Link Analysis And Link Building

Every major crawler-based search engine uses link analysis as part of their ranking algorithms. This is done because its very difficult for webmasters to “fake” good links, in the way they might try to spam search engines by manipulating the words on their web pages. As a result, link analysis gives search engines a useful means of determining which pages are good for particular topics.

By building links, you can help improve how well your pages do in link analysis systems. The key is understanding that link analysis is not about “popularity.” In other words, it’s not an issue of getting lots of links from anywhere. Instead, you want links from good web pages that are related to the topics you want to be found for.

In this article, we’ll look more closely at how link analysis works and how building links in an appropriate way can help you with crawler-based search engines.

Jump to:
Link Popularity Vs. Link AnalysisLink BuildingReciprocal Linking
URL IssuesLink SpammingInternal & Outbound Links
The Golden Rules Of Link BuildingRelated Articles

Link Popularity Vs. Link Analysis

In the early days of the web, some search engines made use of “link popularity” as part of their indexing or ranking mechanisms. In a pure link popularity system, sheer numbers count. The more links pointing at your page, the more important your page is considered. Search engines in the past might add up all the links pointing at pages, then decide to either index only those pages with a lot of links or reward pages with many links by giving them a ranking boost.

Today, the major search engines have gone beyond sheer numbers. They understand that all links are not created equal, especially on a web where some site owners create “artificial” links in hopes of boosting their rankings. Because of this, major search engines make use of “link analysis” rather than link popularity.

With link analysis, a search engine tries to determine the relative importance of each link. In addition, it may also seek to understand the context of the link. By leveraging both of these aspects, a search engine can make better use of link structures than pure link popularity allows.

Link Quality & Authority

Some search engines may give a page a quality rating based on the number of links pointing at it. For instance, let’s say there are two different pages, A and B. Page A has two “inbound” links pointing at it. Page B has ten inbound links pointing at it. Since page B has more links pointing at it than page A, page B is deemed to be more important. Sometimes, page B might also be described as an “authority” page, in the sense that because many pages point at it, it may be more authoritative than other pages.

Now, let’s consider “outbound” links. These are links on our two pages that point outward to other pages. Let’s assume that both pages have only one outbound link. The outbound link from page B might be deemed as more important than the outbound link from page A. Why? Because page B is more important, it is able to transmits that importance along its outbound links.

This is a greatly simplified explanation of link quality and how quality can be transmitted. Exactly how each search engine may measure link quality will vary. In particular, they may operate systems designed to identify unusual or artificial link structures, to reduce link spamming. They may also not count “internal” links or weight these differently, as explained below. However, the main point remains valid — all links are not the same. Some are more important to others, and having just a few links from important web pages can factor more highly in link analysis systems than having many links from unimportant pages.

Link Context

The context of links is also considered in some link analysis systems. The idea here is that you examine words in or near the link to determine the relevance of the page being linked to.

For instance, if a link says “Great Place For Books” and points to Amazon, then usage of link text would understand that Amazon is relevant for the word “book.”

Here are some other examples. Consider a web page on running shoes, that has a section like this:

These are great places to buy running shoes

Notice how the term “running shoes” appears near the links to the three sites listed. Because of this, each of those sites might be seen as relevant for the words “running shoes.”

Now look at this example:

This is a great place to buy running shoes.

In this situation, the link leads to The link text (also called the anchor text) contains the words “running shoes,” so may be seen as relevant for those words.

Putting It All Together

As we’ve seen, link analysis makes use of both link quality and context. Given this, as a site owner, you want to seek links from good pages that are related to the terms you want to be found for. Even just a few links from these types of pages is likely to help you more than many links from places such as “FFA” sites or link farms, as described further below.

It’s also important to remember that while all major search engines make use of link analysis, they do not depend on it entirely. They also continue to make use of traditional “on the page” ranking systems, where pages might be ranked better depending on how often they use a search term and the where the terms are located on the page. Given this, as always, you should ensure that your pages are making use of the terms you wish to be found for.

