Prominence and Relevance. There are other ways to use the Internet in promotion but none currently rival the importance of working with the search engines. Search engines - particularly the current favourite: Google - use their own definitions of these two concepts to decide where information should be placed on the results page. To harness the search engines to our promotional aims, we focus on these two concepts.
A webpage with excellent information, many links and a central position in the many roads that weave through the Internet is a prominent webpage. Such pages are famous; the most recognized sites among their peer websites. Such fame is rewarded with placement towards the top of search engine results pages - with all the increased attention and traffic this bestows. Prominence is good.
The early search engines did not rank sites based on prominence - one of the reasons for their demise. Today's search engines do. This change, led by Google some three years back, resurrected the failing search engines at a time when an important Yahoo directory listing was the key to Internet promotion. Today, complex computer algorithms analyze link frequency and the prominence of the linking pages to calculate the prominence of a given webpage. This judgement of prominence then becomes an important factor in how information is ranked. In this way, prominent webpages are judged as prominent, displayed as prominent, and a lovely reinforcing circle is formed.
If we make a webpage more prominent, we improve its position on the search engine results pages.
The exact computer algorithms are not public knowledge. Besides changing with time, these algorithms also differ between search engines. Consequently, we are a little in the dark when trying to improve webpage prominence. We know the original Google algorithm since it was published as part of a university thesis. We can guess much more just in the way ranking behaves. Absolute clarity is lacking.
Google makes a measure of prominence available through a tool on their toolbar. Install the Google toolbar on your Explorer web browser then visit the site you're interested in. Its a simple number from zero to nine that tells you how prominent Google considers this page.
Prominence, as measured by the search engines is primarily about the number and quality of links. We can achieve prominence in four ways:
1_ We can ask for additional links, particularly from other prominent sites,
Let us look at each in turn.
2_ We can buy added prominence, paying for links from very prominent sites,
3_ We can design in ways that do not waste prominence, and
4_ We can assist visitors to link to us.
1_ ASK FOR ADDITIONAL LINKS
Links are the key to building prominence. Seek out and request links and we create a more prominent webpage. Thanks to the link: field search we can readily ask search engines to share with us the places that already link to a given site. Similarly, with a small list of direct competitors or comparable sites, we can see which sites link to competing or comparable sites. This is our first list of webpages to ask for links. Sharpen a pencil, write a persuasive reason for linking, then ask politely.
Many sites will ignore our request. Many will turn us down. Again, using link companions we can always find more websites to ask. Link companions are simply sites listed beside your own on Internet directories.
Our focus is simply links and the steps work just as easily in reverse. I am asking one of the editors of the Open Directory Project to drop a link to a competitive site on the grounds of plagiarism. The request simple needs to be made. I am not certain how long they will take before they drop the link or how many times I will need to ask. They may never drop the link. But if they do, the plagiarized site will lose it main claim to prominence and it will sink back into relative obscurity. Problem solved. The request is simply worth my time.
[follow-up: request worked - see art23.htm for more.]
Links have value. Ask, convince, sell, perhaps even petition for a link and we build the prominence of your website.
The task of requesting links is very important. Do not overlook this step. Many links are available just for the asking while other links may have broken and can easily be fixed. There are limits to its value, however. If we are not careful, we will ask links from unlikely sites, we will ask links from webpages with little prominence and we will find ourselves chasing links for hours with little to show for it. Link chasing is neither glamorous nor rewarding. Taken too far, it simply wastes time. Request links from the sites most likely to provide them, then wait and repeat if helpful.
2_ BUY ADDED PROMINENCE
In July 2002, a court case in the U.S. pushed search engines out of the habit of selling improvements in search engine ranking. Before July 2002 it was routine on many search engines. Since then, you can not pay for a higher ranked position. Pay for advertising on a search engine; you buy advertising. Your website does not rank higher as a result.
That said, we can still buy prominence. Just not from the search engines. Not normally. What we can do is purchase a listing on a prominent website, wait for the search engines to notice our newly purchased prominent link, then see them judge our page as more prominent because of the link.
