How To Design A Website (3 of 5):

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Author: Mark Birkett

Off-Page Optimisation - Developing inbound links:

So far, we've only discussed 'on-page optimisation'. But that's not quite the whole story. Only 20% of the task of performing well in search engines is down to the 'on-page optimisation' described above. The remaining 80% is down to developing inbound links to your new site, sometimes described as 'off-page optimisation'.

But what does this really mean?

The "Google Popularity Contest":

Many search engines order their search results - at least in part - on the basis of how 'popular' or 'authoritative' a given website appears to be. This is pretty logical. After all, if a website seems 'popular' then it makes sense for search engines to place it higher up its results pages than an 'unpopular' one.

But that begs the question, how does a search engine know whether a given website is 'popular' or not?

Since it represents some 85% of the UK's search traffic we will look at Google to begin with. With such high traffic-generating power, Google is clearly the search engine we need to 'please' the most. The good news it that the principles that 'please' Google will also 'please' most of the other search facilities too. So we'll simply use Google as our benchmark from now on.

Now, part of Google's answer to this 'popularity contest' question is to count the number of inbound links a given site has. For example, if Website A has twenty inbound links to it and Website B has two hundred, then Google is probably right to deduce that Website B's content represents something more worthwhile than Website A's. And if Google thinks this content is 'better' then it makes sense for it to offer it as a higher search result.

The important lesson is: Content is King!

If your content is genuinely informative, entertaining, up-to-date or otherwise 'good' then you will, over time, obtain links from other people's sites simply because you will be seen as an 'authority' within your industry where people link to your articles 'naturally'.

Ok, so give me an example:

A great example of a site that Google considers to be 'popular' or 'authoritative' belongs to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). At the time of writing, as you can see in the screenshot below, this beautifully-designed, authoritatively-written and content-rich website enjoys just a fraction under 800 million inbound links. Impressive. Most of those inbound links are from websites that (rightly) consider articles on the BBC site to be 'authoritative' and therefore worth linking to:

The BBC website enjoys almost 800 million inbound links. Each is much like a 'vote' for the BBC's content...

(check this yourself by typing link: www.bbc.co.uk into Google).

OK, but how does that compare to 'less popular' websites?

Well, let's repeat the exercise with another 'News Media' website. This time belonging to ITV. You can see that, although still very popular, at 89 million, the ITV website has only a tenth of the inbound links enjoyed by the BBC:

Although still popular, at 89 million, the ITV website enjoys only a tenth of the inbound links of the BBC website.

(check this yourself by typing link: www.itv.com into Google).

OK, but how does that affect ITV's search results compared to the BBC's?

Simple; we completed a search for news in Google. You can clearly see that at the time of this 'test' the BBC website is in the Number 1 position with ITV way down at Number 10, only just making the first page of results. The correlation between inbound link count and Google search rankings could not be clearer:

BBC versus ITV in Google

OK. I get it. But are all such 'votes' for my website equal?

No. Whilst Google considers each inbound link to be a 'vote' for the content on the recipient website, not all these 'votes' are equal. If the site delivering the link is itself considered 'popular' by Google, then the link it 'gives away' to a recipient website will be worth more than the link given away by an 'unpopular' website.

This makes perfectly logical sense. For example, if you have an inbound link to your website from an 'authoritative' and 'popular' website such as www.bbc.co.uk - which we can see above has millions of inbound links from sites referencing its news articles - then it has to carry more weight than an inbound link from, say, www.joeschipshop.co.uk.

The inbound link is a 'vote' for your content, otherwise why would an authoritative website bother to link to you?

That said, if you are in the chipshop business too, then the link from Joe's Chipshop might well be worth more than a link from, say, Fred's Art Emporium. This is because Google also compares the content of the site delivering the link with the site receiving the link.

If the inbound 'vote' for your content is from a site that's in the same, or in a related, industry then it makes sense for Google to consider this as a somewhat more 'weighty' vote. After all, if you have obtained a link from what is, effectively, a competitor, then your content really must have something going for it.

Recap of how to design a website:

OK, we've considered the basic difference between 'on-page' and 'off-page' optimisation, so let's get into the nuts and bolts of a structure for your new website..

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