Link Popularity: How to Check it and How to Improve it!
Many Web marketing veterans have long realized the value of
improving link popularity. For those of you new to this term,
link popularity is how many external links on the Web point
to your own Web site. Therefore, if you have 205 Web pages
on other Web site domains pointing to your domain, then your
link popularity is 205. Your link popularity will vary on
each search engine because each engine has a different set
of pages in its index.
You can easily check your current link popularity for free
at our new service on the MarketPosition Web site:
This service will quickly compare your link popularity across
four major search engines. It will also compare your site
to up to three other Web sites that you designate. This is
a handy feature to see how you stack up against your competition.
It's also great to find out who is linking to you. You may
be surprised at what you find!
The link service displays colored graphs so that you can visually
compare your popularity scores for different search engines
or different Web sites. In addition, you can have your link
popularity report e-mailed to you weekly, twice a month, or
monthly if you wish. I've reviewed other link checking services
on the Web, and this one is by far the best one I've seen.
Be sure to bookmark it!
So what are the advantages of increasing the number of links
to your Web site? There are three primary benefits:
1. The more sites that link to you, the more traffic you can
expect to receive to your site. People find nearly as many
Web sites by following links from one Web site to another
as they do by using the search engines. Some well-placed
links to your Web site can be great long-term traffic generators.
2. More and more major search engines will rank your pages
higher when you have many links to your Web site (i.e., your
link popularity). Higher search rankings, of course, translate
into greater traffic.
3. The more links to your site, the more ways search engine
spiders have for finding you each week. Therefore, you tend
to stay indexed longer and are less frequently dropped from
Link Popularity Tips:
1. The more links you have to your site, the better.
2. Some engines favor links from popular sites. Therefore,
a few links from Web sites with a high link popularity score
may be given greater importance than a larger number of links
from less popular sites.
3. Some engines boost rankings for a keyword when they find
links to a site that include the targeted keywords in the
This question is commonly asked: Is the link popularity based
on the number of links to a domain or to a particular page?
All the evidence I've seen indicates that it's generally based
on the links to a domain rather than to each page. However,
the search engines appear to make exceptions to this rule
for domains that host many virtual Web sites in subdirectories.
For example, the domain www.geocities.com has extremely high
link popularity. However, that doesn't mean that having a
Web site at www.geocities.com/mycoolwebsite/ will benefit
from this high link popularity. If so, you'd see a great
deal more geocities, tripod, compuserve, aol, and other pages
at the top of the search results. In fact, we know that on
some engines with all other things being equal that many free
Web sites or Web sites that share a domain name are ranked
lower than sites with their own domain name.
Based on this, I believe the search engines either maintain
a list of domains where they choose to ignore link popularity
as a factor, and/or they ignore link popularity scores for
any submitted URL that includes a sub-directory. Therefore,
to fully benefit from link popularity, I recommend you get
your own domain name! The cost at $30/yr. at registration
This is minimal given the numerous benefits you gain. You
might also avoid hosting your important doorway pages in subdirectories
whenever possible. That way you avoid giving the search engine
the impression that you are sharing a domain with a thousand
other Web sites.
With that said, the question still remains: How do you improve
your link popularity? There are many strategies. I'll discuss
each of the major methods so you can choose what's right for
This is by far the oldest and best-known method of improving
link popularity. Basically you e-mail or contact the Webmaster
of a site that is complementary but generally not competitive
to your own. You ask them to link to your site while outlining
the benefits of doing so. You would generally offer to link
back to them in exchange for this courtesy.
The disadvantage to the link trade method is that it's time
consuming. You'll also find that far more people will ignore
or reject your request versus those that accept it AND follow
through by adding the link to you. Many of these people get
e-mails every week from people asking to trade links. These
Webmasters are also going to be very hesitant about linking
to another Web site and potentially sending their own hard-earned
traffic away to somebody else. Most people will refuse to
link to you unless they're convinced that they'll receive
more traffic from you than they'll send away, or that there's
some other advantage to them.
Therefore, the problem is that straight link trades are rarely
an equal exchange and thereby difficult to accomplish. If
you do request a link trade:
a) Be sure you have developed genuine content on your Web site
of interest to the trading partner.
b) Explain the advantages to them and to their visitors by
providing a link to your content.
c) If you plan to link back to them, consider telling them
where the link will be or set the link up in advance with
the stipulation that you'll be glad to leave it there if they'll
add a link to you in kind.
d) Take the time to look over their site and then suggest where
a link to you might be appropriate.
e) Most importantly, personalize your e-mails! You must distinguish
yourself from all the spam they receive daily. If the link
is particularly important to you, call them personally or
write them a letter or send a fax to show them you're serious.
Anytime you do achieve a link to your site, consider submitting
the domain or the page the link resides on to ensure that
the search engine sees it and updates your popularity score.
