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.