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?