If the page with your link is never indexed, then your link
popularity score will never improve.
Free For All Links (also called "FFA")
Many FFA (Free for All) programs and services preach the flood
of new traffic you'll receive to your site by bulk submitting
to thousands of FFA sites. For those of you who have not
stumbled onto one of these pages, FFA's are simply pages that
link back to the last 50, 100, or some number of Web sites
that submitted to their FFA page. You might think of them
as pages that consist of links to recently submitted sites.
The problem with these services is that most have so many incoming
submissions from thousands of bulk submission products that
your link may be bumped off in a matter of days or even hours.
Therefore, you must re-submit constantly to have a prayer
of staying on these lists.
After looking over a number of FFA services, I decided to test
Link-o-matic, one of the better-known services that I've seen
on the Web for several years. In our test, I had Adam Norton
from our staff submit once a week according to Link-o-matic's
recommendations. He's done this once a week since February
Despite claims of FFA sites generating new traffic, we saw
NO increase in traffic to our two test domains. The test
domains were each receiving 1 or 2 random visits a day prior
to the FFA submissions. They still receive just a couple
of visits a day. Therefore, I believe the popular wisdom
about FFA programs not being useful in generating new traffic
is true, unfortunately. This is largely because few people
use FFA pages to actually locate and surf to other Web sites.
For increasing link popularity, Link-o-matic fared better.
After about a month and about four submissions, we saw our
link popularity increase from almost zero to 26 links on AltaVista
and 39 links on HotBot. On a second domain we tested, the
links were only 9 and 13 respectively. Over the course of
the next couple of months, the number of links fluctuated
from as few as three links to as many as 121 for one of the
Web sites on AltaVista over the last two weeks of the test.
They've averaged about 10 to 25 links on each domain and engine.
You might wonder why Webmasters set up these FFA pages in the
first place? Generally it's a method to gain e-mail addresses
to send advertisements to. To submit to them, nearly all
require that you give them your e-mail address. I *highly*
recommend that you use a fake or expendable e-mail address
or you'll get 300-500 spam messages within 48 hours of submitting
to a large list of FFA's!
So do I recommend Link-o-matic (www.link-o-matic.com) for improving
your link popularity? Not really. You can achieve similar
numbers of links using any of several FREE reciprocal link
services that I'll discuss later in this article. If you
have exhausted those options and still need more links, then
Link-o-matic can help.
In my quest to find other ways to increase links, I wondered
whether bulk submitters like SubmitWolf would help. Although
I've long known that these products rarely bring significant
new traffic, a test to see if they'd improve link popularity
was worth a try. I also considered striking a referral or
link agreement of some kind with them if their product proved
valuable to our customers.
Back on February 1st, I submitted two different test domains
to SubmitWolf's eighteen hundred or so supported sites. Of
them, about eleven hundred actually succeeded. I monitored
our traffic logs and link popularity for about a month without
seeing a single additional link to our two test sites. The
couple of hits a day we were receiving to the domain stayed
the same. Hoping that this might simply be a fluke, I re-submitted
both domains again about six weeks after my initial submission.
However, periodic checks of link popularity and traffic over
the past months have still shown no increase. The only thing
that increased was the amount of spam mail to the e-mail account
I used when I submitted. (372 e-mails within a week!)
In conclusion, this experiment re-affirmed my belief that bulk
submitters will not normally increase your traffic unless
you're carefully optimizing your pages. Instead, you're better
served by focusing on improving your rankings on the major
engines. Submitting alone does you no good if people can't
I was disappointed to see that even the many FFA sites that
SubmitWolf supported did not maintain the submitted links
long enough for the search engines to spider the page. Keep
in mind that links to you do not count toward your popularity
score if the page with your link is not indexed by the search
engine. It's also not counted if your link drops off the
page before the search engine spiders it.
Reciprocal Link Services
I've seen at least four reciprocal link services on the Web
designed specifically for increasing your link popularity.
There are probably more if you looked around. The nice thing
about most of these services is that you can join them for
free . The effectiveness of each service will vary depending
on several factors. One drawback is that you've got to upload
a new links page to your Web site generally once or twice
a month to maintain your membership. However, this takes
only five or ten minutes each time.
The way these services work is fairly simple. Every member
agrees to maintain a page on their site that links to every
other member of the link network. If you don't update the
links page with the new members periodically, then your Web
site is dropped from the list in the next update. With some
services, you may simply link to a portion of the membership
or to a certain category of members.
Another disadvantage of these services is that you're normally
required to display a visible link or logo on your home page
or other page that goes to your list of links. Therefore,
you risk visitors clicking onto this page of links and potentially
clicking away to some other site. You can minimize this risk
by burying the link in a difficult to find location, or using
a hidden link if the service allows it. For more information
on hidden links see:
When shopping around for a good reciprocal link service, look
for the following features:
a) The service requires each member to post links to other
member sites. If they fail to do so, their site should be
removed from the next update to the links page.
b) They have at least a couple hundred members in their network.
