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Link Popularity
by André le Roux
Dec. 2002

I read a funny post in a search engine forum… A very sarcastic guy asked: “Does anyone here really still believe that search engines consider link popularity when ranking sites?” Gee man, I dunno. I heard there’s this cool search engine called Google…

Link Popularity

The term 'link popularity' refers a measurement of the number and quality of inbound links to a page.

Link popularity matters. The Infoseek search engine experimented with link popularity measurements a couple of years ago and Google made it a big thing with their PageRank system. The thinking behind it is simple: If many people link to a site, it must have something of value. It’s probably the kind of page you’d want right at the top of your search results.

Link Popularity In Action

There’s an official White House web site. There’s also a horde of unofficial and wannabe White House web sites. How do you serve the official White House web site first when someone does a search for “White House”? That’s right. Link popularity. The big thing that sets the official web site apart is that it has more inbound links than the wannabes.

As a result of Google’s success, other search engines were fast to build link popularity systems that can measure the link popularity of each site it spiders and work that score into the ranking algorithm. Most of the major search engines now measure link popularity and consider link popularity when ranking web sites.

Ways To Increase Link Popularity

As with many other things, the easiest ways to increase link popularity tend to yield the smallest returns.

Here are the 4 ways to get inbound links to your site:

1. Free For All (FFA) link pages
2. Link-share services
3. Ask for links
4. Editorial links

Let’s look at these in more detail:

Building Link Popularity... 1 of 4: Free For All (FFA) link pages

This one does not work. FFAs are simply pages with massive lists of links. Anyone willing to take the time to add their sites can get a link from a FFA page – so search engines simply do not count links from FFAs to your site. In fact, some search engines consider it a form of spam.

Having your site listed on FFA pages is a way of artificially inflating your site’s link popularity. Your site might be penalized or dropped completely.

Building Link Popularity... 2 of 4: Link-share services

This one used to work. It’s a concept very similar to FFA pages – the difference being that every site that’s part of the service has its own little FFA page linking to everyone else. You get one inbound link from each and every subscriber to the service. In return, you link to each of them.

Some search engines have declared link-share services a form of spam and now penalize sites that use them.

Building Link Popularity... 3 of 4: Ask for links

Around the end of 2002 I started hearing that Google penalizes sites for reciprocal linking. At the moment I believe that that is probably only true in cases of excessive reciprocal linking and reciprocal linking with sites that are off-topic. When my thinking on this changes, I’ll report it in my EnginePaper newsletter.

In the meantime, here’s how:

Identify sites in your industry that might be willing to link to you. Next, link to those sites from yours. Now write an e-mail to each webmaster, say that you’ve already linked to their site and ask for a link back. Make it appealing. Explain the benefits of link popularity and any other benefits of having a link from your site to theirs. Explain how their visitors will benefit from the content on your site. If a link to your site adds value to theirs, you’ll get results.

Make your link request as personal as possible. I receive at least one reciprocal link request per day - and I delete all of them. Don't use software or a standard template to email webmasters. You must actually visit the site and comment on it right in the opening paragraph. You need to show your reader that you're real and sincere. If you look like just another bot, you'll end up in the deleted items folder like all the others.

Building Link Popularity... 4 of 4: Editorial links

This is the most effective technique. The catch is that it requires a lot of hard work on your part. Fill your site with valuable content. The kind of stuff other webmasters want to link to.

Some of the benefits are:

  • Editorial links from sites that deal with the same subject as yours will carry more weight.
  • If keywords that you are trying to target appear in a text link, it carries more weight. This is a good reason to work some keywords into the title of your site. Most webmasters will use you title when linking to you.
  • I’m not 100% sure, but if keywords that you are targeting appear near the link, that might also count in your favor.
  • The link popularity of the site that links to you is very important. A link from Yahoo’s homepage would be priceless. A link from would help, but not a whole lot.

Further Reading On Link Popularity

This comprehensive article by Eric Ward covers the 12 things that your link request should contain, followed by the reasons why.

Visit Eric Ward’s site for a comprehensive collection of articles on link building:

Also worth a visit: Larry Sullivan’s

Search Engine Book: Search Engine Year BookThis page is based on information contained in the Search Engine Yearbook 2003. For more detailed search engine information & help, please refer to the current version of the book.

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