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However at the end of the day who's interest is it in?
Without PR how would webmasters choose whether to ask for or return a link? I guess content would play a part in it, maybe relevance too.
I suppose the only other thing that could be used would be the SERPs. This would however be a major obstacle for new sites that would be in an instant Catch 22 situation of not being in the SERPs so not being able to get links. Hmmm - not sure how that would work.
Anyway I'm not sure how intentional Google's lack of updates to PR and inconsistencies in backlink reporting are. The other SEs seem to be still managing to report backlinks reasonably.
If it is the case then you can't blame Google for trying to make linking policies more organic.
Back to the question(s).
Would lack of PR and backlinks feedback improve the web?
How would your linking strategy change?
What other factors could webmasters use to decide what was a good site to link to (or exchange links with) - obviously contnet is a give.
At the end of the day it depends what you think is important in terms of a web site
Don't get me wrong, I spend a lot of time and money on developing content. I would like to see pure linking for content, not PR. And there are sites in my industries that buy/sell PR and indulge in various gimmicks. I try to stay white hat... but that is all immaterial. Let's look at the world as it is rather than how we'd like it to be. And, this is how I see it:
Link pop is what is used to allocate importance. Therefore, as long as there is no alternative to link pop - people will want link pop.
Link pop can be achieved organically or using money. As long as there is no clear cut way to tell which link pop was bought (and penalise those sites) - people will buy link pop.
There is no way definitive way to tell which link pop was bought. People will continue to buy it.
Is that democratic, is it fair? No. Yes. And in between. If you assume all searchers are looking for content only then it is not fair. But they are not. If a searcher is looking for commercial sites with online widget ordering because the searchers wants a widget NOW then those sites with content are getting in the way just because they have millions of articles on widgets. I don't want to read about pizzas, how they are made, where the ingredients come from, receipes for pizzas, amusing stories about pizza shaped s*x toys, the world record for largest pizza etc. When I want to eat the go*amn thing, I want to eat the go*amn thing. NOW! The point is that, as a searcher, I'm not always looking for content. Sometimes how much money a site has is what's important.