At the recent Search Marketing Expo (East), WebProNews had a discussion about how linkbuilding has changed in the past ten years or so, with one of the linkbuilding game’s earliest players – Eric Ward.
Ward says the biggest change is that in the early days, there were no engines that looked at or analyzed links. Rankings and links had nothing to do with one another, so you built links with people in mind. Then Google came along and recognized that there was a value in those links that they could measure. Suddenly, Ward says, that meant your links had two audiences – the people that could click them and the engines that could count them. The downside, he says, is that a whole industry has grown around building links purely for search rank. You know the story.
Before Google came along, links were often paid for, and they were basically just ads. People would just buy links from each other with the intent of people actually clicking them. It wasn’t about rank.
As Eric notes, Google has never actually said don’t buy links. They just say don’t buy our PageRank. Don’t buy the PageRank measure that they’ve assigned to a site. Buying a link would make sense just like buying a banner would’ve made sense ten years ago. If your motivation is click traffic that’s fine, says Ward. If your motivation is that you want to buy a link from a high PageRank site so that you can rank high, then you’re in the area that Google doesn’t like.
Ward contemplates what things would’ve been like had Google never released the toolbar with that PageRank number. It’s an interesting question, considering that Google pretty much tells people to ignore it. The company has even now eliminated PageRank from Webmaster Tools.