The Dreaded Google Page Rank Saga Continues – Now With Updated Goodness

I’ve been reading up on the updates and comments on this page rank update that has wreaked so much havoc, and it’s definitely a pain, but also a learning experience and hopefully some of you other webmasters can learn from what I’ve experienced. Here’s what I’ve found out since my last post and some action we’ve taken…

First off, if you don’t know what page rank is or what this post is talking about, you need to read my first entry on this problem HERE.

First, Google has confirmed what we suspected in this update. As per the post on

Google has confirmed that the recent update to its “visible PageRank” system is an effort to crackdown on sites trying to rig this closely-watched web popularity contest.

Over the weekend, Google search engine guru Matt Cutts told Search Engine Journal that the company is intent on punishing web publishers that attempt to sell their PageRank currency to other sites.

A site with a high PageRank can often boost the rank of a less-popular site simply by linking to it. As a result, popular sites will often provide such links in exchange for cash. And Google doesn’t like that.

Here’s the word from Cutts:

The partial update to visible PageRank that went out a few days ago was primarily regarding PageRank selling and the forward links of sites. So paid links that pass PageRank would affect our opinion of a site.

Going forward, I expect that Google will be looking at additional sites that appear to be buying or selling PageRank.

As Cutts says, Google has changed its visible PageRank values – the scores that pop up on the Google Toolbar when users visit a site. This is merely an approximation of a site’s “real” PageRank, which is actively used to sort search results.

Cutts’ email goes a little further than the official company line. The Google PR machine gave us a slightly-less-direct explanation.

“Google is always working to improve the ways that we generate relevant search results and update our opinions of sites’ reputations across the web,” said a company spokeswoman.

“Values in the Google Toolbar can fluctuate for a number of normal reasons, including changes in how we crawl or index the web, or changes in the link structure of the web itself. In addition, Google may update the visible PageRank indicator in the Google Toolbar to incorporate not only our view on the back links to a page or site, but also to incorporate our opinion of the forward links for a site.” ®

So in short, Google is trying to penalize people that sell links on their high PR websites to people that are looking to boost their website’s own PR, which is something Google doesn’t like. Let’s be clear though… this is TOOLBAR PR, not the site’s actual internal ranking, so traffic is completely unaffected. It’s done this way so that your site’s traffic remains unaffected, but your site’s perceived monetary value is lower… Google is trying to hit you in your wallet. PR is a common measure used to determine website value… I’ll be talking about this tomorrow in regards to the “PR is just a bogus number” statement.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t sell links on your site to monetize your website, but if you want to be listed on Google, they expect you to take certain steps to ensure that those links you are selling are for direct click-thru traffic and not link farms for PR levels. So, how do you sell links but not get penalized for selling links for PR? You have to use the “nofollow” tag.

Unfortunately guys like me were innocently selling links purely for monetization, not to manipulate Google’s PR structure, were penalized. This is why P2L was reduced to a PR 4 from a 6. Yes it’s ignorance, but there are MANY webmasters that have no idea what “nofollow” is, and if you’re one of those, click here to read the official Wiki.

OK so now that you know what “nofollow” is and what it does, let’s look at Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Quality guidelines – basic principles

– Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”
– Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
– Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.

Unfortunately there is nothing in the main Webmaster Guidelines that says anything about selling links or using the nofollow tag to avoid penalties. For your average webmaster, you would have no idea about this.

Now let’s look at this huge post by Google’s Matt Cutts about the nofollow tag and how to use it:

Hey all, I’ve been meaning to stop by the webmaster help group, and the “Popular Picks” thread drew me in. Here’s the question I’ll tackle: Admin Aaron asked “What are some appropriate ways to use the nofollow tag other than to protect against blog comment spam?”

My short answer is that the nofollow attribute on links is a pretty general mechanism, and you’re welcome to use it how you like. Let me tell you what it does, then I’ll give an example or two. I answered a nofollow question for Rand Fishkin recently. You can read the full details at, but I’ll quote the important bit:

“The nofollow attribute is just a mechanism that gives webmasters the ability to modify PageRank flow at link-level granularity. Plenty of other mechanisms would also work (e.g. a link through a page that is robot.txt’ed out), but nofollow on individual links is simpler for some folks to use. There’s no stigma to using nofollow, even on your own internal links; for Google, nofollow’ed links are dropped out of our link graph; we don’t even use such links for discovery. By the way, the nofollow meta tag does that same thing, but at a page level.”

So nofollow as a link attribute causes Google to drop those links out of our link graph. If you have a nofollow link from page A to page B, we won’t crawl via page A’s link to discover page B. Note that we may still find page B via other links around the web, though.

What are some appropriate ways to use the nofollow tag? One good example is the home page of If you visit that page, you’ll see that the “Sign in” link is nofollow’ed. That’s a great use of the tag: Googlebot isn’t going to know how to sign into, so why waste that PageRank on a page that wouldn’t benefit users or convert any new visitors? Likewise, the “My itineraries” link on is nofollow’ed as well. That’s another page that wouldn’t really convert well or have any use except for signed in users, so the nofollow on Expedia’s home page means that Google won’t crawl those specific links.

