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 News October 2004

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What is that link worth?

In their information for webmasters, Google says:

"The best way to ensure Google finds your site is for your page to be linked from lots of pages on other sites."

Hence the scramble to generate such links. But we now know that some links are better than others.

 At the bottom of the pile are link farms, which are now said to be potentially damaging to any site involved with them. So 'links' are redefined as 'relevant links', and there has been a massive increase in webmasters exchanging links with other sites in the same industry. Yet now, it is said you should not have too many links on one page because, unless you run a genuine directory, the search engines are likely to decide there is no real value to any one link.

 The fact is that the rules are changing and Google gives out very limited information because webmasters may misuse it. Search engines want to find the best answers to the surfers' enquiries. They need webmasters to supply the information in a form that the spider can easily index. They do not want to encourage people to trick them into a ranking that otherwise would not be deserved.

Using my own site as an example, you can find 2 different measures of links on Google:

1) checking "link:www.web4marketing.co.uk" results in 43 links

2) checking "+www.web4marketing.co.uk" results in 704 links

By way of comparison Yahoo.com - when checked for "link:http://www.web4marketing.co.uk" - finds 239 results.

That just shows that search engines are not publishing useful data on links, even while acknowledging their importance.  To prepare our own strategies, I think we must start by trying to understand the search engines' plans to improve their algorithms.

Search engines are trying to find the answers most relevant to the searcher. To date they have had to rely on information supplied by webmasters. What they would really like is information from searchers to know which links they follow and where they spend time.  So, they may note that a link exists from site A to site B; but they are likely to be much more interested if they knew that searchers were actually using that link. 

In fact latest developments are giving search engines more and more access to user behaviour. The Alexa toolbar was one of the first to attempt to rate sites by their visitor popularity - and it succeeds quite well for major sites; though it is progressively less reliable the smaller the site, where the sample of users is inadequate.  The present trend is toward offers of data storage of emails and web files that will slowly but surely increase the user data available to the search engines. So they will downgrade the value of information from the webmaster as they can replace it with data from the searchers. The result will be a substantial improvement in the quality of the search results.

So what should be the guidelines for new linking strategies?

  1. Submit to all relevant directories where searchers might look for your product or service.  If they charge a fee, take a minimum commitment until you can see how many referrals they are providing from your own web statistics.
  2. Make a list of 'authority' sites which you judge capable of passing you good referrals and give them sufficient reason for them to want to link to you. Basically this means offering payment or content or a mixture of the two.
  3. Accept reciprocal links from relevant sites when offered
  4. Contribute to forums or new sites where a link back to your site will be contained in the content so that it is present in an authoritative environment without directly competing links.
  5. Plan a long term content improvement strategy to persuade other webmasters to link to you.
  6. Monitor your referred visitors from both search engines and others to see that both are rising steadily.

The proven value of each link is the number of visitors it brings to your site.


Stephen Orr


Web 4 Marketing (UK) Ltd, 16 The Vineyard, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6AN - Tel: 020 8948 1022

in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames