Google Toolbar PageRank deductions make sense

Google policing the Web's linkageSince toolbar PR is stale since April, and now only a few sites were “updated” without any traffic losses, I can imagine that’s just a “watch out” signal from Google, not yet a penalty. Of course it’s not a conventional toolbar PageRank update, because new pages aren’t affected. That means the deductions are not caused by a finite amount of PageRank spread over more pages discovered by Google since the last toolbar PR update.

Unfortunately, in the current toolbar PR hysteria next to nobody tries to figure out Google’s message. Crying foul is not very helpful, since Google is not exactly known as a company revising such decisions based on Webmaster rants lashing “unfair penalties”.

By the way, I think Andy is spot on. Paid links are definitively a cause of toolbar PageRank downgrades. Artificial links of any kind is another issue. Google obviously has a different take on interlinking respectively crosslinking for example. Site owners argue that it makes business sense, but Google might think most of these links come without value for their users. And there are tons more pretty common instances of “link monkey business”.

Maybe Google alerts all sorts of sites violating the SEO bible’s twelve commandments with a few less green pixels, before they roll out new filters which would catch those sins and penalize the offending pages accordingly. Actually, this would make a lot of sense.

All site owners and Webmasters monitor their toolbar PR. Any significant changes are discussed in a huge community. If the crowd assumes that artifical links cause toolbar PR deductions, many sites will change their linkage. This happened already after the first shot across the bows two weeks ago. And it will work again. Google gets the desired results: less disliked linkage, less sites selling uncondomized links.

That’s quite smart. Google has learned that they can’t ban or overpenalize popular sites, because that leads to fucked up search results for not only navigational search queries, in other words pissed searchers. Taking back a few green pixels from the toolbar on the other hand is not an effective penalty, because toolbar PR is unrelated to everything that matters. It is however a message with guaranteed delivery.

Running algos in development stage on the whole index and using their findings to manipulate toolbar PageRank data hurts nobody, but might force many Webmasters to change their stuff in order to comply to Google’s laws. As a side effect, this procedure even helps to avoid too much collateral damage when the actual filters become active later on.

There seems to exist another pattern. Most sites targeted by the recent toolbar PageRank deductions are SEO aware to some degree. They will spread the word. And complain loudly. Google has quite a few folks on the payroll who monitor the blogosphere, SEO forums, Webmaster hangouts and whatnot. Analyzing such reactions is a great way to gather input usable to validate and fine tune not yet launched algos.

Of course that’s sheer speculation. What do you think, does Google use toolbar PR as a “change your stuff or find yourself kicked out soon” message? Or ist it just a try to make link selling less attractive?

Update Insightful posts on Google’s toolbar PageRank manipulations:

And here is a pragmatic answer to Google’s paid links requirements: Cloak the hell out of your links with commercial intent!

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13 Comments to "Google Toolbar PageRank deductions make sense"

  1. Andy Beard on 24 October, 2007  #link

    It “warning” does possibly make sense, but they should have hit Yahoo, Microsoft, Ebay and Amazon at the same time to make the message clear, otherwise there isn’t a clear indication that this is universal.

  2. Lucia on 24 October, 2007  #link

    Hey… Sebastian. Nobody trying to figure out Google’s message?

    Some people’s first reaction was to check if they were unintentionally following expired paid links. If you read my blog today, you’ll notice I found a bug in my plugin that auto-nofollows paid links after the contract is up. It was goofing up on my knitting blog.

    I still have 2 TLA ads up, but that’s 34 old paid links I had always wanted to nofollow, now nofollowed. I also nofollowed the link to my do-follow blogroll, and I’m going to do extend the auto-nofollowing plugin to do better soon.

    Will I still be slammed for the TLA? Maybe. Or not.

    But, yes, my reaction is: Check how much my blog is leaking first. Make tool to help other second. Blog third.

  3. Sebastian on 24 October, 2007  #link

    Lucia, “next to nobody” addressed folks just ranting.

    Andy, it seems they roll out these updates in chunks.

  4. fantomaster on 24 October, 2007  #link

    Being the shameless hypocrites they are, they can always refer to the fact that they’ve defined toolbar PR as being “for entertainment purposes” - whereas in fact it’s an entirely fictitious (and in itself utterly meaningless) but probably no less efficacious political instrument.

    As long as webmasters’ notorious timidity and technical cluelessness can be relied upon (and I guess it can), this constitutes merely another act of greed driven social engineering, in full alignment with their monopolist holier-than-thou (and essentially debasing) view of the human content generators they’re squeezing like lemons…

    Well, for some comic relief see:

  5. Jab on 24 October, 2007  #link

    You say it! That is just the beginning. I just blogged about it and than found your posting in my RSS reader. Funny,…our posts are actually very similar. :)

    Best Regards - Jab

  6. Lucia on 24 October, 2007  #link

    Sebastian: I agree there sure were a lot of people ranting!
    I’m not quite sure what to make of things. I’ve read a bunch of theories about Googles motives and actions, some make little sense. (That’s not to say they aren’t correct!)

    If Google is trying to communicate something, it would be better if they just said what it was. :)

  7. […] Blog Internet Babel Search Engine Guide Andy Beard SEOmoz Sebastians Pamphlets And probably the best PageRank […]

  8. JLH on 24 October, 2007  #link

    Did the most notorious link seller get hit at ? Oh wait, it’s okay for them to sell links because their review time is worth more than other sites.

  9. Craig on 26 October, 2007  #link

    I am not sure I can accept the “warning” idea. Considering Matt Cutts and others talking about doing something regarding link buying, why not just come out and say what is going to happen and when?

    Another scenario that would fit just as well is if Google were just shifting the internal/toolbar PageRank scale.

    The long awaited toolbar update that still doesn’t seem to have happened or at least not in a way that has ever happened in the past could be so long delayed while scenarios were worked through and possibly tested to see what the results of a scale shift would be.

    Sites primarily with high PageRank being the ones mostly effected could be that because their PageRank is high, a shifting of the scale would effect them the most while sites with lower PageRank would be on a much less steep slope of a logarithmic curve.

    I’ve heard it is primarily hitting high profile sites but how could a site achieve high PageRank if it weren’t high profile? High PageRank, almost by definition, equals high profile.

    If no ones’ traffic is being effected, couldn’t that mean that Google’s internal PageRank hasn’t changed?

    It would seem to me that this scenario fits just as well as any other.

  10. Sebastian on 26 October, 2007  #link

    > If no ones’ traffic is being effected, couldn’t that mean that Google’s internal PageRank hasn’t changed?

    Most probably. These pages still have their PageRank, regardless what the toolbar shows, but don’t pass PR, at least not to external links. Maybe that’s done even on block or link level.

  11. […] Google’s recent shot across the bows of a gazillion sites handling paid links, advertising, or internal cross links not compliant to Google’s imagination of a natural link is a call for action. Google’s message is clear: “condomize your commercial links or suffer” (from deducted toolbar PageRank, links without the ability to pass real PageRank and relevancy signals, or perhaps even penalties). […]

  12. The day the routers died on 30 October, 2007  #link

    […] the fuck do we dumb and clueless Internet marketers care about Google’s Toolbar PageRank when the Internet faces real […]

  13. […] Search Linkbait of 2007 When I try it, folks bury […]

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