Did I Get Hit With A PageRank Penalty?

Published by 42 Comments

I just can’t seem to get it right about this whole PageRank update thing. First I thought PageRank was updating, then I noticed it was just some sites dropping in PR, then I thought it was updating again when this blog dropped from a 6 to a 5, but now it seems it could have just been a penalty applied to my blog manually.

Penalized For Selling Links?

Based on the conversations going on, some referencing to my blog as an example to prove the point, it appears that Google could be going around and manually penalizing sites by dropping their visible PageRank and possibly penalizing their search results too, as a punishment for selling text links.

I can’t verify any of this of course, but let’s speculate as if it were true for the sake of the discussion.

Do I care that my site dropped from a 6 to a 5? Why yes of course – that hurts! It’s VERY hard to get to a PageRank 6 and while I don’t think PageRank is the most important variable, it does impact my credibility. I never like to see it drop.

It also has the potential to reduce my income, since some advertisers look to PageRank as an indication of value of a website, as potentially misguided as that might be. Sales of text links directly to sponsors has dropped quite significantly over the past few months, on this blog at least, so advertisers are getting the message and Google has put enough fear in them to stop buying links for search engine reasons.

However, my income from the Text-Link-Ads.com service has increased over the past few months and hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down, so it will be interesting to see if the drop in PR impacts the revenue there.

Will I Stop Selling Links?

I’m still not entirely convinced I should stop selling text links. I could make changes to emphasize links are sold for traffic – as in raw clicks – and not search engine purposes. Google doesn’t want people manipulating search results with bought links, but has no problem with you selling links as long as it’s only for direct traffic, which is why they suggest the use of the no-follow tag on any sponsored links.

If I placed no-follow on the text links I sell, would they still sell? Would Google even realize and eventually remove my penalty if that is in fact why my PR dropped?

At the moment I make about $1,500 to $2,000 a month from text links in total (including direct and brokered link sales), which is significant enough for me to care.

Let’s look at this on the flip side – do I care if Google sends me less search traffic? Again, of course I do, if I look at the numbers Google traffic is important. Most of you read this blog via RSS and my highest referring source of traffic is Google followed by direct traffic then StumbleUpon (with an amazingly low bounce rate too I might add – I don’t know how they do it, but man StumbleUpon sends quality traffic!). This blog is read by repeat visiting fans as a first priority, but the value of Google search traffic cannot be discounted.

I definitely prefer to be on Google’s good side and I like receiving traffic from them, I don’t want that to change and I don’t think it will change (the penalty might reduce how much search traffic I get, but again only time will tell). Will I stop selling text links and potentially cut $2,000 from my income because they dropped my PageRank? – For the moment, no, I won’t. Maybe in the future I will, but at the moment it’s time to wait and see what happens.

Of course if the impact of reduced search rankings hurt my bottom line more than removing sold text links, then for sure, I’d be scrambling to remove the links and go hunting around for a Google rep I could contact to show them I had complied. This may happen, but it’s too early to tell and if any Google people are reading this – that’s not an invitation to go penalize my site further! ;) .

This blog provides good answers to searchers questions, so if Google intends to continue providing the best results to the queries it’s customers have, then my blog has to be included in search results. Perhaps though I’m underestimating Google’s crackdown on link buying. Maybe they are willing to go as far as removing quality sites completely so as to guarantee no sites are artificially boosted as a result of buying links (I really doubt it). All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not Google – they sure have a lot of responsibility!

The Ever-Changing World of Online Advertising

What this does demonstrate is another shift in the world of online advertising. As long as Google controls the traffic, they dictate, at least to some degree, how we earn a living as publishers.

The biggest lesson to learn as professional bloggers is to avoid any dependence on one source of income or one source of traffic. If my income and traffic relied solely on Google sending me search visitors and my advertising income was dependent on how high my PageRank is, well, I’m pretty much at the mercy of Google.

By the nature of how I have monetized this blog over time I’ve built up a diversified set of revenue streams and traffic sources. I’m putting into place actions now that result in capturing the value in my sales funnel, rather than depend on third parties for my income (such as advertisers, brokers and Google). This means my income will become ever more under my control and my blog will look more and more like a business. Whether this turns out to be more profitable is yet to be proven, but I know it’s certainly more stable long term (and I’m pretty confident it will be more profitable too).

