If you asked me to name the biggest irritation that I encounter when dealing with links, I’d have to say that it’s the belief that Google’s Toolbar Page Rank is the best method of defining quality. A notoriously tricky little metric, the TBPR has become a very common source of headaches for almost everyone.
1. Sometimes TBPR checkers don’t work.
Gah. I have 20 link builders using a few different tools to check TBPR and maybe 20% of the time, they send in a link close listing the TBPR but, when one of us oppressive managers checks it, it’s showing as unranked or it’s simply not the same number they initially reported.
While I know this metric can fluctuate, it doesn’t usually change from a 4 to unranked within the span of 5 minutes, on a consistent basis. What if you were searching for a great site to get a link from and you found your perfect page but it was showing as unranked? Would you pass? Many link builders would. That’s a nice loss of opportunity.
2. Many (most) people aren’t really sure what Toolbar Page Rank actually indicates.
It’s erroneous to think that this easily seen metric is a true way to gauge how valuable Google thinks your site is. Since I can’t express it any better than David Harry, just go and read what he has to say on the matter.
So if TBPR is so misunderstood and, um, not always correctly viewed through tools, what metrics CAN you use to determine whether a link on a site is worth going after?
Since I’m keeping this simple, here are two ways:
Relevance is also tricky in some ways, as it’s very easy to throw in keywords and make a search engine think you’re talking about a certain topic even when it’s all nonsense. Remember the days of keyword stuffing content? I remember copying and pasting the same paragraph 5 times in one page, just to flesh it out and make it have a good keyword density.
No, I don’t do that anymore and yes, I am embarrassed. Whole sites can be done in this manner and it can sometimes take a human user to detect what’s going on. Is it stuffing, or it is a truly relevant site?
Relevance matters to me mainly because of its potential to deliver qualified traffic through links. We’re hearing more about how Google may begin to use link click information to value links, so those tiny-fonted footers aren’t going to help you, if they still are anyway.
No matter how good a site is that you get a link on, if it’s completely irrelevant to what your site is, your chance of a traffic conversion is lessened, and why waste that chance? Contextual relevance is even more important than site relevance, as I don’t need for a site to be 60 pages about cancer treatment options in order to get a good link for a site that sells vegetarian cookbooks on a page about eating less meat. I just need one nice, contextually relevant page.
A few months ago I wrote about tangential relevance on this site. Basically, if you can make something relevant, it’s relevant. However, if you stretch the relevance to a truly ridiculous capacity, you’ll probably not be seeing much traffic from those links.
2. Quality of Backlinks
If a site has good, authoritative backlinks, that’s much more important to me than TBPR. If a site has been cited by the leaders/competitors in the niche I’m marketing, that tells me that it has historically been a good reference and will hopefully continue to be one. Notice that I did not mention quantity, only quality. Sure, I would love to see 500 fantastic backlinks but I’ll take 5 as well.
Obviously it’s up to us as link builders to educate our clients about what TBPR actually is. It’s a nice metric to throw into a report, of course, and that isn’t going to change any time soon but we can do our utmost to ensure that it’s not given more weight than it deserves. It’s hard to have cute little neat columns for Relevance and Quality of Backlinks though…but I guess that’s where client communication outside of simple Excel spreadsheets comes into play.