Link Hoarding: How Google And Money have Changed the Linking Game

This post has been in my drafts for a while but I figured this would be a good time to post it, thanks to Arrington’s recent post.

In case you haven’t noticed, a lot of companies and blogs seem to be linking less and less to external websites in favor of directing traffic to their own sites, networks, or affiliated sites.Remember when Techcrunch used to link to the actual startup when they covered it? These days it’s usually a link to Crunchbase instead (the “stats” page for that startup). They are effectively funneling their links through their own network to keep more of the users attention and revenue.

But who can blame them? Even Google is getting wary or losing its traffic to Wikipedia. Why do you think they’re launching Knols? (Notice the irony in that last link?) Even Yahoo has recently made changes to keep more traffic on their own network – the SERPS are now littered with more links to their own properties.

Why is this happening? I would say a combination of 2 things: a desire to hoard more attention (and revenue) and long term consequences of Google’s pagerank algorithm.

Firstly, the web is super saturated with content – there is an overabundance of information and new sites launch every day (see the 30,000 new blogs about “making money online”). This leaves the existing players scrambling for attention and relevance. As these new sites start eroding mindshare, everyone is looking for ways to maintain their own networks’ traffic (and especially if there’s VC money behind the blog/blog-network!)

Bloggers are also becoming more frugal because they are now much more aware of a link’s worth – in actual dollars.

A brief history: 1. Google’s pagerank algorithm equates links with votes. 2. More links/votes = better rankings. 2. Ad networks (TLA, etc.) monetize the value of these links for rankings. 3. Publishers became aware of a link’s worth. 4. (Now) Publishers realize that link equity is (somewhat) finite and they may be better off hoarding the user or better monetizing that link’s value.

While the days of “free link love” are not necessarily coming to an end, there does seem to be more reservation in distributing out links these days.

More recently I’ve come across a lot of statements like “but I don’t want to waste my pagerank juice on this link, can I get a link to my site instead?” Links and their monetary value are now much more tangible.

Google’s Pagerank and value allocation has helped create this monster. By protecting its business with things like bastardization of nofollow, its paid-link witch hunt, etc. they have only added more layers of complexity to linking.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the web is evolving – and fast. Relevance, links, link value, attention, search engine rankings – everything is changing – and so are the linking patterns across the blogosphere.

What’s your perspective?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Rasmussen April 29, 2008 at 6:18 am

I personally don’t mind losing a little link juice by giving a link to a site that a visitor will find valuable. I don’t post a bunch of them but one here or there is no big deal in my opinion. Now, if I was running a huge site I might have a different stance.

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M1ke May 18, 2008 at 6:18 pm

My blog makes me no money as I don’t make the effort to keep it updated regularly. However that may be _because_ I’m not making money from it. As soon as something becomes worth money we try a lot harder, and linking is no difference. On my blog I see a link as providing a reader with more information, if I was being paid I see it as sending them away from my site and losing their custom. It doesn’t help that targeting new tabs/windows is also frowned upon these days.

I also agree with the point that the internet is getting somewhat saturated. When I started blogging it had been going a few years and I wasn’t going to carve a great readership, but I at least felt I was providing a service. These days it seems everyone’s jostling over the same territory and half the blogs out there now just discuss each other most of the time.

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David Abernathy June 28, 2008 at 1:50 pm

I used to blog more on my own site. Then I came to the conclusion that my bloggin efforts created exposure by blogging on other sites, like ActiveRain. Now, with everything else going on with regards to link values – I think I will start blogging more and more on my own site. At this point, I plan on updating the blog on my own site and creating a blogging site that is much broader in scope than just my Palm Beach County real estate market. Perhaps, I can start to get other businesses to participate?

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Markus June 28, 2008 at 7:59 pm

@David: I don’t know if I’d go too broad with your blogging if your focus is on real estate. Nice site, btw.

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