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
- 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
- A site previously considered a market leader whose link profile was made up almost exclusively of low value directories
- 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 Google’s point of view, it looked like we had a lot of spammy directories. I’m 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?