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What value does a single link have?

a case study about links and pagerank.



4:15 am on Sep 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member woz is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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I have been humming and haaing about whether to post this or not for some time as it may be seen to be self-promotion which, as we all know, is a "no no" in these fora. But when BT starts beating you with the blunt end of a virtual stick in an effort to get you to post, you have to succumb. Or, in his words, "I just thought that was such a good story and would make a good read for members." As this touches on so many topics discussed at WebMasterWorld, I am posting here in a more "general" forum. So please read this as a case study in what happened and why.

It's a story about a link, just one, but a link that started a snowball, which got bigger, and bigger.....

All too often we get caught up chasing that elusive top position, or deciding which directory is going to get our hard earned cash in the hope of a high return, or sifting through pageranks and positions looking for a linkback from a well-to-do sight in the hope of a nudge up the positions, and we forget about how the internet started and what is was supposed to be all about; sharing information. We also forget the power of a single hyperlink.

I am not a linguist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have a fascination with the way we speak and the languages we have developed. The words we use are as often a source of inspiration as much as they are of confusion, especially when you start delving into the mystical depths of discipline specific terminology. Look at our own business area as an example; take the words "rank", "submission", "buried position", "packages", then add a touch of "stool pigeon" and anyone would be forgiven for thinking they were on the set of "Godfather 2001".

Sometimes when you start talking to friends or colleagues about the changing face of the search engine industry and how you were able to get a top position by repeating your keyword one more time in the alt-tag, you can see their eyes glaze over as their minds start to bog down with a last ditch effort to get their lips to pronounce that one final syllable - "Huh?"

As I was researching words for students when I was teaching English, it occurred to me, eventually, that there was an inordinate number of Glossaries and Topical Dictionaries on the net. But the trick was to find them, as there was no search engine devoted to them.

So I built a Directory of Glossaries and Topical Dictionaries [glossarist.com]. I would be tempted to say that it is also a very useful resource for SEO practices if you are optimising a site in a particular discipline and don't fully understand the terminology, but that would definitely be classed as self-promotion. :)

The challenge in putting together any new directory is the classification structure, and to be honest, I wasn't quite sure I had it quite right (still not sure). So whilst the site was technically up and running, I was holding back on any major promotion push until I had worked out the kinks in the architecture.

Therefor it was just chugging along at embarrassingly low figures.

And then, July 26, WHAMMO! A 4000% increase in one day. HUH? It seems that ResearchBuzz [researchbuzz.com] found me and listed the Glossarist in despatches. Not to be outdone, the next day Internet Scout [scout.cs.wisc.edu] also listed me. Since then the traffic hasn't stopped. It petered down for the rest of July but still remained a constant flow.

Then, 9th August, another big spike. Seems the site got profiled on USAtoday [usatoday.com] as well.

And of course it doesn't finish there either. There are a multitude of virtual reference desks listing reference sites of all types that seem to be tuned into these same email releases because they list the same sites within a matter of days. So far I have identified over 200+ sites linking to the Glossarist from logs with the majority being libraries/student resource pages from Schools and UNIs (.edu YEAH!). Other links come from Translation Sites, Business Reference Sites, Writers sites, Information Architecture sites, and so on. It is also listed on a number of Library Information sites from the point of view of assistance with terminology when cataloguing books. Amazing! And all these have happened AFTER ResearchBuzz/Internet Scout/USAtoday.

Then there are the Emails and Intranets. As ResearchBuzz and Internet Scout are proliferated via email, the amount of referrals by web based email accounts is quite huge. I can also track who is talking about the site from the intra-office email referrals in the logs. I got one big spike because someone at Lucent sent round an Email and suddenly all the employees were having a look-see. I even got mentioned on the Australian Tax Office Intranet. (I wonder if they'll give me a rebate in lieu?)

But here is the real rub - PageRank.

When I posted this to the other mods on August 17, Rencke noted that the PageRank was around 3/10.

Two weeks later and the Page Rank is now 8/10. In four weeks the site has picked up around 250-300 known links and I didn't ask for one of them! Around 70 of those are from a total of 37 .edu's, which would seem to go someway towards proving the connection between links from .edu's and PageRank.

BTW, Rcjordan ask me "Out of curiosity, do any of the .edu links come from a "tilde" directory, such as ncsu.edu/~language or somesuch.duke.edu/~indianajones ?"

Answer, "Four are tilde, the rest are straight."

There has been a lot of discussion on the fora a regarding page rank, how it is calculated, and how it is achieved. Well from this example it would seem that a link from a .edu is worth its weight in, um, well, PageRank.

Other factors that may affect the sudden rise in PageRank are: -

1) although the Glossarist is linking out to glossaries and topical dictionaries on hundreds of different topics, the fact that they are all glossaries and topical dictionaries would hopefully be considered as thematic by the major SEs,

2) because the Glossarist is linking out to language sites and terminology pages I assume this also sets up hub status, and

3) most of the sites referring to the Glossarist are either reference links pages or, more specifically, glossary and dictionary link pages, both of which would set up the authority status.