Link Building

How do you locate the important pages that can provide you with contextually-relevant links? This is easy. Use the search engines! After all, they know better than anyone else what they consider to be important pages.

Go to the major search engines and search for the top search terms that you want to be found for. Next, review the pages that appear in the top results, such as those that appear in the first two or three pages of listings. Now visit those pages and ask the site owners if they will link to you.

Why is this system good? By searching for your target keywords, you’ll find the pages that the search engines themselves consider important for those words. Thus, you home in on pages that can provide both potential link quality and context combined.

In addition, since these pages are top ranked for the terms you are interested in, then they are likely to be receiving many visitors. Thus, if you can gain links from these pages, then you might tap into some of the visitors that they receive.

Naturally, not everyone will link to you, especially those sites that are extremely competitive with your site. However, there will be non-competitive sites that will link to you — especially if you offer to link back.

Making Contact

We’ll cover reciprocal linking below, but let’s first examine the mechanics of making a link request. The first challenge is often figuring out how to reach the site owner.

Look around the page for an email address. If you don’t spot one, then seek out an “About” page or “Contact” page. Most sites will usually have these, and you can often find them if you visit the site’s home page.

Be sure to carefully review all the contact options that may be available. You want to send your request to the most appropriate person possible. For example, some sites might list an email address for their editorial staff, their technical department and their advertising department. In this case, it is probably the editorial department you’d want to reach. Sending to the ad department would probably cause your request to be ignored.

Finding The Best Page

Not every page you visit when doing link research via a search engine will have an appropriate place to add a link. That’s unfortunate, but you can still make something out of these situations. Follow links from the initial page and seek an area that is appropriate for a link.

For example, here’s an example of a top ranked page that once came up at a major search engine for a search on “running shoes.”


In reviewing the page, there was no appropriate place for an outbound link to another site. However, notice the section highlighted and marked A. It’s a link called “related links.” Selecting it brought up the page below:


This other page is a perfect place to request a link. After all, it’s even called “Related Links.” Also notice the section highlighted and marked B. This is a link that brought up the email address of the person who handled link requests, an example of how by looking around on the page, you can often find the right contact method.

Certainly, you would have preferred to have been on the original page. After all, that’s where most visitors from search engines will arrive. That page is also likely to provide more link importance to you than this secondary choice. However, this page may also have some degree of importance, especially if the search engine makes use of internal linkage. At the very least, you’ll still have a shot of receiving some visitors from a link on the page.

One last thing. In the example above, it would be easy for a major shoe manufacturer to request a link. After all, there’s a manufacturer’s section. But what if there wasn’t? What if the page only listed things like marathons and racing events?

In that case, see if you have a page within your web site that would be appropriate and request a link to that page, rather than your home page. For instance, perhaps you have a list of running events that you maintain. You’d then ask for a link to that page, rather than your home page. While building up links to one particular URL is best (as explained below), it’s still good to get links to any part of your site. These can help deliver visitors, plus you may find that internal pages of your site start to rank well for terms, over time.

The Link Request

Everyone’s busy. That’s why it is important that you make your link request as easy as possible for someone to process. Format your message so that adding your link is almost a cut and paste process. Provide the title of your web page, your URL and a suggested description.

Think carefully about the description you provide. You’d be surprised at how many people will use exactly what you give them, especially if you’ve written it without marketing hype. Thus, by providing an acceptable description making use of your target search terms, you might get exactly the link context you desire. By the way, you probably already have the perfect description to use — the description you wrote when doing a submission to directories such as Yahoo, LookSmart and the Open Directory.

You also want to note exactly where on their site you’d like to have a link from. Provide the exact URL and perhaps a reason why you should be there. This will save them time and make it more likely they’ll process your request.

Remember, the site owner is going to link to you because they think it will benefit their site in some way. To convince them, you might briefly explain why you think the link will benefit their visitors. You don’t want to say a link should be added just because you’re hoping it will help you.

