That anguished cry you’re hearing? That’s the sound of of Web sites around the world screaming after Google throttled their search traffic overnight — perhaps by as much as 96%. We’re just getting our head around Google’s apparent decision to punish sites that use paid links, by reducing their PageRank, but we’re told it could have tectonic effects on Web traffic.
That’s because PageRank is the key metric that Google uses when determining where a site will appear in its search results. It’s a 10 point scale, and each move up the rank means Google values a site 5 times more than a lower ranked site. If PR 1 has a value of, say, 1, then PR 2 has a value of 5, and PR 3 has a value of 25 — so a site with a PR 3 is 25 times more likely to show up on a Google search than PR1.
And when Google reduces your page rank, as it just did for sites ranging from AOL/Weblogs’ Joystiq to the Chicago Sun-Times‘ website, it works in reverse. The Sun-Times, for instance, which dropped from PR7 to PR5, is now valued at 1/25 of its previous rank — meaning it may be 96% less likely to show up on Google searches. Again, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land has the most comprehensive list of PR drops we’ve seen so far.
How much impact will that have on web site traffic? We won’t know for a while, but it could be massive: Organic search results are often the single biggest source of traffic for most sites, and of course Google dominates search. In the meantime, expect to see sites who’ve taken PR hits to furiously scrub away their paid links… and be prepared to hear a lot more screaming.
Update: Barry Schwartz tells us that his site, which just saw its PR drop from 7 to 4, hasn’t seen a drop in traffic; neither have other sites who’ve had their rank cut, he says. So what’s going on? Barry hypothesizes that Google has only cut the sites’ public page rank — the ones that ordinary mortals can view — while keeping their real, Google-eyes-only page rank intact. In other words, Google is putting on a show.
Related: Google Aiming At Paid Links?
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