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PageRank Drop = Search Engine Ranking Drop?

March 6th, 2008 · 36 Comments

Over the past few days there have been some indications that, despite previous comment and conjecture, a drop in toolbar PageRank can actually lead to a drop in search engine rankings and, in some cases, a dramatic reduction in search engine traffic.

Jeff Behrendt runs the Aviva Directory and his site was zapped from the SERPs during the initial stages of the Google Bitch Slap (maybe we should call this stage of development the Google Bitch Shove?). Along with many other directory owners, Jeff found his site penalized by Google and not even ranking for it’s own name.

On the evening of September 2, 2007 my wife Aviva ran to my office in a panic. She exclaimed that Aviva Directory no longer seemed to be ranking for its own name in Google. I tried searching this, and sure enough, she was right.

As Yoda might say, begun had the Paid Links War.

Over the course of the following months many sites, this one included, found their visible PageRank reduced and site owners were asking if the next step would be a removal from the SERPs. Many experts were saying that this was unlikely, that nobody was noticing any change in rankings and that this was simply a ruse by Google to reduce the market value of sites that may or may not have been involved in paid links.

OK so moving on to my next example. I was asked by a friend to have a look at one of his client sites. It’s an established site that has been around for years, is considered one of the market leaders in it’s field and had previously enjoyed first page results for all their major keywords. They’d spoken to him because they’d noticed that they were no longer ranking for any of these keywords and traffic was well down.

I had a look at their site, their link profile and traffic logs and noticed that the vast majority of inbound links were coming from directories. In truth not the particularly good ones, either. They’re the kind of directories you always see listed in the “submit your site to 1001 directories for $199″ style ads. When I looked at their traffic logs there was an obvious and dramatic drop in traffic a couple of days after Bitch Slap 4 – The Bitch Slaps Some More. We’re talking a 50% reduction in traffic.

As a final example, one of my sites saw it’s PR4 status stripped away and reduced to a big fat zero in last weeks PR update. Pre Paid Links War it was a PR6. It’s too early to be completely sure but I’ve noticed a small drop in search engine referrals over the last seven days.

So let’s just look at these three different examples

  1. A directory site which, by it’s own admission, had strayed away from strictly white hat practices, had sold paid links and used sponsored templates as a linking strategy
  2. A site previously considered a market leader whose link profile was made up almost exclusively of low value directories
  3. A PR6 site with quality inbound links from large media companies that has sold paid links

Now it’s easy to say that in scenario 2 this is due to the fact that the directory sites had their PR zapped so, therefore, the value of the incoming link juice was lower but Google now no longer recognises any inbound links to the site including one from DMOZ. Forget the value of the directory links, it seems that even a link from one of it’s trusted sites is no longer worth anything. It seems to be a case of guilt by association.

Back in November I suggested that Google reduced the PR for some sites purely because they share the same Webmaster Tools account. Jeff also brings it up in his blog post about the drop in Google rankings.

Much to my surprise, it appears that Google looks at all the websites you own in evaluating a particular website. So, from Googles point of view, it looked like we had a lot of spammy directories. Im not sure I agree with Google on this one – it seems unfair to me to punish a site for other sites owned by the same person.

When Jeff wrote his post, the Aviva Directory was back to a PageRank4. Lower than it’s original ranking but an improvement none the less. Last weeks update, however, has returned the site back to a zero and it is not ranking for the word “Aviva”.

The site in scenario 2 has never sold or purchased a paid link. Taking the crappy directories out of the equation, it still has some relevant and high value inbound links yet it’s not ranking for anything.

Site 3? Again, some high value and on topic inbound links but a PR0 and a possible reduction in performance in the SERPs.

A bit of a worrying development, wouldn’t you say?

Tags: Search Marketing

36 responses so far ↓

  • Jeff // Mar 6, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Excellent write up. It would be great if Google could provide a bit more guidance.

  • Mike // Mar 7, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I guess they’d argue that they gave webmasters guidance by saying that they’d whack sites that used paid links. Fair enough, they did that but it seems to me that there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye.

