Finally – The Google Slap…

More Than Scratch The Surface has finally been penalised by Google. I noticed today that my toolbar PageRank has dropped from PR4 to PR0. It appears to only be a toolbar PR penalty – I am still in the same place in the SERPs.

I say finally, because I’ve been watching other sites get penalised, while mine remained untouched. The cause of my penalty: two sponsored posts I wrote about three months ago. Until now, Google hadn’t noticed them.

Goodbye PayPerPost

Like RT, I’ve said goodbye to PayPerPost. I only did two sponsored posts and it’s almost 3 months since the last one. I initially stopped doing them because I couldn’t find any fitting the subject of this blog. Then, as more and more blogs were penalised by Google, I decided to hold off doing any more.

I thought about adding nofollow to the links when Terence Chang recently lost his toolbar PR. I’m not sure why I didn’t. If I’m honest, I guess I thought that if Google hadn’t already penalised me, then they must have missed me. So if you are thinking about fixing any issues on your site, do it today!

I’ve now added nofollow to the links and requested reconsideration via Google’s Webmaster Tools. Now, I wait and hope my toolbar PR is restored.

Why Am I Worried About Toolbar PR?

Cynics will be asking why I’m so worried about toolbar PR, given my somewhat anti-Google stance on previous posts, such as Final Thoughts On The PageRank Debacle and I Signed Up For PayPerPost.

There are several reasons for my change of stance:

  1. Originally, I was angry that so many fine bloggers were penalised for what was normal practice. It felt like Google was being very unfair. I’ll admit I didn’t know anything about Google’s Terms Of Service at the time. Since then, I’ve come to realise that Google had stated that the nofollow tag must be added to paid reviews and advertising. I still feel that Google should have communicated this better to the average blogger before penalising them, but in hindsight, they could have reduced real PR rather than just toolbar PR. A turning point in my attitude came when I read a well-considered defence of Google.
  2. I originally thought, like many others, that I didn’t need Google. I’ve since come to realise that although it may be possible to have a successful site without Google search traffic, this traffic is where most of the money is. Search engine visitors are the one who are most likely to click ads or buy something (whether from Adsense or Amazon). Turning your back on Google’s search traffic has to be considered as shooting yourself in the foot. If I value the search traffic, I have to play by Google’s rules. I’m now happy to do so: In fact only 3 days ago, I turned down an approach to buy links on my site.
  3. I was making very little from Adsense at the time and it appeared that sponsored posts were a better option. This may indeed be the case for some blogs, but I’ve come to understand Adsense much better since then. As I’ve learnt more about Adsense, it’s started performing better – and it’ll only get better as my site grows. Long term, Adsense is a better option.
  4. Although toolbar PR is pretty much irrelevant (it’s your real PR and position in the SERPs that really matter), most people don’t realise that. Why is that important? Well, it’d important if I wanted to sell links or write sponsored posts, because they’re based on toolbar PR, but I’m not going to do that! However, I’ll be moving to Brisbane in about 3 months and I’ll be looking for a web-related job. You never know, a PR4 website may help me get such a job, a PR0 site probably won’t!

Final Thoughts

I didn’t have to post this. Google don’t care whether I make this post or not. I could have just requested reconsideration quietly without mentioning it and most people wouldn’t have noticed. But that’s not my way. If I feel I’ve made a mistake, I’ll put my hand up and admit it.

In the past I’ve said things that were anti-Google and pro-sponsored posts. At the time I believed what I said and there is an element of truth in those statements. It may be that for some people, sponsored posts are the best way to monetize their sites. It’s quick and easy money for a small blog, while Adsense won’t start working well until you’ve built your blog up and you understand how it works a little better.

However, I’ve come to realise that in the bigger picture, Google search traffic is a very important element of a successful site. It’s not something I want to lose, so I’ll play by Google’s rules. Today, I’ve only lost my toolbar PR, tomorrow it may be my real PageRank and my position in the SERPs.

45 responses on “Finally – The Google Slap…

  1. The Internet Entrepreneur Diary

    Stephen:

    WOW. Sorry to see that your PR dropped to the hell. The bottom line is to nofollow in any links that is for advertisement purpose. I think Google is changing the way they calculate the PR. They no longer think a paid link should count as a quality backlinks. I can see that the paid web directory will be long gone soon. PR is no longer that important, since Google is implementing the universal search. The result will be based more on the keyword and relevant information on the site.

    I believe that a good quality content can get you to the number 1 spot on SERP even your site was only PR1. I have done so with my StumbleUpOn related posts.

    Good luck to your PR. I hope you get that back.

