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Google Is The Godfather Of The Linking Mafia: Understanding Pagerank

You can boil down Google’s Pagerank system into an analogy of the Italian mafia and use it to increase your standing in the eyes of the ultimate boss – Google itself. Many travel bloggers complicate what Pagerank is, which can cause frustration and delay your page’s move up the ranks. Understanding the system makes it much easier to become a part of the network and a “friend of ours”.

don corleone

Meet Don Google

Think of Google as the “Godfather” of an online mafia, which uses a vouching system to determine who it can trust and who it can’t. Your links are vouches, a travel blog’s displays of trust, visible back up to the boss.

  • A big part of how external links work are “follow” and “no follow” links.
  • “Follow” links are the only ones Google uses to create it’s map of the Internet – “no follow” links are ignored.
  • Sure there are other search engines out there, but Google controls more than 70% of the global search market.

Almost all links are “follow” by default so anyone you link out to is used by the search engine to develop its trust map. Keep in mind that the vouches are specific, in the sense that rank is is given to individual pages based on keywords like “traveling with teenagers.”

Higher Rank, More Trust

men talkingNot all links are created equal. Much like the movie mafia, the more trusted you are, the more weight your words of assurance will have. That’s the basic principal, the more rank a page has, the greater impact a link from that page will have on the other site.

  • Importance Of Relevance – Linking out to completely unrelated niches or using a pattern of unusual keywords like “playing poker online” stands out and reduces your site’s value in the eyes of Godfather Google.
  • Pagerank Isn’t Everything – The placement of incoming links (whether in text or on a sidebar) are part of Google’s algorithm and the reason corporate guest posts are so interested in contextual links.

It takes time to move up the ranks and older sites tend to be more trusted by Google. Ideally you want quality incoming links from sites with higher Pagerank to your homepage and any keywords you may be targeting. That said, any links have some value for your site.

sopranos photo exhibitVouching For Everyone – Why Links Pages Don’t Typically Rank

Links pages are good ways to get links for your travel blog, since they announce to the world you’re keen for exchanges. These pages don’t typically earn any Pagerank however since they give out too much trust. In the mafia you can’t trust the person who trusts everyone and that’s a bit how links pages are. They give out trust to everyone, which is why Google doesn’t give them much clout.

  • Homepages Are Valuable – Many companies try to work their way up in the system by muscling their way on to your homepage, where typically your highest Pagerank is. Limit the number of external links coming out from your homepage and be choosy as to who you add there.
  • Make The Most Out Of Your Link Page – There are ways to have ranked links pages.

While you can have many associates (i.e. your links page) be selective about whom you want to recommend to the boss. You can accomplish this by limiting the number of outgoing (follow) links on a given page. It’s easy to give out a link and say you trust someone, but what are you willing to do for them? Would you add a description, link to them in a post, or perhaps make them one of a few on a travel links page?

money grabTrust Goes Both Ways

Money talks and there are a number of companies who try to gain Google’s trust by buying your good word. Selling text links is against Google’s code and you should be careful who you link out to no matter how much they may pay you.

  • Getting Whacked – Link out to spammy sites or try to overtly manipulate the system and Google can reduce your Pagerank or worse – completely de-index you.
  • Don’t Forget Your Followers Too – As Gourmantic notes, people generally hate vague links. Use descriptive links to build trust with your audience too.

Linking to spam or irrelevant sites is akin to introducing an FBI informant to a mafia family. You’re now vouching for that link which isn’t worth a dime and making the Godfather look bad. If that happens, guess who’s going to be penalized?

What Pagerank Gets You

Pagerank doesn’t necessarily mean your travel blog or blog posts will always be the first result of a given search. Nor does my mafia analogy mean it’s a bad, corrupt, or unscrupulous system. It’s just an easy way to understand what’s at work and how Google tries to build and rank trust with all of the sites on the Internet (most of whom it doesn’t know personally!)

Higher Pagerank means (in basic terms) that Google trusts your site and places more value on the recommendations (aka. links) you give out. Sites with higher Pagerank also tend to get indexed frequently and scrutinized under a closer lens by the big boss. Don’t obsess over Pagerank, understand that it’s a trust and value system. By making your travel blog a useful website within your niche you’ll naturally gain authority, moving up the Google (Page)ranks.

