Totally agree — more does not always equal better. Google takes a sort of ‘Birds of a Feather’ approach when analyzing inbound links, so it’s really all about associating yourself (via inbound links) with websites Google deems high quality and trustworthy so that Google deems YOUR web page high quality and trustworthy. As you mentioned, trying to cut corners, buy links, do one-for-one trades, or otherwise game/manipulate the system never works. The algorithm is too smart.
Wikipedia, naturally, has an entry about PageRank with more resources you might be interested in. It also covers how some sites using redirection can fake a higher PageRank score than they really have. And since we’re getting all technical — PageRank really isn’t an actual 0 to 10 scale, not behind the scenes. Internal scores are greatly simplified to match up to that system used for visible reporting.
Internet usage around the world, especially in the wealthiest countries, has steadily risen over the past decade and it shows no signs of slowing. According to a report by the Internet trend investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, 245 million people in the United States were online as of 2011, and 15 million people connected for the first time that year. As Internet usage grows, online commerce grows with it. This means that more people are using the Internet with each passing year, and enough of them are spending money online to impact the economy in significant ways. (See also E-Commerce Marketing)
In 2007, Google announced a campaign against paid links that transfer PageRank.[29] On June 15, 2009, Google disclosed that they had taken measures to mitigate the effects of PageRank sculpting by use of the nofollow attribute on links. Matt Cutts, a well-known software engineer at Google, announced that Google Bot would no longer treat nofollowed links in the same way, to prevent SEO service providers from using nofollow for PageRank sculpting.[30] As a result of this change the usage of nofollow led to evaporation of PageRank. In order to avoid the above, SEO engineers developed alternative techniques that replace nofollowed tags with obfuscated Javascript and thus permit PageRank sculpting. Additionally several solutions have been suggested that include the usage of iframes, Flash and Javascript.[31]
The best strategy to get backlinks is to create great content and let other people promote your content. However, to get started, you can create your own links to content on your social media platform, ask your friends to share your content on their websites and social media, and if you can find questions in forums that your content answers, you can always post it there.
To answer your question, David, take a look at Jim’s comment below. Yes, you can and SHOULD optimize PR by directing link equity at important pages and internally linking within a theme. PageRank is a core part of the Google ranking algo. We don’t get visibility into PageRank as a number or score, but you need to know about the concept in order to direct your internal, strategic linking and navigation.
PageRank always was and remains only one part of the Google search algorithm, the system that determines how to rank pages. There are many other ranking factors that are also considered. A high PageRank score did NOT mean that a page would rank well for any topic. Pages with lower scores could beat pages with higher scores if they had other factors in their favor.
Customers are often researching online and then buying in stores and also browsing in stores and then searching for other options online. Online customer research into products is particularly popular for higher-priced items as well as consumable goods like groceries and makeup. Consumers are increasingly using the Internet to look up product information, compare prices, and search for deals and promotions.[21]
Links still matter as part of the algorithmic secret sauce. The influence of a site’s link profile is plain to see in its search engine rankings, whether for better or worse, and changes in that link profile cause noticeable movement up or down the SERP. An SEO’s emphasis today should be on attracting links to quality content naturally, not building them en masse. (For more on proper link building today, see http://bit.ly/1XIm3vf )
More appropriately, blame Google for ever making the PageRank score visible. When Google first started, PageRank was something it talked about as part of its research papers, press releases and technology pages to promote itself as a smarter search engine than well-established and bigger rivals at the time — players like Yahoo, AltaVista and Lycos, to name a few.

An essential part of any Internet marketing campaign is the analysis of data gathered from not just the campaign as a whole, but each piece of it as well. An analyst can chart how many people have visited the product website since its launch, how people are interacting with the campaign's social networking pages, and whether sales have been affected by the campaign (See also Marketing Data Analyst). This information will not only indicate whether the marketing campaign is working, but it is also valuable data to determine what to keep and what to avoid in the next campaign.
Search engines may penalize sites they discover using black hat methods, either by reducing their rankings or eliminating their listings from their databases altogether. Such penalties can be applied either automatically by the search engines' algorithms, or by a manual site review. One example was the February 2006 Google removal of both BMW Germany and Ricoh Germany for use of deceptive practices.[53] Both companies, however, quickly apologized, fixed the offending pages, and were restored to Google's list.[54]
There are ten essential types of marketing that can be done online. Some of these can be broken down into organic marketing and others can be categorized as paid marketing. Organic, of course, is the allure of marketing professionals from around the planet. It's free and its unencumbered traffic that simply keeps coming. Paid marketing, on the other hand, is still a very attractive proposition as long as the marketing pays for itself by having the right type of offer that converts.

PageRank is one of many, many factors used to produce search rankings. Highlighting PageRank in search results doesn’t help the searcher. That’s because Google uses another system to show the most important pages for a particular search you do. It lists them in order of importance for what you searched on. Adding PageRank scores to search results would just confuse people. They’d wonder why pages with lower scores were outranking higher scored pages.

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