Mapping and Tracking Dynamic Link Strategies
— by Leslie Rohde
Oftentimes the key to conceptually understanding a strategy lies in the analysis of a real-live case study. This month we have an opportunity to present a clarification of proper linking structure based on an exchange of questions and answers between professional search engine optimizers (SEO).
Background: William, a long time subscriber to SE-News, is a paid SEO advisor to a franchising company. With the sale of each business license, William builds a web site for the new franchisee. It bears the licensee's company name and contact information as well as provides general product and service information which is largely repeated from the franchiser's site.
Each new franchisee site links to the franchiser's home page and each has its own distinct domain name – following generally the name of the licensee's company – but each of the franchisee domains is hosted on the same server with the franchiser.
Following are several very good questions that should be of concern to most webmasters in charge of mapping out and tracking SEO linking strategies.
Why do the links from the franchisee pages not show up in Google nor in my OptiLink analysis?
This is a common problem. Google filters results so that linking pages with less than PageRank=4 (PR=4) are not shown. These "missing" links are indeed in the Google index and do contribute to link reputation and PageRank—they are just not returned in the link: query.
Currently, it does not appear that links from low PageRank pages count any less in Link Reputation than do links from higher PageRank pages. Of course, Google could certainly change this at any time but currently our research and experimentation indicates that, so far, all links are treated as equal. Since the linking from franchisee to franchiser is something you control, you should make these links the best they can be.
OptiLink relies on the link: query just as you would use in a standard browser. That is the reason you are not seeing the franchisee pages in your OptiLink analyses. However, you can still analyze pages missing from the Google results by including these pages in the additional pages to include list in OptiLink. You can also use the other search engine interfaces to discover linking pages – and then crosscheck to confirm that these pages are, indeed, indexed by Google.
The franchisee pages are hosted on the same server with the franchiser. Is this a problem?
Currently, the IP addresses of the pages that link to each other do not appear to be considered in Google's algorithms. This means that internal linking and same Class-C linking count just as much as links from other servers. This could change. Be aware that domains listed on the same Class-C block could easily be identified as "related sites" and de-emphasized in importance accordingly. However, it appears that such is not the case at the moment.
In particular, your current arrangement does make perfect sense, because of the strong business connection between the franchiser and franchisee. This is very much analogous to the use of sub-domains to isolate divisions, subsidiaries, or practice areas within large companies. This is a completely legitimate use of separate domains hosted at the same server. Whatever Google might implement in the future to de-emphasize same Class-C linking, they will have to consider the impact this would have on large organizations that use extensive internal linking.
For example, consider for a moment what would happen should Google disregard internal links entirely. Then, every single large web site – Microsoft, NASA, Nokia, etc. – will suddenly cease to rank where they should! Worse still, it becomes a childs play to Google Bomb a large site with just a few malicious links. I'm sure the engineers at Google understand this and will make sure that whatever adjustments are made to the analysis of internal linking, large organizations and tightly integrated associations will continue to score based on the large number of internal links they naturally employ.
That said, the concerns over same Class-C linking definitely are warranted when the co-hosted domains are part of a "mini-net" that is not intended to appear as a single legal entity. The mini-net approach, best described in Revenge of the Mini-net, is a very powerful technique for capturing top positioning, but there are also pitfalls to be avoided if the method is to be successful long-term.
Will the links from the franchisee pages boost the PageRank of the franchiser page?
It is true that content is king, but the handmaiden of content is linking structure. You can think of content as bullets, and linking structure as aim. With enough bullets, we don't need much in the way of aim. But by taking careful aim, we make every bullet all the more valuable.
Links accomplish three things. First, link text is visible text on the page where it appears. This text is counted in Google's on-page analysis as more important to the topic of the page than is plain body text. A page that contains outbound links on a given topic appears then to be about that topic.
Secondly, link text is associated with the page that is the target of the link. This is one of two great innovations that Google popularized (the other discussed next). No particular term was given to this innovation, so in the development of OptiLink, which is all about linking, we coined the term Link Reputation to differentiate the analysis of link text from the mere counting of links (called Link Popularity).
The third key effect links have on ranking is the distribution of PageRank. PageRank is the second, but actually more famous, innovation in ranking developed by Google's founders. Optimization of PageRank is the single most complex aspect of ranking at Google and is generally very poorly understood. The PageRank algorithm itself seems simple enough, after all, it is just a single equation, but it is applied recursively across the entire web! The results are often unexpected, but there are some simple "rules of thumb" that are very useful.
PageRank is a "zero sum game." The total number of pages you have to work with sets your maximum PageRank. This gives us the first rule of thumb: He with the most pages, wins. The more pages you have, the more PageRank you have to work with. So which is better, one long page or two shorter pages? So long as they are not too short, two pages are better than one (and no, we don't really know how short too short is).
But PageRank is also about linking structure. The way you link your pages together, and to other sites, controls how you use the total PageRank you have. Unfortunately, the normal linking structures we typically like to use to provide good user accessibility to all the pages within our sites does not generally distribute PageRank to our best advantage.
To get an even clearer understanding, see the previous SE News article, Precision Guided Linking... where the notion of using dynamic links was introduced as a means to guide and control the way PageRank is distributed in a site, while simultaneously providing a separate "user friendly" linking structure. These techniques are expanded on further in the new update to Revenge of the Mini-net, where 39 pages are devoted to example linking diagrams and code samples.
The franchisee and franchiser sites considered here employ standard (static) links in the usual pattern, which creates pages of equal and uniformly low PageRank. By limiting the spider-visible link structure, the total available PageRank could be shifted to emphasize the small number of critical pages. Alongside the spider-visible structure, we would provide a separate human-only structure using dynamic links. The combination of these two linking structures provides human-friendly navigation of our sites while also creating an optimal concentration of PageRank where we need it most.
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