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As I discussed in the last video, the search engines in the late 1990s were faced with enormous amounts of data to sift through. The idea of simply looking at a page to figure out what was in it, and whether it was a good match for a searcher's query, simply wasn't enough anymore. New methods had to be developed for ranking web pages and link seemed to be the way to go. In 1996 a search engine called RankDex owned by a subsidiary of Dow Jones was experimenting with using links to assess the value of the pages that links pointed to.
The site would rank search results based on how many links pointed to each page. RankDex is long gone, but the designer went on to build Baidu, China's equivalent of Google, and the world's fifth most popular website. Then came Google with this PageRank system and this revolutionized the role of search. The basic concept is simple: use links pointing to websites to give you an idea of how important to link two pages really are. If one page has lots of links and another very few, then the web is just voted for the highly linked page and against the page with few links.
But not all links are equal. If a link comes from a very popular site, one with many links pointing to it, then the outgoing link from that popular site is more valuable than a link from an unpopular site. In effect, the popular site's links carry more votes. This was a huge change in the world of search and the very basis of Google. Google can be traced to early 1996 when Larry Page and Sergey Brin were Stanford Computer Science students. When they first launched their search engine they called it BackRub, you could see the original logo here.
The hand reportedly belongs to Larry Page. Why BackRub? The name referred to backlinks. Page and Brin were examining backlinks, links pointing back to a web page. To paraphrase Page and Brin's paper, "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine," they were using backlinks to figure out a page's importance or quality. Analyzing links then was at the core of Google's methodology when it finally launched in 1998 and it remains essential to both of the world's top search engines, Google and Bing.
Today, links provide crucial information about a reference web page's importance and quality and no concerted SEO campaign is complete without considering them. In the next chapter, we'll look at what a link actually is.
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