I'm sad, I'm mad and disillusioned a tad. (Do I smell a hit country song on the horizon?) I thought the search engine optimization community had changed. Silly me. I guess I was fooled by the discussions on the importance of good content cropping up all over the place. I actually believed that people had finally come 'round to performing SEO with integrity and honesty, and were abandoning tricks and manipulation. I feel so dumb. I should have known that as long as there was a possibility of tricking or manipulating the search engines, SEOs around the globe would figure out how, and not be afraid to do it.

Let me back up here a bit, so you can understand what has me so hot and bothered.

Why do you link to sites? Is it because they're useful and informative and might be worthwhile to your site visitors? Or is it because you hope you'll get a reciprocal link, which just might boost your link popularity and/or PageRank? Perhaps it's some combination of these things, or other reasons all together.

Everyone likes having links to their site; that seems to be a given. When they're from appropriate sites, inbound links often bring a lot of high quality traffic. In fact, the Web was founded on the practice of linking, which is why it's called the "Web." Without linking, I guess it would be just a list. Welcome to the World Wide List. Blech.

As soon as people realized that search engines such as Google were placing an emphasis on who's linking to whom in their ranking algorithms, all hell broke loose as far as I'm concerned. I'll never forget the feeling of dread I felt when I read the first post in I-Search many years ago that went something like, "Hey...I've got a great idea! Since the search engines are counting the number of links to sites in their ranking algorithms, why don't we all link our sites to each other?" Whoohoo! Witness the birth of the link farm.

It didn't take "savvy" Webmasters long to realize that they could create whole bunches of sites for one company, and link them all together to *artificially* inflate their link popularity. If there's a way to trick the engines, you betcha plenty of people will figure out how to do it. But this is old news.

In the past six months or so, Google has been doing its best to put a stop to this sort of manipulation. Many sites that were "optimized" in this fashion have seen their PageRank scores vanish. When this happens, their backward links don't exist as far as Google is concerned. Without backward links, rankings in the search results are basically nonexistent. Oh what a cryin' shame. NOT! I say, "You go, Google Girl!" If Webmasters and SEOs have the need to vandalize Google's PageRank function, then they shouldn't cry when they get sent to their rooms without any supper.

Because of the Google crackdown, SEOs and Webmasters are facing other issues. Suddenly, there's a mad scramble to try and figure out "safe" linking procedures. Everyone is scared to link or get linked to, because they may get the dreaded "PageRank penalty." More and more people are asking what the criteria are to safely link sites together. The answer is simple - don't build bunches of sites for the sole purpose of linking them together in order to increase your link popularity or PageRank. Just don't do it. Don't, don't, don't. Can I make this any clearer? That said, if you own multiple sites (that weren't created for the purpose of link popularity), is it safe to link them to each other? My answer to that is if it makes sense to do so, then sure, link them together. If it adds value to the user to have a link from one site to the other, of course you should do it. That's what linking is all about.

I refuse to believe that Google or any other search engine is looking for ways to make fewer sites show up in their search results. They're not interested in banning sites that provide great information. They *are* interested in maintaining the integrity of their search results, however. Therefore, I suggest you don't ruin an otherwise great site by attempting to trick the search engines. You may not get caught today; you may not even get caught tomorrow. Heck, you may never get caught. But if you do, you'll have to start over from scratch in order to redeem yourself.

Another facet to all this PageRank mania is Webmasters who purposely "hoard" their PageRank. That is, they refuse to link out to any other sites because they want to keep all of their PageRank within their own site. Sure, if you add a reciprocal link to their site, they might link out to yours. But is this what we've degraded to? Doesn't seem to matter that there might be a great page out there that could be extremely useful to their site visitors. This no longer enters the equation. It's all about containing PageRank. (To read more about how PageRank works, see issue 70 of Rank Write.)

Which brings me back to why I'm sad, mad and disillusioned. It appears that PageRank is beginning to drive how people link to each other, and that is just plain wrong. When an informational site or a forum refuses to link to another site or discussion because it might take their visitors away, and/or take away some PageRank, then we've got a huge problem. To me, links are not a commodity to be bought, sold and traded. I link to other sites and discussions when it's appropriate to do so, and not with the caveat that I get a link back. If it's helpful, it's helpful whether or not they link back to my site. As much as I like to think I know it all, in reality I don't (you didn't hear that from me!). Linking to other sites can fill the gaps in my knowledge, and that's important to my site visitors. Like I always say, search engine optimization is all about making your site the best it can be. When we become so consumed by what sites we can and can't link to, or even whether we can link at all, then we're not making our site the best it can be. We're letting other factors dictate our site content, and that's just not right.

March 28, 2002

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ, Inc.com, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

Search Engine Guide > Jill Whalen > PageRank Mania - Is it getting out of hand?