    In your case why did they reinstate PR and rankings and then drop them again?

    In scenario 2 why have they delisted the site from the rankings just because they had some inbound low quality links?

    The irony is that the anchor text used by the crummy directories is the only stuff the site still ranks for. Rankings for the anchor text used by the ‘clean’ sites and that more closely match the rest of the site content have been zapped. From page #1 to page #101…

  • art // Mar 11, 2008 at 12:38 am

    I totally agree with jeff. We need some guidance from google itself on their pagerank. I also got a few problems with my blog pagerank. It will be easier for us blogger if they can provide it.

  • Mike // Mar 11, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Some of the things they suggest for webmasters are clearly not the case any more. For example:

    Build websites for people, not search engines.

    So..ermm..what about all those nofollow tags you want us to use then, Big G?

    It’s their game and they’ll play it however they want.

  • new zealand map // Mar 26, 2008 at 1:01 am

    Google obviously does not want to guide us since they like to change the rules whenever it pleases them. This way they do not contridict themselves.

  • RT Cunningham // Mar 26, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    I don’t thing PR is having any effect on SERPS, at least not yet. I was seeing better results with a PR 3 earlier this month than with my current PR 5 (over on Untwisted Vortex).

    A lot of sites were being deindexed, for whatever reason, before the later PR updates.

  • Andrew Reynolds // Mar 28, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Well explained! Yes, we need guidance from Google but as what new zealand map said, they won’t do because anytime or what comes into their mind they could change it.

  • Mike // Mar 28, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    RT – I’m undecided about it myself which is kinda why I threw it out there. To begin with my feelings were that Big G were simply penalising visible PR but there more examples I see, the more I think that there is now a direct effect in the SERPs.

    With example 2 it’s too much of a coincidence that the drop came within 48 hours of a well publicised PR cull by Google, isn’t it?

    Incidentally, it now looks like they got a -90 penalty because they are now ranking again, albeit lower in the SERPs, for a number of their search terms.

    Guess that just muddies the water a bit more, eh? 😉

  • Mike // Mar 28, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Andrew – Yeah I do find that some Google guidelines are a little misguiding or vaguely phrased which then gives them scope to change things to suit their overall plan. On the whole, though, you do have to give Big G credit where it’s due. At least they work proactively with webmasters. It’s taken Yahoo! and Microsoft a while to cotton on to this and offer complimentary services. They’ve got a long way before they catch up with The G, though…

  • KG Lew // Apr 8, 2008 at 6:28 am

    Wow that is a lot of traffic that could be lost… I didn’t realize it would affect it that badly… What can be done to maintain your page rank?

  • Mike // Apr 8, 2008 at 10:09 am

    It’s all about getting consistent quality inbound links. Keep them rolling along and you’ll be good.

  • Robert // Apr 10, 2008 at 10:00 am

    I Think Google might even be doing some “testing” I’ve noticed that some of my pages rankings have been Jumping around alot. One day it will be nr. 1 and then other days it will be 8 or 9.
    My pagerank has gone up on some sites but my ranking down. I don’t understand it.

    I also think that google is trying to be more “real time” Indexing pages on a daily basis, changing the search results a couple of times a day. google is also sending out their spiders on a more frequent basis.

  • Alan from Zero and Up // Apr 11, 2008 at 4:42 am

    One of my other sites has had it’s PR dropped – I guess its a good thing I haven’t added my now-main site to my google webmaster tools accounts! But yeah, those who rely on search engine traffic apparently can really be affected by PR in some ways. It just depends on the site, I guess.

  • Mike // Apr 11, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for dropping by, Alan.

    My observations above are still not 100% conclusive. In fairness I guess they never will be but there’s little doubt in my mind that Big G do operate, to a greater or lesser extent, a guilt by association policy. In their eyes I guess it looks like “once a spammer always a spammer”.

