Google PageRank Update & Link Selling

Search Engine Journal reported on Friday that multiple webmasters were seeing changes in their Google PageRank score over the end of last week, with sites increasing and decreasing in PageRank. Although many in the SEO industry feel that PageRank is an outdated metric of judging a site’s authority in Google, it does still reflect the findability of a site in Google’s index and gives webmasters a peek at Google’s judgment of their site, although the defining factor of site value is in the Google rankings themselves.

Over the course of the weekend, more and more webmasters shared that their sites’ PageRank have been changing, some for the good and some for the bad. One trend seems to be the loss of one digit of PageRank by multiple webmasters:

  • In some sites where I link dropped from PR 7 to PR 6! Maybe big Google is in the process of PR update.
  • There has been many sites with updated PR-all those sites are old and got minus (-) 1 PR. It seems a trend that Google is lowering PR of every site by one point.
  • After years of PR6, my site’s tool bar PR has dropped by a PR factor of 1 since this morning.
  • My PR4 directory is down to PR3 from PR4. But the weird thing is – only its home-page got updated.

To add to the confusion, the backlinks which Google Webmaster Tools tracks have been changing across the board, and dropping links which are obvious or irrelevant link advertisements :

I paid for links from one of the blog networks here a couple of months ago. Every link from that network has been dropped from Webmaster Tools for my site.

Along with some paid directories loosing their PageRank :

  • I just noticed that my [directory] homepage is showing a while pagerank 0. It used to be a pagerank 6 and has many good quality websites linking to it.
  • My PR6 director’s innerpage was PR6- now its PR4. There are many more directories which had wholesale changes on inner-page PRs. I am not sure if this is real PR update or just canonicalization.

And to top it off, Danny Sullivan makes a post on Search Engine Land about Google penalizing sites that sell links and points to the Stanford Daily’s drop in PR from a PR 9 to PR 7:

Google said that some sites that are selling links may indeed end up being dropped from its search engine or have penalties attached, to prevent them from ranking well.

If you sell links, Google might indeed penalize your site plus drop the PageRank score that shows for it. The Stanford Daily is a good example of this.

Personally, I find the Stanford Daily as being a horrible example of a site loosing Google PageRank and credibility just because of link selling. The reason the Stanford Daily lost its PageRank and was penalized is because of obviously irresponsible and irrelevant link selling. Not link selling alone.

If you open up your site and misuse your domain status to sell links to any advertiser who wants to buy presell pages, blog posts, border and footer links, article links … even if that advertiser has absolutely nothing to do with your site, then yes, like the Stanford Daily you deserve to loose your Google status.

Selling Links & Google Ranking

If you sell links in blog comments, sell all out advertorial, launch a meaningless link directory on more or less hidden page on your site then yes, you deserve to get dropped from Google. If you have a PageRank 9 and tell people that buying links on your site will help them and charge according to PageRank, then yep.. you get what you deserve, and so do your advertisers.

Link building is a slow, precise and organic process which is not simplified to the point where you go and spend $2,000 a month for a PageRank 8 link on a site which has absolutely nothing to do with your content, product or idea… hoping that Google will reward you. Sure, that worked 5 years ago, when you could buy PageRank across the network and Search Engine Watch and jump almost overnight (or after 30 days) in Google, but not anymore.

Simple rule, if you’re going to buy links, buy links from sites that are relevant to your content matter and do not use the same anchor text or generic anchor text (eg. “Buy Cars Online”) across the campaign. And if you sell links, don’t let advertisers screw you into the ground with links to irrelevant sites, 301 redirects, hidden text or bad anchor text. Just say no, keep that ad spot for a site relevant to your own which is practicing organic programming and not trying to manipulate the search engines, on or off their site.

The major link brokers have preached this for years, especially at conferences on on the FAQ pages of their link advertising network sites.

If you break this rule, Google will nail you. Maybe not today, maybe not with this update, but they will nail you.

What Matt Cutts Has To Say

If you read the Matt Cutts blog, you’ve probably noticed that ever since the controversial Link Buying session at Search Engine Strategies San Jose, Mr. Cutts has not been blogging about buying links. Matt has been pretty quite, blogging about his vacations, exercising or his iPhone.

One ofthe last times he discussed paid linking on his blog was in April, in his How To Report Paid Links post, I think this snippet has a lot to do with what Google may be up to in their PageRank update in regards to paid linking, and provide back-up to what I wrote above about the importance of relevant and responsible linking:

Q: Can you give me an example of the sort of things you’d be interested in hearing about?
A: Sure. Here are some paid text links on a site dedicated to Linux:

Example paid links

There are a few interesting things about these links. If you take off your webmaster hat and put on a user hat for a minute, you quickly start asking yourself questions like “Why is a Linux site linking to a bunch of poker, pills, and gambling sites?” Users often consider links like this spammy or low-quality. I’m sure some people will happily defend links like these, but in my experience people who search on Google don’t want links like these to affect Google’s search results.

