Wikipedia defines the World Wide Web (“Web”) as “a system of interlinked, hypertext documents that runs over the Internet. With a Web browser, a user views Web pages that may contain text, images, and other multimedia and navigates between them using hyperlinks.” The Web has only been around since 1990, and yet, it already counts trillions of Web pages.
With so much information and the number of Web surfers increasing on a daily basis, the challenge of directing users to the appropriate source of information is becoming increasingly complex. That role belongs to search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN who are competing fiercely in order to come up with the best and most accurate search results. Search engines act as “filters” in differentiating between the relevant and the irrelevant. Yet, how do they know what is “relevant” and what is “irrelevant” or “less relevant”?
They rely on whatever is found on a Web page and they rely on links that direct to a specific Web page. Whatever is found on a Web page can easily be manipulated, but what is found on another person’s Web page is harder to control. That leads us to the intrinsic nature of the Web, which is a network of “interconnected” Web pages. The connectedness of Web pages is complicated by the fact that webmasters, the creators of the Web pages, have their own agenda, which often conflicts with the objectives of Web surfers. Webmasters want to increase their websites’ exposure (which would translate into increased traffic), whereas Web surfers want to find information that is the most relevant to them. It is in this type of environment that search engines come into play in trying to act as arbitrators.
How do they do that? They evaluate the quality, relevancy, and weight of each incoming link in order to assign a value to it. The whole idea is based on the “democratic” nature of the Web. Why is it necessary for search engines to “assign a value” to incoming links (or, in other words, why aren’t all links of equal value)? Because search engines recognize the fact that “corruption” exists within the system and assigning a value to incoming links is a way to fight that corruption. The corruption comes mainly from webmasters that are trying to bend the rules in their favour in order to achieve higher rankings.
In this kind of environment, how to maximize a website’s exposure while respecting generally accepted guidelines of website development and promotion? By networking with other websites and making the case for votes. Sounds like an election? It is! Except that this election does not take place every four years, but every minute of every day, with no end in sight. The never-ending election it is called.
There are two facets to networking: (1) expanding a network and (2) strengthening a network. Expanding a network means to have the most exposure as possible while strengthening a network means getting votes. Other webmasters might know about a certain site, but they are under no obligation to link to that site. In that regard, the easy way to win a vote is to provide some incentives to other sites, meaning paying them a fee to add a link on their site (“sponsored link”) or reciprocating with a link back. The problem with this approach is that it costs money, is time consuming, and might only trigger a “vote” coming from a “link exchange” page, which is of poor quality. A more difficult approach to networking is to create “partnerships” with other websites where each side would benefit or creating quality content that would warrant inbound links.
This latter approach to networking has the advantage of (1) creating links that are more contextual, meaning that they will also have more value for search engines; (2) costing nothing because they are given out of free will; and (3) meeting accepted guidelines of proper website development.
This is where the two aspects of search engine optimization connect. On-page and off-page optimization go hand in hand because quality content is key to successful and sustainable networking. This is also where webmasters and Web users connect as quality content is also what most people are looking for when they search the Web.