posted in search engine optimization  on 22 July 2011
by Andrew Lang 
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Internet Dystopia: Page Rank Obsessives and Automated Linking

The humble website link used to be something that simply connected one page to another. A little blue underlined "click here" that took you "there" because a person genuinely found an interesting website, and thus, with all the wide-eyed innocence of those early days of "cyberspace" (as it was once known), linked to it. A link in 1997 was uncontroversial, innocent, functional. This was a time when people actually browsed directories looking for websites.

In 2011, the link has grown up, with all of that innocence completely blown away, trashed, deflowered, extinguished. Power corrupts, and the power of linking has corrupted the humble link to become a tool of commerce. In fact, a link is a unit of currency these days. It's not so much "click here", but more a carefully crafted anchor text link with carefully researched keywords.

This is all down to one company: Google. They use the link as a key signal to determine its search engine rankings. Having good search engine rankings gives you targeted traffic to your site. Resulting in sales, conversions, money. So powerful links are the key to a site's success.

Links are Currency Now

Now that SEO is a mainstream activity, you'll find that people are less inclined to link out freely unless there's some "quid for their quo" - as links are a currency after all. Or they wrap their links in "nofollow" (effectively nullifying the value of the link other than it being a useful resource for the human visitor to click on).

All over the internet there are people buying and selling links in various different guises: maybe they're directly buying and selling, maybe it's a "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" kind of reciprocation, or webmasters place links that appear "innocent" as they're part of an article, but some kind of favour-exchange has gone on behind the scenes. Then there's publication for the sake of links. All of this happens because there is a known cause and effect between who links to you, and where you rank (in the search engines).

Page Rank Idiocracy

Page Rank (PR) is a scale (0-10) that supposedly measures the trust value of a page. Many people love PR because it's a quick and lazy way to evaluate a web page's value (from all-important Google's perspective). Who wants to browse the backlink profile of a website, its Alexa ranking, the age of the domain, the age of a particular page, its own outbound links, number of total links on the page etc - when you can have a nice, neat 0-10 score for each page? And so PR has become a currency too. However, if PR is a currency, then it's a currency awash with counterfeit notes (dropped domains with high PR). And yet, PR IS a defacto currency on the web, and its value has become ingrained in the link buying and selling ecosystem. In reality, PR is yet another layer of abstraction, a meta-virtual-currency of dubious value - dubious because it's a fact that ranking well and PR are different things altogether. A page can be PR7 and rank nowhere. Another page can be PR0 and rank for very competitive keywords. I've seen this time and time again. PR is just a number, whereas targeted traffic is worth a lot more. Perhaps it's Google's deliberate attempt to distract everyone?

Automated Linking

There's a lot of "noisy" meaningless links out there (from a search engine perspective). If you're an engineer at Google, one of the primary tasks to determine their algorithm is to first of all simply remove "noisy" links from their algorithm altogether. It's not that such links should have a negligible value. It's that they have NO value. Why? Because of automation. There are services out there that automatically post links to your site across forum profiles and on comment blogs. One service promises up to 1,500,000 (one and a half million) links per month to your site.

With link building becoming ever more popular, and with more and more automation taking place, you can imagine Google are going to get more brutal themselves when it comes to eliminating noise. The ludicrous scaling up of link building via automation means quality links will have even more of an influence on rankings.

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