I have a game site http://www.gamesonline4free.net on which I do lots of experiments. It currently has a PageRank of 0 due to Google's penalizing it. Here is the reason: 6 months ago it was a PR4 but that was also the time that I decided to experiment with the Digital Point CO-OP network and the TNX network. DP CO-OP is essentially a link exchange network that serves links on your site and serves your backlinks in other's sites. TNX is more like a paid links network.
Both of them ended up serving some very unrelated links (financial links in a game site do look fishy don't you think ?). Google caught this and on the next PR update (sometime around January 2008) lowered the PR to 2 just to warn me. I only realized that was a warning when on the following update (which was probably in March ??) the PR dropped to 0. That is when I realized that google was trying to tell me something and as I was not too fond of the financial links myself decided to get rid of DP CO-OP at first. The next update in the beginning of May did not see any improvement and thus I got rid of TNX links as well. Hopefully by next update the right PR will be restored.
Mind you, PR lowering was the only penalty. As for google traffic and rankings (SERPs) things have been improving day by day. The google traffic has steadily been growing to an average of 900 visitors a day with the majority comming from the search for free online games. The site is usually found in between positions 9 - 26 in the results pages for that term. 6 months ago it was only getting an average of 300 visitors per day from google and the site was below the 45th position for free online games.
Why PR0 is to be avoided
A few days ago I decided to do some more link exchanged for it and visited some of my favorite webmaster forums to make a post to find some willing webmasters. I explained all the circuimstances that led to PR0 (not in as much detail) and also explained the current favorable positions in google. To my surprise most webmasters were not willing to exchange with me. They were afraid that their site will be penalized and did tell me so.
Are their fears justified ?
Triplefun.net A long term link exchange partner has not been penalized (still a PR4) and we both get to send to each other about 50-100 visitors each month.
With this experimental site and other observations I have concluded that PR does not affect rankings which is the desired result and that webmasters willing to exchange based on PR alone are not right.
Will you link exchange with such a site ?
What is your take on PR and how it affects SERPs ?
I am REALLY interested to find out what you ALL think.