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Critical Mass Madness

Link Critical Mass – Is it for Real?



2:16 am on Apr 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Before I post, I found this webmasterworld via Yahoo and a few other forums and I've never joined one of these things before so am a little nervous. I noticed as I signed up, that you have a private forum, so what are the benfits with that?

Okay my post. I'm just about to get my first site up and running and am fascinated by this massive link surge thing. Basically my question is "Does it exist".

Critical Mass

A lot of talk surrounds link development these days, usually the same old stuff is being discussed, but does the mystical critical mass really exist or has the word be invented to wind up certain categories of webmaster? I personally do not believe anyone has reached this stage as having gained a massive amount of links myself, I know other techniques are involved besides ‘link swaps’. I think the whole idea is a reality for the very few and that a genuine conspiracy exists with the specific goal of 'slowing' down the progress of site owners by claiming the 'critical mass' technique - as by slowing down the opposition, an advantage is gained. But for those who don’t know what Critical Mass is:

“It's where links that a site has gained, have reached a certain amount that those links are enough to 'auto' gain new links with no further effort on the webmaster's part. Link building effort is no longer needed to get new links - or something along those lines. Basically the idea is that a site gains more and more links, which gain more links etc etc – I suppose it’s a like compound interest. But having spoken to many a webmaster, their stories of such linking success are zero – so what does that indicate? Are they doing everything wrong, following the mountains of bad advice out there, or are all these webmasters just plain stupid? Who knows, but they are hardly likely to tell a sob story about link failure if it’s untrue – or are they……. This is where the conspiracy theory comes into it, but you’ll have to make up your own minds on that.

But how is Critical Mass achieved – Magic?

Link Theory

Link swaps are just one way of getting links, but seems the main way it's done. One way links can just appear and hopefully the idea is for others to pick up on this, then 1 link leads to a domino effect and hey presto 500'000 of them. If that were true, then every site on the web would have millions of links pointing to them. That isn't true, so why do people go on about claiming otherwise - and a simple check on search engines will show who the players are or not if the case may be. Game Over.

If getting links were that easy then how come the top 100'000 sites all do PPC on Google. Nope, free advertising stopped when Overture etc came along. My guess is the Amazons of the world simply got realistic here, and the link swap, surge boom stopped years ago, when businesses realised they could charge for links instead of giving them away. There aren't any secrets or free advertising anymore and the sooner people stop spouting this nonsense and simply build something useful for a business, the better. People want information – so give it to them.

But getting links is tough. The only one-way links I've gotten are from about 240 directories, but that was ridiculously easy, and no skill was required to get those links. But generally speaking, link swapping, well, UK sites just don't want to know which is strange as I would have thought a good free link is going to be valuable and give much unpaid traffic for possibly years to come. Obviously I was wrong……… “but any old link will do” is the norm of the web, so be it. To tell it like it is, gradual steady links take forever to have any major effect, I don't think it's worth it anymore, Asking for recip links takes up much time and few link anyway - except the desperate and untargeted sites that is. You know the type "Please link with my illegal drug site or porn empire" or "We like your site and we've linked to you from our poker one (even though we know it’s untargeted for your needs – but we don’t care, as we have what we want). Is this what the web has become, maybe that’s the key to this Critical Mass objective or perhaps it’s harder than you think to obtain THAT status!

What I find frustrating about the link developing process is the amount of bull#*$! about the ease of gaining high PR links: From my extensive research my findings are:

1.People will brag about their link development success - genuine or not

2.Be a barrier to the desperate and uneducated link hunters

3.They are lying about their fantastic success to ‘put people off’

If that’s the case, then nobody will ever experience Critical Mass – if critical mass exists that is.
But you have a site which is good, and noone want's to link to it, so that proves my theory of a few hundred links not being enough to propel you to web stardom. It also proves without a ton of links to begin with, how the heck is one supposed to gain more. People’s goodwill and generosity – I do not think so, or my site of 3 years would have seen incredible results by now, surely………. Let’s examine the Critical Mass theory logically:

Webmaster Desperation

There is no doubt that links lead to more links, which lead to sales (hopefully) and then to even more links – that much we can agree on. The strategy of getting links must be questioned though and the right strategy used early on if linking campaigns are to be successful. So much is involved when deciding whether to link to someone and yet many webmasters will just link out of sheer desperation, and think this will produce brilliant results – it won’t if the swaps are untargeted – which seems most are. The reason for this? Google!

