A while back I did a post on what I considered to be the very basics of local small business website marketing. Since it seems the basics were appreciated, I decided to do a post on another basic I’m questioned about a lot… why a site needs links to rank (oh, I’m dead serious).

This post isn’t aimed at professional webmasters or search marketers. This is aimed at the person new to search engine optimization that needs a basic understanding of why they need to develop links, though professionals may find it useful for the new link developer or search marketing trainee.

It’s derived from a presentation I did to small business owners last year and I thought others may find it useful. I’m a strong believer that link developers need to know why they are developing links to be successful. And special thanks to the title tag whore for coming up with the monkey reference in the title.

With that in mind…

Long ago a search engine called Alta Vista ruled the net, Yahoo was a hand picked list of websites and Google was something that babies did. In the shadows, a few website owners were giving birth to what would later be called search engine optimization.

Strategies to be seen in Alta Vista would now be considered the simplest of simple. Put the words you want to rank for in the meta tags, on the page and in your title tag. Sit around, wait and cash the checks.

As search engines increased in competition and matured, it became clear that they needed to add more factors to decide which sites should be ranked the best for which terms.

Enter links…

A link refers to a hyperlink from one webpage to another. When you click a link on one webpage, it takes you to another webpage, either on the same website or a different one. Search engines realized that good websites often had a lot of other sites linking to them and got an idea. And that idea was link popularity.

The more links a site had, the more popular is was conceived to be by the search engines and the better they ranked it as a result.

crowd1crowd2Imagine the two pictures to the right represented links on the Internet for two different websites… which site would you think is more popular? Get it? Good. You now understand link popularity.

But, by this point, Google had become heavy on the scene and they quickly discovered that not all links are created equal.

Enter pagerank

To understand pagerank, we must go to the expert authority on judging the value of others with viscous scrutiny based upon their perceived value and social standing…


Welcome to high school (I know I just felt waves of Internet geeks cringe).

Pagerank basically was a measure of how important your website was based on what other types of websites were linking to you. To use the high school analogy… if the AV club thought you were cool, it didn’t carry anywhere near as much weight as the prom queen thinking you were cool.

The more popular kids (higher pagerank websites) you could get to say you were cool (link to your website), the cooler you actually became on the high school social scale (the better you ranked).

Pagerank was a brilliant concept. Pagerank allowed for quality to outrank quantity – but quantity still worked and well.

In addition to the standard webmasters figuring out to make pagerank work towards their advantage (since Google publicly published a website’s pagerank via their toolbar), inventive search engine marketers figured out they could create programs to automatically obtain some of the “easier” links – guestbooks, forums and blogs – in mass quantities.

The sheer quantity of the links they could obtain overnight via these methods were able to power their websites above those with smaller amounts of quality incoming links. The age of hardcore search engine spam had been born.

Link development and search engine optimization were booming. As a result, search engine optimizers got more and more sophisticated and as a result, both link popularity and pagerank had been deciphered and manipulated. Automated link spam (the term used for sites obtaining links via the automated programs) was at an all time high. Google realized it needed to add something to the link analysis recipe.

Enter trustrank

Trustrank confused most webmasters when it first came into play. The addition of trustrank had a side effect that was dubbed as the sandbox effect early on. The existence of the sandbox was a huge debate in the various search engine optimization communities. Some webmasters didn’t see the effects of it, while most did. As the sandbox became more understood as a side effect of not having the needed “trust,” many adaptable search engine marketers and webmasters became more adept at escaping it very quickly.

The exact components of trustrank are still debatable. But the bottom line is that websites needed more than links and pagerank to survive. They needed to exude quality indicators and get links from “trusted” websites (and allow those links to age like wines).

Now you understand why you need links to rank. Learning how to get those links is best done by some heavy reading at various resources on link development.

Is Pinterest part of your marketing plan?

Check out my recent case study that shows how I generated 234,000+ pins (and counting) to a site with only 45 posts. I give you all the details (with specifics) here.