“Why did our PageRank go down?”

Recently a newspaper contacted me. Their PageRank had dropped from 7 to 3, and they wanted to know why. They genuinely didn’t seem know what the issue was, so I took some time to write them an in-depth reply. Part of the motivation for my blog is to provide information in more scalable ways, so I figured I’d strip any identifying information from my email and post it. Here’s what I wrote:

Hi, the usual reason why a site’s PageRank drops by 30-50% like this is because the site violates our quality guidelines by selling links that pass PageRank. Here’s our documentation on that: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66356 and here’s a video I made about this common case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFcJ7PaLoMw (it’s about 1:30 into the video). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all is a good recent article about paid reviews. In Google’s world, we take paid links that pass PageRank as seriously as Amazon would take paid reviews without disclosure or as your newspaper would treat a reporter who was paid to link to a website in an article without disclosing the payment.

In particular, earlier this year on [website] we saw links labeled as sponsored that passed PageRank, such as a link like [example link]. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines, and it’s the reason that [website]’s PageRank as well as our trust in the website has declined.

In fact, we received a outside spam report about your site. The spam report passed on an email from a link seller offering to sell links on multiple pages on [website] based on their PageRank. Some pages mentioned in that email continue to have unusual links to this day. For example [example url] has a section labeled “PARTNER LINKS” which links to [linkbuyer].

So my advice would be to investigate how paid links that pass PageRank ended up on [website]: who put them there, are any still up, and to investigate whether someone at the [newspaper] received money to post paid links that pass PageRank without disclosing that payment, e.g. using ambiguous labeling such as “Partner links.” That’s definitely where I would dig.

After that investigation is complete and any paid links that pass PageRank are removed, the site’s webmaster can do a reconsideration request using Google’s free webmaster tools console at google.com/webmasters. I would include as much detail as you can about what you found out about the paid links. That will help us assess how things look going forward.


That’s about it. This case was interesting because we also had an external spam report about the newspaper selling links.

45 Responses to “Why did our PageRank go down?” (Leave a comment)

  1. So Matt, the only reason for drop in PageRank is selling link value. There is specifically no other reason then.

  2. Hi Matt,
    Why not just cancel the pagerank of the site does not comply with the rules?
    So there would be a scale of penalties?
    Best regards

  3. @Matt: Hi Matt, I do understand that drop in toolbar PR indicates decrease in Google’s trust value for the site. My question was, if I don’t pass any toolbar PR value to any external link from my site, is there any other issue which can cause drop in toolbar PR of my site.

  4. Will we make all external links no follow to prevent from Google plenty?

  5. Will we make all external links no follow to prevent from Google plenty???

  6. I’d also like to know should be all just use no follow on every link to avoid Pagerank penalty. I don’t add any link attributes, because it takes too much of my time. If you see my site you can tell why.

    Pagerank should not be visible to the public. Having a high pagerank blog simply means that your site gets spammed more and more. If there is something wrong with the site, webmasters should get a warning via Webmaster tools (or another way).

  7. Makes sense. Seems like a big drop, though.

  8. I would like to see more info in webmaster tools. The info is getting much better but it is a little slow. Also, things like page rank etc. I think should be kept to the site owner in the same way the link: now works.
    If you couldn’t see page rank then link sales would be more difficult. Scrap page rank, it just fuels the linking sales. Your blog post pretty much confirms it.

  9. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for another useful post. I’d like to ask you a question regarding Pagerank.

    Do you feel it would make sense, if Pageranks were removed from sites?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  10. I am guessing the newspaper website would be more concerned with the negative impact this would have on Google News Traffic as a result to the PR drop?

    Also in regards to putting a detailed request in once a sites links have been fixed up how many times does this process happen I have tested it in the past and after 2 reply’s of the same message you kind of give up or do we go for attempt 3?

    Thank you for writing the post with some further clarification Matt.

  11. For those of us not steeped in SEO terminology, what’s a link that “passes PageRank”? Is it just a link directly to its target (e.g., no intermediary page blocked by robots.txt) that doesn’t have a rel=nofollow? I’ve read the linked “Link Schemes” page, and the “Paid Links” page it links to, but while both of them use that term, neither of them defines it. Thanks in advance.

  12. I’d also want to know what happens in situation, if one buys links to your site? i.e. mattcutts.com Getting thousands and thousands paid links. How would you remove them?

    With this route you can hurt your competition. Why hire SEO service for your site, when you can remove competition by buying links to other sites, and then send a spam report to Google.

  13. I always find this stuff interesting, because I’m sure if confronted virtually all the newspaper’s staff would consider this kind of promotion advertising. Of course, anyone who has bought sidebar links for traffic purposes knows that they are mostly useless, but it is counter-intuitive that this would be the case.

    The thing is what if I bought a link that was relevant anyway? Are you treating the Yahoo Directory this way now? You didn’t use to treat it that way, I don’t think.

