David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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Link Exchanges: It’s not the size of the PR, but how you use it

If you plan to haggle over PageRank with me…goodbye.

That’s right, I have kicked the habit.  The size of your PageRank doesn’t impress me any more.  PageRank surely is still real, but an individual page’s PR can often shrink or grow so that neither you nor I can really know its real size.

  • The Toolbar PageRank has always been at best an approximation. 
  • Pages that show with PR3 or PR4 in the Google Directory are now often showing PR0 (PR Shrinkage)
  • Whole sites are now showing PR0, even while they continue to rank as well as when their pages showed PR3 – PR4.
  • Increasingly link-pages or directory-style pages are showing PR0, sometimes after showing PR3 or PR4 just a week earlier.
  • The gray bar used to mean a page was not cached in Google – a sure sign of a penalty or a brand new page.  No longer.  Many pages with PR are now displaying the gray bar.
  • Toolbar PageRank is dead!

Until very recently, I was assuming that the Toolbar was only showing false negatives – that if a page showed PR4 it was a pretty good bet that the PR of that page is at least PR4.  But recent observations have lead me to question this assumption, and perhaps I am jumping the gun, but I believe the toolbar is now showing false positives, too.

What I look for in a link exchange

Rather than PageRank, I look for a few other key items on the page where my client’s link will appear:

  • Most importantly, I want to know the page is cached by Google.  Not only is that absolutely vital for the link counting with Planet Earth’s most important search engine, but it is a fairly good indicator of whether other search engines and real human beings will find the page, too.  Not cached?  I won’t even look at any other factors.  This is the show-stopper
  • Is the page relevant to my topic?  If not, it had better be superb in every other area.
  • Is the page relevant (optimized) to my search phrases?  Again, if not, it had better be superb in every other area.
  • Is this page optimized for words like “link exchange” or “reciprocal links”?  Why not just type “SLEAZE” in big bold letters across the top of the page?  And don’t think the search engines can’t read words like “link exchange” or “reciprocal links”.  This is another factor that comes pretty close to being a show-stopper, too.
  • Is the page part of some automated link machine script?  Let’s face it, you don’t want to send the search engines a message that, “Hey, I can’t get real links from real people who just love my site, so instead I found an automated script to keep me warm at night.”  This is usually a show-stopper, too.
  • Once I see that a page is cached and passes the four eyeball tests above, it’s time to get critical.  The first thing I look for is a page that can easily be found.  If the page is one of 50 categories in a directory whose main page is linked only from the home page, that’s not a very good sign. Two clicks deep, and sharing link-juice with 50 categories?  I don’t think so.
  • I also check that the page is not the last in a series of pages that link one from the other…that’s how many clicks deep from the home page?  Never go to dance with someone if she’ll make you stand in line to dance.
  • I like a page that is either directly linked to from the home page or is linked to from a page that is in the sitewide template.  From an internal linking perspective, this tells the search engines that the page actually counts.  And you want your link to count.
  • Of course, I also look at the quality of the website overall.  Is this a website that likely carries a lot of trust value?  Does it rank well for similar search terms to the ones I am targeting?  Is the link directory full of all sorts of totally unrelated categories, perhaps some of them even unsavory?  If this website sleeps around too much, be careful what you might catch.
  • Is the page a content page?  I can forgive a number of other items for a genuine link in the midst of a page of text.
  • Is my link last on a page with 500 links?  I really prefer pages with 50 or fewer links, but if there are more, I am fine with having our link added near the top of the list, but not at the bottom.

Tell me you have a high-trust website and a linking page that is well linked internally, relevant to my search phrases and clean from the flotsam that shouts out “sleaze”.  But don’t tell me your page has bigger PageRank than mine.  It’s not the size that counts; it’s how you use it.

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7 Responses to “Link Exchanges: It’s not the size of the PR, but how you use it”

  1. Meadow (2 comments) Says:

    Phew. No, I’m not being sarcastic! I’m honestly relieved to read this post and get a professional opinion to disregard the PR hype and hysterics over every little fluctuation or occasional grey bar. Thanks.

  2. ashfaq (1 comments) Says:

    I have PR2 website but suddenly couple of months ago i saw that my site PR 2 become PR0. I emailed google about this. There was no reply from them but within a weeks time the PR0 came back to PR2. I am still wondering why it happened. Anyway thanks to google.

  3. Springfield Mo SEO (1 comments) Says:

    I don't know why people still obsess about page rank. You will NEVER know your TRUE PR because there are so many factors that go into it. authority is authority and trust is trust… no matter the PR.

  4. logo designs (2 comments) Says:

    Well page rank drops if you stop doing link building, but as discussed it has a very less importance but the thing which helps you in SERPS is anchor text.Ii had a blog with pr 0 but it was in top 10 for many competetive keywords because of the relevent anchor text i used

  5. Bruce (2 comments) Says:

    I also think people get to hung up on PR for the whole site, but in reality each PAGE get’s it’s own PR. It’s a very confusing little “tool” that causes way to much stress for a lot of webmasters. Just make good content, & back link like a fool, & to hell with worrying about PR.

  6. Joanna (1 comments) Says:

    I agree with Springfield Mo SEO. PR is extremely confusing. There are so many factors to be taken into consideration nowadays that I don’t even know where to begin. :(

    Joanna R.
    White Space International

  7. Neo A. (1 comments) Says:

    “Most importantly, I want to know the page is cached by Google. Not only is that absolutely vital for the link counting with Planet Earth’s most important search engine, but it is a fairly good indicator of whether other search engines and real human beings will find the page, too.”

    If you have not observed it yet, then you will soon find out that on some strange occasions, Google and Bing actually yield totally different set of results. Google being the world’s most trusted source, of course, I never thought of looking into this matter — not even until now. So I guess it depends on which search engine you think it will matter most.

    “Just make good content, & back link like a fool, & to hell with worrying about PR.”

    Great content creates good reputation; back-links spread the news; page-ranks, well, you lose nothing anyway so might as well work on it whenever you can.

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