  2. RT Cunningham

    If advertisers didn’t require links to be followed (i.e., they wanted the buzz), paid posts would be awesome and everyone would jump on them. But the advertisers I see want to get SEO value as well, and not for very much at all.

    I’m not against paid posts per se, just paid posts that hurt bloggers. I’ve done several paid posts with rel=”nofollow” because the advertiser wanted the buzz and not the penalties once they were found out.

  3. Stephen Cronin Post author

    Terence, Thanks. Yes, the bottom line is to nofollow any links that aren’t editorial. Paid links are a definite no-no. I think real PR (not toolbar PR) is still important in the SERPs, especially when there is a lot of competition for the keyword. If there’s not much competition, it’s not so important.

    RT, good point: there’s nothing wrong with sponsored posts if the advertiser is happy to allow you to add nofollow to the link. The problem, as you point out, is most advertisers seem to want the link juice as well.

  4. hari

    adding nofollow is as good as removing those links.

    I seriously doubt that advertisers will be bothered about the 1 or 2 people who will actually click those ad links.

    The problem of internet advertising of course, the conflict of interest as I mentioned once in my article at UV. It is irreconcilable and I see hard times ahead for bloggers who want to make money online.

    I think by giving in to google now, whatever be the merits of the case, bloggers are setting a bad precedent.

    Nobody will now want to advertise on blogs and I cannot say I blame them… If google can use a mere PageRank to threaten all of us, who knows to what extent they will go if some other advertising model threatens them tomorrow?

  5. Stephen Cronin Post author

    Hi Hari,

    I’m sure you’re right about the advertisers wanting the link juice. And bloggers are going to find it hard to make money through sponsored posts, text links etc. And Google are threatening us. But…

    I don’t agree that it’s because they are out to get the other advertising models, nor do I think they are trying to stop blogs from making money.

    I used to see it that way, but after thinking about it, I think their main motive stop websites moving up the SERPs by buying PageRank instead of earning it naturally. I don’t think they’ve gone about it the right way, but I think that’s their main objective.

    Grizzly’s defence of Google is definitely worth reading. It’s probably not a popular view within the blogosphere, but after considering the different arguments, that’s what makes sense to me.

  6. hari

    Stephen, you are very optimistic about google not wanting to destroy other forms of advertising on the internet.

    My point is that they might do anything which goes against their business interest so there’s no way you and I can say whether they will or not do something similar in the future.

    I think it’s dangerous to abandon your ethical stance for short-term convenience. In that case it becomes impossible to oppose google tomorrow if they ban other PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising.

  7. hari

    Yes and I read Grizzly’s article, but it seems to me a dangerous thing to allow our own ethical stance to vanish in the face of corporate muscle and might.

  8. Stephen Cronin Post author

    Hari,

    I’m sure Google wouldn’t cry if IZEA or TLA went out of business, but I don’t really think that’s the main purpose of their actions (it’s just the icing on the cake).

    What if my ethical stance was wrong (because I didn’t have all the details)? It seems to me that:

    1. Google said paid links were bad (okay I didn’t hear it, but they said it)
    2. I went against this by accepting payment for links
    3. Google found out and punished me (in their own PageRank system which I’m free to ignore)

    Let look at an alternative scenario:

    1. There is a speeding limit of 50 miles per hour (but I didn’t see the sign)
    2. I drove at 60 miles per hour
    3. A policeman caught me and gave me a fine

    Saying I thought driving 60 miles an hour was okay isn’t going to get me very far. Maybe I even think that driving at 60 is safe and the government is wrong to set this limit. I don’t have to like it, but I have to accept it.

    Okay, people will say that Google aren’t the police, but the police have to power to give people fines for speeding, Google have the power to determine my PageRank (it’s their system).

    The primary purpose of PageRank is to determine who is at the top of the SERPs. I can understand Google not wanting that to be sold, because it undermines the quality of their search engine – and I think they are more worried about this than TLA.

    The big problem Google have is communicating what’s okay and what’s not, beyond the SEO experts, down to the average blogger.

  9. hari

    That’s what’s I’m saying as well.

    My problem is that now that google know that bloggers will do anything to please them, they’ll go after every competitor in the same manner.

    That doesn’t sit well with me and it hurts me… And it is the precise reason why I consider Google to be the internet police (unofficially) because bloggers are so easily influenced either positively or negatively by their actions.

    The big problem Google have is communicating what’s okay and what’s not, beyond the SEO experts, down to the average blogger.

