How Search Engines Use Link Analysis

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference, November 14-15, Dallas, TX.

Danny Sullivan led a session called "Looking at Links" that focused on how search engines are analyzing links between sites. Link analysis is used by several engines as part of their ranking algorithm, most notably Google.

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.

Thus in theory by building links to your site you can improve how well your pages rank by engines that analyze links.

Danny pointed out that 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 quality of links pointing to your site.

Today, the search engines look beyond sheer numbers. Since all links are not created equal, the engines attempt to rank the importance of each link, and to understand the context of the link.

The authority and quality of a page also factor into link analysis. A topical directory on a particular subject would be deemed of higher authority that Free For All links page. Thus it's important to have links on topical directories or web guides related to your sites subject matter. Having a few links from important pages will always be more important than having a thousand links on useless link farm sites.

Link context is another aspect of link analysis. Link context analyzes how close a link appears on a page to keywords within the text of that page. If all this sounds confusing, you're not alone. It's PhDs who create these algorithms, so us regular folks have our work cut out for us.

So what is a site owner to do?

Whether or not we ever fully understand link analysis, here is what we can do to take advantage of it.

1). Seek links from good pages that are related to the terms you want to be found for

2). Remember that while search engines make use of link analysis, they do not rely on it 100%. They still look at your site, too. So, make sure your site includes the terms you want to be found for.

3). Identify good sites to link to yours by using search engines and your key search terms. Review the pages at the top of the results. See if any of the sites in the results will link to your site.

4). It's important to build links to the same URL, i.e., if your site is nike.com, variants of that are www.nike.com or nike.com/index.html. It is better if all links point to the same URL, rather than to variants of the same URL.

5). 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.

Danny also emphasized that web marketers should relax. There are so few aspects of linking you can control that it's best to focus on those you can.

Link Spamming Search engines are very good at detecting methods marketers try to use to circumvent link analysis. Link Farms and FFA (Free For All links) pages are classic examples of linking techniques that do not accomplish a thing.

Internal and Outbound links are also treated differently by the various engines. Some engines think a site with few outbound links means those few links should be given greater weight than a site with hundreds of outbound links. Thus being one of a thousand links on another site could offer less linking value than being one of a handful of links only.

Content, content, content

Since people tend to visit sites that offer unique and substantial information, marketers need to build up their content. Likewise, search engines are more likely to give greater weight to a content site than a site with nothing but optimized doorway pages.

Eric Ward founded the Web's first service for announcing and linking Web sites back in 1994, and he still offers those services today. He's the editor of LinkAlert! and founder, NetPOST, URLwire, and LinkPlan, and also writes columns for ClickZ and Ad Age magazine. More information on Eric: http://www.ericward.com/linkalert/ or contact him at eric@ericward.com

Google Adds Headline News

News junkies have a new source of fresh information: Google Headline News. Google is now crawling headlines from more than 100 leading English language newspapers, and aggregating top headlines on a single page. Other headlines are classified into six other categories: World, US, Business, Entertainment, Science & Technology and Sports, available via a text link at the top of each headlines page.

According to Google spokesperson Nate Tyler, "Stories are highlighted as links with the publication name, the date and a list of 'related stories.' Google updates news every hour throughout the day and, at present, we do not archive old news."

Unlike other headline aggregators, Google is taking a page from its search engine result rankings and clustering results from many sources under one primary title link, that's presumably the "lead" story for a particular topic. "Related Stories" are similar to "related links" in ordinary search results, making it easy to select stories about a similar topic from most major news sources.

It's an interesting new twist on news aggregation. According to Tyler, "Future enhancements may include a greater breadth of news sources (international) and user interface design enhancements."

Stay tuned -- film at eleven.

Google Headline News
http://www.google.com/news/newsheadlines.html

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

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