Theory: How Does Google Determine Which Sites Sell Links?

Oct 30, 2007 • 7:37 am | comments (13) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google PageRank & Algorithm Updates

The largest topic by far this week in the forums is the PageRank update that hit sites that are selling links. There are literally dozens upon dozens of threads at many of the webmaster forums on the topic.

We covered it with What Does This Google PageRank Message Mean? and 2nd Google PageRank in October 2007. Yes, Google has confirmed this is a PageRank reduction in the toolbar for selling links. Even Matt Cutts, of Google, gave Loren a quote:

The partial update to visible PageRank that went out a few days ago was primarily regarding PageRank selling and the forward links of sites. So paid links that pass PageRank would affect our opinion of a site.

Going forward, I expect that Google will be looking at additional sites that appear to be buying or selling PageRank.

The big question is why did this PageRank update hit some sites that are selling links, while others it did not hit? In addition, how did Google hit some sites that were not selling links, which they had to restore a few later?

That is where the theory on how Google determines which sites are selling links.

Remember when Google released the paid link reporting tool back in June? Google asked everyone to report sites that sold links. People reported sites, sites they love, sites they hate, sites they are impartial to, to Google via this form. The form collected hundreds, if not thousands of sites. Google probably put a person or two on the task of scanning the list to validate if those sites sold links. YouTube was on the list, the person who reviewed it may have been on the call and forgot to uncheck it as a site that sells links and moved on. Many sites were not manually reported by you and I (SEOs and Webmasters) and those did not see a PageRank reduction, at least not yet, not until someone reports them.

In my opinion, this was a fairly manual process. Of course, I can be wrong. I am sure Google will automate the process as they continue to collect data, set up characteristics and profiles of sites that sell links. But right now, this seems much more manual than automated to me. And that is why I feel that "we" did this to ourselves. Webmaster A reported Webmaster B, who reported Webmaster A.

Does it matter? I have personally not seen any decline in Google referrals since the drop. Does it mean I will lose sponsors? I have lost one but I have also received an email from another sponsor who said:

I know with the latest PR update that just went live last night you are going to get hammered for going from a PR7 to a PR6 to now a PR4. I wanted you to know that I won't be one of those. We will continue to support you as an advertiser as long as the quality of your blog continues.

We're proud to be a sponsor, regardless of your PageRank.

Honestly, that email was incredibly touching. I never sold links for PageRank purposes. I always thanked those who placed their ads on my site, not in a promotional method but in a way to support the SEO community and this site. I do share site statistics, I don't share PageRank scores on my advertise page. This PageRank update may be a good thing. It will weed out advertisers who are just looking to "buy PageRank" from those who have good intentions about supporting the industry and this site.

But the big question is. Is my theory right? If so, did we do this to ourselves?

Forum discussion at DigitalPoint Forums and WebmasterWorld (plus a zillion other threads).

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