Linking: The Currency of the Internet
/ Feb 10th, 2010
Back before Google worked popularity into the SEO equation, search engines worked off of relevancy in terms of content. This was way too easy to spam, because all I had to do was write the keyword on my webpage one more time than you to rank ahead. Google introduced PageRank on the belief that if a site provided valuable content, people would link to it. This is a system that revolutionized the Internet as we know it.
As Google’s algorithm matured, so did the algorithms of other search engines, and the premise behind PageRank turned out to be incredibly effective. SEOs are always trying to better understand how search engines rank pages in order to better drive traffic to their own sites. Once linking as a ranking factor caught on, it became the focus of SEOs everywhere.
Links as Currency
Search Engine Marketing’s job was to attempt to gain links from a wide variety of sources in order to achieve desired rankings. There arose an issue, though. Pagerank flows through links. If you decided not to link out to anyone, or place nofollows on your external links, your PageRank would pool up, resulting in higher PR, and better link for your pages.
Google understood that this was bad for their system. They were effectively incentivizing people to quit linking out. This did the same thing as getting people to stop spending money in economic terms. It puts a wrench in the entire system! They started prepping us for a change.
PageRank Sculpting Dies
Google began warning people early in 2009 not to rely too heavily on PageRank. Then, Matt Cutts reported on his blog on June 15, 2009, that Google reserved the right to respect or disrespect the nofollow tag on internal links. This was to invalidate methods of pooling PR artificially on the important pages of a website by placing nofollows on all the links to unimportant pages. Google began taking control of its currency again.
The Death of PageRank
By pooling your PR on important pages to get higher rank, Google was effectively incentivizing people not to link at all. Google realized this and finally put the last nail in the PR coffin on October 15, 2009,by removing the metric from Webmaster Tools. Questions arose, and Matt Cutts responded that PR was no longer taken into account in rankings. That means that PageRank as a multiplier for rankings no longer existed, but the links that made up PR were still taken into account.
Incentive to Link
For a while, SEOs lost their incentive to link out to other valuable resources. In order to get the currency flowing again, they tweaked the algorithm to reward people for linking out. All of a sudden, the strategy has changed, and linking out is great for rankings. Linking is economic policy that Google can influence quite strongly. Make sure you link out to authoritative sites like Wikipedia on your own sites. Stay tuned for more SEO game changers in the future!