Several external factors, on which the site owner doesn’t have direct control, affect the ranking of a site.
Incoming (or inbound) links are the main external factor. Incoming links are important because search engines give more weight to a site that other sites link to, because this means the site is an “authority” worth citing. This mechanism is known as “page rank” on Google, but is also applied by Yahoo and MSN. The specifics of each incoming link matter very much in determining its importance, namely:
- The actual text of the link (the underlined, clickable text): the words in a link to your site count as if they were on the target page (on your site). This is how searching “miserable failure” on Google leads to a biography of George Bush as the top ranked-result, even if these words are not in the actual biography page. This can sometimes be useful as a page can appear in the search results even if the search terms are not in it, because someone else on the web thought that page matched those search terms. Even if your page has the searched terms in it, it will most likely rank higher if the searched terms are also in incoming link texts. Acquiring links which text is your target keywords (rather than an image, or your company name) will help your search engine campaign considerably.
- The site and the page where the link comes from: a link coming from a site/page with a high page rank (itself an authority) will carry more weight than a link coming from a site/page with low page rank.
- The other links on the same page: a link that is alone on its page will carry more weight than a link among many others on the same page.
A part of a successful search engine optimization campaign is to acquire good-quality links toward your site. BeNoted will suggest a list of sites that are likely to link to yours; examples are thematic directories for your business domain, directories for your geographic area, businesses with similar interests but who don’t compete with you (e.g. different geographical location, or complementary products), etc.