Why have a links page ?
Or why can't I hoard my Google page rank ?

Many of my missives address this topic of linking, but hitting it again from the point of view of Googles Page ranking system and outbound links.. While for myself, I don't pay that much attention to page rank, its an inescapable fact of life for any webmaster, for as long as Google is the most used engine.

There is a persistent rumor going on out there, that says if you don't have an outgoing links page, it will improve your search engine ranking on Google by saving your page rank. Setting aside for the moment the incongruity of asking for a inbound link directly or by inference, when you don't have a page to put a reciprocal on, which most people consider very bad Netiquette, this is in a word ... Balderdash !

First off, lets talk a little about how Google views outbound links and page rank, in as far as any of us CAN know as they tend to keep that information close to the chest, as it where ...

PageRank relies on the web itself, using its link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value = Page rank. Google figures a link from page A to page B is a vote, by page A, for page B. But Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and therefore " Rank" higher than others as a vote.

Which is, where we get the whole idea of high ranking site links being worth more. But if you ARE the high ranking site ( or wish to be ) does that mean to keep all the goodies for yourself and "vote" for no one else ? Some people seem to think so.

Linking to a site is a way of saying, “ My visitors will enjoy the content on this.” Part of our task, as webmaster is to provide good content for our viewers, and often that means linking out to those who say it perhaps better than we can, or provide a good complementary subject.

By linking out to other sites, your website can actually gain Page Rank, by becoming a "hub" or an "authority site" IE: become more "important" in your topic area.

Many sites have gained high rank on Google for their links pages alone, because they provide such good content that is constantly updated. Google likes new content and an often updated links page can be just the ticket. A quick check of any engine, for just about any keyword and you will see this in action. The reason being, a well maintained links page, is loaded with relevant keywords for the topic.

There is the fear, that if a webmaster does this and gets the ranking for the links pages, that he will get visitors, only to lose them to their outbound links. And for some visitors, they are right to a degree, but the viewer will remember the site, if it's valuable to them and they will come back to see more, and it's the repeat visitor that matters.

The trick is, they found you didn't they via that high ranking links page ? And that's the name of the game. If they find you useful, they will be back, giving you the opportunity to parade the rest of the site before their eyes.

What is the other sites ranking or placement and does that really matter ?

Back to the " importance" thing again. If the other sites are high in the engines for similar keywords to yours and in the same basic category, then outbound links to them makes sense. Think of it from Googles point of view, if you outbound to one they " know" is " important" then you are providing relevant information for your viewer.

Reciprocal being best of all in that case, as it serves you both. Don't get so hung up on this that you refuse to link to a site unless they have X page rank however, back links are only one factor, one of over a 100 that Google uses to determine Page rank, links are not the be all and end all of PR.  The point is to provide good, useful and enjoyable content to your visitors. Google rank is not everything.

Link sink:

All in, no out .. the engines work by hitting your site and going onward to whatever links they find. If all the links on the pages are internal, meaning all point to you and only you, then you are, what is called a link sink or a dead end. Google will rate the site as having less value as a resource for this ... for good reason.

It stops their spiders flow of indexing and cataloging the web, as now it has to back out of your site and go find someplace new to index. As you have given them no leads. The whole site becomes a dangling link, in effect.

Real dangling links are a somewhat differant subject, as they are just hanging out in mid air, as there is no where else to go, as they do not even cycle back into the site itself. There are some events where this is normal and expected, say for example: a link to a download, or PFD file, but otherwise, not acceptable or useful.

Leaking page rank: There is a persistent fear of losing page rank with each outbound link, so many webmasters refuse to do it, thinking they are saving their PR.

This is called hoarding page rank, and people will go to extremes to keep it. Like never link out ... ever. Or worse, appear to post links, but put "no index, no follow" in the meta tags, which tells Google NOT to follow the links.

Which is shooting oneself in the foot in the long run, as they are telling Google not to index their OWN links on that page in the process. And if they run your page rank down, what value the link you have on your page to them ? Real short sighted thinking. Lots of other Improper linking practices out there. This is but one of them.

Hoarding penalties: Google itself is targeting sites that hoard page rank, with re directs and hidden links in java scripts and other such sneaky tactics, they are well aware of what's happening here and will penalize for it. Google's Terms of Service, specifically states that any form of cloaking or masking techniques are not acceptable.

Google's PageRank system requires PR to flow from site to site and has begun to target those web sites that are damming that flow with penalties. Penalties can range from a drop in rank, to being dropped from the engine.

PR is like Gold to a webmaster, but its gold that only has value in motion, like money in the bank, useless, unless its being used to stimulate the economy and create more wealth. Which makes a lot more sense than moldering in a vault somewhere. Out there and moving, it at least has the potential to gather interest.

If you outlink correctly, you will get good inbound links in return, so you haven't "lost" anything. And recall, its the links page that loses or gains, not the whole site, so do you really care if  the links page is always fluctuating about a bit in page rank ? It works like this ...

"A page's PageRank = 0.15 + 0.85 * ( *a "share" of the PageRank of every page that links to it)

"Share" = the linking page's PageRank divided by the number of outbound links on the page.

The probability that the random surfer clicks on one link is solely given by the number of links on that page. This is why one page's PageRank is not completely passed on to a page it links to, but is divided by the number of links on the page"

Its a numbers game, which all evens itself out, if handled correctly. Beyond this simple example you have to be a mathematician to appreciate it or even understand it.

But it does point out one simple fact, too many links on the page, is just as bad as none, as it devalues all of them accordingly, as each must "share" the rank of the page. IE: If the page rank is 4, and there are 4 links on the page all of them have a ranking share of one. If however, there are a 100 links on the page, everybody's value just dropped to .250% of one .. based on the likelihood of it being clicked on. Its why the infamous link farms are so penalized and undervalued, as the links on them are near worthless.

A link is only considered to have value if its likely to be clicked on and followed. If there are masses of links on the page, the likelihood of that happening, drops exponentially. This same philosophy follows for unrelated links. If your on a Dog site and the link is about gambling, how likely are you to hit the link ? Not very, the value drops accordingly.

Ditto having links in unrelated categories, or no categories. Again drops the likelihood of them being found and used. So their value and the value of the page they are on, drops again.

There is no great mystery to Google's ranking system other than its mathematics :) Its based on an attempt to provide the best answers to the questions put to the engine. A sites " rank" means its " important" , " relevant" , not "spam" and will provide the seeker with what they seek. And that includes relevant outbound links that provide the viewer with even more content. And for this they "reward" the site, with higher rank and placement in the engine and therefore the possiblity of more traffic and viewers.

More soon


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