Understanding Federated Link Building: A Primer With Examples

You’ve probably heard the term “Federated Search“.  It’s the term used to describe the process of simultaneously searching multiple search engines or online databases from a single search box.

Federated search is unfortunately an awkward term. It sounds like something from the Civil War. Federated search is closely related to meta-search. If you’ve ever used dogpile.com, then you’ve experienced federated/meta-search search. Dogpile is a meta-search engine, meaning that it gets results from multiple search engines and directories and then presents them combined to the user. Dogpile currently combines results from Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, About, MIVA, LookSmart, Topix, Kosmix, Fandango, Blinkx, and Truveo. Other meta-search engines you may have heard of include Clusty, SurfWax, Search.com, Mamma.com, and Ithaki for Kids.

The federated search idea grew in response to growing number of online databases and web resources that make up what is known as the “Deep Web”, or invisible Web, a term coined by Michael K. Bergman back in 2001. SEL’s Chris Sherman and the brilliant Gary Price wrote a terrific book about it that same year. There’s also a terrific blog over at federatedsearchblog.com for those of you interested in learning more.

With traditional search engines like Google, you will only find pages/sources that have already been indexed by that engine’s crawler, meaning the millions of documents from the deep web will not be found. Federated and meta-search is a technique to resolve this issue and make deep web content searchable and findable. One of the best aspects of federated search is the single search box. From one search box, you get to search numerous underlying data sources. This helps the searcher because he/she does not need knowledge of each individual search interface or even knowledge of the existence of the individual data sources being searched. There are hundreds of meta-search and federated search tools available, in a wide variety of subjects, with new ones appearing all the time. Case in point: ScienceResearch.com. ScienceResearch.com provides a single point of access to more than 400 high-quality, publicly searchable science and technology collections.

Federated/meta-searching consists of taking the search term entered in the single search box and:

  1. Broadcasting that term to a group of databases or other web resources with the appropriate syntax for each database.
  2. Merging the results collected from each source.
  3. Formatting the results on a single results page (with duplicates removed).
  4. (Optionally) providing a method for sorting the merged results.

Note: Some meta-search tools screen scrape the actual database results and do not directly allow the user to enter the information source application. Others de-dupe the results, but the goal is simple and the same: save time and produce more complete (and thus more accurate) results.

Federated search for link building

Link builders and public relations pros can leverage the power of federated and meta-search is several ways. The best way to illustrate this is by example. Let’s use ScienceResearch.com.

ScienceResearch.com itself is not new. What’s new is that it now searches over 400 sources in real-time. If you work in a science related profession, chances are you already use ScienceResearch.com, or one day will. Do you see where I’m headed yet? If not, have a look here: http://www.scienceresearch.com/scienceresearch/suggest-a-collection.html

At this point, your link building and public relations tachometer should be red-lining. Let’s pretend you are in charge of link building and content publicity for PBS.org. Have a look at the current ScienceResearch results for PBS.org.  The last line in each search result shows the originating source from where the PBS content was found. This is where federated linking shows itself. By making sure the PBS.org content is submitted and indexed by the sources used by ScienceResearch.com, we assure ourselves that links to that content will appear in the ScienceResearch.com results.

And that’s the beauty of Federated Linking. You benefit from the genius of others. You go along for the ride.

The strategic process to federated linking is three-fold. First, you have to research and identify and federated or meta-search engines in your niche that are right for your content. Second, you look for the inclusion/submission policy and protocol, like this; and third, you submit or request inclusion for your content.

I know what you’re thinking. This is all fine if your site is science related, but what do you do if your content is a bit less “academically rigorous”? As mentioned earlier, there are meta-search engines in many subjects. If, for example, you are in charge of linking for allrecipes.com, a site with over 40,000 recipes, you might want to make sure your site is included at EZYrecipes.com, which simultaneously searches over 25 of the best recipe sites.

And bingo! There they are.

That’s federated linking.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via EricWard.com.

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  • http://www.ihsekat.com/ Takeshi

    I don’t get it. Is the point just to appear in the SERPs of these search engine aggregators? Or are the SERPs of these so-called “federated” search sites also indexed by Google?

    Usually, when I do link building, the purpose is to build inbound links for a specific site in order to help boost its ranking in Google. If the goal of this article is just to show up in these niche meta-search engines, why not just rank highly in Google, and you’ll likely show up in the results anyway?

    Outside of ScienceResearch, do any of these sites get significant enough traffic to justify spending effort trying to rank in them? I must be missing something here.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com nickstamoulis

    Hi Eric, This all makes perfect sense but since Dogpile for instance, one of the largest and oldest meta-search engines only gets about 2.2million (yeah, I know I said only! :o) according to Compete, this means that a meta engine such as Dogpile has a very small part of the search market….

    Also, Dogpile aggregates data from PPC engines like Miva and other paid ads staggered into their SERPs, why would a visitor use Dogpile vs. Google or Yahoo!. Regarding your point about industry specific federated engines, this makes perfect sense and is a great strategy…

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Takeshi – Federated link building is not about ranking well at Google, because in many cases the underlying database where your content/links would be found is not indexable by Google in the first place, hence the term”Invisble web”. If your only goal from link building is to rank higher at Google, then you have no reason to pursue federated linking. However, the more subject specific your content is, and especially if that content is not traditional html wrapped content (like if it’s in MSword, powerpoint, pdfs, spreadsheets, audio, video, etc), the less likely it is the content will be discoverable via Google, Yahoo, or Bing, or any other mainstream crawler. That’s where it becomes important to seek out inclusion in the databases that are part of the invisble web. Here’s a cool link to check out http://www.collegedegree.com/library/college-life/99-resources-to/

    nickstamoulis – Dogpile was probaly not the best example, but I used them because they’ve been around so long that most readers have likely at least heard of, if not tried, them. Federated linking is all about verticality. Maybe a better example would have been http://mednar.com


  • http://www.brickmarketing.com nickstamoulis

    Hi Eric – Thanks for the great federated example with Mednar.com…


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