There are a couple other interesting things about these links. First, you can’t tell it from the image, but the “Sponsored Links” text in the example above is actually an image, not text. The rest of that site is very text-heavy, so the choice to make the “Sponsored Links” be an image is potentially trying to avoid detection of these links as paid. I can’t be sure that’s the reason, of course — maybe they just wanted that phrase to be pretty. The second interesting thing about these links is that our current approach to paid links worked quite well in this case. Our existing algorithms had already discounted these links without any people involved. However, our manual spamfighters had detected these links as well.

Questions and concerns on paid linking and Google? Has the new Google PageRank update effected your site? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker

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44 thoughts on “Google PageRank Update & Link Selling

  1. Matt always gives great examples of how some webmasters try to game Google.

    Bottom line: You’ll get caught sooner or later- and most likely sooner – so why take the low road.

    Google’s stated time and agian that they value natural links to “remarkable” content, i.e. content that’s good enough for people – not websites – to link to it with no other purpose than pointing out good stuff to their site visitors.

    Hence, the increased value of on-topic links from authority blogs, social bookmarking sites (when not abused), legitimate news services (not the Stanford Daily obviously), and real people doing real things.

    The Google algorithm is only going to get better, so focus on improving the quality of your content and stop trying to buy your way to popularity….

  2. My sites haven’t changed in PR, but for some of them I got a HUGE back links increase, mostly from good sites.

    Now if only one site of mine in particular can utilize over 46K back links well enough to actually get a PR and rank 1st in Google, I’ll be delighted.

  3. PageRank is obsolete. Google should admit it and use the self proclaimed “200 signals” instead. Something like this site has 171 of 200 😉

  4. An excellent article.

    Danny Sullivan example of Stanford Daily is nothing but a bad example. Selling or renting Links may or may not cause penalty if links are highly irrelevant.

    But on the other side, don`t you see the irony that Google is penalizing you for selling links. I thought Google focuses more on bringing the pages high in SERP which were relevant and had good authority. How the ads you sell on your websites can suddenly becoming a factor?

    So if we go by Danny Sullivan, Stanford will lose its rankings not because it has bad content, but it chooses to sell ads.

    So if Google (IF and only) is devaluating sites for selling ads then its compromising its own SERPs. IMHO, that is not going to be the case, so I will stick to what Loren Baker says, if you are selling or buying links, do focus on relevant sites.

    You will not only get search engine juice, but a good and decent traffic too which is actually interested in your products. And with millions of websites, if not billions, its just impossible you cant find the niche websites you are looking for, unless you are lazy like me. :)

  5. Loren,

    Do you think Google is saying that all “followed” paid links are evil? or just the irrelevant spammy ones?

    In Matt’s “example” he points to obvious spammy links, and I don’t think any of us are questioning Google penalising those sorts of links because they are not related to the site and clearly designed to game-only.

    Casino links on a Linux site. Ok. I totally agree that is a dodgy link. But what if the link was to Ubuntu, and was paid for?

    What about other related sites?

    Example: Say you have an equine shop and you decide to have tack, bit and bridle and horseshoes links that are paid for under a heading of Sponsored, but you decided not to nofollow them because you truly believe those sites are worthy of your endorsement since they are related?

    Should the fact that the links were paid for, even enter into the equation? If your site wasn’t about horses and wasn’t worthwhile would those related equine companies list with you?

    This is where I think Matt’s post will create paranoia across the web. With certain SEO’s and webmasters clearly “outing” any-and-all websites that advertise, regardless of whether the links on their site are relevant or not, it seems that ALL paid links are being considered as evil.

    Was this Google’s intent? or was the intent simply to get rid of the obvious spammy/irrelevant linking that has been happening?

  6. Dan Jensen,

    Matt Cutts was targeting all paid links in general, though he gave example of only Spammy links.

    And one more thing, Matt wanted to create a paranoia across the web, which I believe he succeeded. Otherwise he would have said selling spammy links is bad but relevant links is ok.

    My point here is Matt doesn`t talk about 302, 301 redirect problems anymore, because they have already solved them. Its the inability to differentiate between relevant paid links and natural links by search engines, which Google Engineers are afraid of. So until they found a solution, they want to create a paranoia and state of confusion to make people scare and follow their guidelines only.

    Anyways I am not advocating selling and buying links from irrelevant sites, neither to trade links only for Pagerank (another of Google cheap marketing tactics to fool people), Search Engine juice and similar benefits only. My suggestion is if you are looking for text links; search for highly relevant sites in your niche, which you think can benefit you in sending a good traffic and increase your brand value as well.

  7. so you are not worried about the “supporters” links of the left?
    or those are relevant sold links?

  8. It seems to me this has been going on for months, if not years. I bet the average webmaster is totally uneducated about this issue and will still happily take money from any advertiser.

  9. Two interesting points:

    Matt Cutts told my friend David Airey (who was temporarily dropped by Google) that he should remove the links to “free business cards” and “ink jet refills” to get reincluded. Considering David is a graphic designer and I would consider these advertisements rather relevant, I worry that Google is putting a blanket value judgment on either all paid links or on all links in an industry they don’t like.