As I understand it Google will accept and award PR to any site with the required number of links pointing towards a site. So, that would have to mean the web community knowing the exact amount of links required to get the boost in the first place. But with all this link swap activity going on, that would indicate uncertainty of the actual amount to get, whatever PR rank is ultimately gained.

Such frantic swapping would also indicate desperation to aquire PR, because Pagerank holds some sort of status and really proves a site’s true worth - I doubt this worth thing but the link swapping proves intent to gain PR. If a site was that amazing, surely it would have reached Critical Mass before aquiring PR, but yet from reading several forums I know this isn’t the truth.

Someone told me only the other day that they have a site with PR 7 homepage, and it only has 10’000 links pointing to it – hardly Critical Mass wouldn’t you agree. So PR cannot directly cause link crazed buying/swapping otherwise all high PR sites would have #*$!xx million links pointing to them No – there is much more to this than holding PR or gaining a few thousand links. What about other link building techniques then – can they ignite Critical Mass:

Goodwill Link Swaps

Is there such a thing – yes, but is it worth the time and effort checking out every site, sorry but that’s gotta eat into your time in a major way. It involves sending out email requests asking for links. I tried it – made 3 link swaps every day for 6 months (360 total link requests at a 4% response rate) and where did all this effort get me – maybe, 20 link trades in total. That aint much if you ask me and unlikely to even double that amount of extra links by itself over time. Time is the key here, and it’s physically impossible to reach critical mass with this method.

Ofcourse people will say “Oh but you aren’t doing it right – your request letter is at fault” or whatever line of crap they can muster to sound intelligent, get a rise out of that person or some other agenda is at work. I know what works and so do you, and if the letter fails then you wouldn’t keep using it would you. That sorts that one out hehe. So clearly letter sending fails to drum up enough links.

Article Writing

As I was writing yet another (and probably last) article, it came to mind that people DO read them, possibly act on them, and even totally ignore them with utter contempt – so why waste time writing them. The reasons are many, varied and well, just dumb to think basic articles will ever kickstart critical mass, but, one thing is clear.


It occurred to me that people write them for the links within them, they are nothing more than tools (however bad content - wise). But article writers can’t possibly be foolish to think that a handful of articles will ignite such curiosity and create a ‘snowball’ effect that will change the visitor levels to their site. Utter nonsense, yet it’s still doing the rounds all over the web as I write this. Okay, so this clearly doesn’t work for critical mass either. Not too many other theories left.

Content Building

This is perhaps the most logical and truthful method around. As an avid surfer, I do like to find my info all in one place, neatly arranged etc – a top quality resource is always handy when the Search engine Gods fail to deliver, as they often do. So there has to be something for good, accurate content that drives ordinary folks to revisit all manner of sites today. Can this be the surest way of guaranteeing thousands upon thousands of links to my site? No. You need several things for this to work.

1.Perfect content
2.Massive server space to house the content
3.Money to pay for it all
4.Resources to manage all this information, present it, deliver it etc blah, blah

Too much required for the ordinary webby person to achieve IMO, and building a great site isn’t a guarantee of anything – you still got to attract links in the first place, so having a great site won’t do that alone, and we know link exchanging is time consuming. So perhaps even content building isn’t the ticket to Critical Mass. Time beats us yet again……..

But that’s no problem, I hear you all say – “you can do this a page every day and after a year……..” then it’ll suddenly result in critical mass so powerful, you cannot be stopped and will be invincible forever. So let’s see 1 A4 page of content multiplied by days = 365 pages per year. Er, 365 amongst billions of others out there – and that won’t make anyone stand out. “But you can get it ‘optimised’” Ahhhhhh, okay, so that’s 365 pages – all optimised individually and how much will that cost me in web design terms? A lot, that’s what – and is the person suggesting this going to pay for it. Ofcourse not.

That’s cool, as we can always wack adsense onto the pages and reap the rewards that way.

Sorry, but that relies too much on luck. I have 4000 pages with adsense that changes for each page, and mostly Google reduces the amount of adsense ads shown, so that clearly doesn’t work. Although content is a good idea – just not attatching adsense to it. It would surely look like a MFA site, would it not. And we all know that engines hate those……

So why do people do it – for critical mass? I doubt that – but I feel with the right idea, tons of useful content that’s combined with user integration, then it stands a chance at being a platform for link generation, that may lead to critical mass. Ultimately links might lead to critical mass, but nobody knows the exact number of links required to achieve this, very few actually achieve this, and nobody will ever divulge how they achieved it. Until this happens to me, I will remain a sceptic, as I, like so many others demand ‘proof’, and although this proof can come in many forms, the only true form is the growth of links to one’s site – shown in a trusted stats package. What is so terrible in wanting to see that before agreeing with anybody.

