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Link Popularity and PageRank: Misconceptions and Facts

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In this article, I'll try to demystify Link Popularity and PageRank, or PR, clarify some common misconceptions and tell you how things work, in plain English, with facts and examples. Link Popularity is based on the premise that people link to good sites, and if many people link to your site, then it must be good. In plain English, if other sites link to your site, your site is popular. Therefore, it is valid and deserves a boost in rankings, so people can find it faster and easier.

Link Popularity is not specific to Google only but was adopted by the vast majority of Search Engines.

Link Popularity is only one of the many factors (good content, number of pages, text, anchors, internal links, static URLs, keywords, meta tags, and many, many others) that are used in calculating your place in a search result page (ultimately, this is what all of it is about - how findable you are in a search).

PageRank (PR) is specific to Google and is a trademarked proprietary algorithm. There are many variables in the formulas used by Google. Still, PageRank is primarily affected by the number of links pointing to the page, the number of internal links pointing to the carrier within the site, and the number of pages on the area.

PageRank focuses strictly on the number of links and is directly influenced by the PageRank of the linked pages.

In Google, Link Popularity emphasizes the quality of links (ex., links from sites related to yours by topic or by industry rank much higher than links from non-related sites).

PageRank - as the name suggests - is specific to a web page, not a website. Every page on your site has a PageRank, and everyone is different, based mostly on your linking system. Generally - but not always - the goal is to achieve maximum PageRank on your main page, the one people hit when first entering your site.

You can check the PR of a page by installing the Google toolbar in Internet Explorer (the "official" way), a PR checker extension in Firefox, or by using one of the many online utilities, such as the one at http://www.bsleek.com/tools/link_popularity.php (which also checks Link Popularity and presence in DMOZ).

In Google only, PageRank is one factor influencing Link Popularity.

PageRank (PR), developed by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University, is considered the heart of Google's software. PageRank solves an equation of more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Instead of counting direct links, PageRank interprets a link from Page A to Page B as a vote for Page B by Page A. PageRank then assesses a page's importance by the number of votes it receives and by the PR of the page, which casts a vote.

There are two types of incoming links that can effectively contribute to increasing your Link Popularity:
1. Links from other sites that focus on the exact keyword phrases you do. In other words, if a site that can be found in search engines by using a search phrase like "corporate cd-rom presentations" links to your site, and your site specializes in designing interactive media, like CDs or DVDs, then that link will help your Link Popularity. But if your site is about selling onions, then the mentioned link will be useless.

2. Links from relevant categories in major directories, industry-specific directories, and portals. The most crucial central directory is DMOZ (which feeds data to many others) and is the toughest to get in. Submission is free, and there are people reviewing your site. The waiting times are in the month's order, so my advice is to submit and forget. The industry-specific directories are significant. For example, make interactive media, and list your site in a directoguideted to graphic design or media under the appropriate category. Search engines like Google will pick that up as an incoming link and increase your Link Popularity. Listing your site in such a directory is very useful to your potential visitors, and this is what Google is trying to emulate with its software. Remember, with Google and many others, no humans are reviewing your pages, but oftware acts under very specific and strict rules (algorithms).

Both links I described above can be unilateral or reciprocal ("you link to me, and I link to you").

Reciprocal links are the subject of controversy and misconception today. Many people think that exchanging links with sites is the easiest way to get them; new people learning about link popularity are under the mistaken belief that they must have links that are reciprocated on their site. Still, many others are saying that reciprocal links are dead and that not only you won't gain any benefit from them, but your PR (Page Rank) will decrease (your page will "leak PR," as it is said in the SEO circles).
Both camps are not entirely correct. You certainly don't need to get reciprocal links, but you can if you want to. Remember, it is links pointing to your site that are the helpful ones. Links pointing from your site to other sites are fantastic to have because they help your visitors find related stuff, but if your site doesn't lend itself to linking to other sites, then, by all means, don't do it. It would help if you did what's suitable for your company or hobby and your site visitors, first and foremost.

Links from sites that have nothing to do with yours will not help you gain Link Popularity but might produce a temporary boost in PR (PageRank).

If the PR (PageRank) boost is only temporary, why bother?

You should try to boost your PR (PageRank), even if temporary because when Google sends Googlebot, its indexing robot, to spider your website, the bot is instructed not to crawl your site too deep unless it has a reasonable amount of PR (PageRank). But to increase your overall PR (PageRank) and in order to have all your keywords from all your pages available for searches, you need Google to look at all of your pages because the number of pages and the internal links affect PR (PageRank). But Google will not see your internal links and your keywords if only a few pages are indexed, so you know, it's a catch 22, and the best way to win this is to start working on your incoming links early in the game as possible.

To see which pages from your website are indexed by the search engines, you can use the following search with the primary three (Google, MSN, and Yahoo!): site:www.yourdomain.com, where www.yourdomain.com is the full address of your site. There is no space between site: and the address. Otherwise, you are searching for the words site: and www.yourdomain.com.

To get a glimpse of your site's Link Popularity, use the following search with Google and MSN: link:www.yourdomain.com. Again, there is no space between the link: and the address. There is a common misconception regarding this. People think the correct format is with the spaceareait might produce many more results. It is incorrect, as the design with the space merely looks for www.yourdomain.com and the word link: but will not show you who links to you. For Yahoo!, you'll have to use the full URL, including HTTP://.

Please note that Google might not display all the links to your site stored in its database. Don't panic. It has been reported that this is a reminiscence from Google's paranoia days when the search engine's execs did not want competitors to figure out how they track Link Popularity.

As a word of caution, please do not waste your money submitting your sites to "hundreds of FFA sites." Free-For-All sites are not considered quality links today. This approach might have worked years ago, but search engines constantly try to stop any activity they consider spamming, designed to inflate numbers artificially. This is a great thing, as it keeps the internet fair and happy.

Two more words of caution:

1. If you read SEO (Search Engine Optimization) related articles, please make sure you read as recent as possible, as things change.

2. Major search engines, especially Google, keep their algorithms (rules) deep secret. Therefore, you'll probably wonder why you read so many different opinions, sometimes conflicting. The answer is simple little is known to the public about the deep inner workings of a search engine.

In general, there's no need for the average site to obsess over link popularity. Contrary to popular belief, link popularity constitutes only a portion of most search engines' ranking algorithms. Arguably, Google places more emphasis on incoming links than most other engines at this point. How much these boost a site's ranking is debatable and depends on the site. It also depends on the words in the anchor text (the clickable portion of a text link). From my experience, just a few highly relevant links with strong anchor text can go a long way toward link popularity for many sites.