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6.5 Link Popularity

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand why links are important to search engine optimization (SEO).
  2. Understand how a Web site can get more links.

Links are a vital part of how the Internet works. The purpose of a link is to allow a user to go from one Web page to another. Search engines, doing their best to mimic the behavior of humans, also follow links.

Besides allowing search engine spiders to find Web sites, links are also a way of validating relevance and indicating importance. When one page links to another, it is as if that page is voting or vouching for the destination page. Generally, the more votes a Web site receives, the more trusted it becomes, the more important it is deemed, and the better it will rank on search engines.

Links help send signals of trust. Signals of trust can only come from a third-party source. Few people will trust someone who says, “Don’t worry, you can trust me” unless someone else, who is already trusted says, “Don’t worry, I know him well. You can trust him.” It is the same with links and search engines. Trusted sites can transfer trust to unknown sites via links.

Links help validate relevance. Text links, by their very nature, contain text (thank you, Captain Obvious). The text that makes up the link can help validate relevance. A link like “Cape Town hotel” sends the message that says, “You can trust that the destination site is relevant to the term ‘Cape Town hotel.’” If the destination Web page has already used content to send a signal of relevance, the link simply validates that signal.

What Does a Link Look Like?

Here is the hypertext markup language (HTML) code for a link:

<a href=“”>Anchor Text</a>

“” is the page that the link leads to. “Anchor Text” is the text that forms the link.

The link sends a signal that the target URL (uniform resource locator) is important for the subject of the anchor text.


Why might a site want to tell the search engine not to follow a link?

There is a lot more information that can be included in this anatomy, such as instructions telling the search engine not to follow the link or instructions to the browser as to whether the link should open in a new window or not.

<a href= rel=“nofollowCan be included in links when you don’t want to vouch for the target URL (uniform resource locator). Originally introduced by Google to try to combat and comment spam.”>Anchor Text</a>

The instruction rel=“nofollow” can be included in links when you don’t want to vouch for the target URL. Search engines do not count nofollow links for ranking purposes. It was initially introduced by Google to try to combat comment spam.

Not All Links Are Created Equal

Of course, not all links are equal. Some sites are more trusted than others. So if they are more trusted, then links from those sites are worth more. Likewise, some sites are more relevant than others to specific terms. The more relevant a site, the more value is transferred by the link. Well-known and established news sites, government sites (.gov), and university domains (.edu) are examples of sites from which links can carry more weight.

Search algorithms also consider relationships between linked sites. By analyzing various things, the engines try to determine if the links are natural links or if they are manipulative, artificial links created solely for ranking purposes. Manipulated links are worth very little compared to natural links and may lead to a drop in search engine rankings.

The search engine algorithm will also determine the relevancy of the referring Web site to the site being linked to. The more relevant the sites are to each other, the better.


Why would government and university Web sites be considered to have more authority? What sort of Web sites would they be more likely to link to?

How Does a Web Site Get More Links?

With links playing such a vital role in search engine rankings and traffic for a Web site, everyone wants more of them. The more relevant the referring Web site is to your Web site, the better the link. There are certainly dubious means to generating links, most of which can actually result in being penalized by the search engines. However, here are some ways that ethical and honest Web site owners and marketers (and that’s what you are) go about increasing the number of links to their Web sites.

Writing Excellent, Valuable Content That Others Want to Read

If people find your site useful, they are more likely to link to it. It is not necessary, nor possible, to try to write content that will appeal to the whole Internet population. Focus on being the best in the industry you are in and in providing value to the members of that community. Make sure that valuable content is themed around your key phrases.

Create Tools and Documents That Others Want to Use

Interview experts in your field, and host those interviews on your Web site. Think outside the box for quirky, relevant items that people will link to. Calculators are popular tools, and we don’t just mean the ones that add two and two together. If you have a Web site selling diet books, for example, create a tool that helps users calculate their body mass index (BMI) and target weight.


Creating a game that people want to play is a great way to generate links. Make sure that the theme of the game is based on the key phrases for your Web site, so that when others talk about and link to the game, they are using your key phrases!

Software and Widgets

Widgets, browser extensions, and other useful software that users love to use all help generate links for a Web site. Quirk has released a Firefox extension called SearchStatus that is exceptionally useful to the SEO community and is downloaded thousands of time each month. Each time someone mentions this SEO tool, they link to Quirk.

Web Public Relations (WebPR)

In Chapter 12 "Web Public Relations", you’ll learn how taking public relations (PR) online can provide valuable links to your content. This involves writing content relevant to your industry and then distributing that content.

Competitor Analysis

Find out who is linking to your competitors and which noncompeting sites are ranking highly for your key phrases. Use this information to identify sites to target for link requests.

Using Yahoo! Site Explorer, you can explore your sites—and your competitors’. Find it at

With all link-building tactics, make sure that you use your key phrases when communicating. You will be telling people how to link to you and ensuring that search engines notice your authority.

Key Takeaways

  • Links are vital to how the Internet works.
  • The purpose of a link is to allow a user to go from one Web page to another.
  • Links are also a way of validating relevance and indicating importance. The more important a site is deemed, the better it will rank on search engines.
  • “Nofollow” was initially introduced by Google to try to combat comment spam.
  • Not all links are created equal because some sites are more trusted than others and therefore are “worth” more.
  • Manipulative links are worth very little compared to natural links and may lead to a drop in search engine rankings.
  • There are many ways to get more links to your site:

    • Valuable content
    • Tools and documents
    • Games
    • Software and widgets
    • Web public relations (WebPR)
  • A competitor analysis is valuable for determining what site to target for link requests.


  1. Why do links send signals of trust to search engines?
  2. How can analyzing the links to a competitor’s Web site help aid your own link-building strategy?
  3. Think of an example of a game that a brand may include on its Web site that would encourage users to visit and possibly link to it. What about software?