Link Popularity and Link Relevance
The more quality sites that link to you, the greater your link popularity. Google was the first search engine to introduce the concept of link popularity as a search indexing parameter. Their reasoning was that, if site A and B both have essentially the same content, but site A has only a half dozen links from other sites to A, and site B has 200 other sites with links to B, then B, the one with more sites linking to it (greater link popularity), should come up higher in their rankings. This logical approach (if a lot of sites link to a single site, there must be a reason) led to improved search results for Google’s users (and was a major reason Google jumped to the front of the search engine pack at the time).
A couple of quarters after introducing link popularity as a search parameter, Google introduced the concept of link relevance. Their reasoning followed that of link popularity. Now, if site A and B and C have essentially the same keywords, title tags, etc., (but site A has only a half-dozen links to it, so it is “out of the running”) and B and C both have 200 sites linking to them, the “tie-breaker” if you will, goes to the site that has more relevant links to it. For example, site B has 200 links to it, but only a few are from directly related sites (sites containing the same keywords as site B). Site C, in this example, has the same number, 200 sites, linking to C – and in this case, half of the sites linking to site C contains many of the same keywords as C. Site C comes up higher because not only is it highly popular, it is also highly “relevant”.
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