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t penalize because, I have no doubt the broker selling the link advertising uses PageRank as a value proposition, and most of the customers understand what they are getting.

    I think newspapers could probably sell nofollow advertising links if they put their arse into it.

  14. My gut tells me that if they’re paying attention to pagerank and asking about it specifically that they were put up to it by the team selling links.

  15. Matt, I gotta say that this post is driving me a little bit crazy. On the one hand, I see you trying hard to explain things, and on the other I see an explanation that’s way short on any real explanation.

    I’m an SEO guy. I understand everything you said. And I certainly HOPE that a newspaper has web quality/compliance/SEO/whatever people who can control the elements that you allude to needing some attention. But the more complicated your (unpublished) search algorithm becomes, the more likely it is that even at a newspaper the people responsible for the web site won’t “get it”.

    I know this won’t happen, but it just feel more and more as though it’s time for you guys to publish the specification. Yes, SEOs will try to game the system, but at this point you guys are so far ahead of us that it won’t matter … and people like the newspaper person will at least have a shot at not getting hammered.

  16. Matt Dear,

    This is a quick, fast question which needs clarification as there are no guidelines in Google Webmaster Help section regarding this issue.

    If I own 2 or more sites in similar niches can I link to them from the header (or footer, sidebar etc.) without using nofollow? Can these be sitewide links? Will your Penguin Algorithm penalize such links?

    The Diapers.com network has sitewide links which pass PageRank from every one of their websites to each other without using nofollow.
    Diapers.com, Soap.com, Wag.com, YoYo.com, Casa.com, BeautyBar.com

    Is this practice allowed?

    As head of the Google Spam Team and the public face for the Google Algorithm, If Google goes ahead and penalizes websites using the preceding methods without clarifying Google’s stance on the issue publicly, you, Matt Cutts, are hereby legally responsible for all monetary damages to business using this practice hereforth.

    Web Publisher

  17. Well Google is trying hard to allocate best page rank to a site, but behind the scenes some suspicious persons may try to defame a website by pointing a number of links from different sources to that site. Then how can the genuine owner of the site removes those links?

    Today I just logged into my Google webmaster Tool and I was really surprised that I got around 500 links to my site which I never known at all. Actually I am unaware of all these links pointing to my site. May be someone is trying to manipulate our ranking in organic search. There is also no way to remove these links. Then how can we make sure that PageRank is always perfect?

    Please clarify my query. Expecting a reply. Thanks in advance.

  18. Thanks Matt,
    while many people complain, some of us understand what a crappy job it is to have people complaining all the time.. but you are uniquely suited for the role, and pretty sure you get giggles about the complaints more than it bothering you.

    keep up the good work,
    on behalf of some major brands,


  19. Hmm.. So if you sell links directly through your blog or website that passes Page Rank will result into Google penalty such as devaluation of Page Rank but if you sell links through your blog or website without passing Page Rank (i.e. adding a nofollow attribute) won’t result into any sort of penalty right…

  20. Hi Matt,

    More proof here that yours has to be a tough gig a lot of the time.

    To be honest, the part of your post that interests me the most is the very first sentence “Recently a newspaper contacted me”. I want to ask “how”, but of course it would be unwise for you to answer in such a public forum anyway.

    So, I’m going to hope that somewhere in your future there will be a 30 day Challenge that has you reading “real” hand written letters delivered to you at Mountain View. 😉


  21. Interesting question of Oskari:
    “I’d also want to know what happens in situation, if one buys links to your site? i.e. mattcutts.com Getting thousands and thousands paid links. How would you remove them?”

    How to remove unwanted links?

  22. Hello Matt,

    I want to go with the question raised by Sorin Frumuseanu. What do you think, Matt?


  23. Hi Matt,

    How is Google determining what is a paid link?

    I recently ran an interesting promotion and got in touch with well established sites in my niche, asking if they would write about article about it. Around 20 of them agreed, purely because they thought their readers would be interested. The page also has a lot of useful content written by a journalist (not an SEO). Yet the page is outranked by pages buried in my forum.

    Does Google assume these types of links are paid for, for some reason?

  24. Great to learn what you would manually respond with in this scenario, thanks for sharing with us Matt.

    Most newspapers are selling sponsored links for monetary gain, maybe its only a matter of time before all of these also start suffering as a result of their actions.

    The way I see it is if you should want to advertise and be linked to, then it should be from pages of relevance, the end result should be driving relevant and targeted traffic with a view to converting said traffic. In the event you find a decent advertising opportunity , applying the ‘nofollow’ link relationship on these kind of links should be preventing the passing of authority / anchor weight through to the destination, subsequently letting the likes of Google know that the link’s intention is not to pass PageRank and I would like to think this is the case.

