The Law of Preferential Attachment and the Future of SEO

January 9, 2009 •

In 2005, I wrote that the Web is fundamentally inequitable. I said that those with money were more likely to dominate search engine rankings because they could invest more in quality content. Nothing profound in that, I know; not even back then.

What’s interesting is that I was really only seeing part of the picture. I’ve since learned that it’s not just money that sustains this dominance. It’s something much more powerful: nature.

Specifically, I’m talking about the nature of networks. Let me explain. Scientists have recently discovered that the World Wide Web evolves according to some pretty set-in-stone laws that are common to all networks. One is called the Matthew Effect or the Law of Preferential Attachment. It says that in any network, well connected nodes are “more likely to attract new links, while poorly connected nodes are disproportionately likely to remain poor”. (Quoted from Mike Grehan’s great article, Filthy Linking Rich.)

From a WWW perspective: “new links on the web are more likely to go to sites that already have many links” – i.e. the hubs. As a result, so too are the high rankings. In other words, Google’s dependence on link popularity is “inherently biased against new and unknown pages”, and that, as a result, “[q]uality and relevance are sometimes at odds with each other”. (Again, from Filthy Linking Rich.)

Of course, I knew this back in 2005, even if I attributed it to the power of money, rather than the power of nature. And it’s not this revelation about today’s SEO that prompted me to write this post. What really prompted me were my thoughts on what the Matthew Effect might mean to the FUTURE of search engine optimization (SEO)…

Most SEOs agree that the importance of link popularity is waning. I talk more about this in my SEO ebook, but the essence of the theory is that visitor factors will ultimately play a bigger part in the ranking mix. Things like how many people visit your site, how long they stay, how many pages they visit, how often they come back, and whether they buy (or whatever your conversion metric is).

It’s argued that this changing of the guard will ultimately result in search rankings that more accurately reflect both relevance and quality.

But in light of the Matthew Effect discussed above, I’m not so sure.

The important thing to realize is that even on the Web, the word “connection” doesn’t have to mean “hyperlink”. Loyal visitors and conversions are connections too (in the same way that friendship is a connection in a social network). So, just as a hub site is more likely to attract hyperlinks – thanks to the Matthew Effect – it’s also more likely to attract loyal visitors and conversions.

(Common sense tells us this would happen too, although we might normally be tempted to put it down to brand awareness, authority, credibility and trustworthiness.)

In other words, the changing of the guard from link popularity to visitor factors may be simply a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. (How’s that for mixing your metaphors?!) While I agree that a search algo based on visitor factors would be harder to manipulate, and therefore more capable of assessing quality and relevance, it would still favor hub sites, so we’d still be in a place where relevance and quality are sometimes at odds.

We’re simply substituting one reflection of the Matthew Effect for another.

Your thoughts?

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Angie Haggstrom wrote on January 9th, 2009

I read a blog post a short while ago (Sorry, I can't remember where, but I'm sure there were thousands) that mentioned Google would soon be taking bounce rate into consideration. Rumor has it that Mr. Cutts all but admitted this to be true. Even if more emphasis was placed on a site's bounce rate, wouldn't that still be biased against new sites? I would think so. At the same time, links are no guarantee that a site will have a good bounce rate or be more relevant. In my opinion, I don't see visitor factors dominating links in terms of value. It's a cyclical pattern. If it's a good website, it will have good content, and therefore, more visitors and link love (a hub). If it's a bad site, there will be very few connections to the rest of the virtual world. What would happen if it depended on the idea of consistent balance? Search engines would select sites that have matching visitor quality and links. If links become far higher than visitor factors, the site's placement would fall and vice versa. What would happen if a new site with perfect visitor/link ratio was compared to an established site with the same qualities and just higher numbers? Wouldn't this scenario still benefit the older site? I'm really quite unsure, but I will certainly be watching curiously. In the meantime, I'm going to build on both sides of the equation. Certainly makes you think... Angie

Reply
comment avatar
Barry Welford wrote on January 9th, 2009

Perhaps the one I wrote on Bounce Rate recently, Angie, is the one you're thinking about. I'm certainly in the camp that says this is inevitably what Google will be including. Good article on an important issue. Thanks.

Reply
comment avatar
Angie Haggstrom wrote on January 9th, 2009

That isn't the one, but precisely what I was talking about. Thank you for sharing! (You've gained another subscriber.)

Reply
comment avatar
Chris Allison wrote on January 9th, 2009

Ultimately the Matthew Effect is the foundation of the network effects expressed by O'Reilly when outlining what Web 2.0 is. To be a successful site online you just need to secure a bit of momentum, the users will network you up after that. On the other hand, if you secure any amount of downward momentum you will be networked down very quickly as well. This obviously makes it very difficult for new players to enter the scene, and in my mind can be said to be one of the pitfalls or ugly points of the web. In one sense it is very easy to join in what's going on online, in another sense it is very difficult to get any credibility, voice, or market share.

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn (Owner) wrote on January 9th, 2009

Thanks for your comments guys. Excellent! I'd like to reply to a couple, but it's the weekend here, so I'll have to come back on Monday to it. In the meantime, Chris, I think someone has poached your comment and used it to comment on my post as submitted to Sphinn. Check it out: http://sphinn.com/story/96071 Not sure what to do about this.