Most webmasters don’t need to worry about sculpting the flow of PageRank on their site, but if you want to try advanced things with nofollow to send less PageRank to copyright pages, terms of service, privacy pages, etc., that’s your call.

I gave another example where nofollow would work well at . Someone wrote an oompa loompa dating site as a joke, but that site started to get hit with spammy comments. If you write custom software where you’re worried that people might spam the software with links to, I dunno, Ukrainian porn sites, then you can add nofollow in your software on the links that you think might be spammed. If a spammer has a choice between your software and some other software that doesn’t use nofollow, your software might not get hit as often by spammers.

If you’d like to find out more, Eric Enge and I did an interview that touched on how Google treats noindex, robots.txt, and nofollow:

Hope that helps!
Matt Cutts

Great information, but again there isn’t really anything here saying that nofollow should be used not to influence PR for those of us selling ad space to generate revenue on our websites, which more and more represents a HUGE number of webmasters.

BUT then you find some information HERE! This group post is clearly starting to touch on the direct issue at hand… you can sell text ads, but you need to tell Google that they’re ads and not natural outbound links.

And then, we find it… the official word from Google on Paid Links!

Google and most other search engines use links to determine reputation. A site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it. Link-based analysis is an extremely useful way of measuring a site’s value, and has greatly improved the quality of web search. Both the quantity and, more importantly, the quality of links count towards this rating.

However, some SEOs and webmasters engage in the practice of buying and selling links that pass PageRank, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.

Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

– Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the tag
– Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

So there you have it! You need to tell Google that any outbound links that are paid for on your site by tagging them with the nofollow tag. For small sites, this is probably a non-issue, but once you start hitting 5+ Page Ranks, you shyould start looking in to this.

So mystery solved and hopefully by adding these tags to our advertiser links, we can have our penalization removed. I’ve gone ahead and requested our re-inclusion, so we’ll see what happens. This has been quite a learning experience, that’s for sure. BUT I am a little disappointed in Google on this… they didn’t have to penalize anyone, they could have addressed this via their alogrithms. Check out this article by Eric Enge, it’s pretty much spot on about how I feel about this.

The big news remains the apparent punishment in PageRank terms of sites which are selling links. What surprises me about this is not that Google did this, but three other things:

It surprises me that they missed so many sites that are obviously selling links. I am aware of many, many such sites that monetize their sites in that fashion, without NoFollowing their links. Given the set of sites affected, it really does seem like the punishment was manually selected.
However, that makes it even more curious when you consider that influencers like Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Journal were selected.

It surprises me that they punished sites that sell links, but clearly labelled them as Sponsored, or as Advertisers, or some other equivalent. Google will never win that battle. Monetizing sites is something that every site owner has the right to do. Such a small percentage of site owners even know what a NoFollow is, that a policy of punishing people on that basis does not make sense to me. Besides which, cant Google detect these types of clear labels and simply discount those links algorithmically?

It was also a surprise that there was no apparent impact on traffic. This was reported by both Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Journal. So given the broad swipe that they took at sites as mentioned in point 2 above, I suppose that this is a good thing. But simply altering tool bar page rank in a way that does not impact traffic will get them nowhere.
The link selling market will continue to thrive without PageRank. At this point in time, selling links is more about Anchor Text than PageRank. Nothing in this update has changed that.

You can read the rest of the article HERE.

On the same token, Google is a FREE search engine, so if you want to play in their party, you have to conform to what they tell you… don’t like it? Don’t list with Google I suppose… I’m sure this is how they’re looking at it anyhow. Just remember that if you are a webmaster and you want to count on Google for search engine traffic, you are responsible to read the Webmaster Guidelines at least once. You might be surprised at what you find!

That’s it for now gang, time to go pick up the little one from school! I’ll keep you posted if the actions we took had any affect in lifting our current PR Penalty. Later on (Maybe tomorrow?) I will post my thoughts on the “PR is just a number concept”. While this may be true from a direct traffic standpoint, it’s completely false in the marketting sense and I’ll touch base on the various reasons why PR is still a critical number for your website.

Until next time!

PS. Special thanks to Nick and Jamie for their respective contributions for source material.

3 thoughts on “The Dreaded Google Page Rank Saga Continues – Now With Updated Goodness

  1. Another great article Dan. I’ve been monitoring this since all hell broke loose. To see something of this magnitude is of great concern to us as well, heres why (and a little off topic, but here goes)…

    I’m sure I speak on behalf of many small time web site owners out there. In our “niche” the users are so spread out that we depend very heavily on site such as P2L for a considerable amount of traffic. It’s a Godsend. For my site, P2L is the number one source for visitors coming to our site. The success of your site inadvertantly affects us.

    You have done more to boost us than anyone or any other site on this planet, for that we can never thank you enough.

    We know that PR doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot, but the traffic does. When this thing hit, your site was the first I checked!

    Glad you’re still hanging in there and getting this worked out!

    And with that.. I’ll crawl back into my world… 😉

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