    My question is who are they to say what’s OK and what’s not OK to do on your own website? I mean isn’t the whole SEO craze their fault in the first place? Who asked them to publicize PageRank if they didn’t want it to be misused? I mean, Yahoo doesn’t share any numbers like that, do they? So is PageRank such an innocent number as they make it to be or is it a marketing gimmick on their part?

    If we had just ignored google, I wonder what would have happened…

  10. Chris Lodge

    I don’t blame you at all for what you’ve done as it is your site after all.

    I would point out though that there is a way to buy yourself to the top of the SERPs.

    You just give Google the money……

  11. Stephen Cronin Post author

    Hari,

    It’s fine to be concerned about one company having a monopoly over anything (in this case search), but that’s a separate issue from the one we’re discussing here.

    Google has a search engine. They have a TOS. If I want my website listed in their search engine I have to follow their TOS. If I don’t they can take action.

    Another alternative scenario:

    Facebook has a social network. They have a TOS. If I want to be part of it I have to follow the TOS. If I break it (by spamming or posting porn), they can take action (and kick me out).

    Of course, I’m free to forget Google if I don’t like their TOS, same as I’m free to forget Facebook if I don’t like theirs.

    That logic seems simple to me. I’m not saying that Google don’t have issues or that I want them to be monopoly – but those are separate issues from this.

    If you want to address that, you have to get the average Internet user (not us bloggers) to start using a different search engine. While Joe Public uses Google so heavily, webmasters (including bloggers) will want to be listed in their search engine.

    And of course people will want to buy links to move up the SERPs and Google will want to stop them.

  12. Stephen Cronin Post author

    Hi Chris,

    I was just thinking about you last night – I had dinner with one of my colleagues who’s from Aberdeen and I wondered how you were getting along.

    As for Google, it’s all about money in the end… If you’re at the top of the SERPs, you can make money. So people buy links to get there. That’s what Google’s trying to stop.

    Of course there are other issues, such as whether Google applies the TOS fairly, do the big companies get an unfair advantage and if so why is this allowed, etc.

    As I said in my previous comment to Hari, I’m not saying that Google are god and without fault – just that this (PageRank penalty) seems to be a simple case of the TOS being broken and Google taking action – which has to be within their rights (it’s their search engine).

  13. Rakeback

    PR4 on my end aswell. Nice article, although I do wonder how some of the major sites seem to escape these penalties. Something I have noticed lately that I have never seen before and this has only been since the last update is sites with inner PR on some pages and non for the index page or higher internal PR than the homepage. Have you noticed this and if so what would cause this.

  14. Stephen Cronin Post author

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for letting me know. I seems that Google have restored my toolbar PR.

    Terence, I added rel=”nofollow” to the links in my two sponsored posts and requested reconsideration through Google’s Webmaster Tools. It took about 3 days for them to remove the penalty.

    Rakeback, I’m not sure about other sites, but I can tell you that with mine, two of my plugin pages are PR5, which is higher than my home page’s PR4. I think this is just the way it works. Most of the high quality backlinks I have are pointing to those two pages, not my home page, so those pages have the high PR.

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      Love Calc,

      There’s also Social Spark (same parent company as IZEA) which is up and running now, so many advertisers may have moved across to that. PPP may be phased out eventually, but I’m not sure.

      Of course Social Spark has some opportunities which allow the use of nofollow, which should be fine with Google – but it seems most advertisers prefer you don’t use it.

      I think PPP / Social Spark will still find people to write paid posts (without nofollow). I keep seeing new bloggers, where I was 5 months ago, jumping into sponsored posts, then getting Google slapped. My heart goes out to them, but I think this will continue for the forseable future.

        1. Stephen Cronin Post author

          No, that’s my bad. I thought it was up and running, based on comments from others that I’ve read. Goes to show – don’t believe everything you read! Sorry if I misled anyone…

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      Putco,

      I feel as though I can’t complain about my toolbar PageRank penalty, because I knew about Google’s Terms of Service before I received it. However, what happened in October was different because no one knew it was coming and most didn’t know what they were doing was against the TOS.

      That is where I still have an issue with Google: Communicating with the average user.

      In the past, the average web master was a web professional who would have had a decent understanding of how Google worked and what their TOS was, etc. With the rise of the blog, in recent years, the average ‘web master’ has become the blogger – and most bloggers know very little about issues such as this. I’d like to see Google work a little harder in communicating with the new breed of ‘web master’.

      Personally, I think that instead of handing out PageRank deductions unexpectedly in October, Google should have released a statement making it very clear which links broke their TOS, naming PPP and TLA if legally possible, and telling people that if such links were not nofollowed by a certain time (say 2 months later), they would start handing out toolbar PR penalties (and how much the penalty would be).

