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November 17, 2007

PageRank and Paid Links

PayPerPost, an ad network that pays bloggers for writing product reviews, reports that some of the sites that use its ads have been punished by Google. "Last night Google decided to go after some of the bloggers in our network, reducing their PR from whatever they previously had to zero."

The main reasons why a company pays bloggers to review a product is to get backlinks from relevant sites, as you can see in the beautiful ad that begins this post: "buying reviews for links is the newest way to build links". Paid links artificially increase the PageRank of a site as they're no longer genuine votes for web pages.

It's not the first time when Google drops the PageRank to 0 for a site. "By the end of 2001, the Google search engine introduced a new kind of penalty for websites that use questionable search engine optimization tactics: A PageRank of 0. (...) Characteristically for PR0 is that all or at least a lot of pages of a website show a PageRank of 0 in the Google Toolbar, even if they do have high quality inbound links," explains

PageRank is the initial innovation that made Google a popular search engine: it introduced a query-independent way to determine the importance of a site. Here's Larry Page's description from the PageRank patent:
Intuitively, a document should be important (regardless of its content) if it is highly cited by other documents. Not all citations, however, are necessarily of equal significance. A citation from an important document is more important than a citation from a relatively unimportant document. Thus, the importance of a page, and hence the rank assigned to it, should depend not just on the number of citations it has, but on the importance of the citing documents as well. This implies a recursive definition of rank: the rank of a document is a function of the ranks of the documents which cite it. The ranks of documents may be calculated by an iterative procedure on a linked database.

The interesting thing is that every web page has the right to vote by linking to other pages. But what happens when a very popular site starts to abuse its power and charges money for placing links? Should you continue to trust its votes?

Here's how Google Toolbar describes the PageRank feature. "Wondering whether a new website is worth your time? Use the Toolbar's PageRank™ display to tell you how Google assesses the importance of the page you're viewing." Google Toolbar is the only official way to find a truncated value for PageRank (the real value is a percentile), but there are many sites that query Google's servers directly. PageRank is now one of the more than 200 signals used to rank webpages, but it's still a measure of authority.

Back in September 2005, Matt Cutts explained the relation between text links and PageRank:
A natural question is: what is Google's current approach to link buying? Of course our link-weighting algorithms are the first line of defense, but it's difficult to catch every problem case in adversarial information retrieval, so we also look for problems and leaks in different semi-automatic ways. Reputable sites that sell links won't have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized – a search for [daily cal] would still return However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext).

What if a site wants to buy links purely for visitor click traffic, to build buzz, or to support another site? In that situation, I would use the rel="nofollow" attribute. The nofollow tag allows a site to add a link that abstains from being an editorial vote. Using nofollow is a safe way to buy links, because it's a machine-readable way to specify that a link doesn't have to be counted as a vote by a search engine.

In April, Google introduced an option to report paid links and last month SearchEngineLand obtained the confirmation that "PageRank scores are being lowered for some sites that sell links. In addition, Google said that some sites that are selling links may indeed end up being dropped from its search engine or have penalties attached to prevent them from ranking well." Also, Google's help center mentions that "buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google's webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results."

From deceiving search engines by using hidden text, keyword stuffing to participating in link schemes, those who try to manipulate search engine rankings adapted. And search engines must react to remain relevant.

At the end of the day, you shouldn't let Google or any other search engine dictate the way you build your site. You should just be honest with yourself and your visitors and don't try to earn money from sites that deceive search engines. You should build a site for your visitors and not for search engines.

{ via Google Blogoscoped. Also read: "The paid links economy".

Two of the screenshots from this post show AdWords ads for queries like: [pagerank 0] and [buy pr8 links]. The AdWords guidelines say you're not allowed to place ads "for the promotion of cloaking, keyword stuffing, search engine spamming, and doorway pages".


  1. I would suggest mentioning that you can't request reinclusion unless you plead guilty.

    There have been multiple sites punished that have only used nofollow on reviews.

    Google's current description of PageRank for their toolbar is currently incorrect if they still return the pages in search results.

    Do you really think Techcrunch's links to sponsors are not selling PageRank? They are certainly worthless as content.

    I should point out I extended the olive branch months ago asking Google for clarification by reporting my own paid reviews via their paid links form. I didn't receive a response.

  2. you wrote such beautiful article how google penalizes those payperpost.Do they also penalize for buying those ones who buy PR4-PR8 links.Just as those shown on your page.
    "Buy PR4-PR8 links for just 10$ a month"
    Certainly the add doesnt suit on a google blog.

  3. Google makes best attempt to ensure keeping the PageRank system working properly.

    High PR blogs earning some revenues by selling text link Ads, or taking part in PPP programs - would have to consider an alternative income source. That is the sad side of this update.
    Sid's blog

  4. Uh, if blogs can't sell text links or PPP for revenue, let's see, that leaves them...Adsense.

    And Google knows it.

