Google PageRank Update & Link Selling

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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 Although many in the SEO industry feel that PageRank is an outdated metric of judging a site’s authority in Google, it does still reflect the findability of a site in Google’s index and gives webmasters a peek at Google’s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 Internet.com 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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