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The Roller Coaster Of Link Popularity

Most webmasters are in a constant state of confusion about how to create link popularity and how to rank well in the search engine results. Three of the top four search engines, Google, Yahoo and MSN calculate link popularity as one part of their search algorithms. So, for all intent purposes, building link popularity will be an important part of getting recognition and strong placement in the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Link popularity, in essence, is a count of how many web pages point to one of your web pages.

The Google PageRank Version of Link Popularity

PageRank (PR) is a Google tool that expands on the simplest link popularity calculation. PageRank is a value given to every web page on the Internet, with 12 possible rankings.

* The Gray Bar in the PageRank tool indicates that a web page has not been added to the Google PageRank database, or Google has banned the website. (If any page on a particular domain has its own PageRank, or if any pages are shown in the Google search results when someone searches "site:www.yourdomainurl.com", then the website in question has not been banned by Google.)

* PR0 to PR10. PR0 indicates that the web page has been added to the Google database, but it does not yet have any PageRank assigned to it, generally because there is not any PR value pages that link to it at this time.

If one is tracking PageRank from the Google toolbar (toolbar.google.com/), then it needs to be understood that the database that stores PageRank values is only updated about once every 3-4 months.

While Google does use links to a web page to determine the web page's PR value, it is impossible these days to utilize Google to find what links are directed to your pages. Even the Google webmaster tools (www.google.com/webmasters/) interface will not show you all of the links Google is counting towards your own Link Popularity or PR value.

Playing Follow-The-Leader

In earlier years, Yahoo and MSN did not employ a link popularity calculation in their search algorithms. But, when one competitor is thoroughly kicking their competition, then the underdog competitor must respond, if they have any desire to remain relevant.

So, after years of lagging behind the Google powerhouse, Yahoo and MSN decided it was time to work a link popularity calculation into their search algorithms.

Both Yahoo and MSN are still struggling to find a way to retake some market share from Google. Even with Yahoo's Project Panama rollout and MSN's Live Search rollout, both are still finding Google to be a difficult 800-pound gorilla to conquer.

Building Link Popularity

In essence, even if search engines did not include link popularity as a portion of their ranking procedures, one would still want to develop links to his or her websites.

Links are the roadways that keep Internet users moving from one website to another. Before the search engines became the all-powerful providers of Internet traffic, the role of Internet promotion was to establish links on pages where a website's target audience is already going.

The goal of course is to get the person reading the page to click the link to the target website. With every visitor to a website being a potential customer, it makes good sense to get as many visitors to the website as possible, and that requires getting as many links as possible pointing to a website.

Google PageRank 101

Since Google drives the largest portion of search traffic on the Internet, I am only going to focus on their link popularity system.

All web pages on the Internet have been assigned a PageRank value by Google, according to the value of the web pages that link to them. This number is always in flex as links are made, lost or change value.

In short, the pages linking to your pages have their own Google PageRank value, according to who links to them, and the value of the pages that are linking to their web page. As the web pages linking to your web pages gain value, then your pages will also gain value in the Google PageRank algorithms.

As a Webmaster, it should be your goal to create as many links to your website, as you can muster. Eventually, most of the web pages with real value will gain their own PageRank, and they will pass some of their PR value to your web pages.

But, I Tried That Once...

Whatever link building strategy one might recommend, there will be someone else saying, "But, I tried that once and it did not work." Some may go a bit further and say that they tried it once and received initial good results in Google's SERP's, but then those results shortly dissipated and the previous high placement in Google evaporated.

A common story I hear is that "we tried" a specific link building process. Shortly after doing so, our website went from result 300 in Google's results to page two or three of the search results. Then a month later, our website dropped to around 100 in the search results as the link page slipped into Google's Supplemental results. These people often conclude that the link building process used was not effective.

They make this statement because they do not understand the inner-workings of what is happening to their link popularity and search engine placements.

Several Factors Drive the Roller Coaster

With press releases, it is easy to comprehend the how and why of the climb and fall. Press Releases are treated as news stories, and as such, they are more important in real time than they will be in a month or so. That is why press releases can generate big results quickly, and it also explains why those results quickly fade away.

With article marketing, it is common for a new article placement to help any website mentioned within the article and its accompanying resource box (about the author information) to rise in the search rankings early, then to drop away for a time, and perhaps rise in value again later.

Let me explain how this process works, and it will make more sense to you.

Google's Main Index and Supplemental Listings

In order for the referenced website to get the PageRank it needs to climb in the search results, the web pages linking to it must have their own PageRank. As a single web page gains in link popularity and PageRank, the web page will also improve in the search results.

When a new article is placed for the first time, it is always placed on a "brand new" page on the Internet. New pages on the Internet, by their very nature, do not have any external links pointing to them and therefore, they do not have any established PageRank.

In recognition of this "brand new" status, Google is giving a pass to those new web pages. As far as the Google algorithm is concerned, these "brand new" pages might have value, but that value cannot yet be determined based on the number of links pointing to the page.

At the end of Google's "pass window", Google checks to see if this new page has developed any of its own inbound links and PageRank value. If the new web page has not developed any value of its own after a window of 30-45 days, then the new page will be moved from Google's main index to Google's Supplemental listings. If the new page has developed PageRank, then the page will remain in Google's main index.

According to Matt Cutts, the Google Guy, "Having urls in the supplemental results doesn't mean that you have some sort of penalty at all; the main determinant of whether a url is in our main web index or in the supplemental index is PageRank." (www.mattcutts.com/blog/infrastructure-status-january-2007)

Many web pages that have slipped into the Supplement listings will gain their own PageRank over the long term, and as such, those pages may return to Google's main index in the future. If articles are valuable resources to their readers, then many placements of those articles will be given their own inbound links and therefore PageRank, but it takes time.

As a general rule, it appears that the average web page will gain a measure of PageRank somewhere in the range of 90 to 180 days from the day the web page was created. While not all pages will receive inbound links and PageRank, enough of them do to make the whole process worthwhile.

You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play

As a Webmaster, your website will never gain link popularity if you do not take actions to increase the number of links pointing to your website. If the web page never accrues any link popularity, it will not gain PageRank, and it will not rise in the search engine rankings.

You are in the driver's seat, so if you fail to accomplish link popularity and search placement, then it will have been the fault of your inaction.

Do you remember my sample scenario above, "Shortly after (completing a link building campaign), our website went from result 300 in Google's results to page two or three of the search results. Then a month later, our website dropped to around 100 in the search results as the link page slipped into Google's Supplemental results."

These people frequently conclude that a specific link building activity produced no results, because they did not stay on page two or three of the results. Surprisingly, these people tell us that they started out at #300 and ended up at #100, and yet they claim that the process did not work in their case. How so? They climbed 200 places in the search results. How is that an ineffective link building campaign?

So, the next time you hear someone crying about the link popularity roller coaster, think back on this article, and you might be able to help him or her to clear the fog of confusion.

Bill Platt has offered article marketing services through www.thephantomwriters.com/ since 2001. If you are interested in Performanced Based SEO services (www.linksandtraffic.com/), then Bill's team can help you with that as well. If you have questions that only Bill can answer, give him a call at (405) 385-7038, between 9am-6pm CST, Monday through Friday.

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