Google's update to PageRank sparks controversy

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Every so often, search engine marketers are reminded that they are at the mercy of much larger powers within the online ecosystem. The recent update to Google's PageRank has proven to be one of those moments.

PageRank, a propriety aspect of Google's algorithm, is defined as a system for ranking Web pages that “relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the Web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value.” The firm's Web site specifies that “votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”

As a result, a gray market for links from sites with strong PageRank has emerged, much to Google's chagrin. Those who continuously eye such details, including the search consultants of SEOmoz, have noticed that even the most reputable of all sites have experienced a drop in home page PageRank. On October 24, the firm assessed 32,856 domains to reveal that none had gained PageRank and 1,264 experienced a drop in PageRank. Furthermore, the five biggest losers had implemented paid links. The firm replicated the assessment on October 29, to find that 5,499 pages gained and 9,527 pages experienced a drop.

For Roman Godzich, SVP of Smooth Fitness, the PageRank update was a good thing.

“Google was getting too polluted,” he said. “I had noticed that a competitor had achieved the first organic position for no obvious reason other than the fact that they had 60,000 inbound links from irrelevant sites.”

As for the site he manages, it has only experienced a drop in PageRank, and not a drop in traffic.

On the other side of the argument sits Keith Levenson, whose stable of sites includes creditcards.net. He sees the Google update as unfair, making an analogy with Google's advertising products being, in fact, paid links.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, there is one point of agreement: There are more changes to come.

While Matt Cutts, Google's unofficial SEO blogger, has not published any comments, he did e-mail this statement in late October to online blog Search Engine Journal, “The partial update to visible PageRank that went out a few days ago was primarily regarding PageRank selling and the forward links of sites. So paid links that pass PageRank would affect our opinion of a site. Going forward, I expect that Google will be looking at additional sites that appear to be buying or selling PageRank.”

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