Now we wait and see if a proper PageRank update will occur and go back to reminding ourselves that it really doesn’t matter that much :) .

Yaro Starak
Penalized

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42 Comments

  • Yeah, I was reading at Matt Cutts’ blog and in a comment he made once — he hinted that we should know not to using paid link ads.

  • I sure hope that Google is not manually penalizing sites using this type of advertising. I don’t make near what you do but it would hurt my income as well. Come to think of it one of my new blogs doesn’t have a page rank yet even though I thought it should by now. Maybe they have already penalized me. I guess I should look into that ;). Thanks for the info Yaro.

  • Personally I think Google is a bit overrated anyway. I’m beginning to think I should use zero Google stuff (ban the bots, stop using feedburner, etc) just to prove my point that a site can still be successful without G.

  • I do feel sorry for those who have been hit by this but it seems that ALL the big bloggers have been hit. If this is the case, any everybody’s PR has dropped then surely it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference is it? Everybody will still rank similarly in relation to each other.

  • It certainly seems to be an attack on credibility and tinkering with the toolbar PageRank value.
    It doesn’t seem to have had an effect on search traffic.

    Most of the people who have seen an adjustment that I am aware of were receiving a penalty.
    I think some of the ones reporting an increase might have actually received a bigger increase if it hadn’t been for the penalty.
    That isn’t something universal, there are a few anomalies.

    So far I am stunned by the reaction of many – so many people are not going to give in to Google on this one.

    Can I survive without the 34% of new visitors Google send me?
    Easily, in fact I don’t really care about it other than if I am looking to launch something regarding SEO, part of my proof is my blog.

  • I wouldn’t worry about it unless you see a big drop in traffic from Google. I’ve had sites drop in PR and actually increase in traffic.

    That said, I decided to take Text Link Ads off the one site had it on. The $150 a month was negligible (now if I were in your shoes and bringing in 4 figures from selling links, that’d make me think a little more) and I’d rather not worry about being penalized.

    I’ve seen quite a few posts around the blogosphere that just suggest taking your link selling underground. It’s hard, because you want to be honest with your readers, but putting “sponsored links” or some such makes it easy for Google to find you.

  • Hi Yaro,
    I think that the Pagerank calculation takes a lot of time to complete, you might see PR go up and down during the update – and eventually it settles down to one number. That has been my experience in the past. However, this pagerank update has lasted for months… so, it’s anyone’s guess. To go from a 5 to a 6 is a big jump I’ve heard. Would be nice to keep that one. I’m hoping to just get NOTICED! I have many links – but Google does not keep up in real time, that’s for sure. Imagine a perfect Google… all of us… at the same time… wow, what a wonderful world… Best of Life! Vern

  • My PR has dropped on my personal blog, but I will keep the paid links on anyway. Except for TLA, how can Google detect paid links? TLA might just have to change how they implement their code.

  • Hey Yaro,

    First of all in my post I said that “it looks like.” So I am not sure if your PR drop was 100% related to the paid links.

    Keep us updated in the organic traffic levels. Also, I agree that with your income related to paid links you could consider using different strategies. I would also think twice before letting $2k go.

  • My PR dropped from a 5 to a 4.

    I did read that one of the things you could do to combat their dislike for TLA was to edit things a bit where you could add rel=nofollow to the links; I’ve done this, at least on my index, and will have to see how it goes.

    That being said, I’m not sure I believe Google is penalizing users for TLA or similar text link selling. For some reason I just don’t find it believable. (Can anyone point me to some source FROM GOOGLE that suggests this, or is it just suspected/rumor?)

    I am personally wondering if they’ve done what Technorati did some time ago with their “authority” rating–checked to see if [specifically] blogs have recently linked to your site or not. The older the link from such a content-pushing website, the less valuable it becomes, and perhaps it even fades into the background. This killed my ranking in Technorati, as links to my site are sporadic, and now all the links I accumulate matter little, unless they are new.

