high school lockers

seo: it’s high school all over again

January 29, 2019

written by
Andrew Levine

i am an SEO nerd and proud of it.

I truly am at home geeking out about the latest Google algorithm updates or delving deep into keyword phrase research for clients. And I am more than okay to tell the world of my search engine nerd-dom. I put in on my business card (literally), wear in on my sleeve (figuratively), and tattoo to my forehead (well maybe not).

I am here to tell you that if you understand “high school popularity”, then you will also understand “link popularity”. Back in the day I was  a high school nerd – only back then I wasn’t so proud of that distinction. I was a big-band-listening, AP-class-enrolling, friend of the chess club. The people I hung out with most in high school were… well… my parents. Don’t get me wrong, I had actual friends.  We laid low most of the time, which was easy, because we were “unpopular”.

“Popularity” and “high school” flow so naturally together that it’s hard to think of one without the other. However, in the decades since I graduated high school (when did I get so old?!), the word “popularity” has become intrinsically linked to another concept: SEO. Chiefly, “link popularity” – an often misunderstood but an almighty portion of search engine optimization. 

a survey course in link popularity.

In short, your website’s link popularity is determined by how many third-party sources lead back to your site. You may have heard these described as “backlinks” as they are literally sources which “link back” to your site. Link popularity has been and remains a vital part of Google’s search engine algorithm – how Google decides where to rank your website in the search engine result pages (SERPs) for a given query. So running with our high school metaphor, link popularity would be the amount of friends you had in high school; for if a third-party site is linking to your site, they are in effect vouching for your site – and that’s a pretty friendly gesture.

run with the in-crowd.

Having lots of friends in high school would have done wonders for my popularity. Don’t get me wrong… I adored my core friends of 10 fellow nerds.  But I knew that if I could replace any or even all of them with just one new friend from the “in-crowd” – a cheerleader, a football player, that kid who could always score kegs for the parties I was never invited to – that stock in my popularity would have soared!

In the same way, which websites are linking to you matters. Having the outcasts linking to you is fine. It means you have friends out there… not exactly in high places… but Google will take notice and place a modicum of ranking weight with you. These might be a personal blog, or small business with a page full of links. But if you want Google to really stand up and take notice, you have to get the “in-crowd” linking to you. And when I say in-crowd, I mean it both in relevancy and authority.


How relevant to your website is the website/webpage linking to yours? Are you a hotel? Then you want travel-related websites linking to you. Travel & Leisure is way cooler than your mom’s travel blog. Are you a technology startup? It’s the same thing, you want tech sites linking to you.


How authoritative in the subject matter is the linking website? Are you a restaurant? Then having a link from a very popular food blogger could be huge. Are you a law firm? Then target legal journals and trade publications.

Reputable news media sites are almost always both relevant and authoritative in a broad range of categories.

everyone’s talking about you.

Friendships are the bedrock of high school popularity, but sometimes you can be popular without the full rights and privileges of friendship. Maybe you did something commendable or disreputable or maybe it’s just a rumor… it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that everyone is talking about you. Your name keeps on surfacing in the chatter of the high school hallways.

Likewise, you can achieve search engine popularity without websites actually linking to you. Merely by mentioning your brand name, authoritative and relevant sources can boost your SEO rank status. These mentions are often referred to as “citations”. Citations don’t carry the same weight as backlinks, but they may be easier to come by because some sources won’t link to your website. That’s fine. If they’re talking about you, that counts too.

don’t flunk social studies.

I didn’t have social media in high school. When I wanted to update friends in written form on my current status, I had to pass intricately-folded notes scrawled out in pencil. Today, high school popularity goes beyond the hallways and classrooms. Social media is where it’s at.

The same goes for SEO. Search engines like Google want to deliver the best results to their users’ queries. If a topic is trending on social media, Google will follow the heat. So is there something interesting happening with your business? Post it! Is there a new article linking to your website? Share it! Does your business have a physical location? Have visitors check in.

graduating with honors.

Well, you’ve done it. If you made it this far, I now officially dub you a fellow “SEO nerd” and I am proud to have you as my friend. (Seriously. Will you be my friend? Please.)

Written by: Andrew Levine & you can contact him for friendship at [email protected]