Reply
comment avatar
Chris Allison wrote on January 9th, 2009

Wow, that's low. Thanks for noticing, Glenn. I left a replying comment at the sphinn article. I think that should suffice.

Reply
comment avatar
Brett Tabke wrote on January 12th, 2009

Very nice run down. I agree with 99% of the article. So let me uphold web tradition and talk about the 1% I have a problem with (lol). I get worried when people talk about "metrics" like on-page-time, back-click-time, click-to-conversion time, or "session time". I worry that people are going to take these "Direct Hit" (google it), type metrics as gospel. Lets look at just a few of the inbound data sources google has available: - on site searches (and all related data like spelling clicks, cached clicks, various services clicks like youtube to images to news, etc). - clicks off Serps. They've had that click tracker running since 2002. - google checkout - conversion tracking. - toolbar. Although my gut tells me most of this data isn't worth much except for demo and psycho-graphic data. The crown jewel of Google data intel is Google Analytics. It now runs on more sites than the rest of the top trackers combined. It completes the Google picture on the site level. Given that vast and massive data mine, only Google could tell you what they would do with gathered data and how it would apply to the algo. Anything we come up with is nothing but a guess and must be discounted as such instantly. The reason it tasks me, is that there are alot of bloggers spreading the notion that visitor "on site time" (ala, direct hit), is something Google would factor in. There are alot of variations on that thinking. Without the same data google has in front of them, I don't think we can even make those kinds of guesses.

Reply
comment avatar
Glenn (Owner) wrote on January 12th, 2009

Thanks for your comment Brett! I agree that we're guessing, at best, but it does seem logical. Google has invested a lot in a host of services and products that track visitor behavior. I don't think the question is IF they'll use visitor behavior as a factor, but HOW they'll use it. Cheers!

Reply
comment avatar
Easton Ellsworth wrote on January 13th, 2009

Great Problogger post today, Glenn! "The important thing to realize is that even on the Web, the word 'connection' doesn’t have to mean "'hyperlink'." - Awesome. And that's what search engines are trying to capture. It's very narrow-minded to just want to get links links links. You've gotta try to get people, people, people to connect with you in a real way.

Reply
comment avatar
PaMendeacenot wrote on September 3rd, 2010

Very Interesting! Thank You!

Reply
comment avatar
FrancisRom wrote on August 2nd, 2022

https://builtbyaic.com/vam-nuzhno-bolshe-vdokhnoveniya-s-omg-darknet-prochitay-eto/ - площадка omg, омг сайт

Reply
comment avatar
bigpictoulp wrote on August 2nd, 2022

Портал «Бигпикча» пользуется огромной популярностью у посетителей за счет того, что на нем находится только полезная, качественная и отборная информация в картинках. Мимо такого контента невозможно пройти, ведь его интригующие заголовки и удивительные картинки так и притягивают внимание своей недосказанностью. На сайте https://bigpicture.ru/ (смерчи фото ) только полезные материалы, которые помогают разобраться в различных вопросах и получить массу ценной информации, о которой раньше вы и не догадывались. Этот портал создан для того, чтобы у вас всегда было отличное настроение, получили заряд положительных эмоций от просмотра новостей на самые злободневные темы. Рассматриваются самые разные аспекты жизни: шоу-бизнес, искусство, загадки и тайны прошлых лет, новости из мира фотографии и живописи. Так, спустя много лет, раскрываются самые удивительные тайны, о которых раньше даже боялись заговорить. Теперь все это доступно и вам – нужно лишь зайти на портал, который всегда рад посетителям. Подборка материалов вызовет огромный восторг у самых любопытных пользователей. Для лучшего усвоения они сопровождаются цветной, интересной картинкой. Вся информация подается в простой, лаконичной форме, чтобы она была понятна простому обывателю. Контент составленный высококлассными авторами, понравится всем, кто любит познавать и черпать информацию из достоверных источников. К важным преимуществам портала относят: - только интересная, честная, правдивая информация, которая понравится каждому; - регулярно добавляется новый контент; - новости на самые разные темы; - записи сопровождаются картинкой. Вся информация нацелена на то, чтобы поднять уровень интеллекта, развить чувство прекрасного и помочь вам интересно и с пользой провести время. На сайте точно понравится как представителю рабочих профессий, так и учителям, бизнесменам, студентам, которые жадно впитывают всю информацию. Материал можно назвать эксклюзивным, ведь он присутствует только на этом портале. Для того чтобы не упустить интересные моменты, обязательно добавляйте портал в закладки. Специалисты сайта предпринимают все возможное, чтобы вы оставались с ними, а потому имеется материал «топ», а также лонгриды, истории, новости из сферы культуры и другое. Заходите на сайт почаще, чтобы получить больше удовольствия от просмотра и прокачать свои знания.

Reply
comment avatar
Matthewfub wrote on August 2nd, 2022

https://www.1nessenergy.com/2022/07/29/izbegayte-10-osnovnykh-oshibok-v-nachale-raboty-omg-sayt/ - omg onion, omg сайт

Reply
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.