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Walt Thiessen Beware of PR Thieves

by Walt Thiessen
December 21, 2004

I'm seeing more and more webmasters offering link exchanges with sites that amount to nothing more than PR sinkholes designed to defraud you of your PageRank by giving you only the appearance of something in return, without actual substance. The typical come-on works something like this:

The webmaster finds your website and notices that you exchange links. He (or she) contacts you and offers you exchanges with a whole list of websites that also trade links. You think, "Wow, look at all these links I'll get all at once. It's so easy!"

The PR Thief's Trap

What these con artists are counting on is that you won't look too closely at their sites and links pages. First of all, most of their sites are on the edge of legality. They've usually mixed in a lot of gambling sites, drug sites offering gray market Viagra and Celebrex, and other shadowy come-ons. This should be the webmaster's first clue that something is wrong, but judging from the number of links these pages show, it's apparent that at least some webmasters are taking the bait anyway.

But the real fraud comes from the way they've put their websites together. Basically, they play a form of three-card-Monty with their links page URLs, constantly shifting them around so that they're always one step ahead of the search engine robots that spider their websites. Many of them don't even link to their links pages from their home pages, thus preventing most spiders from even finding the links pages in the first place. The bottom line is that these pages never get spidered...and your website never gets credit for a backlink from any of them. You, meanwhile, being an honest and somewhat naively trusting person, have given their dozen or so websites links on your highly coveted links pages with some nice PR. They win; you lose.

So how can you identify PR thiefs before they rob you blind?

  1. Check the link page PR using your Google toolbar. You do have the Google toolbar installed, don't you? It's not as accurate as it used to be, but it's still valuable.. If the links page is  PR0, it's a PR thief suspect. This isn't a sure thing, but it's something to beware. There are three  possible reasons a page can be PR0. First, perhaps it's a legitimate new page that hasn't been spidered yet. Second, perhaps it's in a PR1 site (not the best of sites to exchange links with, because PR1 usually suggests that their internal linking structure is suspect...but that's the subject of another article). Third, it's a PR thief, and you're his next victim.

  2. Even if the Google toolbar is showing a PR value greater than zero, you're still not out of the woods. PR cloaking is also used by crafty PR thieves. The best way to check? Go to the page in question, then go to your Google toolbar's information menu. It's the one with the lower case white "i" in the blue circle. Choose "Cached Snapshot of Page." This will show you the page as Google sees it with all the pictures and graphics included. If it gives you an error message, the page isn't in the Google database, and any links on it are doing no good at all!

  3. However, this still isn't a good enough test; you have one more step. In the Google cache box at the top of the page, look for the text  that says, "Click here for cache text only" and click the link. This will give you the same page without all the graphics and photos. In essence, all it shows are the page's text and recognized hyperlinks. Once again this should not result in an error page, a clear sign of a PR thief.

  4. Take particular notice of the links associated with this last page. This is the actual link structure that Google's spiders are crawling. If they're using DHTML-based javascript menus, there will be no text links where the link toolbar would normally be. This is the most common  reason why many sites are PR2 or lower! You want to check this cache page for the links page and for the home page, making sure that there's a way to get to both pages from the other. If there isn't, it's another PR thief.

There are many ways that PR thieves can take advantage of you. Make sure you don't become a victim!

©2004 Walt Thiessen,, LLC, All Rights Reserved.