Google Dishes Out PageRank Penalties To UK Newspaper Web Sites For Selling Links

pagerank-penaltyGoogle has downgraded the Toolbar PageRank scores for several dozen UK operated newspapers and news sites today.

It is believed the reason Google has downgraded their PageRank scores is because they were selling links on a massive scale.

Google Penalizes Sites Selling Links

As you may remember, in October 2007, Google went on record that selling links can hurt your PageRank and rankings in Google. Shortly later, Google went ahead dished out PageRank penalties to many US news sites including sites like the Washington Post, Forbes, Sun Times and dozens of others.

This is nothing new. Google has and continues to penalize sites by dropping their PageRank score and lowering their Google search rankings for selling links. They do this both algorithmically and manually, and nowadays often notifying the link sellers via Webmaster Tools of the penalty. The fix is easy, they pull the paid links – which is what most of the news publishers did back in 2007.

Google Penalizes Sites Buying Links

It should come as no surprise that Google will often also penalize the sites buying the links. In fact, we reported of the hundreds of thousands of notifications Google sends to webmasters each month 3% are link related, 2% for buying links and 1% for selling links.

This morning, we reported that Interflora was penalized in Google, possibly for buying links. Google did not comment, but Anthony Shapley dug into the situation and posted what he thinks really happened.

Google Penalized Dozens Of UK News Sites

Google has lowered the PageRank score of dozens of news sites and blogs in the UK for selling links. Anthony found that Interflora had recent links on 150+ regional news sites all over the UK, all in the form of advertisements within articles. In addition, he said through back channels he was able to confirm that some of these sites did indeed get a notification via Google Webmaster Tools for selling links.

Finally, Anthony plotted the PageRank scores from before and after today, showing all of these sites had their PageRank scores lowered to zero.

Honestly, typically PageRank scores do not drop to zero for linking selling. They normally drop 3 or 4 digits but not to zero. So this move to drop the PageRank score to zero is somewhat a new action by Google.

Examples Of Paid Ads On News Sites:

Here is a listing of some of the articles that were added to news sites in the past few months to try to artificially boost the ranking of Interflora in Google. Who was responsible is not known.

There are hundreds of example stories but those are just a few.

Google Subtly Confirms The Penalty

Google’s Matt Cutts, head of search spam, posted a reminder on the Google Webmaster Central blog at 3pm EDT that selling links that pass PageRank can lead to a penalty. Clearly this is Google talking about the case with Interflora because Matt Cutts specifically talks about “advertorial” pages. Here is what Matt wrote:

Please be wary if someone approaches you and wants to pay you for links or “advertorial” pages on your site that pass PageRank. Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations. The consequences for a link selling site start with losing trust in Google’s search results, as well as reduction of the site’s visible PageRank in the Google Toolbar. The consequences can also include lower rankings for that site in Google’s search results.

For more details, see our new story on using advertorials for passing PageRank.

Related Stories:

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • http://twitter.com/saidpurtown Ebrahim Shah

    i maintain new algorithm of google getting good pagerank is not tough for legit site

  • Vic

    Google is upset and with good reason! Only Google can make money selling links and by making ads seem like editorial content. Shame on newspapers.

  • http://automateeverything.tumblr.com/ Adam Buchanan

    It looks like they’re in clean up mode. Most of the links have been removed from the examples.

  • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

    Perhaps Forbes.com and The Huffington Post will be next; ‘quality guidelines’ mean nothing when money is involved. I’m sure the first two links in this article are totally legitimate…

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/01/05/is-using-bitcoin-the-way-to-play-online-poker-in-the-us/

  • Guest

    I feel like the “Why does Google have the right to penalise people” argument is getting a bit tired and old. I understand that it can be frustrating, but hear me out.

    People are free to sell links if they want, but if they do so with the intent to manipulate Google’s results by willingly buying/selling links that pass pagerank, then yes, Google has every right to penalise them *within* their own search engine.

    Google doesn’t own the internet, but they do own Google. And they can do as they please within their own search engine (they own it after all).

    The elephant in the room here, is that these followed links are 99% of the time sold with the intention that they will artificially boost search rankings. We’re all SEO’s here, and we all know what’s up – let’s be honest.

    If you want to buy ads for user traffic, then there are loads of way to do this without stepping on Google’s toes.

    Now, people may come back with – “Well, why should I always have to worry about Google! Does that mean I have to nofollow everything because Google says so!?!”.

    Well no, you can do whatever you like; but if you goal is to rank highly in Google, then yes, you will have to play by their rules and do LOTS of things specifically for that purpose. Do you think that setting your title tags and headings to be optimised is an example of Google going too far? Most people don’t, but that’s almost the exact same principle as no-following sponsored links.

    If you want to completely ignore Google and do as you like, then that’s fine, you are of course free to do as you please, just don’t expect to rank very highly in their engine.

    Simple as that.

  • http://twitter.com/anirudhbargotra anirudh

    earlier it was link building, then quality links, now buying links, i think it is high time the small and mid companies should start thinking beyond google..

  • Alan

    Good use of Irony and Sarcasm both of which will be lost on most Google engineers. I often wonder if the Googlebot personality was based on the engineers that made it.

  • http://twitter.com/alexofharford Alex of Harford

    The Interflora advertorials still exist but some of the links to the Interflora website have been removed already – fast work!

  • BDH

    Some folks have taken the author of this article to task for linking
    to his pal’s spamtastic site as an SEO expert:
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kernlewis/2013/03/29/with-seo-linking-strategies-gaming-the-system-is-so-last-decade/

    Earlier this week, another SEO article cited Rand Fishkin, but then went on to
    include some low-grade internet marketers with no credibility.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2013/04/09/what-every-leader-needs-to-know-about-seo/

    It may not be Forbes policy, but it sure looks like the writers are getting paid, doing favors or are just dumb.

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