Of course I am also assuming that this will rub off onto the glossaries and dictionaries the site is linking to, raising their PageRank as well. So when you obtain an inbound link to raise your PageRank, and also link out to other on-topic sites, you are also passing through the PageRank of the inbound link to the sites to which you are linking.

The spikes have calmed down now, but still me traffic shows a constant increase in excess of 1000% over the embarrassing pre ResearchBuzz days. The referrals from USAtoday overtook four months referrals from Google in one day. However, armed with an increased awareness in the language community and boosted by the newfound PageRank, referrals from Google have made resurgence and affirmed Google as the top referrer. ResearchBuzz also precipitated the first referrals from people searching for "the glossarist", not to mention people searching for www.glossarist.com; DUH! And the link pop is constantly increasing as well as link pages seem to feed of each other.

Other points to note.

* Metatags: As you can imagine, putting together a directory of this size takes some considerable effort, especially for one person. To collect information on each glossary as I find them I use a small spidering program that collects the Title, Description and Keywords. Unfortunately the Description tag is the big loser. I find it astonishing that so few sites put any description tag at all on the pages let alone anything meaningful.

There has been much debate here at WebMasterWorld about wether to include Metatags or not. We already know that the Internet is too large for any one Search Engine or Directory to catalogue completely and with authority. I firmly believe that so-called niche directories will come into their own in the not too distant future. But, to take advantage of them, you need to supply them with the raw materials upon which to build their directory and so send you qualified referrals. So please, include appropriate Metatags, if not for the Majors, then for the up-and-comings.

* Languages: At the moment the site is in English although some of the glossaries I link to are in other languages. Fortunately, many of those glossaries in other languages have provided meaningful Metatags. The result is that, as I have mentioned before in one of the European Translation [webmasterworld.com] threads, the Glossarist has received a reasonable amount of referrals from Google through various country specific versions/licences of Google in languages other than English. I suggest you read that thread for more info.

* Dynamics: The site is 99.99% database driven with the critera hardcoded into each individual page. This causes the SEs no problems whatsoever and achives top positions for common glossary/dictionary related keywords.

So, as I say, I share this not to boast about my success as such, well not too much anyway, but rather to share my experience with you all. Perhaps you can take this and use what happened to me on your sites as well.


8:21 am on Sept 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

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thanks for taking the time for such a long, detailed and informative post, there's a lot to ponder on thanks,


9:07 am on Sept 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

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Nice post Woz!

World champions in rugby, cricket, and now Hewitt wins the open in tennis.

Almost had enough of you aussies ;)

9:12 am on Sept 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member nffc is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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Nothing less that the site deserved Woz, it is real quality!

>It seems that ResearchBuzz found me

How? :)

10:31 am on Sept 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

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Great story and a great post! And it confirms that quality content is the best long-run SEO strategy...
11:06 am on Sept 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

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This is how page rank and Google should work. Great work. When you get picked up by a brand with a big mailout list or exposure, your site gets visited by a lot of people, and links get added quicker than a cut snake slithering away on the oz desert. Had this happen with us too, though PR didnt exist then and we didnt get even close to 4000 percent increase. Scout, clickz, Research Buzz, Harvard Business Review, Internet Day and some WWW-VL's were the culprits! You know when it happens because you get a lot of email and hits from the URL. But before it dies down you get the almost permanent boost from lots of sites linking to you.. and then now the real killer - page rank.

For us, we keep on trying... we write press releases almost weekly, talk to journalists in our field, talk to guys who may eventually put our links on educational domains. The key is not so much traffic from the link, but the link poplarity and PR getting boosts.

Agree that content really is almost everthing, as long as your PR and marketing, and branding is OK too. The real valuable external links are from people who actually look and play with your site, and then write about it afterwards.. Keeping content up to date, navigability, and substance in the content is so important. To us reciprocal links come a very poor second to PR to people who write!

11:42 am on Sept 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

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>Agree that content really is almost everthing>

Me too; the directory of Glossaries and Topical Dictionaries has another attribute that values a lot: it is a "not commercial site" offering excellent content for free; the best sites that columnists can list.

8:56 am on Sept 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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What a great story Woz. That is just how Google (and all engines) should work. It reaffirms that the system can work when given a chance.

Original and unique content. You've got both going for you.

9:56 am on Sept 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

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It's a great site Woz; you put a lot of time and thought into it, and it shows. Thanks for sharing the story, its great to hear that such a great resource is getting the exposure it deserves.
10:06 am on Sept 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member nffc is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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>>It seems that ResearchBuzz found me

Pray tell Woz, how?


10:29 am on Sept 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member woz is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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Tara read this thread and sent me a message for you NFFC,

You can tell NFFC that I spend a certain amount of my time searching
for Internet research resources that nobody knows about, using search
engine queries. I remember very clearly finding your site that way because
I glanced at it and thought, "Geez, why haven't I heard about this before?"


10:34 am on Sept 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member nffc is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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So shouldn't this thread be titled;

"What value does a single SE referral have?" :)

4:13 pm on Sept 20, 2001 (gmt 0)

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Very nice site. I will be passing this around my IT department today and posting on our message boards. :)

Also, im curious about this spider you used to build meta content - did you build it yourself?

- aeomac


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