Finally, if you have a reciprocal links page — and you should! — tell the site that you’ve already added them in your message. More about reciprocal linking is covered below.

A Good Link Request

Below is an example of a good link request. It brings together all of the key elements discussed.

Hello–Would you consider adding our site, Joe’s Shoe World, to your page at:

We think it would be of great benefit to your visitors. It discusses such issues as how to select the right running shoes, an interactive shoe comparison tool and a calendar of running events throughout the year.

Here’s our site title, URL and a short description:

Joe’s Shoe World

Find running shoes, tips on buying athletic footwear and a calendar of running events.

We’ve also linked to your site from this page:

Thanks for your consideration!

A Bad Link Request

Below is an example of a bad link request, an actual one that I received and deleted — until recovering it to use as an example of how not to ask for links. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

My company represents in their online marketing efforts and is currently assisting them in developing their resource page. would like to feature your site on this page as it is targeted and contains relevant information for visitors to In exchange, asks that a reciprocal link be placed on your site, ensuring that visitors to both sites may have more resources. You may or may not know that reciprocal linking is one of the most basic forms of Internet marketing, is free, and is highly effective. It can:* Improve your ranking on many of the top search engines

* Increase your website popularity

* Improve your web site traffic

* Deliver qualified prospects and customers to your website

Please feel free to visit their site at If you are interested please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Why is this bad? First of all, I actually do know that reciprocal linking is “one of the most basic forms of Internet marketing,” and I also have a pretty good understanding of how it may “improve your ranking on many of the top search engines.” Clearly this person had no idea what the Search Engine Watch site was about, and their lack of knowledge left me disinclined to follow up on the request. Similarly, I think few people are going to give links to others who don’t show any degree of effort in understanding what a site is about.

When I recovered from my hurt feelings, there were several other important reasons why I trashed this request. For one, they’ve not told me where my site is going to be featured. Where is this mystery resource page? They’ve also not told me where they want me to list their site.

Apparently, I might get more information if I followed up by contacting them “at your earliest convenience.” I never have an earlier convenience — does anyone? This is what really kills this request. It’s inconvenient. It’s not a benefit that’s being offered. Instead, it’s just work.

Go back and consider the “good” link request. Yes, it also entails work. You would need to expend effort adding the link. However, any work is kept as minimal as possible. All the key information is presented — where they’d like a link from, their URL, their site title, a description. There’s no need to follow up, if someone wants to act on this. Most of all, a reciprocal link has already been granted, making the benefit apparent.

Follow Up

It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Both sayings above are true when it comes to link requests. If your initial attempt to get a link is unsuccessful, you need to follow up and try once more.

Don’t keep asking every day. Instead, wait a reasonable amount of time, such as three or four weeks. The politely follow up, asking again whether a link request will be considered, and include all the information in your original request.

You’ll be surprised at how well persistence can pay off. Eventually, it may be easier for someone to add a link than to keep hearing from you. However, be sure that persistence doesn’t turn into annoyance. Keep your follow up requests spaced well apart.

It can also help to log your requests. Make a note of the original request you sent in some fashion, so that you can easily use it again during a follow up. Also, be sure to note the dates of when you send messages.

Reciprocal Linking

If you are going to ask for links, you should give links. That’s what the web was built upon. Moreover, it’s a fiction to assume that if someone comes to your site, providing outbound links means that they will leave. They are going to leave whether you provide outbound links or not. However, by providing outbound links, you might actually turn your site into a destination. So, cast aside any fears you have about reciprocal linking and embrace the idea.

One of the big pluses to having a reciprocal links page is that it becomes what I call a “reciprocal guilt page.” In our “good” link request, we already tell our contact that their site has been added to our own links page. As a result, the contact will probably take our request more seriously, and there’s also a good chance they may even feel a little guilty if they don’t link back. Both increase the odds of us gaining a link.

