A friend of mine recently emailed me to ask if his site was penalized for selling links. The same email went on to say that he is ranking better than ever in Google, even for his core category single word query, but his toolbar PageRank score dropped by one.
Google Stats Are Wonky
PageRank is the Wonkiest Stat of Them All
Toolbar PageRank scores are only updated about once every three months. In between updates hundreds of millions or billions of web pages are added to Google's index. These new pages absorb PageRank and generally cause the PageRank of existing pages to be lowered. Pages that were a high PR 7 might become a low PR7, pages that were a low PR7 might become a high PR6, and so on. The one exception to this rule is that if your site's inbound link authority grows faster than the web does then your PageRank score goes up.
PageRank is recomputed in near real time and toolbar PageRank scores are perpetually outdated. If you are starting from a PR0 and get a few quality links then of course you should expect a PageRank greater than 0 on the next update, but even the fact that your pages are getting indexed means you have some share of PageRank even if the toolbar does not show anything. In some cases the toolbar not only shows outdated data, but sometimes it even sticks, showing you the PageRank score of another site or showing all pages as 0.
It is no coincidence that Google chose not to update toolbar PageRank scores in a great deal of time before spreading more propaganda against paid links, and then launched a partial data push (how often do they do that)? This way when they finally update PageRank and many pages have a slightly lower PageRank score many webmasters will wonder "was I penalized?"
Why the Hate for Paid Links?
If Google wins what’s going to happen is the market will go underground. You’re going to have to "know a guy" to get you links. For a lot of people that removes any options, leaving the only option being Google. Does anybody really believe that the PHD’s at the plex haven’t applied any "gaming theory" to this model and figured out this will make them even more profitable? (c’mon we’re googly we’d never do that) Once the advertisers are underground, market forces of scarcity will take effect, and prices will skyrocket. So even if you don’t believe in paid links, you should still get involved in the debate, if for no other reason than to keep the advertising market free and open instead of under the control of Google.
If making PageRank function requires hand editing isn't that an indication that PageRank is irrelevant? Why not change they relevancy algorithms rather than trying to scare people?
Danny Sullivan posted about Google's latest battle against paid links. I followed up on the absurdity of the situation, and in response to our posts Danny and I were both called liars. Which might seem like a fair assessment of the situation to a person new to search marketing.
Why would Google make an official webmaster announcement, but provide no quotes for the story and not publish it on any of their own websites? Probably because they know what they are doing is illegal, and want to be detached from the story to not look like overzealous dictators.
What Google Can't Cloak
The two things Google can't cloak are the visitors they are sending you and how much they charge you for a click. Sure their ad auctions have a hidden "quality" factor to them, but that is just an indication of how much they trust your ad account and your site. If Google is sending you more traffic and ranking your site better then you have nothing to worry about.
My friend's lower PageRank score was an anomaly. It was irrelevant, because at the core, his site is ranking better and Google is sending him more traffic. At the end of the day Google can put smoke an mirrors wherever they like, but if your search traffic trend is up you are not penalized.
Why Search Traffic Can Go Down Without a Penalty
- Competition: if the competition is out-marketing you then your site might slip.
- Seasonal traffic patterns: if you go out of a high demand season it makes sense that your traffic may drop even if rankings improve.
- Automated filters: In some cased individual pages might get automatically filtered for being too closely aligned with a particular term, but they can usually overcome that by loosening the focus of those pages and their inbound anchor text. That is why it is important for an SEO to track their statistics, to know where they are and how reliant they are on each phrase. In some cases I have seen sites which ranked for many additional new queries but got filtered for one of their highest traffic terms. The page focus and anchor text was loosened and the page came back ranking better than ever.
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