Google is a Popularity Contest

December 31, 2009 / Search Engine Optimization / By Kathy Alice

Remember voting for the prom queen? The candidates campaigned for your vote and if she got the most votes, she wore the crown at the dance. The google SERPs (search engine results, the listings that appear when you search on a particular keyword phrase) work in the same way. Google organizes it’s search listings on a number of factors, but one very important one is based on the number of “votes” for your site. But what are these votes? And how does google count them? Votes in the google world are links to your site.

Called “backlinks” in SEO (search engine optimization) terminology, these links occur whenever another site has a link back to yours. While I am oversimplifying matters, you could do worse than encourage other sites to link to your website.

Part of a chamber of commerce? Have you spoken at an event? Make sure that any online presence these events have identify you and your business and most importantly: have a link to your web site. You will be on your way to participating in one of the largest popularity contests there is in the business world.

Do you participate in social networking? Do you comment on other blogs? Participate in online groups such as google groups? In all these activities, make sure that your signature in your post includes a link to your website.

Of course you do not want to just post your business name and website without adding some value. While yes any backlink helps, you also want your link to invite people to click on it. That can be even more valuable than just improving your position in the SERPs, especially if you are in a competitive niche. Also many bloggers moderate (review) comments to their blog and will not post your comment unless it provides some value to the conversation.

Many blogging sites tag backlinks as “no follow”. This tells google not to “follow” the link and not count it. However there is some debate on whether google truly ignores it. Yes, it is not as valuable as a “followed” link but some SEOs believe that it still counts in google’s algorithms. And if you want to find blogs that allow “follows” just search in google for “dofollow blogs”.

How do you find out how many backlinks your site has?  In a post I will showcase some tools you install into your Firefox browser (sorry IE users) that will give you this and other SEO information, but for now you can follow the below:  Ready?

  1. Go to
  2. Type in the following, replacing “” with your website URL: linkdomain:
  3. On the page that appears, look at the upper right for the number of results this query returns
  4. This is the number of backlinks your site has … take some time and see who has linked to you. Can you encourage more of them?

The reason for the “” part of the query is to remove all internal linking (pages within your site that link to other pages).

As an SEO practitioner I have looked at a number of backlink profiles, some of very large companies. Backlinks can come from interesting places. Google looks very kindly on backlinks that come from educational institutions (.edu) and to a lesser extent the .orgs. I’ve seen very good quality backlinks that come from sponsoring charitable events. One company got quite a bit of mileage from a “cartoon character” shown on TV that the animation industry created many variants of. Viral food for thought.

Here’s another tip. The “anchor text” (the text comprises the clickable link) is important too. Help the folks linking to your site avoid the dreaded “click here” and ask them to use descriptive language (such as “wellness doctor focusing on back injuries”) in the anchor text.

Finally, if your site has no backlinks and no traffic, consider adding a listing in one of the directories. This is a topic worthy of an article on it’s own, but it might be worth paying for a listing in yahoo business directory or best of web. Some directories are free. Look for topical directories that are related to your business. Just keep in mind the tip about focusing on websites that are well regarded by google and stay away from the many “spammy” directories that google ignores. You may also consider approaching a complementary business and asking them to link to you. If you have an interesting blog or articles that might be of interest to their audience, this often occurs naturally, however sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Link building can be a time consuming activity and many business outsource this work, however it is just another tool in an business’s tool belt and if you keep your eyes open you can opportunistically capitalize on a “backlinking” opportunity as they arise.

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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  1. Unfortunately, this means that relevancy takes a back seat. If you’re looking for something relatively obscure or specific, you’ll generally get irrelevant crap that just happens to mention that topic once or twice shoved in your face before you actually find what you’re looking for. That is, assuming you even find what you’re looking for.

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