PageRank is a number that Google uses to represent how important a page is for the search engine. As more and more people start exclusively using Google, the PageRank method for assigning importance becomes a priority for content producers wanting to rank higher in search results. But as with everything, there are those who will accumulate rank organically and those for whom the end justifies the means.
Organically accumulating PageRank would mean regularly writing content that breaks news, encourages debate, or provides ‘evergreen’ material that creates long-term value for users (for example, tutorials, how-to’s and so on). This kind of content naturally gets linked to as other people report on news that you have broken, or write responses to debates you have started, or link to your tutorials/how-to’s for their respective readers. Furthermore, this process can be sped up by using social media sites and making your content instantly available to a larger audience.
Not everyone, however, wants to write their way to a naturally high PageRank. On the other side are people who are willing to manipulate their PageRank using frowned-upon techniques such as buying links (or link-based advertisements) from sites that rank higher thank you (to drive traffic as well as increase your PageRank). Furthermore, there has always been a persistent effort by webmasters to get listed in open directories such as dmoz and Wikipedia. While these latter communities build up their importance and their ranking by creating value for millions of people, others try to benefit from it without putting the effort in.
These ‘black-hat’ techniques that allow you to manipulate PageRank aren’t just bad for yourself and your image (as these ‘tricks’ have a tendency to be exposed at one point or another) but they are also bad for the community that you are abusing. For example, at one point a link from dmoz was PageRank gold. But recognizing the importance of those links, sleazy webmasters descending on the community to the point that it was reduced to a cordoned off section of the web, inhabited by spammers and fraudsters. To prevent a similar fate, Wikipedia, which once removed the nofollow tags on all outbound links, reinstated it so that the site wouldn’t be exploited for links.
While I don’t see these ‘manipulators’ stopping anytime soon, if we keep restating the message of natural growth, I think we can begin to make a difference. In the end, people that play within the system will be rewarded and people that try to circumvent the system will be locked out of the sandbox forever.