(Has Your Website Recently Sunk to "Davy Google Jones Jr's Locker"?)
By Jonathan Anthony & Kyle Krenbrink (c) 2009
Webmasters and SEO gurus have been scratching their heads for a few weeks now trying to figure out what has been happening to Google's SERP rankings. After scouring blogs and forums for the last few days, it would seem that there is no real consensus. In fact, it seems that no one is willing to even speculate much as to what is happening. To date there has not been any official word from Google. We all know that Google does not announce their algorithm updates, much to the chagrin of webmasters everywhere.
The buzz recently on several blogs and from our own data demonstrates significant changes in PageRank and wild fluctuations in websites SERP. The last big news we did hear from Google was the June 16th 2009 announcement from Matt Cutts blog on PageRank sculpting where he discussed changes to how Google treats link juice when there are nofollow links. But that's another blog topic altogether so if you like you can read the full post here: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ pagerank-sculpting/ so it may be that the nofollow·attribute has been rendered useless for sculpting PageRank. But then, PR sculpting was never really the intended function behind nofollow; it was merely convenient side effect.
All that Google employee, John Mu cared to say when answering a customer's inquiry as to why his site had suddenly dropped in PR with no apparent cause was:
You have a nice-looking site :) . As far as I can tell, it looks like the change in Toolbar PageRank for your site is only due to some technical quirk and not something that you need to worry about.
Barry Schwartz (AKA "Rustybrick") then pointedly asks:
"John, is the PR 'Technical Quirk' somewhat widespread?"
There was no further reply from Google. The post is available at the Google Webmaster Help forum.
Unfortunately, when a person's website goes south in rankings for no apparent reason, people do notice and do worry about it. So unless Google opens up a bit we are left scratching our heads as usual, trying to figure out what is going on.
The following thread gives another vote to the possibility that Google is replacing PageRank value with site trust and/or domain authority: http://www.seroundtable.com/
There have been some major experiments this year from Google that were relatively short lived and those are fine. We all expect to see the occasional wild results for a weekend every few months along with quarterly PageRank updates. The June PR update was enough of a surprise coming so close on the heels of an update late in May: http://www.seroundtable.com/
Here are some direct comments from the forum members at webmasterworld.com:
"It has been my observation "followgreg" (a username) when the SERP's get like what you describe above this is what [Google] wants to happen so the Review team and Matt's team can put the necessary data in place that will deal with what your describing. It is easier to review a site when they are on page 1 versus page 200 and [Google] knows what filters were relaxed that would allow for the "New" 1st page ranking to pop up. I myself don't see the polluted SERP's as your describing but then again I am not in every sector and can only look at the nitches I am working under."
We can analyze the SERP's, collect all the data we can find, and listen to all of the "buzz" we like, but at the end of the day we are still at the mercy of the "Big G". It is not unusual for Google to conduct their more aggressive algorithm changes at this time of year, but it is unusual to see so much experimentation so close together taking so long. With there being no official word coming from Google, it's hard to do more than speculate on the changes that we can observe. We all certainly hope that things stabilize soon and we'll continue monitoring changes in the rankings.
But until Google decides to straighten things out can anyone say "Pay-per-click"? I knew you could...
So how does the widely varied public opinion on the matter line up with search results?
I am willing to make an educated guess that Google is experimenting with website trust and authority in their algorithm (and perhaps plenty more). However, as complaints from the forums echo Google's search results seem to be rather bi-polar these last few weeks.
We have well established sites being outranked by new sites and by sites with very few backlinks. Also by sites using black hat techniques and unfortunately we see some established and often very trustworthy white hat websites simply dissappearing from the rankings altogether. At the same time we have literally day old Craigslist posts ranking in the top results. Some .edu and .gov sites have flown to the top while others have plummetted.
Luckily we had some old SERP analysis notes from June where we had a close look at one of our clients top 5 competitors for their targeted search term on Google. We decided to compare each against the current search results since Google's latest "technical quirk". Here's the rundown according to Yahoo's api and our analysis:
Former #1 website - PR 4 landing page, PR 5 root domain.
1700+ external inbound links, 800+ internal backlinks. Almost one thousand of these backlinks are from a handful of what appear to be allied sites. A significant number are from various blogs. Strong root domain with almost 5k external inbound links. Now ranking at #2.
Former #2 website - PR 6 landing page, PR 7 root domain.
Less than 100 external inbound links, over 15k internal backlinks. Root domain has 140k+ external inbound links and 16k+ internal backlinks. Very strong root domain and what should be a high trust name. Much of the page's ranking comes from the internal backlinks from the root domain and other pages on the site. Now ranking at #5.
Former #3 website - PR 4 landing page, PR 7 root domain.
5k+ external inbound links, less than 100 internal backlinks. Root domain has 130k+ external inbound links and 16k+ internal backlinks. Not only is this an extremely strong domain, its brand is a household name across North America. Not only would I trust this site based on its name and reputation, but I would say the incoming links are as organic as they come. Strangely this website no longer ranks anywhere in the top 300 results.
About The Author
Jonathan Anthony and Kyle Krenbrink work for Beanstalk Search Engine Optimization, Inc. Beanstalk offers performance-based SEO services and provides up-to-date information on the SEO realm through their SEO blog and articles.