A number of my readers have noticed that Google have been making some minor adjustments to the displayed PageRank on a few sites, and Josh quite rightly pointed out that the displayed PageRank on this domain has for some reason been reduced.
Whatever change Google have made in the data held about my site, it doesn’t seem to have prevented any of my content ranking, and unfortunately it is impossible to say what data they are working on to begin with.
They could well be using a dataset from 1 year ago in their experimentation with some new algorithms, or just as easily some data from last week.
The Toolbar PageRank Trap
- Google created PageRank
- Google created a way for people to see PageRank
- Google created a way for webmasters to access PageRank via API
Google seems determined to penalize anyone who mentions PageRank within their advertising as an indication of the value of the advertising or review service provided – essentially they are assuming that a mention of PageRank within such material means that the intention of the site owner is to sell PageRank.
I suppose that this assumption is the same as assuming that if a good looking female consultant, writer, TV presenter or speaker includes their photograph as part of their promotional materials, that the primary service they are providing is related to the sex industry.
Services such as PayPerPost, ReviewMe, Text Link Ads, Text Link Brokers & Sponsored Reviews do include Google PageRank among their listing and value criteria, and I do realize that a higher PageRank does make advertising more attractive to advertisers.
If you hadn’t noticed TV presenters, all things being equal, are often chosen based upon looks and not just intellect, lingual dexterity, and professional reputation.
Google themselves use PageRank within listings as a signal of quality. As an example, here is a page which contains a listing of SEO related blogs which have been selected for quality of content. The Google directory is an exported copy of the DMOZ directory, and inclusion within the SEO sections is highly prized.
PageRank could easily be looked on as an indication of INFLUENCE.
A blog with a higher PageRank might well have a lot less readers, but those readers will be more influential. As an example whilst Vanessa Fox no longer works for Google, and probably has far fewer subscribers that I do, I know she is a lot more influential.
Paid Post Arena Visibility
It is true I am highly visible in the paid posts arena, I have been included in a press release for PayPerPost, they listed me on Wikipedia and I have a prominent profile in their PPP Direct service (Ajax – no PageRank).
They even mentioned me in one of their promotional opportunities about PPP Direct, highlight that I had written a review about it, but there was absolutely no requirement for anyone to link through to me.
Despite the fact that PayPerPost list my PageRank among other metrics within their directory, I strongly believe that I am not “selling links” – I look on what I write as a form of consultancy, actually quite low paid consultancy considering the time I invest in the few site reviews I do accept.
The PayPerPost interface is a little limited in the specification and notification department, as are most enquiry forms for any business. As you would expect, a lot of additional discussion of requirements happens after an initial equiry, and within that discussion I insist that any links I provide will be editorial, with my own choice of anchor text.
That being said, I am SEO aware, I write articles frequently on how to give people useful anchor text, and if I determine I wish to highlight a particular web document, I am going to link to it using the best anchor text that I feel is appropriate.
A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you.
I am very comfortable explaining what I do in regards to paid reviews, I believe the content I create is of the highest quality, offers good value to my clients (I don’t like to look on it as advertising, though that is a component), and I also feel that if any of my clients were speaking with their competitors, they should feel quite comfortable pointing out the reviews I have made of their sites to their competitors.
In many ways being open and comfortable explaining what I do could be what has led to what seems to be a penalty in my displayed toolbar pagerank.
Only A Visible Penalty?
From what I can determine, the reduction in toolbar PageRank for this domain is the only thing which has happened.
- My pages are being indexed frequently – in fact my content appears in Google’s index just minutes after it is published, and a large amount of my content is reindexed every few days because it is often being updated.
- Google seems to be crawling everything – I can’t call this “deep crawling” because my site is actually very flat compared to most blogs, with the majority of pages no more than 2 clicks from the home page, and heavily interlinked.
- Whilst Google no longer reports supplemental results pages directly, the difference between a standard “site:andybeard.eu/” search and “site:andybeard.eu/*” search is minimal, indicating that as much as 85% of my pages are in the primary index. I don’t block a fair number of my pages that might be regarded as duplicate content from being indexed. As Google representitives have stated many times supplemental results are mainly due to lack of PageRank being passed to the pages, and not due to duplicate content. It is true that duplicate content pages often have very few links, thus end up as supplemental results, but this is more a by product.
- Most of my content appears to be ranking as well as it has ever ranked, actually in many cases better than many of my peers talking about the same products, publishing content around the same time.
Potential Unusual Factors
There are a number of potential unusual factors in the links I have received to this domain over the last 6 months which might be looked on by Google’s bots as possible things to flag, and I am going to list every single one of them, totally openly.