    For spammer read – black hat SEO, text link buyer, minisite operator, hidden text merchant, sneaky redirector, etc, etc

  • Mike // Apr 11, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Robert – It’s fair to say that Google are moving towards a real time index. Things have moved on greatly from when I first got involved in search and it could take months for changes to take effect. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops over the coming months.

  • Toni // May 7, 2008 at 9:19 am

    We have just noticed this morning that our page rank has been stripped to zero on every page other than the home page. If anyone can shed some light on this I would be grateful. Are we about to be ditched? We have never considered ourselves to be a dodgy Directory at FreeIndex.



  • Mike // May 7, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Toni – Google have been hammering directories for the last 12 months. As you probably know, they’re looking at them from a different perspective than they were a couple of years ago.

    I’m not familiar with your directory but having had a quick look at it, it seems to be a quality directory and so I’m surprised that they’ve tonked you. You look to conduct an editorial review of all sites before publishing so can’t really see why you got spanked.

    What sort of PageRank were your internal pages previously?

  • online bingo // May 21, 2008 at 5:13 am

    Everyone has been talking about their PR dropping or so. SO, what is wrong with that?

  • zohai // May 22, 2008 at 3:28 am

    There’s many who just have their PR ranking increased drastically as well. I think somehow Google played with the equation of PR and they add some new conditions and requirements

  • Earn Cash // May 26, 2008 at 7:07 am

    Man…i really blur with the PR things…could someone mind to explain to me what’s it?

  • Rose // Jun 9, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    It appears Google isn’t too happy with me. I don’t rank anywhere in the first 3-4 pages of the results for BloggerTalk. I don’t show up until page six. Blogger Talk also dropped out of the rankings for the keywords Blogger Forum Blog Forum and Blogging Community.

  • Mike // Jun 10, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Were you previously ranking for any of those terms? Any of your inbound links using that anchor text?

  • Nursery Furniture // Jun 18, 2008 at 3:43 am

    Well i heard this time many great blogs got penalize by Google. Many PR has been drop. This is scary for me.

  • Alan // Jun 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    As long as you are smart with paid links you can still get away with it. Directories have been devalued but still work but should only be used as a small part of a link building process.

  • Mike // Jun 30, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    The whole directory submission process is immensely time consuming and these days provides limited value. Personally when looking at directories I only submit to ones which are likely to deliver traffic or where the link value makes it worthwhile.

  • Claudia // Jul 22, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    I hate what Google did to our sites. Mine was PR4 and now it is PR0. I tried to optmize it and now I am submitting it to directories.
    The funny thing is that I had PR4 without doing that at all.

  • Mike // Jul 23, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Yeah it sucks that you have to start from scratch again. Particularly if you didn’t do a whole lot wrong in the first place.

    Directories are a way of rebuilding but I think that good ol’ networking and writing linkable material is probably the way to get best return on your efforts. As well as the obvious reward of incoming links, there’s more chance of getting incoming readers.

  • ivant // Jul 29, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    I know how its feel, mine is dropped to PR2 and it brings more homeworks.

  • Antoine // Aug 30, 2008 at 2:11 am

    Mike, what do you mean when you say ‘penalizing visible PR’?

  • Mike // Aug 31, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    If you have the Google toolbar or search status toolbar or similar installed, you can see a sites PageRank displayed. This is the visible PR. Many people, myself included, believe that Google use a different PageRank value for their own purposes and the visible PR is nothing more than an indicator rather than an absolute.

  • smithsan // Sep 1, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Often it’s a post from some non-technical webmaster whose site has been near the top of the results for his best keyword phrase for quite some time when suddenly, and without his making any changes to his site.

  • Mike // Sep 1, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Sorry, smithsan, I’m struggling to see the point you’re making here. Are you talking about natural churn in the SERPs or something else?

  • Bhelle // Nov 17, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Its the battle of the stiffest for ranking in the different search engines, I hope the major search engines would give atleast some pointers to follow by online businesses and bloggers.It would be a great relief for us.


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