Google has just dropped a bombshell on many sites who obviously thought they’d got SERPS licked. They’ve cut huge swathes off the PageRank scores of many big name sites including engadget.com, forbes.com and problogger.net.
In some cases the figure has dropped by as many as THREE places (remember PR is not a linear scale: a PR of 2 is not just TWICE as good as a PR of 1; it’s something like SEVEN TIMES better!)
Which begs two questions …
- Why have Google done this, and
- What does it mean for the affected sites?
Taking the second first, the answer is not entirely clear. PageRank has been a controversial issue for some while now; some even argue it’s meaningless. It’s usually summed up as “the number of good sites pointing to yours”, and although the precise PR algorithm has changed since the original Google patent, it’s still largely based upon “backlinks”.
Put very simply, the better the PageRank of sites which link to yours, the better your PageRank will be. Conversely, lots of links from poor sites can actually harm your page rank; that’s one reason why link-swapping campaigns are such poor value if your site is already doing well.
Incidentally, the PR you see in the Google Toolbar or other SEO tool may be misleading: Google calculates PageRank on a regular basis, but the figure it displays to the world is “out of date” by several months.
What’s behind Google’s recent PR raid seems to be a question over the validity of these backlinks. Of late, one of the tools of the professional SEO has been to sidestep the problem of gathering backlinks by natural, organic means — which usually takes a very long time — by running “backlink campaigns”. These exercises can often run into many thousands of dollars and consist of “buying” stories on well-placed blogs, and links from directories, forums and other sites. Sites like PayPerPost.com exist solely to put willing bloggers in touch with SEOs looking for another backlink.
Recently, however, Google announced a crackdown on websites and search agencies that were buying links in order to artificially ramp-up search position (you can see a fuller list of the sites affected here). This chimes in with the search giant’s stated aim of attempting to make web searches honest — if you search for something, they argue, what you should get is a list of the most appropriate sites, not those with the biggest SEO budget. Content, once more, is king!
This leaves me in a quandary. My day job is get the free mobile phone calls site Barablu.com back on the top of the heap where it belongs, and my weapon of choice is to improve the content of the site by writing more, getting more people to contribute and making the site itself more accessible, more usable and simply more fun!
However, one thing that Barablu lacks — mainly because, unlike the competition, it’s never bothered with SEO before — is backlinks. Barablu’s current PR is 5 and that’s lower than its rivals but (these days) suddenly higher than searchengineguide.com and seo-scoop.com. Suddenly, the attractiveness of a backlinks campaign is less than it was.
Besides, these days PageRank is just one of a hundred or so metrics used by Google to order web sites. Does that make it irrelevant? At the time of writing, this very site has a PR of ZERO, yet it still tops Google searches for some terms.
Yet on reflection, I still think PR is relevant. It still seems to have some bearing over just how often your site gets indexed and how deeply and there are many other differences you notice when your Google PR increases.
So I reckon backlink campaigns will continue, only probably much more carefully, and much less visibly.