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Links Are All About Reputation - An Interview with Mike Grehan By Scottie Claiborne 

Linking is a hot topic these days -- anyone with a Website and an interest in search engine traffic knows that you have to get some good incoming links in order to be found in the search engines. However, most people are a little lost when it comes to landing them.

I caught up with SEO guru Mike Grehan at the SES conference in San Jose, where he gave an informative session on link building. I met with Mike later in the week to discuss his thoughts on links, business, and PageRank.

Scottie: What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding among webmasters/SEOs when it comes to link building?

Mike: People look at links as if they are all the same, and often they go for quantity over quality. That's not the way to do it.

Link analysis has its roots in citation analysis and social network analysis concepts. A couple of sharp scientists named Pinski and Narin found that by using these predictive methods it could be possible to determine the next winner of the Nobel prize. The guy who had the most papers citing his work was the guy most likely to get the nod.

However, even in the world of science, an early type of spam reared its ugly head. Pinski & Narin were aware that this type of analysis could be skewed or distorted by using methods of manipulation, even to the point of simply bribing someone to mention you in their paper. To combat this, they recognized that the work of some authors/researchers carried more weight than others, i.e., had more influence. Influence weight made it harder to manipulate results, as the community reputation of the author plays a large part in the calculation.

Scottie: How does this relate to link building?

Mike: Just as in the scientific community, the influence weight plays an important role on the Web. The search engines are trying to determine the most relevant results for their search queries, and to do this, they analyze the linking structure of the community.

They "know" what specific pages are about and they assume that pages that link together are somehow related. They are essentially sharing their reputation with each other. The more pages that point to a specific page, the more importance or influence that page has in their calculations.

Think about it like this: I make blue widgets. I sell them to Rolls Royce. I tell my customers, our blue widgets are the best -- we sell to Rolls Royce. At Rolls Royce, they tell their customers their cars are the best because they only use our blue widgets. Both businesses are using the reputation of the other one to enhance their selling proposition.

That's what links can do. A sound linking proposition enhances the reputations of both businesses.

Scottie: How does a business go about obtaining these quality links?

Mike: It's only hard to get links if you don't know why you need them.

Writing to a Webmaster with a form mail that says "I've added your link, will you add mine" is crap. If someone wanted to partner with your business and sent you a template e-mail, would you take them seriously?

You've got to give that other business a reason to link to you. It's a business proposition, not a link exchange. Both sides must benefit from the partnership. If you don't know what your site has to offer another site or why your link is valuable, it's time for early retirement!

The best way to earn those links is through quality content. When a site links to you, they are staking their reputation on you. That's something to think about when you consider linking to a free-for-all site or a link farm.

Scottie: What do you think about buying links?

Mike: If you can buy a quality link that relates to your site, buy it! It's a business proposition like everything else. That's certainly one way to do it and a relatively easy one, if you have the opportunity.

Scottie: Are themes, or links only from related sites, important?

Mike: It's not about themes; it's about communities and reputation. Linking creates virtual communities.

Links from the business community you exist in are going to have more influence than unrelated links. I say this because the search engines are going to make some simple assumptions -- a link from page A to page B is a recommendation by the author of page A. If page A and page B are linked, they might be somehow related.

A network of links in from pages in the community that are truly related is going to build a stronger reputation for that page than a bunch of unrelated links.

Scottie: Some people try to increase their link popularity by setting up multiple domains to link to their main site. Does this help?

Mike: Absolutely not. Those mini-networks are like spam islands if they don't have quality links pointing into the satellites as well as the mother ship. They are easily detected.

Scottie: What do you think about selecting sites as link partners based on their Google PageRank?

Mike: I've done a lot of research on this. I know exactly what PR7 means: It means you have one more than six but one less than eight. That's all it means. Stop obsessing about PR; get on with business!

Scottie Claiborne, owner of Right Click Web Consulting, is a web specialist involved with helping web sites to succeed through fine-tuning the site goals, the audience, and the marketing message as well as gaining traffic through search engine optimization. Scottie is the administrator of Jill Whalen's High Rankings SEO Forum as well as a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and frequent contributor to the High Rankings Newsletter. She specializes in usability, marketing, and SEO and offers training workshops as well as individual consultation.

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