      If they’d done this, the news would have swept the blogosphere and probably had much the same reacction that the actually penalties did, but at least everyone would have had fair notice BEFORE the penalties.

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      Antivirus,

      Sorry to hear one of your sites got hit. I think that not only is Google’s policy here to stay, but I think they will get tougher. At the moment it is only toolbar PR penalties. If people don’t stop breaking the TOS, I can see penalties to actual PR / SERPs in the future…

  15. debt advisor

    I think the solution for all of these problems is to have 10 medium quality blogs than 1 big blog. There is a very small chance that all your blogs would be slapped to 0 PR.

    One more tips about p*yp*rp*st. Never ever, put that word anywhere in your blog.
    When doing a review using PPP, do that in a blog specially intended for that and never put PPP words or worse the PPP badge.

    Make your PPP post as innocent as possible…..

    I hope you’ll get your PR back in the next PR update

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      debt advisor, I got it back already, as mentioned in the comments above. Your comments are pretty good so you survived the spam test, but you missed this one!

  16. Roshan

    Thanks a lot for this post and thanks again for notifying me about this. I’m moving my hosting now as far as I do this. I’ll leave the service of payperpost and smorty. And i’ve also placed some text link ads in which i’ll place no folollow tag. Thanks a lot for your useful information…

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      Hi Roshan,

      Sorry I’m so slow at answering (really busy right now). I really hope you get your toolbar PageRank back. I’m subscribed to your blog, so I’ll keep an eye on it – Good Luck!

  17. Thomas

    Hello Stephen,

    This is interesting because it is more things I did not know :)
    I am not a wordpress user and not sure if it applies to me. First off what is Toolbar PR? And does paid links include links form affiliate sponsors?

    I always read TOS though I hate it. I may have missed something and better read again, again. Oh yeah. Again:)

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      Hi Thomas,

      Yes, it affects everyone, not just WordPress users.

      PR = PageRank, which is a rating Google gives to the web pages in it’s index. Google use PR as one of the factors in deciding which web pages appear at the top of the search results.

      toolbar PR = a snapshot of real PR. Only Google know what the live PR of a web page is. Once every 3 months or so (sometimes quicker, sometimes slower), they export PR into a system that the rest of us can see. There are various browser toolbars (eg Search Status for Firefox) and PageRank checkers, which can tell us that the toolbar PR of a page is.

      Because it’s only a snapshot, toolbar PR is always a little out of date. New pages (and sites) will have a toolbar PR of 0 or unranked until the next update.

      The penalty that I (and many others) received, seems to be only to the toolbar PR, not to the real PR. My site was showing PR0 through the toolbar checkers, but my search engine traffic didn’t drop, indicating my real PR wasn’t penalised.

      My take on the situation is that Google is warning people by penalising toolbar PR only. The real worry is if they ever penalise the real PR.

      The real dangers at the moment are sponsored posts (PPP, Review Me, Smorty) and text link ads (ie TLA, TNX). Google are actively penalising people using these systems, because it sees them as a paid link.

      I’m not sure about links from affiliate sponsors – that’s a grey area for me. I guess they aren’t paying you for the link. You only get money if people go to their site and buy something. But who knows what Google will think. To be safe, you could probably add nofollow to the link (as long as the affiliate sponsors allow it).

      Anyway, I hope all of that helps make it clearer!

  18. Thomas

    Thanks Stephen,

    It seems that sooner or later Google may alienate enough people that no one will want to use adsense. Since often adsense alone won’t cut it they will need to pay much larger incentives to be the only player they want to be. If they won’t do that then there’s nothing left but to quit them and go with the others.

    The affiliate sponsors will not let you add such things to their links. So far I have only seen them allow to add open new page code and some allow slight changes so pages will validate. Why should the other companies accommodate google anyway. For now they are still the competition and not the servants of google.

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      Hi Thomas,

      Sorry about the delay in responding – I’ve been tied up off line for a couple of weeks.

      Google are alienating a lot of bloggers, but in the bigger scheme of things, they are the clear number one in advertiser’s minds. That means there is more money in the Adsense system than in most other advertising systems. If you work out how to access it, there’s a lot of money to be made.

      The problem is, you really need to learn how Adsense works, then set up sites tailored to that. Most blogs (including mine) don’t work well with Adsense. Most bloggers don’t know how to get the most out of it.

      And Google don’t particularly care about us bloggers, because there are loads of people lining up to make money from them (and to help them make money).

