The Rich Get Richer
Real life is not fair, unfortunately. This seems to be even more true when it comes to matters of wealth and success. Critically, this is true also in the world of Internet marketing when it comes to acquiring links – sometimes it’s just not fair.
The way the major search engines use links to determine the value of a website means when they see that a website has many links versus competing sites they conclude that that site is more popular. The more popular it is the higher it is placed in search versus the competitors. The higher it is placed in search the greater chance it has to be explored by people. The more it is discovered and explored the more the site tends to acquire in-coming links. These sites are presented higher in search giving them the status of being more popular and enabling more people to find them. The status of popularity suggests value and the more value a site is perceived to have the more it tends to acquire links.
This blog post outlines the dilemma and provides some advice to help.
Let’s do a bit of a review using a typical social networking model.
Imagine you have 100 friends and each one of your friends also has 100 friends. This means that at one degree of separation you are connected to 100 people and with 2 degrees of separation you are connected with 100 times 100 which is 10,000 people. With 3 degrees you will be up to almost one million; with four, nearly 100 million; and with five degrees of separation about 9 billion people. What this reasoning reveals is that if everyone in the world had 100 friends within six steps anyone is connected with anyone else on the planet. Amazing!
But . . .
There is a flaw in this thinking.
One hundred friends are a great many to think about. Let’s make it easier and think about your ten best friends. Who are they? Now think about who the ten best friends of your ten best friends are and there is a very good chance that there will be some overlap – perhaps even a great deal of overlap.
The reason for the overlap is due to what’s known as clustering. Humans tend not so much to have friends as to have groups of friends. These groups have shared interests, experiences and location. This is what causes the overlap. This does not just happen with humans and social networks but with networks in general such as website linking networks.
This network phenomenon is the underlying cause of the rich getting richer. It works the same way on the Internet when it comes to websites with many links (the rich) getting even richer (gaining even more links).
Websites tend to be connected in clusters. This makes sense as pages on a specific topic cite other pages on a relevant topic. Connected clusters spanning several sites tend to contain the main relevant pages. These clusters also have “hub” pages which are pages with many links to other good and relevant pages. By analyzing a cluster of website pages it is possible to find the center of the cluster by determining the number of links among all members of the cluster. Search engines – in their continuous efforts to be efficient – seek to identify the center of the linking cluster and then by weighing in other factors decide which website page to display in their search results for a given phrase. Sometimes a major factor may be how well the center of the cluster links to other relevant pages. A search engine algorithm could conceivably present just the center and leave it up to users (the searchers) to explore the rest of the cluster on their own.
Link building is an exercise in popularity building.
The search engines need to be good at “topic distillation”. Even when they distill things down there is still an “abundance” problem (too many pages or websites). Even for long tail topics there can be far too many sites for people to consider. The search engines need to help us more by showing us the top ten sites when it comes to authority, value and importance.
Therefore, the more links a website page has (the reasoning goes) the more authoritative, valuable and important the page is. Therefore, the more links the higher the position in search.
There is an inherent problem with this and the search engines know this.
Consider This Scenario:
Google has defined the top ten pages for a given keyword phrase. This is a static determination based on the many factors that Google uses to define the top ten. Linking is certainly one of the important factors (perhaps the most important).
Now, a new website is designed and built. The owners of this new site have studied the competition and the marketplace well. They have given deep thought and consideration as to what is the most delightful and valuable content. They have spent time and money on creating this delightful content. They have used the latest and more search engine friendly website technology and have done all the requisite on-site search engine optimization.
The new site is launched.
Google finds the new site. Google now has a decision to make. Where should it position this new site in the search results? It is new. This is a strike against it from an authoritative perspective. It has no links as it is too new to have gained any. The result is a low placement in search. The low placement in search only hinders people from discovering the delightful content and linking to it or citing this content. The new (though excellent site) may languish at a low level in the search results for a long time without the power of in-coming links.
The new owners were excited with the launch of their new site and their (low) position in the search results dampens their excitement. They do less and spend less time trying to enhance their content. In fact, as good as they think their content is their low position in search causes them to be uncertain about the value of their content. They believe the market is making a decision about the value of their content but in reality it is the worrisome issue of Google using the popularity metric (based on links) to define where this new site should be in search. The new excellent site is not given a chance – the rich get richer the poor get poorer.
The state of search today is based fundamentally on popularity (linking) and not always on the intrinsic value of a document, blog post or page. The state of search today is biased against “unknown” (poorly linked) pages and websites – the poor get poorer.
What to do?
1. It is essential to have a link building program defined for a new website or new content.
Have a linking plan defined as part of the planning for any new website, blog or content.
2. Define a first tier of linking opportunities and cultivate relationships with this source of links. The first tier should focus on influencers. These are the already-popular sites but ones that do not compete with you. Your content offering needs to compliment what they offer.
3. Create delightful content on a consistent basis. Be willing to link to and cite other sources. This makes your content “hub” content and helps you to cultivate the relationships needed to gain in-coming links (#2 above).
4. If you do not have a blog then initiate one. It can be a major factor in your link building success for most businesses. The search engines also love the fresh content that a blog can provide.
5. Build your internal link network. You can control everything – from the content to the location of the link on the page to the anchor text used to make the link. The link profile of a page also includes the internal links so build these internal links as part of your link-building program.
If you would like WSI Global Reach to help you to better understand your link profile or would like some assistance with building in-coming links then I invite you to fill out the form below.
Here are some other posts you may be interested in:
Technical SEO Audit of Your Website