Not links. Citations.Link is a general word, it describes every kind of hyperlink between web pages. A no-follow link, JavaScript link, redirected link, a link with an anchor text, a link that says click here and a link that says buy now.  A citation is more narrowly defined as a reference to a page, independent of any quid pro quo between the referring page and the referenced page. This is important. Links connect. Citations recommend. Links aren’t as important as citations. Citations matter because they are recommendations.

Cultivation is a process where preparations are made to make something fertile for growth.

  • Plants are cultivated
  • Friendships are cultivated
  • Business relationships are cultivated
  • Citations are cultivated

What does it mean to cultivate a citation, to make a set of web pages citation worthy? What does it mean to cultivate a friendship? Often it involves improving yourself, being social. Being social relates to attractiveness, which has nothing to do with looks but in what you personally offer in terms of good company. Why does a web page author create a citation to another web page? Usefulness is at the top of that list. What’s special about usefulness? The answer is all about what’s in it for the web author. What’s in it for me? Not you. Never you. Always about the web author posting links on a web page you want a citation from. Understanding what motivates that web author to link out is important. Look for clues on the web site from which you would like a citation from. Cultivate that circumstance.

Let’s consider the ways a web page can be considered reference quality and think about how to build that ideal page. What makes a page reference quality? Often it’s utilitarian in nature, usefulness. Amazon has an active community creating user generated content that is useful (reviews). Other sites build blogs to build bridges to communities (dialogue, sharing of information, community).

Here are three aspects of a citation-worthy web page:

  • Uniqueness
  • Usefulness
  • What’s in it for them

Ultimately a site is a platform that allows site visitors to accomplish something, a bridge to get from here to there. What is there? Uniqueness is what makes a site stand out. That can be in the ease of navigation, simplicity, complexity, comprehensiveness, tightness of focus, a signpost up ahead, not the twilight zone but a way to achieve. Now we’re back to being a platform. This is there… Cite it.

Usefulness. People love things that are useful. A mirror is useful. A good mirror shows a person how they wish to be. Why do you enjoy a site? What does it help you do? Again, back to being a platform, a way to get from here to there. What’s in it for them, always about what’s in it for them. Not you. Not your anchor text. Enjoy. Cite it again.

The science of statistics has made links obsolete. Google described itself as a citation based search engine. Not a link based search engine. A citation based search engine. PageRank is not really about links. It is, but it really isn’t. Google has been whittling away at the value of links since the day after PageRank was invented, so to speak. Footer links, discounted. Links surrounded by words like “sponsors” or “advertisers” …discounted. Links in the form of images that resemble advertising ad units, discounted. Links that are irrelevant, discounted. They don’t count because that’s just chaff. Chaff is the junk that surrounds the grain. What counts is the grain, the recommendations known as citations. That’s what the discounting and penalizations are all about. Peeling away the chaff to get to the real signal. The science of statistics can see the inbound and outbound link patterns of your website and based just on that can determine if the links are merely links or are citations. I discuss those statistics in my newsletter, how certain ratios indicate a statistical probability of an attempt to manipulate. It’s good to know those kinds of factors but you almost don’t need to know that if you’re focused on citations.

Pragmatism is defined as an approach that understands theories and methodologies and chooses the one that is best suited for success. What will get you from point A to B. This isn’t a white hat sermon. It’s the voice of pragmatism in the face of the reality that the search engines are able to use statistical analyses to identify the qualities of a site that’s trying to artificially build links in order to discount that and get to the signal, the recommendation otherwise known as a citation.

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