Understanding Link Popularity

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You hear a lot about link popularity and, according to who you're listening to, it's either the end-all-do-all of search engine optimization, or it's important but not the end of the world. Just in case you're somewhere in between know it all and know it not, here's a snapshot of what link popularity is all about.
In its simplest terms "Link Popularity" means just that: "How popular is your web site as a measurement of how many other web sites link to it."
Wow! Isn't that easy? If that were all there was to the link popularity game then the next line of this article would read: "The End".
Because link popularity (LP) is rapidly becoming the standard of measurement for the major search engines (read: Google) you'll be a lot better off if you spend some time learning more about the greasy inner workings of the concept, so let's get started.
As with all things Google there is a hidden underbelly of complexity to their linking and ranking algorithms and their link popularity scheme is no exception.
Google, and other some other search engines, are no longer satisfied to simply examine your meta tags, count keywords, and use some machine logic to judge the relevancy of your site. Now they also want a second opinion and they look to other web sites to provide that opinion.
Being popular isn't just a numbers game. Like your Mom used to say "you are judged by the friends that you keep". That means that if you sell automobile repair manuals, and the Internet Gods are kind enough to persuade kellybluebook.com to link to you, then you will be judged to be eminently more popular than if some little backwater site 16 miles south of Ocala, Florida gives you a wink and a link. Being the social climbers that they are, Google also looks at the popularity of the site that is linking to you when it's doing its voodoo dance.
Now if that isn't enough, the search engines also look at the context of the link to see if it is of noble enough ancestry and breeding. If you are simply linked from a generic "my links" or "my favorites" type of web page then you are definitely on the wrong side of nobility and the link falls from favor. However, if your link is contained within copy that is relevant to your key words, and is part of a larger chunk of content, then you may end up being judged worthy.
For example, if your keyword phrase is "automobile repair manuals", you'll hit an out of the park home run if kellybluebook.com has some content on their site that goes something like this:
"One of the best tools that any buyer of vintage and antique automobiles can have is an <a href="www.YourSite.com">automobile repair manual</a> which is targeted to the vehicle's year, make and model".
Now that's the kind of link that means something!
Here are some examples of links that don't mean a thing:
Any of the "post your web site to 10,000 search engines and directories" scams that you see every day as well as any site that acts as a "list of links" including "top sites" and Free-For-All (FFA) sites. Quality link popularity can only come from quality links.
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