January 19, 2009

What Do You Do When Google Says You're a Zero?

Google's impact on a Web site owner is tremendous. The ubiquitous search engine can deliver anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of a Web site or blog's traffic, and in some cases, has been shown to provide upwards of 90% of all traffic from search engines. Given this, it's no wonder the industry of trying to be at the top of Google's results through search engine optimization is big business - and even though Google's efforts are fairly transparent, they have to be mysterious enough so they can't be directly gamed, and consequences are direct and dramatic. But sometimes, the decisions seem odd enough that it can't be anything but a mistake.

Google Drives Significant Traffic to Most Sites

You have no doubt seen the posts, the articles, the tweets, the e-mails, and all matter of comment spam around increasing your rank on search engines, and "getting to the top". You might also see people eagerly await tweaks to Google's PageRank, an algorithm that gives weight to a site based on its relationship on the Web to other linked sites, and their own perceived rank. Theoretically, it is assumed that the higher your PageRank is, the more likely you are to be higher in search results (based on a 0 to 10 scale). As one's rank is pushed upwards, you can expect to see more traffic on Google, and if you're demoted, you can expect it to similarly drop.

But what if you find your site dropped down to zero?

No doubt the feeling can be one of disbelief and powerlessness. I was surprised this morning to learn that the excellent blog "The Future Buzz" had seen its PageRank knocked down to zero, and while I can't say I watch PageRank that closely, or knew what it was before, I don't think that' move makes any sense. Adam Singer, the author of the blog, and a great electronic musician, by the way, has been running the site since November of 2007, and has grown his RSS subscriber base beyond 500, myself included.

The Future Buzz's Page Rank Evaporated...

So what can he do? I think our typical response is to cry out to Matt Cutts and hope that he can swoop in like the white knight to save the day. But as you can guess, Google is very big, Matt is very busy, and that sort of thing won't scale.

I find the situation similar to the issue we discussed last year, when Dan Morrill of TechWag found his site blacklisted by Google, thanks to what was believed to be a rogue script. One person's power in the face of the Google monolith can seem futile. No doubt Adam is going through the proper channels to learn what he did wrong, or why the site's PageRank changed, but for now it's a mystery. I've been lucky so far that Google and I get along okay. I'll just try not to tick off the pigeons who run the whole thing.