    There are thousands of websites who have purely relied on sitewide, keyword rich anchor text paid backlinks from a wide range of domains to prop them up in the search engines – these have been blindingly obvious but many feel it still works and are continuing to work to this strategy unfortunately…

    So, just for clarification Matt, if this newspaper has applied the ‘nofollow’ link relationship to these links, would they have received less of a PageRank penalty? I’m a firm believer of the passing of relevancy and trust via links no matter what the link relationship anyhow. I would much rather have “naturally” acquired a ‘nofollow’ link from a high authority and trustworthy domain than 100 followed links from domains that scream low quality / splogs / blog rings / link farm association.

  25. Thank you Matt for sharing the reasons.

    Oskari’s comment raised a valid point

  26. Hey Matt, I love it when you post about good SEO drama. Did these guys lose much traffic? Because page rank and trust is one thing but traffic is a whole different issue.

    The internet is a never ending battle ground over page rank.

  27. The internet is a never ending battle ground over page rank.

    …where the winner gets Perri-Air, and the losers get even less than that.

  28. Thanks Matt.

    I see a lot of link spam successfully yielding #1 ranks. They all share common characteristics – surely it’s possible to detect some of these automatically?

    1. High % of links to the site’s internal pages – compared with the homepage
    2. High % of links with keyword-rich anchor-text (or any anchor text not containing the domain)
    3. A large number of links built in a short space of time
    4. High % of Links from domains totally unrelated to the site they link to
    5. Those domains also link out to other totally unrelated topics
    6. High proportion of links from blog posts written in poor English (breaking certain measurable English “rules”.

    Individually these factors could be useful. But two or three of them together would be almost fool-proof.


  29. It was great to know about it. I would like to get a clarification about it. If a site have got high PR and the site have got a lot of external links through blog comments or within the content, will it also effect the PR?

  30. Hey Matt

    You have got to try out this new Bing challenge test..here’s the link…side by side search results test to see which search engine provided better results for users ..You choose the results from 1 of several choices. Its only 5 questions….Guess who is winning? Absolutely brilliant idea…


  31. Hmm. So, what if we link to our own personal sites, like on blogs for example? Will we still get penalized of they are dofollow links?

  32. That’s a brutal drop but breaking one of the primary rules is an aggressive move..

  33. Just as the newspaper and any webmaster for that matter has the right to engage in whatever linking practices they want to do. Google has every right to decide whether to trust the webmaster’s behaviour or not and thus what PageRank to assign.

  34. By the way, you mentioned the Newspaper should remove them, surely making them all no follow would be a sufficient act of repentance?

  35. I don’t have a Pagerank, my site gets good traffic but it has 0 Pagerank what can be the reason? please help

  36. Black hat methods are a sure way for this to happen. If there is any link building in place, it MUST be done to a high quality and must be in line and in touch with the rulings all set out by google. All links going back to the website must have some form of a focus and a purpose.

  37. i lost access to my gmail accounts two times in one month

    i’ll try the mentioned tool

  38. Yes, I’ve been observing a lot of PR drops in many sites. And all those websites which told me that they lost their PR were selling dofollow links via guest posts, and text ads. It’s really good to see that Google is very strict about their quality guidelines.

  39. This is absolutely the right way for Google to go if they want to control paid-for links.

    We’re in a competitive niche and have emails on an almost daily basis from marketers working for some of the biggest names in our industry wanting to know the cost of text links and articles, all with the caveat that they must be dofollow.

    We’ve never accepted any of the offers – or paid for links elsewhere – but we see the evidence of it working with rankings for many of those we’ve received emails from outranking us. We have a good inbound links from all the major players in our niche and every article we produce (often up to 10-15 a day) is opinionated and unique, and yet we find ourselves outranked even by sites that re-publish our articles and link back to us.

    This doesn’t seem to happen in Bing or Yahoo, but it’s difficult to continue to play by Google’s rules when others benefit at our expense. If Google continue to play hardball with sites exploiting paid for links then perhaps we will eventually see a properly level playing field, but it does seem that it’s a very small number being penalised and legitimate site playing by the rules suffer as a result.

    Do this – it makes sense – but do it properly or not at all. Waiting for an outside report before taking action does seem a bit ‘old school’. The algorithms obviously don’t work in most cases.

  40. Hi Matt,

    Will posting a blog in blogger(google product) about a particular website will affect that website’s Page Rank or give high bounce back rate. I’m much confused about this.

  41. My gut tells me that if they’re paying attention to pagerank and asking about it specifically that they were put up to it by the team selling links.

  42. Is selling links always the case? My page rank dropped a point after I started changing some of my blogging topics. Could this be the reason?

  43. Matt, Please…. for the love of god answer some of the above questions. This seems to be an important topic that everyone is begging for answers. ” is there any other issue which can cause drop in toolbar PR of our sites” Best Wishes, Joe

  44. Hi Matt
    Unfortunately, I still have a Pagerank of 0.
    Whether the Pagerank is important or not :
    For a web design agency and a agency for internet marketing like webongo it is simply a bad impression if the website still has a page rank of 0.
    Cheers from Freiburg in Germany