I spent the morning gingerly picking my way through a minefield of guk. The mess was everywhere. It was unavoidable. It was gross. Then the family and I came home from the pumpkin patch and I logged on to find the exact same type of mess waiting for me online. I'll say one thing for Google...they sure manage to keep folks talking about them.

Normally, I don't make posts like this one, but enough sites are buzzing and Search Engine Guide is being mentioned often enough I felt it warranted a post.

Yes, Search Engine Guide's PageRank dropped this morning. This is actually our second drop of the month. After having been a PR7 since I came on board more than three years ago, we dropped to a PR6 the first week of October. This morning, most data centers are showing we've dropped to a PR4.

I'm not one to pay much attention to the PageRank of a web site. I did notice our first drop because we've been working on some things behind the scenes and I'd been keeping an eye on our indexing. I probably would have missed the second one if I hadn't logged on this afternoon and been pinged immediately by several folks asking about the PR drop at Search Engine Guide.

Is Google "punishing" us?

Only Google know the answer to that. We don't sell PageRank here at Search Engine Guide. In fact, anyone who has purchased an ad from us in the hopes of gaining PageRank has probably been disappointed. Our pages have so many outgoing links on them I can't imagine how any one ad would deliver enough of a PageRank punch to be worth paying for. In fact, it amazes me Google thinks a site like ours would be stupid enough to sell PageRank and then to put a list of all the folks we've sold it to on our front page. In reality, we put our advertiers there to give them a little something those of us in the industry like to call "exposure."

We do sell ads though, and we have never felt the need to add extra code to all of our ads to make someone else happy. While our advertisers don't buy PageRank from us, they do buy exposure. Based on how many advertisers stay with us month after month (after month after month) I'd say most feel they get their money's worth too.

I mean think about it. You could pay $150 for the chance your PageRank might increase a teeny blip or you could pay $150 to run five different ads on a site that reaches 600,000 small business owners each month. Now how short sighted would an advertiser have to be to focus more on the laughably tiny potential of increased PageRank than on the number of customers an ad like that could get them?

It's ok though. We've got more than 10K RSS subscribers, more than 600,000 monthly visitors, more than 23,000 weekly newsletter subscribers and more than 20,000 registered forum members and our traffic continues to rise each month. Our rankings (on all engines) are up and our direct link referrals are up.

Am I worried about a drop in our PageRank? Nope. As I said above, I never really saw what all the fuss was about. I'll keep focusing on those numbers I mentioned two paragraphs back. They've always seemed like a better way to gauge our success than the amount of green on a little bar in my browser.

I'd suggest other webmasters do the same.


October 24, 2007





Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.





Comments(24)

I could let you borrow mine...but then I won't have any!! LOL. Thanks for all the points you made. Everything seems so confusing sometimes!

I mean think about it. You could pay $150 for the chance your PageRank might increase a teeny blip or you could pay $150 to run five different ads on a site that reaches 600,000 small business owners each month.

So you're saying people see those long list of links at the bottom of your home page? Really? Or are they also run in more prominent places for that fee?

Jill, the links you see at the bottom of the page are not purchased individually. We sell a "package" of ads for $150 a month.

Those advertisers get an AdWords style text ad like those you see at the top of every page, a 300x100 graphic ad like the one over in the right column and a 125x125 ad that shows up in the left column. Those three ads are in a rotation on every page of our site.

They also get a listing in our products and services directory and a static link on the home page where we list ALL of our sponsors.

And yes, people do actually click on those links down there. (Though I'd be surprised if anyone was buying the ad package JUST for those links since the other four ad types included in the package send converting traffic.)

Thanks for the clarification, Jen. I wonder if they will continue to buy them if you removed those ones on the home page? (Not saying you should by any means!) Because I can see those ones being the draw as far as real PageRank and anchor text go.

RE: Jill Whalen
So you're saying people see those long list of links at the bottom of your home page? Really? Or are they also run in more prominent places for that fee?
LOL, I should hope so considering I have in big huge letters:

"Please visit our sponsors who make Search Engine Guide possible"

If they weren't seeing them I'd put a picture of me jumping up and down if that's what it took to get them to look.

