Search Engine Land recently listed a bunch of sites that had their PageRank scores manually edited for selling links. Of course, if you are the publisher of one of these sites, you don't care about an algorithm relevancy score so meaningless that it is edited by hand. You care about traffic.
Rankings Never Changed
SERoundtable was on the list of sites which saw their toolbar PageRank scores reduced, but I just looked at some of the terms they were ranking for, and they are still right at or near the top of the results for everything they were ranking for, even the competitive terms.
Traffic Matters, PageRank Does Not
Watch the Compete.com traffic stats for the sites listed in that Search Engine Land post. Google even provides large sites like the NYT over 20% of their traffic, so if these sites were really penalized you will see a plunge in traffic. If you do not see a plunge in traffic across these sites then toolbar PageRank scores are proved irrelevant as a measure of quality and trust.
Since When Are Publishing Networks Bad?
Many network blogs had their PageRank scores dropped too. Again, you can simply check the traffic stats to see if there is any real impact, or if Google is just polluting their Toolbar PageRank scores.
Since Google is demoting PageRank's viability as a site's global authority score perhaps this is a time for Yahoo to bring back WebRank, or Ask to launch something like CommunityRank. The Google-webmaster relationship is fraying. This presents an opportunity for whoever wants to take it.
Publishing is About Networks
If Google is penalizing blogs for being part of a network of sites, how long until they penalize IAC for owning 20 travel sites? Or Monster.com for owning 100 thin lead generation education sites? Or BankRate for owning white label sites with similar names? Networks have always been a part of publishing based business models.
It seems someone or something inside of Google is melting down. Choppy times ahead for webmasters worldwide.
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