*First posted in 2011 (some methods and technics described in the article might be obsolete)
The key to understanding search engines rests with a simple yet vital Internet element known as a link. In fact, links are the highways that interconnect nearly all pages found on the Internet. Through technologically advanced link analysis, search engines can learn how pages are connected to one another and more importantly in what ways they are related to one another. Going back as far as the late 1990’s, highly efficient search engines have regarded links as votes of confidence in a particular website. This vote of confidence is essentially the web’s democratic way of indicating which sites are indeed the most popular and most important. Link data analysis has evolved into somewhat of an exacting art by search engines. Through the use of complicated algorithms search engines can detect the most subtle of nuances to better evaluate the relevance of a sites specific pages.
In the evolving science of search engine optimization links are not the only game in town. However, search experts agree that a large segment of a search engine’s algorithm is indeed link based. Measuring the popularity of a website is certainly possible through link analysis by considering the number of pages linking back to a particular website. In addition, other vital metrics may be used to rank a websites overall popularity.
These would include such parameters as trust, authority and spam related activities. Sites that exhibit trust will generally link to other trustworthy sites. Conversely, spam type sites will generally receive little or no links from highly trusted sites. Authority type models such as those suggested by what is known as the Hilltop Algorithm imply that links are an excellent means of identifying authoritative content with regard to any specific subject.
When preparing to launch a link building campaign, it is vital to know the components of a link used by search engines. In addition, it is important to know how those components are incorporated into how links are weighted in complex algorithms. Links are processed by search engines in a variety of ways. It is unlikely that outside of search engine engineering departments we will ever truly know all link parameters measured by search engines.
However, by comparing certain patents and conducting hands-on testing for many years, it is possible to come to some rather accurate conclusions. These accurate conclusions can provide a relatively good picture of real world search engine performance related to links. What follows is a list of key considerations worth thinking about with regard to links. Such factors along with others are taken into account by search engine optimization experts when determining a site’s overall link profile, as well as determining link value.
Links become highly relevant when they are coming from sites that exhibit strong popularity and importance. Take for example a website such as Wikipedia. This highly popular site has perhaps tens of thousands of various sites linking to the site. This is a strong indicator that a site like Wikipedia is indeed a highly popular site. To be considered an authority site with high levels of trust by search engines, a website must enlist the assistance of linking partners that show a high level of popularity.
The Tahoma search engine was the first such engine to introduce the idea of local popularity. The idea of local popularity is that links arriving from websites found in a topic-specific community are more heavily weighted than those from nonspecific sites that are unrelated and off topic. One clear example would be that if your website sells herbal remedies, gaining links from a professional herbal medicine authority site would have far more value than gaining links from a home improvement store website which would be clearly off topic.
Anchor text plays a critical role in how search engines rank a particular website. When many links point to a particular page with relevant keywords, the page will likely have a good chance of ranking high with regard to a specific phrase in a given anchor text. Examples of this are clearly visible when, for example, the term “click here” is entered into a search engine, where much of the results rank strictly because of the anchor text of specific inbound type links.
Spam is rampant throughout the Internet and some studies have suggested that possibly 60% of pages located on the Internet are indeed spam. To filter through this large amount of irrelevant information search engines use methods to measure trust. Much of this trust measurement is established by the link graph. Website domains with .Gov and .Edu and .Org will generally carry a very high trust rating. Gaining links from these types of sites will largely increase a websites trust metric.
A website with a large number of spam links will generally be a site that delivers spam. Search engines through complex algorithms are able to determine the level of spam that a website is likely to have based on the number of spam links it contains. The back-and-forth action of links between spam-type sites creates a sort of neighborhood environment. Choose your link neighborhood carefully to avoid penalties from search engines.
Site popularity is always rising and declining over time on the Internet. When a highly popular site shows a decrease in links pointing to that site, its popularity may indeed decline over time. The rate and frequency of link building plays an important role in search engine ranking of a particular website. This concept is often referred to as “FreshRank” and is factored into determining a website’s popularity and overall relevance.
in recent times there has been and exponential rise in the volume of content shared among social media outlets such as Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. It is important to note that search engines view social media links slightly different than standard links. There are various opinions about how search engines interpret links coming from social media, however the relevance of social media links is becoming more important with time.
How Social Media is Indeed a Game Changer
The last few years, and notably the years 2011 and 2012 have seen a dramatic increase in the effects on search results by social media type sharing. In fact, Google has recently included social metrics into its search ranking results. This also incorporates delivering personalized results to users that comprises content shared by individuals social media circle. These results may not receive a top ranking but are still promoted because of their social value.
The move towards social media as a way of search marketing is quite substantial. Individuals with considerably sized social circles are more inclined to see their information delivered in search results. This is useful to publishers in that content can be shared by popular individuals with a large number of followers.
These two should not be confused and are simply not the same. While there is some proof that social sharing may indeed have an impact on ranking, at present standard links are regarded as a better and more definitive way of building popularity of a website than any other means.
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