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Reachability, linking out, and why people hop instead of clicking

Gareth Cartman

According to the brilliant Bill Slawski, Google might be looking at the links you're placing to other sites, and using them to define where you rank. They've called it a reachability score, and while it's just a patent at the moment, it should have significant implications for anyone who owns a website, and wants to make it work in the big world of seo.

In short, your reachability score could be calculated according to the links you’ve placed, the quality of them, and the interaction users have with them. Google shies away from saying ‘clicks’, knowing that as we move into a more mobile world, we don’t click any more. We hop. We hop from one article to the next using contextual links, just as you may eventually click on that link in the first paragraph to Bill’s site. Or you might hop to it. 

Hopping is going to take some getting used to...

Before we get to hopping, let’s analyse how the links you place could have an impact on your rankings.

First of all, we’re going to make up a customer. This customer is an American-style diner based in Reading, Berkshire. There’s no such thing, but if there were, I’d be there every morning, shortening my lifespan by about twenty years through the miracle of cholesterol, at least until I hit 40 and realised this is A. Bad. Thing.

So that’s our customer. They have a website, and in order to help our rankings, we have a blog that is popular, informative and well-written. Today’s article is going to be about porridge. We know porridge is popular because, in our imaginary diner, more and more people are asking for porridge. In fact, sales of porridge have increased by 38% over the last year.

So, our article will start off talking about what we’ve noticed about the increase of porridge sales, the history of porridge, the health benefits of porridge, the many ways you can eat porridge, and ultimately, the many ways we serve porridge, before saying “you can get your porridge here”.

Now we’re going to be nice to other sites, because we can’t write a blog post without a little bit of support. So, we’re going to link to the Wikipedia entry on Oatmeal and we’re also going to support our claims with some independent research about porridge. Finally, there’s a bit about the history of porridge in this Guardian article which will help us.

So, we have three quite authoritative links here. Wikipedia is a popular site, with many links pointing towards it. The Guardian is one of the most authoritative websites around, and Market Research World has a pagerank of 6, which may not mean too much these days, but when it comes to Market Research, these are the guys you want a link from, and you want to link to.

The Guardian site links further - so you could ‘hop’ from the Guardian article to the author’s own website, and an Amazon page for the book he’s written. The Wikipedia entry links out to a whole bunch of sites about porridge - this is great. It means that I’ve linked to a page about porridge, which is linking to other pages about porridge, such as this one from Buzzle.

Therefore, we can go two hops away from our article and still be reading about porridge. If I were Google, I’d be looking into the relevance, as well as the authority, of the links we’re placing. Now we’re talking about reachability, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Google is looking at sites two hops away from you and asking how it reflects upon you.

Equally, think semantically. The Guardian article might not be linking out to porridge-related articles, but it is linking out to a guy who has written about porridge. The Wikipedia entry links out to a site about health benefits of porridge, which branches out into health in general. It may not be porridge per se, but it’s related.

If you linked out to a website that was linking to what we call a bad neighbourhood (and you can imagine what type of website that might entail), then why shouldn’t Google say “that reflects badly upon you”. For example, Dear Reader, if I found out that you were friends with disgraced Barclays banker Bob Diamond, I’d start to make judgements about you. Sorry. I do that.

Likewise, if I found out that you were friends with the legend that is David Moyes, I’d probably be round at yours first thing in the morning asking if you had tickets for the next home game. Sorry, I do that, too.

You see, Google is no different from the rest of us. It judges us on the friends we keep, and in an online sense, the friends you keep are the links you point to. If you’re pointing to good links - links that are relevant and interesting, and support your argument, then Google will know that, and will increase your ‘reachability score’. In fact, by linking out, you’re proving that you’ve done some research and you’re referencing the places that supported your argument - and Google likes well-researched work.

And finally, enjoy clicking on the links, because in a few years’ time, the mouse will be dead and you’ll be hopping everywhere instead. And a few years after that, you’ll be using blinks to control what you click on because everything will be using eye-tracking technology.

Just be careful who you wink to, as well as who you link to.

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