- The Dofollow List or D List – My site was added to a list of Dofollow bloggers that grew and spread into a blogging meme. I didn’t add myself to the list, and I didn’t spread it in any way. The links I received from it were all very targeted as they were deep links to my list of Dofollow plugins, but without any useful anchor text.
- Technorati Train – I had been exchanging Technorati favorites with my readers for some time, and Maki @ DoshDosh decided to do the same. I linked through from one of my posts to Maki, and Maki added me to a list of blogs that exchange favorites. That list was picked up and turned into another long meme from which I received a number of deep links.
- Indexed Search Results – I have 2 or 3 pages on the site where I pick up an RSS feed of the last 100 links to a post on my blog, or someone else’s, cache the results so it isn’t constantly hitting the server, and output the results. In many ways this is almost identical to what Google provide their blogspot users in the form of “linkbacks” to their posts.
- I have one page that pulls in search results on a specific keyword from Technorati, and again caches the RSS results, and outputs them to the page. The web page in question is very useful, in fact just as informative in many ways as a Mahalo search result – appropriate really because the topic is… Jason Calacanis – I have had some decent links to the page as well, from highly credible sources.
- How do you differentiate between keyword stuffing on every page… and “Web 2.0″ ideas like tag clouds? I have growing tag clouds on the bottom of my single “post” pages – they are useful for users, and give me some SEO benefits for moving juice around, but at some stage, on some very busy posts, it might become a little excessive, and dilute the value of the content.
- Dofollow – removing nofollow from comments in itself has risks for 3 primary reasons
- Overall juice leakage – I have some pages with close to 200 external links, often to unrelated sites – those same pages might have 500 or more internal links to compensate but it does need to be considered on a busy blog.
- I encourage people to use pingback or trackback when linking through to one of my posts, and encourage linking to posts rather than to my root domain. Unfortunately that is also a form of reciprocal linking between highly related pages on the web, because one page is invariably discussing the same topic as the other.
- Linking to low quality domains – I moderate comments and trackbacks quite ruthlessly and apply my comments policy – I am sure some low quality sites slip through, but in general I know the blogs of most of the peole who link to me and who comment
- David Airey was recently having some problems possibly due to some links he sold, or maybe due to the birthday competition and specifying anchor text. I donated a prize to the competition – prize givers were not given any real indication on how the competition was going to be run, although David did ask for us to provide a description of how we wanted to be linked from his page – I am not criticizing David over this, and my rankings for particular terms which people decided to copy and paste have increased – it is a lot like article marketing and author resource boxes – is article marketing with a resource box soon going to give you a Google penalty? I doubt it, which is why I am surprised over Google’s attitude.
- I have one link out there for a large donation I made to a WordPress Plugin author – the link was offered freely after the donation was made, and the place being linked to and the anchor text is totally logical. I seem to remember links for charitable donations, or I suppose other donations are not what Google are meant to be targeting, but if the links look the same as a list of paid links, with a PayPal button underneath, I am sure Googlebot and even a human inspection might misinterpret why a link was given. I will be restarting donations to plugin authors soon – I paused it partially due to it being overshadowed by other WordPress development competitions which were also giving links to sponsors on high ranking domains, and supported by Automattic.
- I have some links from some of my other domains pointing to this site, to relevant content, or to meet legal requirements in the UK
- I have content being syndicated, both with permission and without. It generally contains links to the original article – I don’t hunt down people syndicating my content, and I publish it under GPL, so I can only require some kind of attribution, such as a link anyway.
- I started a meme back in January to boost awareness for MyBlogLog communities of quality blogs – I have seen even Google employees take part in blogging memes that offer some value
Paid Reviews or Consultation or Selling PageRank?
I don’t sell links on any of my domains for a number of reasons, but if I was going to include unrelated links if anything it would be to my own niche sites. To my knowledge I have never clicked on a link labeled “Sponsored Links” though I have clicked on links that were display advertising. If I was to sell display advertising I would have it running through a tracking script.
Here is a full list of the paid reviews I have written on this blog
So I have written 9 reviews, and turned down as many or more, some of which weren’t very relevant, but mainly because I didn’t have time… time for me is the biggest factor, it is what I believe people are paying me for. All links I give in such reviews are editorial
My readers seem to enjoy my paid reviews. I don’t think I have ever had a negative comment, in fact much the opposite many readers have linked to my reviews as an example of how such reviews can add to a blog, and to the web as a whole.
Google have an attitude that if they decide you are guilty of some misdemeanor based upon their guidelines, you get a penalty.
