Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Link Popularity vs. Page Reputation

Your mother was right – again! Popularity isn’t everything. Your page reputation can mean the difference between SEO success and failure, even if your link popularity is high.

Think of your site as the new kid in high school. It really, really wants to be liked by the cool kids, the search engines. The search engines have strict opinions about who they put on their “Top 10” list. To impress them, your site buddies up to every other site in Internet High School without considering whether these sites are “good.” Pretty soon, your site’s got a poor reputation because of who it’s associating with. Your site is super popular, but not with the search engines, the people who matter. To them, your site looks desperate and they refuse to invite it to parties.

That kind of rejection hurts, but the situation doesn’t need to play out that way. With careful planning from a search engine's point-of-view, you can:

- Associate with sites that have a good reputation (quality over quantity),
- Avoid being “fake” by developing a more natural link structure, and
- Become best friends with the search engines.

Make Friends and Influence Rankings

Increasing the number of incoming links to your site can improve your rankings by building page popularity. Popularity remains valuable, but it needs to be tempered by reputation. Page reputation comes from what other pages are “saying” about your page. If the sites are pointing to you as an expert on a certain topic, that improves your reputation with the search engines. A natural link structure comes in handy here because search engines like variety. If the link descriptions posted by other sites are too similar, the search engines will suspect that something’s up and may count these links against your site ranking.

Incoming links from authoritative pages, such as USA Today or CNN, will do more to help your rankings because they have a strong reputation in the eyes of the search engines. Even incoming links from less important sites can give you a slight boost; however, if you engage in link swapping with less-reputable sites, you can hurt your rankings and possibly even get banned from the search engines. We’ll explore this idea more in a future post.

Search engines respond best to sites with a natural link structure. By following a few guidelines for developing a natural-looking link structure, you can build your site’s reputation while increasing its popularity:

1. The first step in this process is making sure your site offers something that would make other sites want to link to it, such as online resources, frequent updates, or interesting articles.
2. Work toward receiving links from non-competing sites whose themes complement or are relevant to your own site’s topic. For example, if you sell a nutritional breakfast cereal for kids, you’d want links from sites that discuss breakfast food, easy meals, tips for parents with young children and so forth.
3. If you’re submitting your link to other sites, work on varying the anchor text. Try tailoring your descriptions based on the types of sites you’re submitting to.
4. Don’t submit your link to too many sites at once. A gradual increase seems much more natural to the search engines.
5. Avoid reciprocal links. This will improve the quality of your links and help protect against linking to sites that have been penalized by the search engines for policy infractions.
6. Aim for authoritative and trusted pages. One good link from CNN will do more for your reputation and ranking than a collection of links from less important sites.

You can save your site’s social life by choosing friends wisely and taking the time to make real friends. By encouraging a natural-looking link structure that places emphasis on relevant sites, diverse in-bound links and quality-over-quantity, your site can become truly popular with the search engines.

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