[edited by: trillianjedi at 10:56 am (utc) on April 20, 2006]
[edit reason] Reformatting with permission of OP [/edit]


11:57 am on Apr 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Heheh, try being a little more concise ;) I for one am not going to read all that.

Critical mass? I wouldn't bother. Basic rule: you can never have too many links, and you can never have too many _quality_ links.


12:41 pm on Apr 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

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

Welcome to WebmasterWorld The_Banker!

am a little nervous.

Absolutely no need. And I'm glad you posted, as you raise an interesting subject.

private forum, so what are the benfits with that?

I won't drag this thread off-topic, but you can read about it here:-


Back to "Critical Mass" in link building.

Yes, there is a point that you reach where your main growth rate in links comes automatically rather then by request.

The point at which that happens, or whether it ever does or not, really comes down to the nature of the site. Informational sites generally get referenced and cited a lot more than eCommerce stores, for example.

Breaking the chicken and egg situation really comes down to having great quality content that people do not need pursuading to link to. You need to make it a no-brainer. That can either be content text, or a little downloadable free tool that is incredibly useful (see Skype for example).

Viral marketing (and Link Critical Mass comes down to this) is the single most potent tool on the net. In order to control it, you need a top-drawer A-grade product (in everyone elses opinion).



3:44 pm on Apr 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Developing links is a lot like everything else. If you put the work in upfront, developing a good quality niche site, the links will come naturally. This still works.


3:49 pm on Apr 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Well put Moose.

Also, I like your choice of name!


10:53 am on Apr 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

Interesting point about 'Viral Marketing' and ofcourse, it's the way I will be heading - but what do you mean about 'controlling the product'.

Link swap administration-wise (catching and recording all link swap contact, number of, emails, web urls etc) or 'Viral' admin monitoring , which I guess is the same sort of thing as recording link swap participants details, except anything viral will be heavily automated, if not fully automatic....


1:57 pm on Apr 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I never heard it called Critical Mass, but the phenomenon was explained well by Mike Grehan in an article called "Filthy Linking Rich" a while back. Google it.

Basically, what he is saying is that the rich get richer, link-wise. Once a site reaches the top ten in the SERPS for a subject, it will tend to be seen as an authority by other webmasters looking to link to good information.

The downside: a new site has little chance of getting the top-ten exposure which would enable it to compete. For this reason, he forsees that search engines will need to move away from link-based ranking algos in the future.

The law of "preferential attachment" as it is also known, wherein new links on the web are more likely to go to sites that already have many links, proves that the scheme is inherently biased against new and unknown pages.


2:20 pm on Apr 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

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

a new site has little chance of getting the top-ten exposure which would enable it to compete

I disagree - it just changes the way that you get there (I call it "long-tail bootstrapping").

The best quality content will always attract incoming links, eventually. It needs to be kick-started, but only enough to be ranking for 4/5 keyword phrases.

Not every webmaster is an SEO.



4:40 pm on Apr 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

However links are aquired, sites need a certain amount for the links to 'take off'. I think critical mass is something else entirely and very difficult to obtain.

Does content play the most significant part in that? - sure it does as visitors need something to come back to. Link exchanging is very tough to do right, and is a 'mass' venture. I understand that many players actually buy company lists, but I don't know how effective or trustworthy the lists are.

I suppose it might work


4:47 pm on Apr 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

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

I did a link dev session yesterday and I felt that before anyone goes out to buy a link it was important to develop content. Remember, sales copy is NOT content.

So I devoted a surprising amount of my presentation talking about content and the use of it as a potent tool for inspiring others to link to you.

I also raised the point of critical mass, which is the point where inbound links become viral, in that they spring up by themselves without having to ask for them. This is often the result of quality content.

My point at the session was that a risk in buying links is that without content it's like watering a rock instead of a seed. Nothing is going to grow.


5:20 pm on Apr 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

k - What about a site that isn't a content site. Still a portal that offers a useful service, but one that doesn't have a massive amount of content/info sections. There must be a minimum amount of links required to get this critical mass thing started, it's not all about content, although it's a factor.

So what is a good amount of links to have, to get a reasonable amount of link requests?


