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 .