Building Your Page

Making a reciprocal links page needn’t be hard. In addition, if done right, it may even turn into a real feature for your web site. If you’ve assembled a good list of links on a particular topic, people who find it may bookmark the page or tell others to check out the resource you’ve compiled.

In addition, many people have found that their links pages end up ranking well with search engines. In fact, in link analysis, there’s even a term for link pages — “hubs.” Remember the concept of “authorities” mentioned earlier? Those were pages that had a lot of links pointing at them. In contrast, a “hub” page is one that has many outbound links to authorities. Just as authority pages may do well in link analysis systems, so may hub pages.

Let’s look at building a reciprocal links page, by going back to the idea that we are a major shoe manufacturer. Within our site, we might have a page called “Sports Resources.” On this page, we list various sports sites that we’ve requested links from. The format doesn’t need to be fancy, as the example below shows:

Sports ResourcesJoe’s Sports World loves athletics — and we hope you do, too! Here are a list of sites that provide more information on various sports. Enjoy!

Running Web Sites

  • Jogger’s Online
  • RunningWatch
  • eMarathon

Tennis Sites

  • Tennis World
  • eRaquet

Hiking Sites

  • Mountain World

Other Sports

  • Power Walkers Resource Page

Dos And Don’ts

You probably don’t want to make your reciprocal links page one of the first things that people find, when they into your home page. After all, you would like to have visitors explore your site a bit. However, you don’t want to “bury” your reciprocal links page or make it an “island” page.

For example, some webmasters might make a reciprocal links page but not actually link to it from within their own web site. The idea is that when they send out link request, other site owners will see that they are on the links page and link back. Meanwhile, because there aren’t any links to the reciprocal links page, it essentially is an “island” that no one will find. This way, the webmaster hopes they won’t lose any visitors yet gain all the benefits of reciprocal linking.

Savvy webmasters will look beyond just the link you provide on the reciprocal links page. They will check to see whether visitors can reach it without too much difficulty. In these cases, if you’ve established an island page or completely buried it, they are unlikely to take up your offer of swapping links.

More importantly, if you isolate your reciprocal links page, then you are missing out on a chance to have that page perhaps rank well with search engines itself. Instead, be proud of the link resources you’ve assembled. Let your visitors find them easily, if they want that information.

URL Issues

A question that often comes up is whether link analysis works to benefit your entire site or just particular pages. For example, if you have links pointing at several pages within your web site, do those all somehow add up to make your entire web site (or domain) more important?

The answer is no. Those I’ve talked with at major search engines say that they run link analysis on a per page basis. In other words, each particular page stands alone from other pages in your web site.

Because of this, it’s important to pick one page and try to build links to only that page, as much as possible. In this way, you are concentrating links to build that page into an authority.

Moreover, it’s not just one page you want to promote — it’s one URL. A single web page can sometimes be reached by more than one URL. For instance, consider all these ways to reach the Nike home page:


All of these lead to the same page, yet as different URLs, they may be seen as five completely different pages in link analysis systems. The safest course of action would be to pick one of these URLs and promote that.

Relax Your Paranoia

By this point, you may be experiencing some concern. After all, people may link to any part of your web site they want, using any URLs that are valid. How can you control all that? You can’t, and don’t try to. You want any good links that come your way, because they are better none. You may even want to run link building campaigns to various sections of your web site, because each section might appeal to different places where you want to get links. That’s fine — every little link helps.

While you can’t control linking, you can influence it. Consider which URLs you are going to promote, then stick with those URLs in your campaigns.

Also, take a look at what URLs were used by the major directories of Yahoo, LookSmart and the Open Directory. Your listings from these sites can carry a lot of weight in link analysis systems, so it may benefit you to continue promoting whatever URLs were used.