5:45 pm on Apr 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

I was approached for a link the other day, and was nice and linked to the said site, thinking that the link was valuable as it was on theme and would help my ranking etc - but the git never linked back. So with all this negativity and people not keeping their part of the bargain, how the heck does anyone stand a chance of reaching critical mass? Impossible if link rejection or failure to link sets in, it can be a real problem.


2:25 am on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

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

There is a relation between this statement:

What about a site that isn't a content site.

And this statement:

how the heck does anyone stand a chance of reaching critical mass?

You have to be useful in some way, whether you're making someone laugh or telling them how to drill holes in a wall. If there is no or very low use for the site, why should anyone link to it, right? So if your site is useful, then it should find link partners.

That's the eco-system, people vote with links.


1:18 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

So if your site is useful, then it should find link partners

It's that easy then. Well, Google says I have 3'700ish links pointing to my site, but there is no way that 3700 'just decided' to link to me for no reason. Er, I mean although my site is specialist, it's highly likely it's totally unrelated to their visitors needs, so why would they link - it doesn't make sense.

But 'finding' any site because the site owner thinks it's useful, doesn't mean anything and is no guarantee of being found. From experience 4'000 links isn't enough to 'be found', and probably won't even make a dent in Critical Mass terms anyway. See, I think 4000 links is quite a lot (especially one ways), but I only get maybe 2 link swap enquiries a month, and that's always from some dodgy Casino site or someone wanting to know if I have an erectile problem. I mean come on - 4000 links don't mean bugger all he.

It's very tough to work out or know exactly the type of sites linking to one (unless you check each one) and that's too big a task to monitor. These links are all probably so low in the serps and rank that they don't even count or something. One thing I'm 100% certain of is - the links I got have not doubled the rate of incoming links to my site, which is what I was trying to get across in my first post. Those 4000 links did NOT automatically become 8000! If they had, I'm pretty sure you would get many a webmaster shouting from the rooftops boasting about how they doubled or tripled their links. (Some just wouldn't be able to resist letting others know something like that).

Yet it amazes me that people come on these forums and make out it's so easy, and it's very irritating to read stuff that's just so untrue and to mention something as daft as Critical Mass (link surge) - is even more laughable. I mean what are we talking about here, because link surge says to me that 1 link leads to 2, and 3 and 4 etc, and it's just not the case for well, young sites that are new. But my site isn't brand new - no way lol, actually it happens to be 12 months plus so no wonder I'm going to say critical mass is a bunch of crap. Until it happens to me, I'm not going to know, despite what others tell me to do and suggest.

Maybe many people's sites are just not wanted on the web, maybe SEO has been done badly, wrong subject matter - god knows. But with so many people desperate for any links, what I've just said is wrong, I should have 100'000 links pointing to me and others too.

Yup, critical mass has got to be a conspiracy, invented to wind people up and eventually make them quit - which might not be a bad thing in some cases.

It's actually quite a cruel rumour to spread about and is quite funny - pointless, but very very funny lol.

Jokes over though.


1:59 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

>>>4'000 links isn't enough to 'be found'

What else are you doing? A link development plan should be part of an overall marketing plan.


2:18 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm not a online marketer for a variety of reasons. My promotion is and will be all offline.

So far Press Release has been distributed offline to 7 national UK newspapers.

Release also gone to 11 trade press publications and posted to 2 online press websites and a bit of adwords (which I'm monitoring currently). Eventually I hope to use offline trade press regularly - depending on what I can get out of them.

Just bought a listing with Mirago and in the search engines as standard. It's a waiting game with the press anyway (about 2 months), but the actual release could be crap and that's another factor to take into consideration. So many variables involved and things that can go wrong. But at least I had the balls to get a release out as I got really fed up of people saying "it'll fail" or "oh, yet another web site" - stuff like that.

Yes, it might go wrong, but I have some paying clients now so we'll see. I'm waiting for the press to get back to me as I'm interested in the amount of traffic a news release can generate, and if it works I'll send out another one.


2:46 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Well, obviously you're not saying that no one ever spontaneously links to another site because they like it. So perhaps what we should be looking at here is what people define as critical mass.

I tried it – made 3 link swaps every day for 6 months (360 total link requests at a 4% response rate) and where did all this effort get me – maybe, 20 link trades in total.

OK, so let's say on average you initiated a successful link exchange every two weeks. If your site was getting a link from a related site that liked your content every two weeks without you doing anything, would you continue to search for new links or would you let it take care of itself?

