outbound links on a linking page effects the transfer of link popularity because the transfer value is divided by the number of outgoing links. Therefore, the fewer the links the greater the concentration of transfer benefit.

Keywords used in “anchor text” that describe what a user will find at destination are significantly important to ranking potential. The more relevant the content of the linking page to the receiving page, the better. Common keywords that exist in html content, page title tags, meta descriptions and meta keywords are measured factors.

The degree of webmaster control where a webmaster could artificially inflate the measured factors is considered in the weighted values. For example, internal links likely have less transfer value than external inbound links. Links between sites that reside on the same server and links among affiliated and commonly-owned websites are also likely areas of search engine spam. Remember: the “greater the distance” between linking sites, the greater the weighted value of the link.

Outbound links “drain link popularity” of the linking page, but should not be a meaningful concern because relevant outgoing links creates a greater offsetting advantage. Outbound links are an indication of web page quality and authority. Any drain on link popularity resulting from outbound links can be mitigated by simply adding more internal web pages. The size of a website is an influencing factor. The more pages a website has, the greater the benefit of transferring inbound link value to all internal pages which enhances the ranking potential of those internal pages to a broader range of search terms.

Accumulating Link Partners
Building link popularity is a time-consuming process that requires a dedicated effort of implementing an effective link campaign strategy. Although prominent rankings can be attained without strong link popularity for narrow non-competitive terms, a sound linking strategy is essential if you expect higher rankings for high volume competitive search terms.

No one knows how many quality links it would take to dominate search engine visibility because there are too many mitigating factors. Therefore the best strategy is seeking the most influential links, get as many as you can and make it an ongoing process to ensure a competitive advantage.

  • Natural, unsolicited links are the best kind. Rich informative content which provides value to your audience will attract unsolicited links from other websites. One-way (non-reciprocal) links from quality relevant web pages contribute strong value.

  • Links from topic specific and niche directory categories. Directories provide one-way link advantage. Some accept free submissions. Others are fee-based. Among the most popular directories are the Open Directory Project, Yahoo, Joe Ant, Go Guides, About.com and Zend. Perform web searches for other generated web directories and those specific to your industry for other directory options.

  • Write articles and grant republishing rights. There are many webmasters seeking articles that provide informative value. Granting republishing rights conditional upon linking back to your website is a great way to accumulate one-directional links and to promote yourself as an industry authority.

  • Contact your vendors. As a return favor for your business, request links from your suppliers’ websites.

  • Post to industry related forums and user groups. Take advantage by including links to your site with each post.

  • Request reciprocal links. Contact webmasters of compatible websites and request link exchanges for mutual benefit.

For long-term success, do not participate in linking schemes that are only purposed to artificially inflate link popularity. The way to approach linking is as a strategy of attracting lead referrals from other websites. Spend your time focusing on building links from sites that offer the greatest benefit to ranking potential. And if you want to solidify a competitive advantage, make link building a continuous process.

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