Redirection & The Affiliate Conundrum

Affiliate programs are used by many sites to generate traffic. In them, sites that send you visitors may receive payment. In order for this to happen, affiliate program often use redirection systems to track clicks. For example, an affiliate link to Nike through the popular Commission Junction program could look like this:

In this case, a link analysis system isn’t seeing a link to Nike. Instead, they are seeing a link Commission Junction. Because of this, the link gives Nike no benefit in link analysis.

If you add an affiliate program, you may find that old “direct” links to your site are dropped in favor of redirection links. In this case, your ranking in link analysis systems may be adversely affected.

In addition, some web sites use redirection in order to track what people are clicking on. As with affiliate programs, these links don’t count to benefit your site in link analysis systems.

Dampen down any anxiety that may be building. So far, no one seems to be reporting a big problem with affiliate links or redirection impacting their search engine rankings. In addition, the major search engines say that there are enough “free” or “direct” links out there that link analysis can still work. In addition, Google recently said that it was taking redirection into account.

So, take your links where you can get them — through affiliate programs, through sites that redirect, or whatever. After all, that’s still valuable traffic. However, do work on obtaining direct links where you can. They may become even more valuable, over time.

Link Spamming

As soon as link analysis systems emerged, energetic webmasters began looking at ways to spam them with “artificial” links. The idea is that you might build links between a large network of sites you operate.

Fortunately, link analysis systems have proven fairly resilient to these attacks. Certainly some link spam does succeed, but the combination of link quality and link context makes creating effective fake links harder than it may seen.

In addition, the major search engines say that it’s not to difficult for them to spot unusual or suspicious patterns of linking. In these cases, the effect of such links can be downgraded.

Link Farms And FFA Pages

Another idea to influence link analysis systems have been the emergence of “link farms” or the promotion of Free For All pages, also called FFA pages. At FFA pages, anyone can add their link instantly — thus the “free for all” name.

In either case, the idea is that many different web sites will all band together to swap links. These programs are of little value in helping you with link analysis systems. They provide neither link quality or context.

Internal And Outbound Links

If you have a large web site, you might wonder if having all your pages link back to one single page — perhaps your home page — will help. Perhaps. The major search engines do not seem to discount “internal” linkage, or linking within the same domain.

Another issue that comes up is the mistaken assumption that having “outbound” links — especially to important web sites — can somehow help you rank better. These are links that lead off your page to other pages. Some people even go to the extreme of having hidden outbound links on their pages.

As it turns out, the major search engines operate their link analysis systems making use almost exclusively of inbound links. In other words, they don’t really care who you link to. They aren’t looking at your outbound links to determine whether your page should rank well.

There are two important exceptions to note about outbound links, however:

Inktomi may consider the presence of an outbound link as one of many factors that influences whether it retains a page in its index. It may also help the page rank very slightly better, compared to pages without outbound links.

With Google, pages with many outbound links don’t transmit the same the same importance to those links as a page with fewer links. For instance, imagine two pages that Google sees as equally important. The first page has three outbound links, while the second page has 100 outbound links. Each of the first page’s links would get 1/3 of the page’s importance transmitted to them. In contrast, each of the second page’s links would get only 1/100 of the page’s importance transmitted to them.

Here’s another way to think of it. If you have three children, each would get 1/3 of your wealth, in the unfortunate event of your passing. If you had 100 children, each would get much less of your wealth, because it has to be shared among 100 of them.

By the way, this is another reason why those FFA pages and link farms are so ineffective. You’re having to share whatever importance the page has (and it probably has very little) with many other people.

The article below takes another look at myths and mistakes, when it comes to inbound and outbound links.

Link Issues And Google
The Search Engine Update, Feb. 4, 2002

The Golden Rules Of Link Building

All major crawler-based search engines leverage links from across of the web, but none of them report a static “importance” score in the way Google does via its toolbar, as explained more in the article below:

Google Sued Over PageRank Decrease
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 4, 2002

That “PageRank” score, while a great resource for surfers, has also provided one of the few windows into how Google ranks web pages. Some webmasters, desperate to get inside Google, keep flying into that window like confused birds, smacking their heads and losing their orientation. To help you, excerpted from the aforementioned articles are my “Golden Rules Of Link Acquisition,” which I hope will restore some clarity to those feeling lost.