Maybe the people who are talking about critical mass are actually saying that their average for successful link hunting was replaced by naturally occurring links.

For some this would be a link every month or so, for some it would be a dozen links a day, and some people would never slow down on their link acquisition no matter how many they get.

So if I were someone who averaged a link a day and I started getting those without doing anything, I'd call that ciritical mass for me. If I were someone who liked to be more pro-active, I'd keep going and make it one natural, one acquired every day, and never consider myself to have reached critical mass.

Perhaps it's just all relative and some people are happy letting links come in on their own after a while, but I don't think that anyone's conspiring....

As for getting tons of links from anywhere with PR, I'd say it's time for some people to take another look at LSI, PR isn't the only, and maybe not the most important, part of evaluating link quality today.


3:30 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

A thousand ways under the sun that good links arrive.

Depending upon your website content, there may be a trade industry group that you can join whose site can (automatically as a feature of membership) provide you with a 1-way, authority, high-PR link. Sometimes, one good link like that is worth thousands of crap links created by a "campaign".

Using content to gather links is another area where the return on investment can easily vary by factor of 10. Consider the story here:


By paying money to generate a legal opinion on a hotly debated topic, then carefully marketing the publishing of that legal opinion on the website, that webmaster may be able to garner a goodly number of good-PR, 1-way links from authority sites. That's a very different approach than "make good content and hope people link".

I think most webmasters would be better off if they gave up the idea of "link-building campaigns" and instead studied the idea of "public relations campaigns". Quit focusing so narrowly on the link, and start focusing on generating public interest in your site.


3:31 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Oops, sorry, I just realized that link is to the private forum. Anyway, I summarized the gist of it, I think :-)


3:45 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

deliriumtremens - exactly, it's relative to what they feel is success for them. What one person thinks is success another will think it's pitiful - but I reckon that's because many have become brainwashed with stories of instant wealth, secrets and ease of the web for it's size indicates many possibilities and the mass of potential link partners available. So it can seem very attractive and simple for newbies to get somewhere fast.

See, people use language badly, they know what they want to say, but use the wrong language. Or it could be a case of some clever dude decides to take some powerful words from the dictionary and use it to start a rumour to market themselves.

But I think to analyse this properly, we had better begin with the correct definition of what Critical Mass means:

Critical Mass - the minimum amount of resources required to start or maintain a venture

I agree with this as most webmasters are either newbies or intermediates seeking the next stage in link promotion, so will be concerned with the minimum amount to begin the 'snowball effect'.

But as noone knows the minimum amount of links required to see some proper results, er to see this 'auto' process, it's very difficult to suggest something to give people hope that it works. I don't want to say "You'll need 5'000 and you'll get fantastic link swaps every day" - chances are it would be inaccurate and such a guess without proof. Not that such a thing could be proven anyway, as all we have to go on is our own experiences and the top sites, that have millions of £££££ to chuck about.

This whole link development thing is 'just link swapping' and is slow, painful process that bugger all results will be obtainable without something viral. Sending out 200 emails every week just isn't enough to cut it, and no wonder webmasters get fed up with it.

Something viral is the answer here, but that viral thing MUST be attached to a great idea, product or service in the first place for it to work. Crap idea with a viral method won't work, as the idea is too bad.

The viral thing is the way forward, but that's not the problem. The idea has to be right. With people downloading stuff and placing the viral thing to their websites - then yes, the critical mass thing will work.

I don't think critical mass is built by emailing as link swaps takes to long without a viral element.


7:21 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Banker, I agree with you 100%. It makes you wonder if everybody's competing in tiny niches with little competition, and are content with working extremely hard to gain 5-10 one-way links/month. In a competitive market, I see two things that can elevate you above the competition; the first is link renting/buying (you need deep pockets and a good variety of links to make sure you're not buying from non-linkjuice passing sites) and/or some ingenious form of viral marketing, which is much harder to come up with.


11:48 pm on Apr 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Exactly. Either have that one idea to propel you or get tons of cash to buy your way in. Extending threads is advantageous for the forums, but advising the right way to do things is profitable for it's members - which is why they hang around such communities isn't it, for the tips.............

Critical Mass can't be reached, there's too much evidence available on the web right now that proves otherwise. Or shall I dig up ratings of sites that never made it? Problem is with anything, people are so convinced they have a top notch idea that'll work, must work as so much depends on it - but they have no cashflow to put it into action. Major problems follow.

I'm sure others will disagree - but I'd be interested in what others experiences are regarding this link mass issue.


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