A string of websites and blogs are up in arms over what are some rather fundamental changes to the Google algorithm, which in turn has hit website Page Ranks.
The crux of the issue is this: Google is understood to be punishing websites that sell text-based links to third parties by reducing their relevancy or authority mark, or Page Rank.
This in turn affects their position of keyword search results.
Full coverage of the issue on SearchEngineLand and SEOMoz.
A few emails into Travolution today asking about the impact, if any, on travel sites.
Well at first glance it looks like some blogs (the legendary John Chow, for one) and a number of media sites (including the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times and Forbes) are nursing some pretty serious wounds to their Page Rank.
We have only learnt so far of two travel-related sites affected: World66.com (PR7 to PR4) and Beachhouse.com (also PR7 to PR4).
The chief operations officer of a leading SEO agency told us a number of travel sites could find themselves with a “bit of a situation” on their hands if Google continues its crackdown.
The problem, however, is that there is a huge “grey area” in what Google is doing.
If a website is selling a text link to a third party and the ad copy is relevant to the content, why - asks our correspondent - should the site be punished?
Indeed, a site which has a landing page about Paris may well be penalised simply because it has sold some text links on the same page to, say, a group of city break operators?
On the other hand, the opposite scenario is where some education sites (mainly US universities, which typically have a high authority ranking) have sold links to sites selling Viagra, simply because they know the ad can command a high price.
Either way, Google is cracking down. The short term answer is to probably to stop selling any text ads, if possible.
Another emailer asked: "So what about affiliates?"
We spoke to Commission Junction, part of the ValueClick empire, asking whether as a network it would purchase text links on behalf of clients.
The worry here, email to us by one SME tour operator, is that if Google reduces the page rank of sites containing links bought by affiliate networks, then the number of leads will fall, sales may fall, etc.
The network does not purchase text links, it said, and therefore those using its platform as affiliate merchants will not be affected directly. Of course the host site may well be flogging text ads to others and they will be hit by association.
One mildly amusing irony of all this is that, despite Google’s attempts to crack down on those selling text link ads, type “text link ads” into its search engine and the world’s biggest search engine is happily taking pay-per-click advertising from the likes of TextLinksAds.com, Onewaytextlinks.com and Textlinkbrokers.com. [We did not sell these links!!]
A quick call to Google this afternoon revealed nothing apart from a very carefully worded statement, emailed back a few hours later:
"Google is always working to improve the ways that we generate relevant search results and update our opinions of sites' reputations across the web.This is clearly going to rumble on and on. Any comments from SEO agencies or other victims?
"The Google Toolbar shows an indicator of PageRank, which is Google's opinion of the reputation of a webpage.
"Values in the Google Toolbar can fluctuate for a number of normal reasons, including changes in how we crawl or index the web, or changes in the link structure of the web itself.
"In addition, Google may update the visible PageRank indicator in the Google Toolbar to incorporate not only our view on the backlinks to a page or site, but also to incorporate our opinion of the forward links for a site."
[ProBlogger has some good analysis and advice for bloggers]
Kevin May, editor, Travolution
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