Yes, we can buy a link not for the traffic it will lead our way but for the prominence bestowed on listed pages.
The Yahoo directory is prominent. The Online Directory Project (ODP or Dmoz) is prominent. Looksmart is a little prominent. We can purchase a listing on the Yahoo and Looksmart directories.
A note of potential confusion here: a simple search of Yahoo is actually a search of Google as of December 2003. Currently, while Yahoo assembles its recent purchase of the Inktomi search engine database, Yahoo is simply repackaging the Google database, adding their own advertising. The Yahoo directory is something else - something you must request specifically from the Yahoo website.
The Online Directory Project (ODP) also appears as the Google directory. The ODP is actually found on about a dozen prominent sites around the world. Thus a link on the ODP slowly becomes about a dozen links.
A second note of confusion: Google finds information quite effectively and has probably already indexed your website. Indexing a webpage is not the same as ranking a webpage prominently. In the early days, part of promotion was requesting search engines to index webpages. This is usually no longer required. The search engines find new pages without help. What is required is help being judged as an important, prominent webpage.
Back to buying prominence. We can't buy prominence from Google, Altavista or AlltheWeb (Lycos/Fast). These global search engines are actually legally not permitted to sell a higher ranked position. To do so would make them a paid inclusion search engine - there are some but they are not popular.
[Note: oooh, this may have changed. Look into this further since both Yahoo and MSsearch may have slipped into becoming paid inclusion search engines...]
And this is why we buy placement in the Yahoo directory.
Realistically, the Yahoo directory is a passe tool. It was once synonymous with searching the Internet - about three or four years ago. Today it is largely overlooked. Even a search of Yahoo defaults to a search of a search engine not the directory.
Ah, but the global search engines do recognize a Yahoo listing as a statement of prominence. And now you may detect the back door by which a search engine can ask you for money.
There is a great deal of movement in how search engines rank and obliquely ask for money. Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are likely to be the big players at the end of 2004. Each is working hard to uncover that magic mix of a way to ask for money but not.
Until such purchasing becomes clear, we can but purchase an initial boost by buying placement on the Yahoo directory. This is expensive by Internet standards at US$299 per site as an annual fee. Consider this almost as an advertisement in the Yellow pages except that we are most unlikely to repeat this purchase. I simply doubt the directory will be as important next year. Besides, we are buying a listing to give us a leg-up in gaining the appearance of prominence.
The Open Directory Project (ODP) is another prominent directory. Try to secure a listing with them. But since they don't accept money, make a clear argument for the importance of a link and try, try again. Looksmart, a third directory site, is not nearly as important as Yahoo in building prominence according to the literature I am reading.
Keep in mind, the purchase of listings in Yahoo is not for the audience who read the Yahoo directory, which in any case is rather small. We buy listing in Yahoo for the prominence that the search engines assign to sites that appear in Yahoo. Crazy as this seems, this method of promotion is clearly supported and demonstrated.
In a very similar manner, as we hunt for useful sites to request links, we need not shy away from paid listings in public directories. Should a specialist directory ask for money, why not? A link from a prominent webpage has value. Check the prominence of the site, consider if useful traffic could follow, then go ahead. Any link, is a link: and adds to your statement of prominence.
3_ DESIGN TO NOT WASTE PROMINENCE
The known portion of the Google ranking algorithm suggests that prominence is shared between webpages when links are forged. This suggests it is possible to make certain pages more prominent than others by linking in a cluster pattern. There are further suspicions that jumps across several directories may diminish prominence, that unwise or unwarranted links may diminish prominence and other unusual patterns may similarly diminish prominence. Search engines also check for suggestive abuse of their ranking system and penalize such sites. Sites with a simple architecture, grouped by concepts and linked logically should fare well. Sites linked in different ways will simply need to check if comparable sites are improved or penalized for such behavior. We should also redirect any changed or hanging links. Link checker's can be important in this regard.