Why do websites use a service like PayPerPost.com to buy mentions on obscure blogs? Why do robots drape spam like kudzu on the comment and trackback fields of blogs, in forums, and on every other available surface of multifaceted cyberspace? Is it in the hopes that these links in obscure places will be followed by hordes of buyers to a treasure-trove of cures for impotence and miraculous parts enhancers or cut-rate iPods? Not really.
The main purpose of proliferating links is to enhance search engine ranking – specifically Google ranking since Google now dominates the search engine market. Consider where casual visitors (as opposed to regular readers and subscribers) to Fractals of Change come from:
The sitemeter table above shows the source of the last 4000 visits to this blog. 31.7% from Google’s main site in the US. The next two important sites are Google in the UK and Google in Canada. Yahoo! in fourth position with 1.3% is almost noise as far as referrals are concerned.
What are these searchers looking for that brings them here?
Great! Largest number of them are looking for pornography. If I were selling it, I’d be glad to have all of these visitors. A significant number are looking for information on vertical integration; lots of posts here about that so this makes sense. If I were selling international calls or satellite internet, the visitors searching on these phrases would be as good as gold to me. The “focus factor” that some of these visitors were looking for is probably a vitamin concoction; I posted once about “fanatic focus factor”, a key entrepreneurial personality trait.
So why did these searchers after pornography, free phone calls, and vitamin cocktails end up here? If you search Google for “pornogafia”, you’ll find Fractals of Change on the first page of results even though there are over four million results for the search term.
You can see that I did write about pornography. But why the high ranking? Part of the reason, of course, is that the Google robot wasn’t looking for pictures (robots are like that) but there’s more to it.
What all of this tells you is something about how Google’s famous algorithms actually work and, to the point of the post, why advertisers would do anything for links.
What you’re not seeing in the top links are the links from other blogs to Fractals of Change. On some days when I’ve said something interesting or really dumb, there are a lot of these. Many bloggers are kind enough to put FOC in the blogrolls in the sidebar of their blogs.
The Google robot has to decide in what order to list the four million indexed sites that match the query “pornografia” (apparently translation is part of the algorithm). The robot determines order by “authority” which is some magic calculation depending on the number of inbound links to the site AND the authority (number of unbound links) to the sites which point to this site. Not accidentally considering Google’s genesis at Stanford, this is very similar to how credentials are determined in academia by the number of citations to an author’s papers.
What the robot apparently does NOT consider is whether the inbound links are relevant to the subject matter of the query. There were very few links to the specific post on pornography; more but still relatively few to my posts on vertical integration, free international calling, and satellite internet. But I write about a lot of different subjects which draws, in the aggregate, lots of links which apparently augment my authority in Google’s eyes on ALL of these subjects. Not that I’m complaining but…
Bottom line: spammers and legitimate search engine optimizers alike know that lots of inbound links lead to high Google search engine placement which lead to visits which presumably lead to sales. Even in my case, some of these visitors do become subscribers to FOC even if they didn’t find any good pictures.
And a note: there is clearly an opportunity here for search engines which consider RELEVANT authority. Techmeme and its sister site memeorandum seem to have this figured out. If I post linking to a NY Times article on technology, good chance both the article and my post show up on techmeme; I can post until my keyboard wears down on politics but I never make memeorandum.