    Secondly, my blog has been around since April and is both extensively indexed AND has several hundred backlinks. Yet on this last update, I still have a PR of “0”. I also have no paid links pointing to it.

    I wonder if this last update was to clear out what Google considered to be illegitimate PR associated with paid links and not a full blown update?

  10. Loren,
    loved the article. I am very interested in the Google Pagerank this time as I have been doing a test with one of my sites ( to see if a site realy needs a good pagerank to get good listings. Its a marketing dilema for me, as a SE optimiser I feel your site just needs to follow the guidelines and you wont go far wrong. Make each page specific to a product/service, use & tags on every page, make the content origional and you wont go far wrong. Im sure it does help a little but not like it used too.
    Again great article.

    Lee johnson

  11. Another great article thanks Loren.

    I ignore most of the misinformation circulating on the web with regards to linking.. I own a hobby site that sells items in a very unique niche. Over the past five years, I have primarily concentrated on quality link exchange relationships with other sites in my own niche. Over the past five years my site has been online, I have generated over 600 inbound links through link exchange (slow and natural .. I didnt get all of those links overnight). and I dont use fully automated link networks.. just my handy linksmanager which gives me full editorial control over who I link to. My site is a PR-5 and I am in the top six for my primary keywords. I dont buy links and I dont sell links. I obtain links the old fashioned way.. through link exchange with editor based software which still works- 40% of my traffic comes from the link exchanges themselves. I like not having to rely on search engines for all of my traffic.

    I wonder why we dont see more discussion on the benefits of link exchange in today’s webmastering media?

  12. Now a days, I think the traditional ways of building links won’t help one website to rank better in SERPs. The algos are becoming smart and the bots are behaving even more smartly. Have you seen Matt cutts opined about directory quality.

    Viral marketing of your website can fetch you good amount of links now a days.

  13. Google does not accurately reflect popularity and relevance (especially when Matt Cutt initiates witch hunts that negate Google’s so-called objective ranking procedures). For example, Google does not take into account all the surfers that choose to subscribe to my blog via Google’s pageranks reflect webmasters’ and tattletales’ social and business networks and friends, not web surfers’ choices and opinions.

  14. Personally I think the Internet has discussed link exchanges to death. And I think that the small guy will end up working for far less than minimum wage if he tries to keep up with all the search engine and SEO policies, quirks, recommendations, vagaries, and assorted slop, never mind the the misinformation arising from the search engines’ inability to communicate.

    Don’t all search engines earn money from paid links?

  15. Yeah, I don’t pay for links, don’t sell them, but yet I was penalized for being a busy designer. All my sites link to me, but now google shows I have three sites linking to me, I think it’s unfair, and Google sucks! I sincerely hope that they get dropped and loose their millions

  16. I have a fairly new site selling nursing scrubs and my Google page position dropped from 37 to 153 today for the keyword “urbane scrubs” but the keyword “landau scrubs” did not change. I signed up for quite a few free directory links over the past week. All were in the correct category. Could this be what hurt my page position?

  17. Why do Google still provide high page rankings on pages that have not been updated in years and often to webpages that are broken?

  18. I was penalize for one website, and there was two major thing that happened:
    1. My site decrees in Pr from 5 to 3
    2. Was on first page for one keywords and now is on 6 or 7 page in google result for that keywords.
    Does anybody know for what could be this penalize?

  19. Thank you for interesting article with relevant quotations.

    I never participated in link selling or buying, and in two months my web site ( ) got PR3. I don’t see how i could optimize it more according to the fact it contains only one web page with primary focus on design.

  20. Is it still possivle to push a new site to a PR of 3 with only one or two similar content links of site with pagerank 4? sometimes ago this was very easy.

  21. I really hate PR because i don’t understand how it works. I keep going from 0 to 1 and from 1 to 0 and i don’t know why.

  22. This is a great article and even though I still don’t understand GPR, I appreciate the info. I started my blog about 1 yr ago, and in that time have gone from a PR4 to a PR1..and I hav no idea why! I dont sell links, but I use affiliate links, thats the only reason i have for dropping PR. All my content is unique, and I do rank really well. Problem being, unlike competitors in my realm, I my indexing tends to bounce around the place. Do you think it is the affilaite links that are causing this? I’m more than willing to make changes to improve…but I dont know what to do next!?!

  23. Thanks for the information regarding minus PR from Google. Got some information regarding what I wanted to know more about. Even though, I didn't get the exact term I was looking for.

  24. Thanks for the information regarding minus PR from Google. Got some information regarding what I wanted to know more about. Even though, I didn't get the exact term I was looking for.

  25. Thanks for the information regarding minus PR from Google. Got some information regarding what I wanted to know more about. Even though, I didn't get the exact term I was looking for.

  26. Thanks for the information regarding minus PR from Google. Got some information regarding what I wanted to know more about. Even though, I didn't get the exact term I was looking for.