    They would not do this with static sites, of course, but I think it’s a possibility for blogs, which would be easy to detect via their Blog Search now. Blogs produce so much content, and though I don’t at all like the fact that my PR has decreased, I would understand the idea that some links are more valuable than others when it comes to a time factor in the blogging world. Google has always tried to find new ways to figure out which sites were more valuable in their linking than others. I think this is a possibility, though, hell, I may be totally off the mark here.

  • Sorry to hear about this Yaro. It seems that Google are working hard on penalizing sites who sell links.

    Having looked at my stats, google doesn’t represent my biggest source of traffic so I don’t believe I would remove paid links if they were causing a drop in traffic, particuarly if it meant losing a large portion of my income.

    Fingers crossed you can get this reversed :)

  • Yaro,

    Do you see any significant changes in the traffic from Google?

    Shoemoney said in one of his recent vidoes that the best way of avoiding to get slapped by G is not to make them look stupid.

    However in your case and that of Andy Beard, if their penalty extends beyond the toolbar PR- they make themselves look stupid.

    Sorry about the PR drop, I am sure with your amount of subscribers you will survive this.

  • It’s too early to go assessing any changes to my google traffic. I have still come across my blog ranking for certain keywords I have always ranked for, so the penalty might be more a visual pagerank thing rather than serps thing.

    As some other bloggers state, RSS is the key metric (or personally I still think email subscribers is the most important, but RSS is very important too) and unless your blog is a search driven blog (like for example Darren’s original photography blog) then google dropping your rankings won’t hurt that much, unless as you say Andy, you need it for SEO proof for a product (which I will need eventually I suspect!).

  • The thing is, my Page Rank hasn’t dropped ever since the last drop from 6 to 5. Now there is no change from my current PR5. I suspect that because I only have adsense ads on 5 pages on my blog and while that gives me some revenue from time to time, I’m not in it for the money.

    Maybe the penalty is for how much sponsored links they have on their blog. I don’t know. As far as I know, I’m not affected and for a personal blog with a PR5 ranking, that’s pretty good on its own.

  • Is there any evidence that they may have targeted blogs in general? Seems like that would be inevitable since preferance to blogs has been going on for a while, now that there are so many could it be an adjustment for blogs in general?

    Jeff

  • I really hope there is not going to be a crackdown on the selling of text-link-ads such that those who sell them receive a penalty!

    If Google really wants to return the best results, they can’t penalize websites for trying to earn a living! Some of these sites they are penalizing have excellent content! There is no reason why another site which doesn’t sell links should receive a higher rank.

  • *Opens contact list* Time to contact my friends at Google…let’s find out what’s really going on.

  • My blog was jumping from 0 to 6, 6 to 0, 0 to 6. It’s crazy but I think there is just some bug or something.

  • An interesting question, which I’m sure we’ll all follow enthusiastically … but which we’ll all probably never know the real answer to.

    PR itself is the heart of Google’s original algorithm. It’s readily available online, and it’s not as sophisticated as some think. It seems very arbitrary in today’s world. I care a lot where I show up in the SERPs for my keyword, I care about PR only for such services as TLA. Yaro, have you seen any significant chnages in your major keywords for E-J?

  • hey yaro,

    I thought this was something valueable to learn and know it could be the cause of your PR penalty..

    Please change all your “feature links” “sponsored links” to something else like “cool sites” or “resources” on your paid links and give those links a rel=”nofollow”..Something i learnt from matt cutts, while this may not be truth but it what he had mention before the massacre of dropping pageranks…
    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-links-and-pagerank/

  • I know a lot of people are speculating that the PR drops are manually done, and perhaps in the short term, this is the case, however, long term, I suspect if google does decide to continue with this practise, they would need to automate it just due to the sheer number of sites that do sell links.

  • [...] really find it laughable that many of the well reputed bloggers have succumbed to the temptation of crying foul against Google. They think Google has penalized [...]

  • Paul

    The web is supposd to be an open marketplace, webmasters put a lot of time and effort into improving the quality and respectability of their sites and should indeed be rewarded for it, after all this is the basis for capitalism!