  5. "You should build a site for your visitors and not for search engines."

    Some of us build sites for ourselves.

    FYI, it wasn't a blanket drop to 0. Many sites were hit with a drop of 2 TBPR points. Not a complete ban/penalty, but certainly enough to render Google useless as a traffic source.

  6. So SE's and Google in particular advocate the use of a non-compliant attribute to an HTML tag so they can know whether the link is a citation or advertising?

    Hmm, I've been doing the webmaster thing for 14 years and there has always been paid links so... the net must change so Google's overweighted link algo works?

    How good is the algo that changed the net given it now wants all that to change so it's easier for them to get the results that give them the power to seemingly bootheel us into changing the net? Not quite the work of genius it's made out to be!

    The bloggers are whacked if they think Google owes them anything because they are the condoit for paying for rank! Googles traffic, Google should be the condoit. That I understand and to a great degree agree so long as they aren't using this as an "excuse" to whack all publishers not wanting to use AdSense.

    Personally I think this is no more about relevancy than the Iraq war was about weapons of mass destruction! Look at the new universal search and you could come to the conclusion it should have been called "Universal Monetization". Google direct and indirect partners, some like ebay through Kijiji buying PPC, are pretty much taking most of the top ten positions. A few one boxes and videos were added to some SERPs to throw smart SEO's off the scent.

    I will never use a tag that some whacked designer puts through a HTML lint test and can then say I use broken code to "appease" SE's. If it's broke I want it to be because I don't give a flyin' F whether it does pass. I just don't want to seem to be doing things JUST FOR SE's! Never have and never will!

    To boot "Universal Monetization" is released just in time for the Xmas season and voila almost like it's a seasonal tradition Google partners occupy directly and indirectly all the prime RE above the fold of the SERP.

    Exactly how stupid does Google think we are?

  7. I agree you shouldn't use rel=
    , but there are many other ways to separate paid links (a.k.a. ads) from normal links:

    - JavaScript (onclick, document.write etc.)
    - redirects (using a special page from your site or a third-party site)
    - use an iframe that loads a page which shouldn't be indexed by search engines

    I think the problem isn't that somebody paid to write about his products. There's a growing number of sites that sell links and, if Google doesn't do something about it, the ranking algorithms will use flawed data and the quality of Google's results will decrease.

  8. The best thing to do would be to detect all the paid links and remove them from the graph, but that's probably difficult. It's easier to determine (algorithmically or manually) if a site has paid links and decrease its authority.

  9. Dude! You currently have a pagerank of 6. : ) I checked it at:

    I am new to pagerank. What steps did you take to get your's so high?

    Any help is appreciated. : )

  10. Google can be really mean sometimes..

  11. build a site for your visitors not the engines? What would be the point? No SE traffic=No visitors so why build the site at all...

  12. "Google doesn’t like paid links (I’m guessing here) because they think webmasters/SEOs purchase them to manipulate the algorithm in their own favor. And they’re right, that’s certainly the motivation. If that wasn’t the motivation, if people were buying paid links simply for the advertising value, then the link juice value of a paid link wouldn’t be as significant to the purchaser."

    "Google has something like 62% of the US search market share currently. There are plenty of alternatives, but a majority of people choose Google–they think Google is the best choice for search. Google, in turn, has to do everything in its power to provide the most accurate (and least spammy) search results possible. If it didn’t try to combat paid links, its search results would quickly become polluted by the websites that buy the most (and best) links. Those sites probably won’t have the best content."

    (Lauren's comments from Graywolf blog)

  13. Is it true that Google lashes out at paid-to-review content? Would adding no follow attribute help? I'm awaiting my first PR update and don't want anything ruining it..

  14. nice, google know if you cheat..

  15. Nice overview. I've always wondered, though, why the people concerned about cell phone and Wi-Fi signals never chimed in about sitting a meter away from a high voltage electric motor. Surely spending years of sitting in brutal commuter traffic next to that would total to potentially worse exposure than a Class 2 or 3 bluetooth headset... wonder if anybody is trying out testing the effects (visions of Toyota labs, with mice in tiny-sized hybrid cars ;) !!).
    (A quick google search will guide a reader to see most hybrid motors range from 144 volts through to 650 volts).

  16. thank you for bringing this up! roughly one year ago i began saying on assorted blog threads (techcrunch et al) that google should acquire a wireless carrier and initially felt that tmobile's us operations made the most sense (wifi outlets/modes, backdoor to music and media distribution, channel sales force through their commercial operations etc)...still seems to make sense to me, though sprint is far more cash strapped and is way way way cheaper as a prospect, and still offers commercial channel sales, wifi distribution opportunities and retail presence prospects...