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E-Marketing Performance Blog

The PageRank Linking Marriage

Show of hands: How many of you have the Google tool bar installed with the PageRank bar feature? (I’m wondering now just how many of you actually raised your hand!). PageRank has been a staple of the SEO industry for quite some time. For good or bad, it has shifted how SEOs go abut applying their trade in regards to link building.

For those who may be unfamiliar with PageRank, let me explain. Actually, there’s no time for that so let me sum up: PageRank, as developed by Google, was designed to determine the relative importance of a web page by calculating the likelihood of that page being accessed by a random user.

The PageRank bar, accessible through the Google toolbar, provides the estimated measure of importance of a given page, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. A low PageRank (i.e. 2/10) means that very few quality pages are linking to that page, therefore its overall importance is minimal. A high Page Rank (i.e. 8/10) means that many higher quality pages link to that page, therefore that page’s overall importance is greater.

PageRank intertwines with optimization in that, if all things being equal, a page with a higher PageRank will have better rankings than a page with a lower PageRank. This, of course, assumes that all other things are equal, which they very rarely are. Since Google gives us their estimated measure of importance for a page, based on the number and quality of links pointing to that page, PageRank value is utilized by many SEOs to help determine courses of action to be performed.

In most cases PageRank is used to help determine how well a site might be able to perform in search results as well as determining what other sites will make good linking partners. In the most practical terms, a page’s “PR” has become synonymous with its linking value.

As I said, for good or for bad, PageRank has changed the SEO landscape to the point where that, as long as the PR bar is available, sites will be scrutinized, not so much on the basis of relevancy or quality, but simply on the PR of their pages.

There are many in the SEO industry that claim to ignore PR. In fact, many say they ignore proactive linking building altogether. When all is said and done, however, I don’t believe there is any real way to achieve good search engine rankings for competitive terms without being somewhat aggressive in obtaining quality links pointed to your site.

Some within the industry have gone so far as to state that if you just build “the best” site within your industry, others will be falling all over themselves to link to you. I’ll state flat out that this is utter nonsense. Here’s why:

* Without links the search engines will not find, therefore will not be able to rank your site
* Without rankings no one will be able find your site in order to want to link to it
* Even with other forms of marketing to drive traffic to your site, we are still dealing in a PageRank cyber-universe where very few willingly link to sites with a PR0 (0/10) or any low PR.
* While there are a few industries where you can become “king”, there are many industries that no matter how much you build your site you are always going to be competing with someone bigger (but not necessarily better) than you.

How does your toy store become “the best” over Toys ‘R’ Us (10,100 links counted by Google)? Or how does your travel site become “the best” over Expedia (45,800 links counted by Google)? Certainly you can build a great site with tons of excellent content, as well as compete for your targeted keyword phrases, but the certain truth is that links don’t find you until you’ve found a measure of success.

Link Quality Improvement

Building a high-quality site is very, very helpful (and definitely recommended) if you want to obtain quality links and compete for competitive phrases. And certainly, given enough time (read: years) you may have enough links to get you to the first page, but not being proactive in a link campaign, regardless of how good your site is, is not going to produce the results you want within any kind of reasonable time frame.

So the question is this: what makes a good link? By Google’s own PageRank formula, a link from a page with a higher page rank is better than a link from a page with a lower page rank. But of course, its really not that simple. Other factors weighed:

* Number of external outgoing links on the page
* Amount of quality text on the linking page
* Whether the link is reciprocated or not
* Links to bad sites, link farms, etc.
* Links to other authoritative sites

Is a link from a PR5 page with 100 other outgoing links MORE valuable as a link from a PR2 page with valuable content and only one external link? Is it LESS valuable? Certainly only Google knows the definitive answers.

So what is the solution? Many SEOs have begun creating “directories” to house all their links so they can provide a one-way link from their directory in exchange for giving a one-way link back to theirs or a client’s site. This can be effective, but it can also be risky as the directory may be considered a link farm by Google.

In last months newsletter I spoke about a new way to build quality links. The idea of exchanging “linked articles” has been bounced around our office some time, and even since last month I’ve had a great deal more time to alter my exact thinking about it. The semantics about how to go about getting links via articles hardly matters. Ultimately linked articles provide a way to place additional quality content on the internet and utilize that content to link other similarly themed web sites. If you did not read last months issue I strongly urge you to do so.

If linked articles are the “magic” solution to high quality links, why then would I be giving away such a “secret”? Because 1) I don’t believe in magic solutions, and 2) I don’t think it is in the best interest of Pole Position Web, or the internet at large, for quality solutions to be kept secret.

Many SEO fads come and go, and often times bad information is disseminated more often than good information. Unfortunately many SEOs and web site owners do nothing more than follow the current trends. This isn’t always a bad a bad thing. Pole Position Web does the same a great deal, but not enough do any kind of forward thinking to develop new ideas and create positive marketing trends.

This is precisely why I am soap-boxing about linked articles, to build a positive trend. I remember having to fight to get links for our clients before linking was commonplace with every mom and pop site in the nation. Today, link quality needs to improve and a trend will have to be established before any one will effectively be able to convince others that a linked article is far superior, and far more valuable to all parties, than a simple link exchange.

Seeking and accepting linked articles requires a new way of thinking, and some slight reconfiguring of your web site, but I strongly urge everybody to add an article submission form along with, or in place of, a link submission form. The rules you put in place can be your own. They can be based on what kind of content you want, who you want it from, and what you want in return. Feel free to check out Pole Position Web’s article submission form here. I think this is a positive trend worth starting!

PageRank has essentially helped Google brand themselves as a search leader. Yes, quality results were the primary factor in their dominance, but Google’s toolbar became a must-install in the SEO community because of the PageRank feature. It is simply the only time that any type of internal measurement has been made public by a major search engine.

Personally, and I know many within the industry agree, the PageRank bar has gone beyond the role of usefulness into being somewhat of a negative in the goal of achieving high quality results. As long as the PR bar is available, it will be the standard of importance in the SEO community (A side note: Yahoo has also tested their own version of PR called WebRank). Without the PR bar sites would longer be able to be weighed on their PageRank value but would have to be weighed solely on quality of content and substance. As long as the PR bar is available, there will always be a quasi dependency on PageRank. But this seems to be a sacrifice of quality that Google is willing to accept.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

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