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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.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

10 Responses to “Google uses the PageRank hammer”
  1. Can’t say we didn’t see this coming. I have no problem with advertising, but I agree that advertisers should not be able to buy any sort of device that increases their ranking above sites that produce content of a better quality. After (subconsciously?) ignoring the issue for a while, I finally decided where I stand and withdrew my site from Text Link Ads a while ago.

  2. “It’s Google’s Web — we’re just living in it.”

    How true is that M?

  3. We may or may not like it, Jim, but I think it’s pretty true.

  4. Welcome to my world. I have been writing for years about how the Google Gestapo has been harrassing me, from questioning my content (I right about feminist issues and am rabidly pro-choice) to the validity of the TLAds I’m running alongside GoogleAds.

    You can find my articles at http://culturekitchen.com

  5. Yes, this is a bummer for real!
    Google owns us, lets get used it.

  6. Matt , I even kind of afraid to post anything incase Google tracks back my address and bans me from the search results, cuts off my power, freezes my bank account and publishes those photos I want hidden away all over Google Streetview. Yikes.

  7. poke fun all you want but the truth is they even have boilerplate non-responses at the ready to people’s complaints about their demands. i’ll have to scavenge for those through my inbox and post them.

  8. This is one of the reasons why SEO isn’t the be-all and end-all of getting people to your site. People who are too overly reliant on traffic from Google will someday fall foul of their whims. Thanks to the web2 revolution, engaging in the social web (ie the communities around your subject niche) is now more important than trying to please Google with a perfectly SEO’d website.

  9. google owns us? thats a bit hard. And I don’t understand the whole PR discussion. A couple of websites have been downgraded but it seems there this fact doesn’t influence traffic at all! What is PR good for? It’s in indication for the amounts of links pointing to a site, that’s it. I bet that a couple of google friends could even make a PR10 site with just crap content on it. Everyone knows since months (maybe even years) that PR looses his importance.

  10. Traffic will continue at a site whose PR has dropped because the site has a certain momentum from repeat traffic. On the other hand, it will be harder for those sites to attract new visitors, so while for a larger site losing PR isn’t fatal, it ain’t a good thing either.

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