Does Persistence Always Pay? What to do when a virtual economy is on the verge of collapse

In case you haven’t noticed, the latest Toolbar PR rollout has been abnormal and slow. In the grand scheme of things, Toolbar PR is close to meaningless (Argument From Absurdity: it tells us that Performancing is more important than the DrudgeReport).

Yet as things go, hundreds of thousands of bloggers and website owners are attached to the hip of this stale, useless tool. Why?

Simplistically, the story goes like this.

Google literally came out of nowhere (a garage) to dominate the search space. The reason? They filtered search results not just by on-page text but by off-site “voting” in the form of links.

PageRank is the term that Google invented to describe their “importance” metric. While their filtering systems have changed dramatically since their emergence into search dominance, PageRank is a simple icon of Google’s successful formula.

Despite the fact that Toolbar PageRank is often 3-9 months stale, and despite the fact that Google now intelligently buffers the importance of raw links based on a number of smart factors, Toolbar PageRank is still the king of the hill…the center of gravity for thousands of web publishers and seo artists.

Because of this, a massive virtual economy has built up around PageRank in the last half-decade. Some web publishers make upwards of 5 (and for all I know, even six) figures per month simply by selling this awkwardly valuable commodity.

Rightly so, Google sees the buying and selling of PageRank as a negative manipulation of their once innocent metric. In reaction, Google has implemented a number of temporal buffers to deter the text link ad market. So far, they have not been successful.

But as rumors build that Google is either completely dropping or radically altering the way they tabulate, update and display PageRank, lots of people are scrambling to adjust their web publishing business models. Whether its site consolidation, ad diversification, or complex SEO subtleties like anchor text variation, deep-linking or post-level link buying, it is clear that Google has succeeded in stirring a whole slew of people from their slumber. And that should be expected. We are, after all, talking about people’s livelihoods.

Having set the stage, I now want to address the two issues I raise in the title of this article.

1. Does persistence always pay off?
2. Preparing for the busting of a fairly silly virtual economy built around a meaningless metric

The answer to these questions isn’t as simple as yes and no. After all, persistence does not pay off if you’re trying to dig a tunnel from California to China. But what about persistence in web publishing and monetization? Does persistence always pay in this domain? Yes and no. Yes if you’re open to adaptation and strategical re-evaluation. Yes if you focus on the fundamentals and forget the fads. Yes, if you focus on building long-term equity. In other words, persistence pays if you’re smart and you know what you are doing.

But persistence does not pay over the long haul if your long-term plan is not fundamentally sound. If you build your entire web publishing business around a lot of ephemeral PageRank, you are doomed. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to PageRank. You should, but only as one among many indicators of a site’s quality. The point is that instead of PageRank, you should be looking to build Authority. And Authority is built by becoming part of strong, quality niche neighborhoods. This is a fundamental fact about SEO and linkbuilding that will never change. Even if the TLA market collapses.

This brings me towards an answer to the second issue. How do you prepare yourself for the collapse of an economy that’s not built on strong fundamentals? Well, the answer is to start focusing on fundamentals. Quality. Branding. Niche Marketing. Niche Networking. Web publishers who focus on these 4 fundamentals will be building a solid foundation for the future. Those who continue to go down the PR only route, might be successful in the short-term, but are destined for longer term failure…


Here’s a tip for those of you, like me, who enjoy a nice chunky TLA check each month. Take the money you make from TLA each month, and instead of padding the personal bank account, or perpetuating your addiction to PageRank by buying more links, start focusing on the four fundamentals: quality, branding, marketing and networking which all work together to build long-term equity and an attractive target for diverse advertising sources.

6 thoughts on “Does Persistence Always Pay? What to do when a virtual economy is on the verge of collapse

  1. I agree with what Ryan is saying. Google’s PR metric is as much about marketing Google as it is anything else. Read any newspaper article on them and you’ll find Google and PR in the same sentence.

    So for us webmasters, we shouldn’t be shocked if / when Google calls time on publically available PR and nor should we particularly care. Yes it will negatively impact people selling links in the short term, but it won’t take long for a more open way of measuring power (like the SEOMoz page strength tool or Jim Boykin’s strong subpage tool) to fill the void. In fact, there’s probably a market there …

  2. people will always look for the shortcut, the easy to grasp, all-in-one, trustworthy indicator of quality. pagerank gave that to people before the possibility for abuse became obvious and still people went for it because there were no alternatives.

    ryan is absolutely right about focusing on brand quality – I wrote about this last year in ‘long term seo‘, it’s worth a read and talks about how you can guarantee that your site will be rewarded by such metrics in the future as well.

  3. “It is easy to say don’t worry about pagerank if your site has PR7.”

    Why is PR7 relevant?

    I’m telling you that the only way to find success long term is to focus on building a brand. Performancing is a strong brand. Why? Because of quality services and blogging tips.

    My whole point is that until Google has a *good* public metric for site quality, you should ignore them and start focusing on brand quality instead, which should naturally get rewarded by any *good* metric in the future.

  4. It is easy to say don’t worry about pagerank if your site has PR7. If you are still stuck on toolbar PR0 because Google hasn’t updated and as a result are struggling to convince advertisers you site is worth its salt where you spend that big TLA check isn’t an issue. I would actually like Google to change the system to make it more effective, but some notice from them would be nice. It’s affecting our livelyhoods.

  5. But Ahmed…

    Let’s Go straight to the source:

    “PageRank is Google’s measure of the importance of this page”

    Elementary logic tells me that if PageRank is Google’s measure of the importance of a page, and if Performancing has a higher PageRank than Drudge, then Performancing is measured as having a higher importance than Drudge.

  6. My nitpicky nature says:

    In the grand scheme of things, Toolbar PR is close to meaningless (Argument From Absurdity: it tells us that Performancing is more important than the DrudgeReport)

    TBPR tells us that one site has more links pointing to it than the other. But not all links are created equal, so it doesn’t translate into the conclusion that Perf is more imp than DR

    Other than that, I think you can still sell linkjuice instead of PageRank – the problem is that there’s no easy metric apart from PageRank. SEOMoz’s pagestrength maybe, but we need something better.

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