The more members they have, the greater the number of links
you could get to your Web site. However, if they have 1000
members, don't count on actually seeing your link popularity
score increase by the same number since the search engines
are inconsistent about how many pages they'll index.
c) The service requires that each member submit his or her
links page to the major search engines. Ideally the service
will do this automatically rather than relying on the members
to do it.
d) The service requires a link to the member links page from
their home page. That way search engine spiders can more
easily find the page so these link pages stay indexed over
the long term. This is the major advantage over FFA links
where the links only stay up until you get bumped off the
list by other incoming submissions.
e) Ideally each list of links page will have a different page
name and title on each host Web site to avoid the pages being
dropped as "duplicate content" or spam. Randomizing or re-ordering
the links for each site is also preferred. Unfortunately,
this is where some of the services I saw fall down. Every
page is often exactly the same which risks it being ignored
or in the case of AltaVista, banned.
TIP #1: If the service allows you to enter a title for your
Web site, be sure to include your best keywords in the title
rather than just your Web site name. Many search engines
will boost your rankings when it finds sites linking to you
that include your keywords in the linking text.
TIP #2: Because of AltaVista's recent policies of banning
Web sites that have content that is duplicated on another
domain, you should consider changing the links page before
posting it to your own Web site. For example, you might change
the title, the text at the top of the page, and the over-all
file size. To quickly change the file size, you can add a
bunch of spaces in the HTML itself between the BODY and HTML
end tag. E-mail the reciprocal link service first though
and make sure you're allowed to change these things without
messing up their own verification spider.
TIP #3: You can get a realistic idea of how well any reciprocal
link service works by doing a link popularity check on member
sites and then drilling down to see how many of those links
appear to be generated by the service. If you can't find
any links related to the service, or very few, then their
system probably does not work very well.
The only service I had time to fully test was LinkMe.com.
After about six weeks we've received about a dozen extra links
on AltaVista and a few less on the other engines. Not terribly
impressive, but since it didn't cost anything, it was not
a bad deal. I suspect the number of links will increase over
I then checked the link popularity scores of LinksToYou.com
members and found that many of their members had literally
hundreds of links from other LinksToYou members! (Be sure
to click the "Details" link when you check their link popularity
at www.marketposition.com to see how many are related to the
link service and how many are from other types of links).
In general, the longer the member had been in the network,
the more links they appeared to have.. However, even some
of the newer members (generally those farther down the list)
had a lot of links. In any case, expect your mileage to vary
with any of these services:
Note: There's various banner exchange networks out there that
have a network of linked sites. However, I have my doubts
that they would improve your link popularity scores since
they don't link to your site directly. They generally link
to their own Web site and then redirect to the intended destination
in order to record the click through or impression. These
links often contain CGI parameters which many search engines
refuse to follow at all. Therefore, don't expect your link
popularity score to improve with those types of link exchange
License your Content in Exchange for a Link
A very effective strategy to gain quality links as well as
traffic is to license content from your site for free in exchange
for a link back to you. For example, we encourage anyone
to post individual articles or the entire MarketPosition newsletter
on their own Web sites so long as they properly credit us
for the material and link back to www.webposition.com or www.marketposition.com.
If you think your own visitors would be interested in this
newsletter, showcase it on your Web site! However, the content
is copyrighted, so we require that you include the following
citation above or below the article or newsletter:
The following article is Copyright 2000 by FirstPlace Software,
Inc. FirstPlace Software produces WebPosition Gold, the first
software product to monitor & to help you improve your search
engine rankings. You may download a FREE trial copy of WebPosition
For a subscription to their FREE MarketPosition Newsletter
send a blank e-mail to: email@example.com
You may post different wording if you have it approved first.
The point is you get to add free, valuable content to your
Web site, and we get some free advertising and another link
back to our Web site. Therefore, if you have content of your
own that you can license in exchange for links, I'd encourage
you to do so! In fact, clearly advertise the opportunity
on your Web site to increase your response.
TIP FOR CATCHING BAD GUYS: Unfortunately, some people may
steal content without your permission and without crediting
the author (you). If you post a copyright notice on your
page then you are legally protected in most countries and
can sue people who violate your copyright.
However, to enforce compliance and catch the "bad guys" who
steal your work, you can schedule a mission in the WebPosition
Reporter to run weekly or monthly. Setup searches for unique
phrases from your various materials. Surround the phrases
in quotation marks to perform an exact search across all the
major search engines. WebPosition will then list out all
sites that are currently hosting your content on the Detail
Report. Scan through these listings for sites that do not
have your permission or do not include the required author
credits and the link to your site. If you catch anyone in
violation of your copyright, contact them in writing and warn
them of the problem. If they refuse to correct the situation,
contact your lawyer.
