Search Engines: The Myth of Links
One of the most common questions we receive from our customers is in regards to how they can improve their Web site's placement in the various search engines. Every few months another "secret strategy" or "hot tip" surfaces and grabs attention only to fade away. Meanwhile, the the tried and true approaches to designing and marketing a Web site persist.
One of the latest fads revolves around linking and Free For All (FFA) links sites. Before we get into this fad, we need to know some background and some of the theory behind the way search engines work.
How search engines work
Most search engines scan web sites, similar to the way you would view a Web site in your browser, clicking on links to move from one page to another. This procedure is automated, performed by a computer which compiles an index of the content of your Web site (similar to the index in the back of a book). The index is added to the search engine's database where it then becomes searchable.
When you search a database, you provide a list of keywords. All the sites with matching words in their indices are returned. For most searches, this means thousands--if not hundreds of thousands--of sites are listed. To help improve the overall quality of the search results, the search engines started taking other things into account, such as whether or not any of the keywords were in the title of the page or were part of a link.
Traditionally, this is where the search engines stopped. Every site was an island in and of itself. However, a new breed of search engine also takes into account the relevancy and number of sites linking to your site. In this way, the search engines use the greater Web to "vote" for the sites that are most relevant for a specific keyword.
This practice has raised the bar in regards to the overall quality of search results: "The reason search engines place greater emphasis on link analysis is because it is difficult to 'fake' good links to your site. The belief is that link analysis gives search engines a useful and unadulterated method to determine which pages are good for particular topics."
Of course, with every evolution in technology comes a host of gimmicks attempting to capitalize off of user ignorance. Enter the Free For All links sites. FFA sites usually charge a nominal fee to link to your site. Anyone can get listed under any topic and all the links generally end up strewn out on a single, monolithic page.
Consequently, an FFA site, as far as a search engine is concerned, is about nothing in particular. Since the FFA site is not relevant to the keywords you want to be relevant to, purchasing links from FFA sites will not help improve your ranking in search engines.
In addition, FFA sites generally don't link directly to your site. They link to a page on their own site which logs the click and then redirects the user to your site. As a result, the search engine doesn't even see a link to your site. The article notes, "Affiliate links and redirect links typically do not factor into link popularity for your site, since they are linking to the affiliate management site, not yours."
Could it get any worse?
Yes. Search engines employ a sophisticated series of algorithms to determine a Web site's relevancy to a specific search term. As a result, purchasing links from FFA and other off-topic sites can actually hurt your standings in the search engines: your site would do worse if you have ten sites linking to you, and only one of those sites is considered relevant, as opposed to if you had only one site linking to you and that link was relevant. In the former case, of the sites linking to you, only 10% are relevant; in the latter, 100% are relevant.
It is this logic which leads to the following summation in the article: "Link analysis is not the same thing as link popularity. Getting lots of links is meaningless. It's much more important to get links from good web pages that are related to the topics you want to be found for. It's not quantity of links, it's the quality of links pointing to your site."
So, what is the solution?
Well, for one, avoid any scheme "guaranteed" to improve your site's position in the search engines. As the search engines get more and more sophisticated and the technology more mature, it is becoming more difficult to "push" one's way to the top.
The best solution continues to be to maintain a content rich site, updated on a regular basis. You may think that "updating" your site requires technical proficiency in the code that makes up a Web site. This is not necessarily true. Our staff can talk to you about providing an interface that allows you to update your site using a relatively simple interface.
Once you have your site squared away, we recommend getting other sites to link to your site. You should look for sites of substance that are relevant to your site. Remember that less can mean more. Also, ensure that the site is linking directly to your site and not to a redirect page.
Some sites may link to you free of charge. Others will require that you place a link on your site to their's. This is called reciprocal linking. Yet others will require a fee. If this is the case, make sure you have a way of tracking how many people click on your link to ensure that you are getting your money's worth. The statistics program c4.net offers to all of its hosting clients can provide you with this information.
Last but not least, if you have any questions, by all means, ask us. Internet marketing is a convoluted topic, fraught with scams and misdirection. We're more than willing to help point you in the right direction.