October 08, 2007

Google Hand-Editing Results In Spirit Now? (to penalize link-selling)

Danny Sullivan - Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google

"If you sell links, Google might indeed penalize your site plus drop the PageRank score that shows for it."

I've long defended the basic accuracy of the statement "Google doesn't hand-edit results". Now, that statement obviously can't be true in the most extreme sense, otherwise they couldn't ever throw out spammers. And certainly they'll country-blacklist illegal sites. But I've been against making an reductio ad absurdum interpretation of such a statement, and then knocking down a strawman. That's not useful.

There were also lesser spam penalties. Arguably, that was merely caught up in an algorithmic sweep. But now (my emphasis):

Google stressed, by the way, that the current set of PageRank decreases is not assigned completely automatically; the majority of these decreases happened after a human review. That should help prevent false matches from happening so easily

I don't want to create false incentives, and human review is good of course. Yet I can't help thinking that we've now crossed a line here. Perhaps with the best of intentions, for the most worthy of reasons. But still, we're now on the other side of some divide.

Now, there really is someone sitting in a room thinking along the lines of : "Hmm, the algorithm says you have Pagerank 9, but looking at your site, you're using your pagerank-powers for link-profit, so let's turn it down a few notches, perhaps to Pagerank 7, so it's not quite as attractive. If in the future you prove to be a more moral vessel of our power, we may restore you to full strength."

That's a change. Good or bad, it's different from what's been the case before.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on October 08, 2007 09:36 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Plus, thoughts like "... hmm, but on the other hand, this page is of great value to searchers going by its content, so let's not downrank it quite as much ..." might come in play -- which means there's an editorial* decision of just what is worthwhile content.

*An editor with above average intelligence, above likely to live in California, above likely to be exposed to American media, above likely to understand English etc.?

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at October 8, 2007 10:30 PM

PS: I don't think it's necessarily really different than before, the editorial part is just more communicated these days.

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at October 8, 2007 10:31 PM

Yes, "editorial bias" is now a bigger factor.

I think the "something different" is that the editorial part is now much expanded in terms of discretion. Before, they could throw you out, but that was obvious. Even -30 penalities were, in practice, evident. Now, you can go from hypothetically #1 to #5 purely based on something a Google editor does to your page in specific.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at October 8, 2007 11:05 PM

Do people buy links in order to improve their Google page rank or to increase the exposure of their sites? My opinion is that people buy links because they need more exposure for their sites. Google must come up with a better way determining the PageRank score, a score that does not rely on back links as is the case at the moment.

Posted by: Clement at October 9, 2007 11:29 AM