The news is everywhere. Yesterday, October 24th 2007, Google has drastically started to lower PageRank for many popular sites, especially several prominent blogs and reputable marketing sites around the world. Many such sites have seen an overnight decrease of PageRank value of 2 or more points such as for engadget.com that has gone from a PR7 to a PR5 or Quick Online Tips gone from a PageRank of 6 to one of 3 in one fell swoop.
Photo credit: TechCrunch
MasterNewMedia.org own PR7 was suddenly lowered to PR4 yesterday.
Popular destinations such as AOL-owned Weblogs, Inc. blog network, the above mentioned engadget.com, Forbes, ProBlogger, CopyBlogger, SearchEngineGuide and many other sites appear to have been affected, with some notable exceptions standing out of the penalized group (Techcrunch is one alongside rival Gawker media).
The reason for this unprecedented drop in PageRank across so many popular sites has had the blogosphere discussing all day and overnight to make sense and reason of the possible rationale behind this major apparent re-shuffling operation with many wondering whether the PageRank penalization is over or whether it has just started.
Those unaffected by the changes in PageRank have either unfairly rejoyced at the misfortune of their competitors or, more wisely, decided to spend serious time in trying to understand better the new scenario and the full logic behind it before being caught themselves in the same trap.
Initial reactions as well as my purely coincidental article of yesterday on Text Links and Google Penalization had many run to switch off their few text link ads though it is evident by looking at the specific blogs affected that many of these had never sold any text link on their web pages. But what happened yesterday has probably nothing to do with text link ads.
More important than that, and way unnoticed by the early reporters as a key new element in Google strategy, is that none of the sites penalized with the PageRank value decrease has seen a drop in their Google-generated search traffic.
Until not too long ago, PageRank had a direct influence on the ranking of any site inside search engine result pages. The higher your PR, the higher your standing inside Google search results. Since yesterday this is evidently not anymore the case. All of the penalized sites come up as relevant as before on Google searches and Master New Media included, no site has felt a dip in visits or AdSense revenue due to this apparent penalization.
So what is going on? Is Google penalizing sites that use or sell text links, or there is some major change going on inside Google that is provoking all these PageRank changes? Are there other motives at play for Google to penalize so heavily all of these sites? Is this temporary or final? What will happen next? Are other sites going to be penalized soon?
The only thing that I can say for sure before diving into analyzing the details of this story is that the reasons why Google is doing this, go well beyond a simple war against text links. So before you turn them all off or start pulling off your hair read on and understand in greater depth what's really happening.
"Pagerank has become a kind of benchmark around the web and in a lot of ways it drives a large part of the Internet economy.
The price of paid links, paid reviews, even some CPA advertising is either partly or wholely driven by PageRank (I think most people try to ignore Alexa stats now). But maybe its time has passed."
Source: SeoMoz commenter Vingold
What Is Happening
In essence Google is devaluing PageRank across the board, and with particular emphasis "a subset" of the very sites that have or could benefit and/or monetize directly or indirectly such PR-given authority.
The reason for the subset according to some analysts is due to Google strategy of penalizing always only a subset of the target offenders as to make it more difficult for unscrupulous online marketers to fully understand the system and work around it in some way.
The sites that have seen a decrease in PageRank may have not sold text links as such, but they are very likely to have either engaged in one of these:
a) Cross-linking: heavy internal cross-linking between sister sites or related blogs inside web networks appears to be a likely trigger for this round of PR penalization.
b) Link-schemes: participation in link gaming efforts intended to favour particular sets of sites
c) Italian-style-A-list-interlinking: intense and repeated interlinking among a circumscribed set of blog sites targeted at increasing the group overall standing and authority above outsiders and newcomers.
...and text links ads? This is in reality probably not one of the main reason Google has penalized the large group of sites as several of them have never sold text links on their web properties though they may have likely incurred in one of the above other activities.
To the detached eye, what emerges quite clear, at least with the data in our hands now, is that Google is voluntarily devaluing PageRank for those very sites that have benefited or could benefit most from converting the perceived "authoritative" value provided by PageRank so as to make it practically useless.
What must also be strongly remarked is that it appears quite evident though that Google is not penalizing these sites inside its search engine result pages, but it is only lowering their assigned PageRank value.
What major sites and bloggers are reporting as a big disaster isn't really so devastatingly negative at all. At least from my personal viewpoint.
Mashable for example writes:
"This is a very big deal; many of these sites depend on search traffic and the credibility a high page rank brings to keep their business of selling ads afloat, and a drop in score can significantly lower the flow of visitors."
But while it is true that many of the penalized sites depend on search traffic, even Mashable has failed to notice that none of the sites being penalizes has seen its traffic take even the slightest dip.
PR drop and no traffic dip?
What this would appear to indicate is a clear strategy to fight not only sites selling paid text links but also strong link exchange behaviour, link farming and excessive internal or intra-blog linking. That is making innocuous the bullets available to those sites who have them most and which may have used such bullets already in one form or another to benefit the ranking of other sites artificially.
By significantly lowering PageRank without affecting search engine result rankings, Google sends out a very clear message: "PageRank has only a very limited value, and you cannot use it to make more friends or money by handing out "favour" links or even by selling them on your site."
