In the old days of the internet, links were the primary communication path between web sites. Search engines were not as sophisticated as today, and search results rather crude. Actually, even today links are reported to be more used than search engine results; but the latter are increasing their share. In a way, this began to change when Google entered the scene. In an effort to make search results more relevant, Google implemented an algoritm that judged the quality of a web site by the number of other sites linking to it. It seemed rather obvious that a popular, much linked-to, site should be of higher relevance than a site with few links pointing to it.
Unfortunately, as webmasters realized this a frantic stampede began. Everybody did whatever they could to secure as many incoming links as possible. One example: In my own field, web hosting reviews, there is a site that has (according to Yahoo) 4,000,000 incoming links pointing to it! Yes, FOUR MILLION links! By comparison, Microsoft.com has only about 3,000,000 incoming links!
I won't speculate on just how those 4,000,000 links were collected, but surely it can't have been by manually asking those 4,000,000 webmasters for a link exchange! And I also doubt that the 4,000,000 webmasters just spontaneously thought "Wow, I will put up a link to this cool web hosting review site"! Yes, even cooler than Microsoft.com, evidently.
As we all know now, Google got tired of having its search results manipulated in this way. So they tweaked their ranking algoritms (one tweak widely known as the dreaded "Florida Update"), to put an end to these methods. They started actively punishing web sites that were caught using devices such as "Free For All" link exchange sites, and implemented many other measures also; too many to mention here.
So, getting many inbound links is a dead concept now? That is what some people claim, but they are wrong! What IS dead is the idea that links are nothing but search engine food. Rather, we are getting back in the direction of the good ol' days, when links were not there just to bait the search bots. Some folks may have forgotten that links really are there to serve as paths of communication for Real People. Inbound links to a web site means paths for humans to enter, and browse the content. And that is what all of us webmasters want: VISITORS!
This also means: stop trying to manipulate search engines. Keep your directory of links, if it does provide some real value to visitors. But if those links are just a messy jumble, hidden somewhere in a dusty corner of your site - repent! Get those links out of the closet, let them breathe some fresh air!
Kai Virihaur is a web developer, researcher, and artist. He runs The Hosting Finder (http://www.thehostingfinder.com), a web hosting directory featuring articles and RSS feeds on web development, web site promotion, and internet marketing.
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