Start Your Own Referral or Affiliate Program
Well, I saved the best for last. What is THE #1 way to improve
your link popularity? Start your own referral or affiliate
network. You've probably seen them on other Web sites: "Earn
cash simply by linking to us." The concept is that you give
them a link with their unique affiliate ID in it. The affiliate
software tracks the referrals and then pays them for any referred
sales (or visitors if that's how you want to do it).
Do a link popularity check for www.webposition.com. You'll
find that we have as many as 26,000 links to our site just
on Lycos. Where do most of those links come from? Our referral
program! Instead of begging people to link to you, pay them!
They'll be much more responsive. The best part is you pay
them only when they produce results. Some sites pay for each
visitor, others, like us, pay a percentage of the sales.
With regular advertising like banner ads, you take a gamble
on whether you'll generate enough sales to pay for the cost
of the ads. This is not so with affiliates. You pay a percentage
(that you define) of the referred sales, so your costs are
fixed. You eliminate the inherent risks of traditional advertising.
How well does it work? Nearly half our sales are now generated
by affiliates and resellers! We also get comments from people
that say they bought our product after seeing our name everywhere
they went. In marketing, this is called "branding" and can
be a very effective marketing tool.
The big difference between a referral program and a reciprocal
link or FFA service is that referral links not only increase
your link popularity, but more importantly they send real
traffic to your Web site. The site linking to you has a financial
incentive to put that link in a highly visible area rather
than burying it deep in the site.
We started our referral program back in June 1997. The system
is now self-sustaining. We get so much traffic from our referral
links that we end up signing up hundreds of new referral partners
(affiliates) each month. These referral partners then send
more traffic, which signs up more referral partners, and then
things snowball from there!
The only stumbling block with referral programs is you must
sign up members to make it work. To sign up new members,
you have to have an existing traffic flow to your Web site.
Therefore, setup your referral program and display it prominently
throughout your site as early in your marketing plan as you
can. Then plan on doing some advertising, optimizing your
search engine rankings, etc. to build traffic. If you can
continue building your membership until you reach what I call
a "critical mass," then you'll really start seeing your traffic
and your sales begin to soar.
We get a number of inquiries each month asking what referral
software we use. In our case, we custom developed it before
there were any good commercial systems available. Since it
takes care of a lot of specialized features for our affiliates,
we've stuck with it.
However, developing your own turnkey system can cost you thousands
of dollars. Therefore, try one of the commercial packages
available now. One such system I'm familiar with is AssocTrac
from the Internet Marketing Center. The nice thing is that
they've got around 50 pages of information about associate
programs, how to make them successful, features to look for,
Although I've not setup their tracking software on our own
site, we've been an affiliate for them for quite awhile.
I've used their online reporting system, seen it send us computer
generated checks, etc. all without a hitch. The system appears
to have plenty of options for customizing it. Their techies
will also install the software on your server (or that of
your hosting service) and make sure everything is setup as
Another advantage of AssocTrac is that you can use referral
links to track all your advertising methods. If you've ever
wished you knew how many sales dollars were generated from
a banner advertising campaign, a magazine ad, or from other
sources, then this software can track them for you. We have
used a similar system for years to drop advertising that just
does not pay for itself and to keep the advertising that does
work. This has literally saved us thousands of dollars.
You'd be surprised at how many advertising campaigns were
generating great click-through percentages and large numbers
of visitors, but were not converting to sales! The key to
successful marketing is to know exactly what is making you
money and what is not.
In conclusion, if there's one piece of technology that has
been the key to our marketing success, it is the referral
program. Back in 1997 I read about how Amazon.com had been
so successful with their affiliate network that I decided
that would be one of our primary marketing strategies when
we introduced WebPosition. I'm happy to say it was one of
the best decisions I've ever made.
For more details on referral/affiliate programs see:
If you don't like Internet Marketing Center's AssocTrac system,
then find one you do like. The key is to buy a really good
one and consider it one of the best investments you can make
for your online business. There's a reason all the big boys
like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBS, etc. along with thousands
of small guys already have affiliate programs. They work!
The best part is that they work without risk. Except for
the cost for the referral software, you pay only for the results
Caution: I have seen some affiliate systems where you pay the
vendor a percentage of the commissions you pay all your affiliates.
These plans sometimes have a lower upfront cost but you may
kick yourself later for paying a hundred fold in ongoing commissions
to the vendor over what you could have bought a similar system
outright for. Once you start your affiliate program, you're
pretty much locked into that tracking system. So watch the
fine print for whether they take a percentage of the commissions
you pay out as continuing fees.
If you've not already done so, give WebPosition Gold a serious
(c) copyright 2000 FirstPlace Software, Inc.
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