1) Get links from web pages that
are read by the audience you want.

Here’s an example. One site owner I spoke with asked whether he should get a link from an Open Directory category that seemed appropriate for his site. The problem? It was “only” a PR2 page, as rated by Google. My advice. So what! Did he think the audience he wanted might read that page? If so, good link! Try to get it.

What if you have to pay for a link?

2) Buy links if visitors that come
solely from the link will justify the cost.

For example, one person posting to a forum in spoke of having paid to get listed in Yahoo for the “PR2” value in it. If that’s why the purchase was made, it was poorly decided. The listing in Yahoo should have been purchased because the person felt it was going to be worthwhile in terms of the traffic solely that Yahoo would send to them, not because he thought it would help with Google. Maybe it might help with Google, but if so, that would be the icing on the cake.

Outbound Link Concerns

The first two rules cover “inbound” links, those aimed at your site. What about “outbound” links, those that lead out from your site. Some people have believed that linking to “good” sites will boost them in rankings, which is an absurd thought, if you think it through. Since anyone can add a link to “good” sites, it’s an easy mechanism that could be used to manipulate search engines.

A more growing concern is that outbound links could possibly hurt your web site. Several of the crawlers have made statements that linking to “bad” sites might be harmful to your rankings, and Google’s has been especially vocal about this. However, Google also says that outbound linking really shouldn’t be a concern, for most people.

“Your average webmaster doesn’t need to worry about that,” said Matt Cutts, a software engineer at Google who deals with webmaster issues, when asked about outbound linking concerns in October 2002. “If someone accidentally does a link to a bad site, that may not hurt them, but if they do twenty, that’s a problem,” he said.

In talking further with Google, it’s clear you should understand that everything is proportional. If you have a variety of good sites pointing at you, you’ve got a pretty good reputation and one that’s unlikely to be harmed because you link out to a “bad” site accidentally. Because of this, it’s probably safe not to worry about “bad” sites at all and instead just follow this final rule:

3) Link to sites because you want
your visitors to know about them.

Honestly, if it makes sense to tell the type of visitors you have about a link, you are really unlikely to be pointing to something that will hurt you in Google and other search engines.

Content Is King

People visit and link to sites that offer unique and substantial information. So, start developing more content if your site is lacking it. Build up FAQ pages and articles about topics related to the search terms that you want to be found for. You are more likely to receive links, as a result.

This is especially important for those that have been devoting most of their energy into “doorway” pages. These are pages designed to rank well for particular search terms, but which typically offer no real content to visitors. Yes, they can be effective, and certainly don’t abandon anything that works for you. But these pages do little to build your site reputation in link analysis systems, so depending on them too much leaves you unprepared to do well in the future.

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Google Sued Over PageRank Decrease
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Top of the Heap
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Reader Q&A
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ClickZ, Dec. 7, 2000

Want to gain links? You’ve got to offer content. Eric Ward has advice on what this really means.

Link Popularity Is Not Your Only Linking Goal
ClickZ, Oct 26, 2000

Further tips on building links, following on the article below.

Building an Effective Linking Strategy
ClickZ, Oct. 12, 2000

Eric Ward is a widely acknowledged master of generating traffic to a web site through online PR and link building. In this article, he introduces you to link building concepts.

How to Contact Editors At Web Sites That Conceal Info
Content Exchange, May 8, 2000

Excellent article on how to get in contract with the owners of a web site, when easy contact options aren’t offered.

Counting Clicks and Looking At Links
The Search Engine Update, August 4, 1998

Covers how Google emerged as a link analysis leader, while Direct Hit concentrated on clickthrough measurements. Also features information about link analysis from the Clever project.

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