Log based link analysis for improved PageRank

While top website analytics packages offer pretty much anything you might needto find actionable data to improve your site, there are situations where we need to dig deeper to identify vital information.

One of such situations came to light in a post by randfish of Seomoz.org.He writes about the problem with most enterprise-size websites, they have many pages with no or very few incoming links and fewer pages that get a lot of incoming links.He later discusses some approaches to alleviate the problem, suggesting primary linking to link-poor pages from link-rich ones manually, or restructuring the website.I commented that this is a practical situation where one would want to use automation.

Log files are a goldmine of information about your website: links, clicks, search terms, errors, etcIn this case, they can be of great use to identify the pages that are getting a lot of links and the ones that are getting very few.We can later use this information to link from the rich to the poor by manual or automated means.

Here is a brief explanation on how this can be done.

Here is an actual log entry to my site tripscan.com in the extended log format: 64.246.161.30 – – [29/May/2007:13:12:26 -0400] “GET /favicon.ico HTTP/1.1″ 206 1406 “http://www.whois.sc/tripscan.com” “SurveyBot/2.3 (Whois Source)” “-”

First we need to parse the entries with a regex to extract the internal pages — between GET and HTTP — and the page that is linking after the server status code and the page size.In this case, after 206 and 1406.

We then create two maps: one for the internal pages — page and page id, and another for the external incoming links page and page id as well.After that we can create a matrix where we identify the linking relationships between the pages. For example: matrix[23][15] = 1, means there is a link from external page id 15 to internal page id 23.This matrix is commonly known in information retrieval as the adjacency matrix or hyper link matrix.We want an implementation that can be preferably operated from disk in order to be able to scale to millions of link relationships.

Later we can walk the matrix and create reports identifying the link-rich pages, the pages with many link relationships, and the link-poor pages with few link relationships. We can define the threshold at some point (i.e. pages with more or less than 10 incoming links.)

Your competitor is your best friend

As I mentioned earlier, for me success is about what, how, and work.  This is my simple formula.

Anywhere my customers or potential customers express their problems and frustrations is a place for me to dig out opportunities.  Forums, blogs, mailing lists, news groups, etc…   Your what should be driven by your customers’ needs.

Most critical for success is how we do it.  What sets us apart?  What is our UVP?  This is where following your best competitors closely, pays off.

Nobody is perfect.  There is always a better way to do things or at least to appeal to another audience.

My approach is not to simply copy what my competitors are doing.  This is the easiest path, but it is very difficult to stand out by just being another XYZ.

I prefer to look at my competitor’s solutions as their prescribed answer to customers’ specific problems.  The key here is that what needs solving is the customer’s problem, and there is rarely a single solution.  My solution is how I would solve it better leveraging my strengths.

The harder to get the link, the more valuable it is

Links that are too easy or relatively easy to get do not help much in getting traffic or authority for search engine rankings.

If your link is placed on a page where there are several hundred links competing for attention, it is less likely that potential visitors will click than if the page only has a few dozen links.

The value of your link source is in direct relation to how selective that source is when placing links on the page and how much traffic the source gets.  The value also declines with the number of links on the page.

Google is understood to use algorithms to measure the importance and quality of each page.  The PageRank was invented by Google founders and is used for measuring absolute importance of a page.  The TrustRank algorithm describes a technique for identifying trustworthy pages — quality pages.  We can not tell for sure to what extent Google is using this algorithm if at all, or at least their publicly known version.  What we can say, is that based on observation, we can definitely say that they do not treat all links equal and they do not pass authority to your page from all of your link sources.

Success in a $100 budget?

Patrick Saxon from Seoish.com has asked top names in the SEO industry a very useful question.  What most have missed is that Patrick has actually answered the question himself by writing the article.

First, he created a very useful piece of content, and second, he has received a large number of authority links from his peers.

He recently won a conference pass to SMX in Seattle from Arron Wall and he frequently comments and writes posts in the Youmoz section of Seomoz.org.  I can only see him moving up.  Congratulations Patrick on this cleverly created linkbait!

What would I do with $100-$500 if I had to start over again?  I hope I am allowed to keep my knowledge and experience and at least have the means to support myself for several months.

Give and you shall receive.

I would choose a topic I know a lot about, am passionate about, and invest the money in a domain name and creating useful content.  If I create the content myself I would pay a professional to make it look better.  I would host the content on a hosted blog such as wordpress.com or blogger.com.

After 20 or so posts I would use them as source for an ebook to be sold from the website.

To build buzz I would leverage social media sites and I would start helping and offering suggestions to others in popular forums and blogs.  Readership will build up.

Patrick has pretty much done most of this.  My only suggestion to him is to find or create a useful product for his audience.  If he decides to stick to Adsense, I would definitely move those ads above the fold!  Check the Adsense guidelines for better placement.

Assessing competitive levels

Critical to success is competing where we know we can excel.  This might sound obvious, but many entrepreneurs fail to identify exploitable opportunities.  Don’t get me wrong; I love competing.  There is no problem with dreaming big.  Even if we want to go after Dell or Microsoft, we have to find a really smart plan to achieve that.

Realistically it is wise to start very small and have a clear and smart plan to grow bigger.

I do this with SEO.  I always target niche keywords first — keywords that no other SEO or few others are targeting.  When I conquer those keywords, I move on to the more competitive ones.  This has the added benefit that my relevance profile looks natural to the search engines.

Here is a tip I use to find such keywords.

Google and other search engines let you search for words in the title, url, body, and the text in the links pointing to the web pages.  You can use this information to assess whether there are savvy SEOs targeting that keyword niche.

It’s been well known for a while to SEOs that the link text in the links pointing to a page carry enormous weight.  You can practically rank first page for keywords that are not in the body text if you use the link text effectively.  Many websites that rank high do not contain those keywords in their incoming anchor text.

How competitive a keyword is, is usually measured by the number of sites listed for the keyword search.  For example, a search for “seo” in Google returns 125 million results. Very competitive!

Searching for “allinanchor:seo” returns under 3 million results.  A lot of results but far fewer than the normal search.  A search for “allintitle:seo” returns under 5 million results.

To assess how competitive a search phrase is, I prefer to compare different searches: intitle, inanchor, intext, and inurl.  This cues me as to what extent websites are being actively optimized.  This is my real competition!

What?, How? and Work!

One of the first lessons I’ve learned from life, is that many people achieve success by taking completely different routes.

For me, every time I want to pursue a new venture I ask myself:  What is the great opportunity most people are overlooking?  How can I take advantage of it and do it better?

When I have a clear answer to these questions, and believe I can do it and feel passionate about it, I set out to work on it!

Opportunities are everywhere.  You only need to listen to what your potential customers need and how you can efficiently solve their problems.

One thing that I do to come up with new ideas, is to look at the problems my potential customers are having, the solutions my future competitors are giving, and try to find a better, smarter, faster or cheaper way to achieve the same.

Sadly, a lot of smart people know what their goals are and how to achieve them, but are too lazy or too afraid to actually work on them.