Why Would Google Do This
Loren Baker at Search Engine Journal has probably the best and most comprehensive answer:
a) Paid Linking : The easy excuse is that they're targeting paid links, but not all sites which experienced the drop sell or buy links.
b) Mass Linking : Do we link out to too many sites via Blog Rolls? Does Linkbait just result in TOO MANY links, even if they are natural. Do blog networks use influential linking to their advantage? I think PageRank has been spread too thin and Google is changing its PageRank formula to address the mass publishing which has taken place over the past 2 years.
c) Devalue PageRank : PageRank is seen by many as the end all value of a web site. Our PageRank dropped but we are receiving more Google search traffic than ever. PageRank does not define site rankings in Google or traffic and it should not be mistaken as so.
d) Kill the Paid Link Market : If Paid Linking houses use PageRank as a pricing metric, then eliminating or devaluing PageRank will devalue paid linking.
Source: Search Engine Journal
e) Google is making deep changes to its search algorithms to significantly re-energize and increase the quality of its search engine results.
f) A new ranking system is about to make its debut? Trustrank?
It is indeed a fact that Google PageRank has long lost its original value and in recent years it has become a self-serving but highly-regarded (because signed by Google) instrument to value, rank and monetize a site in a myriad of different ways.
Given that charts and web rankings can be created by anyone and there is no Google monopoly on those, everyone is free to follow or create the type of web ranking chart that utilizes the criteria they think most effective.
In reality Google PageRank values have no more reason d'etre in calculating authority and relevance of a site relative to others. If you had not yet realized it Google PageRank has become only an instrument to rank high in selected web ranking charts, and to serve the interest of "text link brokers". As such, from my very personal viewpoint PageRank, if disconnected from search engine results relevance is totally useless.
Some people are arguing that the sweeping change to Google PageRank creates a new set of value references to be looked at like this:
PR5 is the new PR7
PR4 is the new PR6
PR3 is the new PR5
I absolutely do not buy into this view and remain convinced that PageRank is being devalued, and it is therefore not to be used anymore as a reliable measure of credibility or authority for anyone web site.
For those still crying out to disaster nonetheless there was no traffic loss to their site, I think it is time to stop the paranoia.
For the more savvy and realistic ones strongly believing that PageRank "does affect status and the chance of being looked upon as an authority site on a particular topic..." (Source: Andy Beard).
My only comment back would be: "That was the day before yesterday. For today, and I don't know about tomorrow, you can officially throw that PageRank value out of the window. As it stands it has zero value. So just stop promoting it, looking at it and making prices based on that value. It's not that bad, I think."
If your site was not affected I wouldn't sing victory just yet. Nor I would start pointing the finger at those who have lost their PR.
Remember this is only a subset. Techcrunch may have not been penalized (yet) but it certainly doesn't do very well by linking and thanking its advertisers while never using a no-follow tag.
It also would appear that Google has only reached PR5 sites so far so maybe today will be the day for PR4, PR3 and below? :-)
I am sure there is definitely more to come and discover.
Google doesn't want sites to use its PageRank mechanism for the valuation and sale of paid links or for any other link exchange activity that artificially distorts the natural value of a link as a vote.
As a pre-emptive measure Google appears to have reduced drastically the PageRank of sites that have or may have benefited the most from an unethical use or exchange of links with other sites.
Mashable writes: "However, versus some of the companies Google allows to advertise in its search engine, many of those taking a Page Rank hit are producers of great content, and it's a total shame that this policy might ultimately drive them out of business."
I do not think we are in this situation and I doubt that this move will drive anyone outside of text link advertising agencies out of the market. I doubt any commercial blog or site will have to absorb negative economic effects due only to this loss of PageRank, and while some may have to rethink their marketing strategy, many have an opportunity to wake up again and start thinking of new and innovative ways with which to keep and increase their visibility and relevance.
The only thing the new policy does is to devalue PageRank as a metric for determining prices at which to buy and sell links as well as to devalue excessive link exchanges taking place between a site and its most direct neighbors.
As SEOMOZ reader Mpilatow publicly commented yesterday: "I guess when the outrage dies down we can all go back to talking about how worthless and overrated [PageRank] is."
A consolation point emerging for all involved in yesterday's Google Pagerank penalization is the fact that in an unusual but rather "effective" way they have been officially marked as "important sites" by this very Google move. If you haven't noticed in fact, just about all the sites being penalized are major, highly relevant and popular sites. I don't see anywhere reports of small sites receiving this penalization. And if they do, I think they should see this received handicap as a clear and official indication that Google does believe them to be an important, authoritative site and wants to prevent them from engaging in not-so honorable and ethical ways of sharing their highly valued authority as in excessive link-love.
Courtney Tuttle in fact writes: "Shoot I'm honored to be on the list of sites that got hit because they are the best internet marketing sites in the internet. No seriously. ..."
Has Google changed your PageRank again?
Check it here:
MasterNewMedia.org present PageRank:
Original article written by Robin Good for Master New Media and entitled "Google PageRank Devalued: What Is Really Happening - PageRank Does Not Count Anymore?"