[photos by: shaun wong (Don Corleone), Nfoka (men talking), vasta (Sopranos photo exhibit), Steve Wampler (money grab)]

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Amy @ The Q Family August 31, 2010, 11:44

    Love this Godfather analogy. Now I think I understand it more.

    What’s the weight on link to your affiliate program on your blog post? Any penalty? Should I use nofollow? And will that impact my commission?

    • Anil P. August 31, 2010, 14:14

      You mean if there’s any penalty for linking to an affiliate program (i.e. e-junkie) in a post?

  • Andi August 31, 2010, 14:52

    Great info as always, thanks!

    • Anil P. August 31, 2010, 15:18

      I’ll reply with the most appropriate response, foggehhttabbouddit!

  • Heather on her travels August 31, 2010, 15:46

    I think you have an apt analogy there in the Godfather – I think Google is one organisation that we all want to keep on the right side as it seems to be beating all other search engines hands down – but I don’t really like that feeling that my blog may be in their power or that worst case they could kill it off by stopping sending me traffic

    By the way, I didn’t think no follow links were completely ignored – they just don’t count towards page rank which isn’t quite the same thing.

    • Anil P. August 31, 2010, 15:54

      It too does make me feel uncomfortable at times. I think a good dose of healthy competition might make Google re-think their policies (are they following “don’t be evil”?)

      …and you’re right about no-follow links, they are ignored in terms of rank but still partially used to help Google map out the Internet.

  • Corinne @ Gourmantic August 31, 2010, 21:31

    Very apt analogy. And I read this post with an Italian accent 🙂

    It’s interesting that advertisers always want your home page although post pages get a lot more hits in comparison. Goes to show they’re not after exposure or advertising their product/service per se. Just after sucking up page rank!

    Pity that Google is quick to penalise you but not quick enough to reward you since you can’t exactly work towards moving up the Pagerank echelon.

    • Anil P. September 2, 2010, 12:58

      Good point, much like the mob, it’s much easier to get on someone’s bad side that move up. Also, they tend to use in many cases circumstantial evidence to penalize you. It’s not an open system.

      …and you’re very welcome for the mention 🙂

  • Corinne @ Gourmantic September 1, 2010, 06:10

    Oops… forgot to add a massive thank you for the mention 🙂

  • Ant Stone September 2, 2010, 20:40

    Good post, Anil. I like the analogy. Google is like the Mafia — you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. Well, some people can’t.

    However, I do have some constructive criticism: I don’t understand the existence of vague text links throughout TravelBlogAdvice.com (TBA)? Surely, that goes against many of the things you’re saying in this post?

    Also, how does you InfoLinks work; do you have control over who it links to, and does Google see this? i.e. could you inadvertently be linking to an ultra spammy site — chosen by InfoLinks — and therefore be being punished for it?

    I understand you’d like to make money, I just feel that on a web site promoting good practise to some new and experienced bloggers, that selling ‘follow’ text links on here is a little hypocritical.

    On a lighter note: I’ve thought of a good feature you could run here on TBA; you could document the rise in readership, rankings and revenue, based on the white hat techniques you employ as an experienced web master on this site.

    What better travel blog advice could there be, than to see the master at work? Just an idea. Keep up the great work.

    • Anil P. September 5, 2010, 08:18

      Interesting point – I could see some of the links in the sidebar as being vague perhaps, but not in the posts (at least I don’t think so).

      I also don’t think selling text links is inherently bad but I caution people that Google doesn’t allow them – in that way it’s very much like a mafia. Because of Google’s reach being knocked with a lower Pagerank is a huge deal and their analysis is done behind closed doors and you won’t get a report as to why you’re whacked. I haven’t told anyone not to sell text link ads; just how to go about it if they do and what to watch out for.

      As for the Infolinks, they are chosen by them, although I can exclude certain sites and topics. Google doesn’t follow those links since they’re an overlay.

      Thank you for the feedback as always Ant. As for the feature, something documenting the statistics of TBA?

      • Ant Stone September 5, 2010, 17:37

        Thanks Anil.

        The statistics of TravelBlogAdvice.com (TBA). In a similar way that Nerdy Nomad does.

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