      I understand why bloggers aren’t happy about Google hurting their chances of making money through Pay Per Post, TLA or TNX etc, but I’m pretty sure Google’s not doing it to hurt them or the competitors. Google make a lot more than these ‘competitors’ do and could just buy these companies if they were truly worried.

      I really think it’s about protecting the integrity of the search engine results. They don’t want people buying their way to the top through paid links. PPP, TNX, TLA et al are based on a system of selling PageRank. Most of the advertisers in those systems are really after the PageRank, the traffic they get from the ads themselves is minimal.

      If you look at it from that point of view, what Google’s doing is good. I’m sure none of us want to find our search results filled with ads by websites that bought their way there. We want relevant, authoritative sites that have earnt their way to the top. It’s just that us bloggers are in the crossfire of this ‘war’.

  19. Thomas

    Hi Stephen,

    Don’t worry about the delay. I just got back in town and am behind in my mail myself.
    I do agree with much of what Google is doing for integrity. I guess I see the pay per post situation differently. To me pay per post is not much different than a freelance columnist being paid by various papers or magazines to syndicate his or her story.
    Actually when I think about it more I see it as much better than Google’s adwords. The blogger is making money on a creative work. With adwords Google makes money from people bidding on singular or groups of words. Nothing creative or proprietary. Just everyday words or in some cases words that are used as names of companies or products. To me that seems more like buying one’s way to the top. The key word went to the one offering money instead of the one who got there first. That one is a little shaky to me.
    Like I said, though, I do agree when Google is trying to keep integrity in the game. This world can use all the integrity it can get.

    1. Stephen Cronin Post author

      Hi Thomas,

      The key is that Google don’t mind sponsored posts if the link to the sponsor has the nofollow tag attached. That way no PageRank is passed. If the people paying bloggers for sponsored posts were just after traffic, they’d be fine with this, but it seems that most of them aren’t – they want the PageRank!

      Of course, the Adsense Ads don’t seem to have the nofollow tag attached and they really should (unless something happens behind the scenes with the redirection to make sure that no PageRank is passed). We don’t want double standards here!

      I’m not saying Google are always good or that they do nothing wrong. I just understand the logic behind them trying to protect the search engine result from being manipulated.

  20. Michael

    I wonder how the new plugin would work against paid posts?

    There is one where your front page is do-follow but subpages will appear no-follow

  21. Christina Szele

    It’s great that you have got your PR back. Google slaps can be very painful, but when you get up and try to fix it, it almost works out every time in the end.

  22. tiffany

    It seems that Google doesnt miss any paid posts and although it sometimes takes time they will get around to do the slapping!

  23. Claudia

    The real paradox for me is that I need a high PR because I do paid posts. If I were to give up on paid posts I wouldn´t care about my PR at all.

  24. bleuken@Busby SEO Challenge

    hi there! There’s a PR update the other week and I think your PR4 backs. Congrats and please can you tell us what did you do to bring it back? Thanks i need it for one of my blog.

  25. Itsme@Greenville Collision Repair

    I’m glad that you ultimately realize that it’s Google’s game and they have to make the rules.

    I think a lot of people think that the money for Ads come from thin air. The advertisers have to get sales or they won’t advertise. And google has to have good search results or people will switch to another search engine.

    In the 90′s I first used AltaVista, then when it became unusable I switched to Ask, which I did not like that well. I was a fairly early adopter of Google, and I’ve stuck with them for a long time because they provide good search results. I really dislike it when I search for something and get unusable results because of distortions to the google search process. One of the causes of that is paid links passing link juice.

  26. Chris@WatchTVEpisodesOnline

    Never have truer words been spoken: Google search traffic is one of the most important aspects of a successful websites. A site I own recently dropped from the first and second pages of Google for 5 or 6 terms and the financial consequences were very significant. I really don’t know anything about pagerank, except I have heard it has mostly something to do with who links to you, but on another site of mine, it tends to bounce from PR1 to PR3 and back every few months. It’s odd–so I try to just do good work, get good links, and hope for the best.

  27. tony@Best cheap web hosting.

    I notice google does new update and some sites drop and loose rank. Then after next update or following they seem to come back. For some reason google goes way to far on any update or new term then back tracks after results are poor for sometime. Funny how they do not like ads but that is thier whole business.

  28. Linkmoko

    We really need to learn how Adsense works, then set up sites tailored to that. Most blogs (including mine) don’t work well with Adsense. Most bloggers don’t know how to get the most out of it. problem is that now that google know that bloggers will do anything to please them, they’ll go after every competitor in the same manner.

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