What Does This Google PageRank Message Mean?

Oct 25, 2007 • 7:27 am | comments (9) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google PageRank & Algorithm Updates

Yesterday we reported about a 2nd Google PageRank in October 2007 which turned out to be a message from Google, at least most of us think so. At Search Engine Land I wrote in Google's PageRank Update Goes After Paid Links?:

Seems like there is a PageRank update taking place now that seems to be impacting sites that sell links. Can't say that we were not warned about this? Danny Sullivan wrote Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google over two weeks ago, and now it appears many sites are getting hit with a drop in PageRank.

The coverage of this PageRank update was absolutely massive. Just check out Techmeme and you will see. Heck, even Forbes (who was hit by this) covered it with Google Scares The Search Crowd, where they quoted me extensively.

This morning, I went through the various forums to see what message has been sent to the SEO community. There are a few dozen threads at DigitalPoint Forums on the topic, but I will reference only this DigitalPoint Forums thread and a WebmasterWorld thread.

The first thing I took strong notice to was that none of those impacted reported any drop in traffic from Google. Proof? This site was hit with a PageRank drop from PR7 to PR4. What did it mean for our traffic from Google? We actually have more traffic than we did before the update. Here are two charts from Google Analytics showing week to week comparison and day to day comparison of Google traffic, respectively:



Yes, an increase in traffic.

So this PageRank update seems to just be at the surface, possibly a message. What message? The most logical message can be sending is to come through on Danny's official report, Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google. Sites that sell links have seen a hit in their PageRank score.

Andy Greenberg at Forbes asked me why wouldn't they penalize the sites in terms of removing them from the index? I thought about that and explained that most of these sites produce excellent content. Sites like Forbes, Washingtonpost.com, Techcrunch, Engadget, Search Engine Journal, our site and others produce some of the best content on the web. If Google delisted all of those sites, then that would hurt their relevancy on some queries. With Google, they want to deliver the best possible results. How can they do that and also send a message to link sellers and link buyers? The safest method is to take this route and lower their PageRank. Link buyers, although not recommended, look at PageRank as a measurement for buying links. Google lowering the PageRank of some of these sites should make it harder for some of those sites to sell links.

Andy then asked me why would Google do this if you clearly label your ads as ads to the user. I said, that is a whole new debate, since the nofollow tag came out. Google feels it is not enough to just place those ads in a box and mark them as ads. Google wants you to nofollow the ads so they don't impact the algorithm at all. I said, I understand Google's stance on that and it is a decision each publisher needs to make for themselves.

Will this impact the selling of links on those sites? Time will tell. Will these sites slap on a nofollow tag? Time will tell. Will this make PageRank less valuable in the eyes of SEOs? Time will tell.

For now, I think Google sent a clear message that they don't want sites to sell links or people to buy links. Will this message stop people from doing that? I don't think so, but like I said just before, time will tell.

On a personal note, I trust my sponsors, I value their sponsorships and I couldn't do what I do without their financial support. Some sponsors can't afford huge sponsorships, so they sponsor in their ways. It is what enables this site and many other sites to function and operate on a daily basis. I turn down sponsors all the time because they are simply not relevant or useful to my reader. I hand select them and for them to be on my site, means I trust them. Why nofollow someone you trust and want to thank? Is that a slap in their face? Will I have to and will they continue to sponsor? Time will tell.

As you can see, the message is clear - the reaction is not so clear just yet.

Forum discussion at DigitalPoint Forums and WebmasterWorld.

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Jaan Kanellis

10/25/2007 03:29 pm

Nice write up. PR down, traffic up, that is what counts.


10/25/2007 07:39 pm

Those stats are meaningless unless you know the actual date at which Google reduced your internal PageRank, if in fact they did that. If they just reduced what is visible (for now) of course it would have no impact. Overall referals are a good metric to look at, but better yet would be deeper linked pages that probably don't have any external links. If your actual (not displayed) PR is reduced those have a better chance of being dumped in the Supplemental bin and be returned much less. This of course is also dependent on the total number of pages your site has. I don't doubt your numbers didn't go down because I don't believe they did anything other than tweak the display hoping it send people running scared and blogging about it. If they ever change your actual rank, which is the next logical step, I'd imagine the ratio of pages in the real index that actually send visitors vs. the supplemental index which only send the longest of longtails would change dramatically. An actual PageRank 7 site can hole a lot more pages without external links in the main index than an actual PageRank 4 site. To actually prove the same point I think a chart over a much longer time frame would be required. It would also be something I'd monitor in case they do actually reduce your real pagerank. Something I hope doesn't happen in your case. Linksn paid/notpaid should be valued based on relevency only, but apparently they are less sophisticated than that. A paid link from seoroundtable to a website related site should count for more weight than a non-paid link to a fashion site. Google's system obviously can't figure that out, or else we wouldn't be going through this exercise.

Barry Schwartz

10/25/2007 07:42 pm

Traffic over time has been stable or has gone up. This goes for over a year.


10/25/2007 07:57 pm

There ya have it, they didn't do anything but tweak the outputted signal. So now the message is: Sell links and Google may reduce your visible PageRank but not change your indexing or ranking. In order for them to make their point have any teeth they need to start actually punishing the sites, and by pointing out very publicly that authoritative sites also sell links, they cannot do that without reducing the quality of the index. What is Google without forbes or seroundtable in it's index but less relevant? Needless to say, it should be interesting to see where this goes. Many have reacted as you and said that you are not modifying your behavior due to this last volley. I know in my house that means I have to raise my voice the next time to get the bahaviorial modification I was after.


10/26/2007 07:12 pm

Google continue to damage their business model by making it possible to buy your way to a number one ranking. It's arguably cheaper to get higher visibility in Google by buying links from high PR sites than it is by getting prominent sponsored link position. This corrupts Google's organic results, making them no different than the sponsored links, removing any incentive for searchers to visit Google at all. I can't see any way around this except to abandon the toolbar altogether. I'm wondering why they havn't done this yet. Perhaps the toolbar does rather more than we have suspected.


10/29/2007 10:52 pm

I would have to somewhat empathize with what John Chow said, make algos for 2007 & not 1997. Back then there might be tons of info sites out there, but nowadays alot of people use their sites to make money. I mean cnn, and disney and washingtonpost, forbes can afford hundreds of editors to put out information on their site. But personal media services (I call them) like blogs and other sites need some way to monetize their efforts. Personally, I find myself going more to these personal media sites & small sized sites cause they don't have the big corporate touch in them. I guess keep doing what u gotta do. If Google wants to throw these sites out, I guess it's their loss too. There's also Msn & Yahoo too u know.


09/23/2008 07:40 am

I have found this post while searching Google and I am glad I found it.This is useful for us. Thanks

No Name

05/28/2009 03:58 pm

We had PR4 for over 3 years and suddenly today they have reduced our PR to 3. So what could be teh reason? is tehre any way we can bring it up?


08/29/2009 10:39 pm

Is it only me, or is abit of a joke for Google to say that 'paid links are bad becuase they manipulate SRP's - whereas Google's WHOLE business model is selling links, which, err, manipulate SRP's (eg they go to the top of the page) ??

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