It’s Google’s Web — we’re just living in it. That seems to be the message coming from the latest update to its PageRank algorithm, which has pushed some websites several rungs down the ladder due to the use of paid links. If nothing else, this kind of move reminds people that Google is not some kind of benevolent father figure that exists to make our lives easier — it is a corporation with its own interests at heart, and while PageRank is a tool, in some cases it is a hammer.
Andy Beard says that Google has slapped some of its biggest fans, meaning those who use a variety of tactics to boost their profile in the Google index — but those “fans” also include some marketing types who use what (to Google at least) are shady methods of conferring high PageRank on sites that don’t deserve it, such as the notorious link-farms we all come across now and then. Some self-promoters, like John Chow, have been removed from the Google index completely.
One no-no is the selling of links through things such as Text Link Ads (disclosure: I use Text Link Ads here, as an experiment, and it appears my PageRank has fallen as a result), because Google seems to want to maintain the “purity” of the linking experience, and not get people all confused about what’s an ad and what isn’t. That’s the charitable view. And the uncharitable one? If you want to sell links, Google would much rather that you use AdWords. And as Adam Ostrow notes at Mashable, Google makes a fair bit of money from link-farms itself.
Steve D. at TechVat has more on the PageRank issue, including a list of sites that have seen their rank decrease — and it’s a list that includes some well-known sites, including the Washington Post, Forbes and Engadget. And there’s some commentary at ProBlogger and Digital Inspiration. This is also an issue that Search Engine Land has covered before, including a well-timed piece by Danny Sullivan about the risks of selling links.