Since 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:
- What Does This Google PageRank Message Mean? SE Roundtable
- Google’s Paid-link Smack in the Face Jill Whalen
- Toolbar Hysteria – It Isn’t Really a Penalty Greg Boser
- Digital Point Members put on Suicide Watch John Honeck
- My Opinion on the Google Page Rank Massacre Lyndon Antcliff
- Anyone Have Some Boots I Could Borrow? Jennifer Laycock
- Matt Cutts confirms paid links message via Google Toolbar PageRank update Loren Baker / Matt Cutts
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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