Guilty until proven innocent?
The penalty I seem to have received is a major drop in my visible PageRank, and based upon the ranking of some of the sites I have linked to for certain phrases, may also have affected my ability to pass PagerRank and other ranking factors… globally, not just on a per page or per link basis.
The standard procedure to have some kind of penalty lifted is to fix whatever you have done wrong (in Google’s eyes), and submit a re-inclusion request through their webmaster console.
Unfortunately this isn’t really guilty until proven innocent, it is more like guilty until you repent.
If some slimy snake-oil SEO has discredited your site with various practices that Google doesn’t approve of, you eventually have a chance of re-inclusion, as long as you admit you did something wrong, rectify the problem, and vow never to do it again.
But what happens if you think you have done absolutely nothing wrong?
PayPerPost Is My Payment Processor
I use PayPerPost as my payment processor for the review / consultancy services I provide as an alternative to using PayPal or Google Checkout. They do take a small additional fee, but they also provide a very useful escrow service, and provide me with traffic. PayPerPost are certainly within my top50 referrers every single day and I believe it is targeted traffic.
I receive probably as much traffic daily from PayPerPost as I receive from other services… per month, though I know I am lucky to be a featured blogger, and that other bloggers might not receive as much traffic from the PayPerPost Direct site.
I have had someone show disrespect for my blog for displaying the PayPerPost logo, actually it was someone who used to write for DownloadSquad after I criticized them quite strongly for complaining about splogs, and then linking to the culprit… without using nofollow, just like The Guardian in their recent interview.
What would happen if Google decided in the future that PayPal isn’t a “trusted” payment processor, and is a poor quality signal?
Surely Google can’t give me a penalty for displaying my payment processor on my blog?
Quality Symbol Not Indication Of Ability To Pass Juice
The general public look on the little green bar on the Google Toolbar as a signal of quality, that is what Google tell them.
Here it is in Google’s own words
Wondering whether a new website is worth your time? Use the Toolbar’s PageRankâ„¢ display to tell you how Google assesses the importance of the page you’re viewing.
But a penalty on my visible Toolbar PageRank isn’t what Google are telling their users. Google users think my content is of less value, and has less authority. They don’t understand that Google also apply modifiers to the green bar which may be for reasons other than quality.
My content is still ranking in Google, thus Google still looks on my content as being the same quality.
The Google PageRank currently being displayed to my visitors is a deliberate manufactured lie to my visitors.
It is also a lie to potential advertisers – I don’t sell links, but I do sell my authority, and my hopefully increasing PageRank was a positive signal of quality relative to my increasing status withing Internet marketing and Search Engine Marketing.
Tarred & Feathered By Google
Google are going the route of humiliation as a deterrent to people using services such as PayPerPost, both bloggers writing content, and advertisers (PayperPost advertisers include corporations such as Ford Motor Company)
I am not going to defend the position of “Paid Links” which take 3 seconds to approve. That is an advertising value vs gaming search engines debate, and is not something I am involved in, not even under cover.
I spent over an hour on Skype with a colleague last night, about 3am because I just happened to be at my computer, giving him some reassurance on something SEO related. Before the conversation he asked how to pay me, and my consultancy rate. I don’t do that kind of SEO consultancy, it is not part of my current or even future business model.
I am sure however if I had stated $60 or even $100 per hour, I probably would have ended up with some work with his client just monitoring things. I could probably charge a lot more within more specialist niches where I have more experience.
If I spend 5 hours or more on a review on this blog and get some financial compensation, it doesn’t cover the value of my time, so how the hell can it be looked on as selling links just to game the search engines.
The money is just a token gesture, a way to filter requests so that people think about relevance.
At this time I am not worried about the 15,000 visitors Google send to my blog every month.
Google are attacking my personal brand, my business, and my integrity.
It Is Not Just My Domain
I have checked a number of domains that appear to have had an unusual decrease in Google Toolbar PageRank. I am not going to name them as I don’t believe that is the right approach to take.
Just as I have over the last 6 months, since April, each of those sites has continued receiving quality inbound links, but seems to have been hit with a penalty.
Lets Just Assume This Is A Mistake From Google
If Google had hit my rankings at the same time, then this label they have placed on my site as being of poorer quality might have been justified, but as ranking prominence has remained, it is a false representation of my site’s value.
I don’t think really think Google intended to defame me so I am going to keep cool and see if they fix the problem over the next week or so. Who knows they might even decide to issue a public apology to those they have been misrepresenting to their users.
Edit – I made a mistake with the Gevil link, it should have been to the .org