If people weren't looking at them why do you think I'd dedicate the space to showcasing our advertisers in that way?

RE: Jill Whalen
Because I can see those ones being the draw as far as real PageRank and anchor text go.
Wait, are you saying you actually think that with the 10 zillion advertisers I have linked that anyone is actually getting PageRank benefit that would remotely matter?

No idea if they are or aren't; but it doesn't matter what I think, it's the perception of those buying them that matters.

Just between you and me, my advertisers aren't as ignorant as you seem to think they are.

OK. That is good then!

That's all fine and legit in my book. Google OTOH thinks that these uncondomized links to sponsors on the home page aren't natural, because the terms "sponsor" and "editorial vote" are not compatible in the sense of Google's guidelines.

Either you link out because a sponsor bought ads, or you don't sell ads and link out for free because you think your visitors will like a page. Links to sponsors without condom are black, links to sites you like and which you don't label "sponsor" are white. There's nothing in between, respectively gray areas like links to hand picked sponsors on a page with a gazillion of links count as black.

Google doesn't care whether your links actually pass a reasonable amount of PR to link destinations which buy ad space too, the possibility that those links could influence search results is enough to qualify you as sort of a link seller. The same goes for paid reviews on blogs and whatnot, see Andy's problem with his honest reviews which Google classifies as paid links.

You're absolutely right when you say that such SE nitpicking should not force you to throw nofollow crap on your links like confetti. However, this decision comes with two downsides:

First, most likely Google has already taken away your ability to pass link juice, at least to some degree. Or Google will do that when you don't react on their toolbar PR warning. That likely has or will have negative impact on your internal linkage, although you've enough deep links to compensate that.

Second, and more important, you encourage your readers to follow your decision. Most small business sites are weak enough that penalties caused by uncondomized commercial links of any kind do hurt their rankings. When Google takes away the ability to pass PR from the home page of a small business that has the majority of all inbound links pointing to the home page, that can result in deindexed deep pages, or at least unfindable deep pages. I'd tell small business sites that castrating all affiliate links and such is less risky. Maybe some paid links penalties don't affect internal links and nullify only the power of outgoing links, or devalue paid links only. We don't know that for sure today, also things tend to change.

From our POV condomizing links is wrong, but sometimes it's better to pragmatically comply to such policies in order to stay in the game.

0.02

Sebastian,

I don't disagree with you. That's why my 5 part series on the nofollow controversy made it pretty clear that small businesses should make up their own minds.

All I can do is tell folks the pros and cons. What they decide to do is up to them.

"All I can do is tell folks the pros and cons. What they decide to do is up to them."

Yep, that's really the gist of it!

Jennifer, I meant the "I'd suggest other webmasters do the same" bit. Your nofollow series is great. :)

Excuse me for asking a dummy question but am a little confused about your article. Would any affiliate site that has banners or I guess text links too be getting penalized in the way your article has mentioned or are these only sites that would actually be getting paid for placing ads on their pages?

I guess it's a technicality but an affiliate placing links on their site is only getting paid if those links that are clicked are actually followed by purchases. I'm not sure if those would be considered paid links or not.

As to the no follow. I am thoroughly confused about it at this point. lol:) I read so many contradictory posts and articles with one person saying definitely do it and another definitely not to do it..... lol so don't have a clue which should be done.

Ohhh...my bad.

By that statement, I meant I suggest they take to not worrying so much about what the green bar says and start focusing on traffic, RSS numbers, etc...

Sorry if that wasn't clear enough.

"Excuse me for asking a dummy question but am a little confused about your article. Would any affiliate site that has banners or I guess text links too be getting penalized in the way your article has mentioned or are these only sites that would actually be getting paid for placing ads on their pages?"

Kathy,

Not a "dummy question" at all! In fact, even those well versed in the industry are having a hard time figuring out exactly what it is that Google considers "evil" these days. ;)

Right now, it appears that Google is upset with any site that features ANY link that the site owner received compensation for without slapping a nofollow tag on it.