    Google must firmly believe that they do indeed “own” the web, to be so brazen as to try and manipulate the Internet community in this way. If I as an individual decide that I want to sell links on my site, then I will indeed do so and Google should really have no say in the matter at all. Of course if I am participating in one of their services such as Adsense then they could quite rightly object and indeed penalize me if they so desired but to blatantly punish sites in this way (PR or SERPs) is a mistake and a big one at that.

    Where as Adsense is a product/service where you are directly associated with Google, their indexing and search is a service provided to all Internet users for the benefit of all and we as webmasters/bloggers provide them with the food to “feed the masses”, if we all just decided that we would stop using Adsense and Checkout etc.., block the Googlebots from indexing our content and switched to other service providers to fill the gaps, the quality score for returned search results on Google would be severely affectd as indeed would their bottom-line and as has happened in the past, users would look for an alternative.

    No one entity should ever start believing that the Internet belongs to them, the whole idealism behind this paid links situation puts Google in the same light as Communism or the 3rd Reich, the attempt by Google to have Internet users inform on websites that employ paid links is reminiscent of Lenin’s Article 58 and the notion of the “enemy of the workers”, so what about and Matt Cutts is he Felix Dzerzhinsky?

    All joking aside though, rather than try and intimidate webmasters into removing paid links and punishing them if they do not, if Google truly believe that these links are reducing the quality and relevance of their search results, instead of manually reducing PR or other qualitive measures, why don’t they manually apply the math associated with “nofollow” for these links instead.

    The Internet is the biggest playground in the world and I think I see a bully striding accross it!

    “Everyone has the right to be respected and the responsibility to respect others” – Bullying.org

  • Hey Yaro,

    I’ve seen a lot of Bloggers drop their pagerank specially all those who command a lot of money from Text link advertising.

    I was going to use this method in the long run to monetize my blog? I there a way to prevent google from dropping your PR by using this?

    I would love to hear your views on this.

    Cheers,
    Carlo Selorio

  • [...] Yaro Starak expands on the surface debate about the whole paid links debate issue, and really the second part of his post provides a more valuable lesson to us. [...]

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  • [...] world? If Yaro’s blog has fantastic content about blogging and internet marketing and he gets punished for selling text links then what does that [...]

  • Google has definitely penalize TLA. If you look for their home page title their own site doesn’t show up. Google has done something. Check the Google Results if to see for yourself.

  • [...] sites world wide. Here’s just a few of those impacted by the recent page rank algorithm change: Entrepreneurs Journey Went from a page rank 6 to page rank of 5 I Make Money Online by Telling People How Much Money I [...]

  • [...] At first when I received my penalty, I posted thinking a full PageRank update was taking effect when I noticed not just my blog change, but also the PageRank on some of the other sites I own. At around this time I noticed quite a bit of PageRank discussion beginning in the forums, which is usually the first sign of a PageRank update, but so far, it appears I got it wrong. [...]

  • Google is really starting to worry me as a new web developer. The more I read about them the more confused i get. It feels like every step of the way I have to consider what google is thinking.

  • [...] drastic reductions in PageRank. At the time I thought I had finished talking about PageRank since I was slapped prior to the big slap, but since everyone was talking about it because so many blogs and websites were [...]

  • [...] this all last week and I’ve decided to make some changes to this blog. In response to the Google PageRank penalty slapping, which in my case dropped this blog from a PR 6 to a PR 3, I have decided to adhere to [...]

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  • hi there! stumbled upon your blog. google’s really a bitch with that PR bruhaha. but i do see their point — their job is provide the best search results not skewed by bought text links and ads. even my lowly site of pr3 was brought to pr0. it sucks big time!

  • Plus we lose revenue after making the changes to our site with no guarantee our PR will return.

  • [...] this blog back in late August. These numbers are quite paltry when comparing them to likes of Yaro or other ‘big time‘ bloggers. These [...]

  • I for one will not stop selling text links on my blog. I do not depend solely on google for my traffic. I use forums and I’m working on adding direct mail to my arsenal of weapons. It really gets on my nerves that google can run a monopoly when it comes to web traffic. I don’t think they should be able to dictate who else can sell text links on their website.

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