What Value is There in Google's PageRank Algorithm?
Towards the end of October a number of high traffic internet sites, including the Washington Post, Forbes, Engadget, Joystiq, and Techcrunch, found that their Google PageRank had dropped significantly, seemingly without warning. After the initial shock of having their PageRank reduced, a number of site owners looked into the reasons why their ranking may have dropped, only to find that it was the result of something Google had warned about earlier in the month (and has been doing so for some time) - the (ab)use of paid links on a site.
Google's rationale behind the decision to crack down on the presence of paid links on sites has been explained away as paid links introducing a bias into the available search results. Ideally, users and Google want to have the best results returned for each search, and anything that is diluting the effectiveness of these results should be mitigated. This has been countered by critics, who see it as forcing people to commit more funds to AdSense. Others see it as hypocrisy by Google, as it is a company that relies upon selling links (advertising) for the majority of its revenue.
How a bought link can be separated from a non-bought link hasn't been adequately explained (there goes all other forms of Internet advertising), but it has come as a wakeup call to many that Google is getting serious about their previous warnings against such practices. There are complaints from site owners who point out that they have done everything according to the guidelines that Google established, yet they still were affected by the PageRank changes.
While the drop in PageRank wasn't the first to take place - there is evidence that smaller sites and link farms have been affected since at least early September (though many would argue that there is no great loss), by affecting larger sites, it guarantees attention will be focussed on dubious linking practices that even otherwise acceptable sites might engage in. This particular set of PageRank drops has already grabbed the attention of traditional media outlets.
While Google's userbase and market value are based on an expected ethical behaviour and relatively unbiased performance, forceful changes such as this can lead to a rapid swing in user attitude. Despite Google's stated corporate mantra of "Do No Evil", there are an increasing number of people who suggest that "Do No Evil, unless we won't get caught or it benefits us" would be a better mantra. Most people outside of the SEO community don't really care about the ongoing battles to game Google's search results, but when it starts affecting sites that many internet users visit on a regular basis, the results can be hard to predict. Another side effect of the SEO battles has been a gradual decrease in the quality of search results returned (though this is a problem on other search engines as well), something which may be enough to annoy site users and get them to frequent other search engines.
Whether the changes in PageRank will mean anything as far as traffic to the sites is concerned, it is too early to tell. Early reporting from some of the site administrators concerned suggest that the traffic difference is not significant. Historically this wasn't the case, as there would be significant differences in the levels of traffic received for even a minor change in PageRank. At this time, it seems that the only change has been in the publicly reported PageRank level, and not the behind-the-scenes PageRank that actually determines the positioning within the search results returned.
5 November 2007
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