A Google PageRank update (a bigger one than earlier this month) has punished large scale blog networks and similar heavy cross linking sites by cutting their PageRank scores. The update also hit several sites that sell (or sold) direct links.
Some of the large sites that got hit:
Engadget.com (both network and selling links)
Joystiq.com (same network)
SearchEngineGuide.com (selling links?)
SearchEngineJournal.com (selling links?)
NewScientist.com (selling links)
WashingtonPost.com (selling links)
Forbes.com (selling links)
Not only big websites have been hit, I’ve seen multiple examples of small websites that got hit. Some for using TLA, but not every website selling TLA links got hit. Some for selling regular links, but not every website that sells links got hit. Some for being in a network, but, well, you get the point. It’s too much penalties for a hand job, but too little for an algorithmic change. Patrick Altoft has an interesting view on this, I think it’s a mix of all these things.
But what about the rankings?
Two comments in the enormous amount of discussions caught my attention, Jill Whalen’s comment at Sphinn and g1smd’s comment at SEO Scoop. They immediately focused their attention on where everything is happening: the SERPs.
Most of the websites that got hit didn’t see major changes in Google referers or in rankings in general. But rankings go further than that, especially when you investigate the link selling websites. Let’s take a look at how the advertisers rank.
If you take a closer look at the NewScientist, WashingtonPost.com and Forbes.com, you’ll notice that these websites obviously got hit for selling links. Direct text links in “sponsored links” blocks aren’t that hard to spot.
Advertiser 1 (virus related keyword) ranks #4 in Google, competition 12,000,000
Advertiser 2 (printing related keyword) ranks #23 in Google, competition 88,000,000
Advertiser 3 (credit card related keyword) ranks #10 in Google, competition 2,000,000
Advertiser 4 (printing related keyword) ranks #4 in Google, competition 2,900,000
Advertiser 1 (attorney related keyword) ranks #1 in Google, competition 2,000,000
Advertiser 2 (retail related keyword) ranks #8 in Google, competition 3,900,000
Advertiser 3 (drug related keyword) ranks #9 in Google, competition 2,300,000
Advertiser 4 (debt related keyword) ranks #1 in Google, competition 125,000,000
Advertiser 1 (camera related keyword) ranks #1 in Google (UK), competition 102,000,000
Advertiser 2 (moving related keyword) ranks #1 in Google, competition 2,000,000
Advertiser 3 (moving related keyword) ranks #25 in Google, competition 58,000,000
Advertiser 4 (tv related keyword) ranks #6 in Google, competition 404,000,000
While these results aren’t stunningly high, some of the rankings of the advertisers on the anchor texts used are quite impressive. On the other hand, not every advertiser ranks for the anchor text they used.
So who got hit then?
This PageRank update seems like yet another example of FUD. The only thing that has changed, is the TBPR. The PR-punished websites don’t see changes in rankings and the text link buyers also rank pretty high in most cases. So, what kind of penalty is this?
The only ones that got hit are PageRank sellers. Their only selling point is PageRank, because they most often have a poor website with crappy backlinks. And with that PageRank sliced from 6 to 3, they have even less to offer to possible advertisers.
And let’s be honest, is that really a bad thing?