Should You Join the PageRank Hysteria?

Buying and selling link equity has become standard practice in the search business. Web sites are listed high in search results partially because of the popularity of the sites linking in to them. This we know. But how should one approach getting links? Is the mass consumption of purchased link equity a worthwhile endeavor?

Like many of you, I’ve been following the story of Google’s PageRank shuffle on popular industry blogs and on Search Engine Watch. In the race to get a story out, industry gurus often forget to look at the big picture and ask a few important questions.

At the risk of being perceived as the Faustian search intellectual, I’m not buying any of the hype. Let’s take a look at the buzz surrounding this nonevent and find some meaning in this mess.

Unfounded Fear

For as long as I can remember, ill-informed marketing people have been monitoring their PageRank on the Google toolbar because no one has explained that:

  • The PageRank on the Google Toolbar is months old.
  • There are other really effective ways to measure site success in search.

ClickZ’s Mike Grehan and many others argue that PageRank is overhyped and misunderstood. Mike’s caught more than a little flack for his perspective. I’d expect much of the same here, particularly from folks who make their living in the link commerce business.

That’s not to say link traders are necessarily evil. Quite the opposite. I’ve seen far worse business models that have made many a dot-com millionaire.

Should you buy links? How do you assign a link value? Mike and I argue that PageRank is something of a fading fantasy brought on by a little popularity meter, but my gripe really isn’t with PageRank or the fantasy popularity bar.

Why Whine When You Can Wine?

For many outsiders — people with a Web presence but no link smarts — the Web represents a vast opportunity for delivering products, services, and information to the consuming public.

I should clarify what I mean by “consuming public.” I’ve gotten a few e-mail messages asking about the phrase; I’m not referring to purchase behavior or target audiences. “Consuming public” refers to anyone consuming anything on the Web. If you’re not a producer, you’re a consumer. Sometimes you’re both.

People consume almost everything on the Web — news, video, music, products. Search engines provide a means of consumption, and the rules by which search listings are found are ever-changing.

Sometimes, the burning desire to stay ahead of the changes takes a backseat to providing coherent, useable information. In other words, instead of clouding the Web with misinformation, perhaps one should be kicking back with a nice bottle of Bordeaux until there’s something worth informing the consuming public about.

What You Really Need to Know

Did Google monkey with the rankings just to see how people would react? I’d think Googlers would have better things to do with their time. Are people going to sue over perceived lost equity? Perhaps. People sue over all kinds of things these days; why not sue over PageRank loss?

We’ve known for years that Google Dances and the process of searching and finding are in perpetual refinement. As Search Engine Watch has noted, much of the hype surrounding the latest ups and downs with ranking have very little to do with actual traffic volume to seemingly affected sites.

In an insane environment, sane coverage gets the least amount of buzz. Simple human behavioral economics dictate that crazy sells and sane is just inane.

Maybe the real algorithmic shift we should hope for lies in one away from wacky and toward useful. Just because one person hypes up some crazy drama and more people buy in with link love, the story isn’t valid or accurate. It’s just popular.

At the end of the day, inciting mass hysteria in the Web community is a great way to get lots of sites linking in to you, but it really doesn’t do much for democratizing the Web information consumption world as we know it.

Meet Kevin at SES Chicago from December 3-6.

Related reading

Simple Share Buttons