That includes reviews (even if you are paid for the time spent reviewing the product), advertising, text link ads and probably affiliate ads.

I did a pretty in-depth series on the Google NoFollow issue if you're interested.

As for what to do... well...that's entirely up to you. Want to play it 100% safe and not take any chances of a penalty from Google? Implement nofollow.

Interseting discussion...

What's most interesting is that Google is not being open about anything at all.

In many ways Google actually intiated and help build the text link industry by introducing PR.

What it now needs to do is come clean and say whether they are completely doing away with PR or not.

Does this decrease in PR mean anything for a sites rankings is the question that needs to be asked.

If it is a slap on the wrist so to speak, how are Google determining which sites are selling links for income and which are doing it to sell PR?

If poeple are buying links from sites based on traffic and thinking it will also help rankings, that's totally up to them.

Legimate selling of link space to produce income is not a crime nor should decrease rankings. If people are buying links for the wrong reason, that's up to them. The site selling the links isn't their minder.

Remebering again that Google built this monster, why should others take responsibilty.

Google also initiated Adsense which has spawned a whole industry around the building of useless websites. No ones slapping them on the wrist for doing so or telling them to not have their links on sites!

If Google are going to lower rankings for selling text links they must tell us what their litmus test is?

If they think companies are going to stop making legitimate income from advertsising to appease them I think the backlash will be extreme.

Let me start off by saying I'm a huge fan of Search Engine Guide, Robert Clough, and most of all Jennifer Laycock!

That being said...I can not help but to comment on the home page link issue. I understand that they are sponsors and I commend you on posting them so clearly to see as many don't do that anymore. However from any SEO perspective you are linking to roughly 100 websites with out a "no follow" tag. If Google has set an automated filter in place for this sort of thing then it makes sense why I am seeing a PR4 for your site now. If it was my decision I would keep your list of sponsors/advertisers on your homepage, but simply but "no follow" tags on there so it does not appear that you are selling PageRank, which is exactly what Google is out to stop.

Again I think you all at Search Engine Guide are great and I wish you the best of luck with all of your projects!

I'm thinking: Why are we all so inordinately fixated on Google's PageRank?

So what if it's used for link farms, paid linkages, whatever. So what if it's not.

To about 90% of net users, it doesn't mean a thing. So far, it doesn't even factor much in Google searches.

Is it because site owners now can't demand as much as they can with the PR, which is computed and displayed by only Google anyway?

Google owns that toolbar in which the PR gauge appears. They can do what they like with something they own. Just as anyone can do what they like with their sites or blogs.

Unlike for Google Ads, they don't charge a cent for PR. Whereas lots of site owners are charging, and pocketing 100% of those earnings based (wholly or partially) on Google's PR.

I don't see why Google should contort itself into complying with cries that it 'come clean', 'be transparent', etc?

No one seemed to have complained when their PRs were raised. Yet now, it seems Google isn't supposed to tweak their own stuff. FYI, along with the downgrading, some sites/blogs were also upgraded in this latest exercise.

Yahoo and MSN don't have PR equivalents. If they did, we'd be greedily milking their PRs too.

Google should follow suit and just do away with it. End of grumblings.

Or maybe they're preparing to introduce a souped-up future version. More power to them.

The only constant is change.

Thank you so very much... You views are always good and straight forward. It ashame that those who play by the rules or most of them get caught up in this mess. I have never thought paid links was good SEO... Paid links are nothing more than SEO crack, an easy fix!

My sites PR went down from 5 to 3. I do not sell any links and I have a few outgoing links.
I think google has changed the algorithm.

Interesting...good comments. I see you at PR7 now...will be interesting to see if you actually lose any traffic as a result of the fluctuations...

Thank you so very much... You views are always good and straight forward. It ashame that those who play by the rules or most of them get caught up in this mess. I have never thought paid links was good SEO... Paid links are nothing more than SEO crack, an easy fix!

Just between you and me, my advertisers aren't as ignorant as you seem to think they are.

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